Right down near the end of Riversdale Road is an extraordinary place run by some remarkable people.
This hidden gem is a testament to the Ryder family and some determined collecting by the late Jack Ryder. So, what do a cannon off the Bounty, a staircase from Sir George Grey’s house and the singlet that Peter Snell wore when winning his gold medal in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo all have in common? Well, nothing really except that Jack collected them and brought them home to Avondale.
In recent years JC Ryders (formerly Westwind Cinema) has been better known as a boutique private cinema and dining venue for groups, but that is not how it all began.
Old Auckland pubs were being demolished decades ago and some of the beautiful features were just being dumped or burned. Jack saved windows, bars, beer pumps and even the entire front of Kelvin House Pub in Hobson St. The Avondale Hotel was the most prominent local building that he was involved with, scoring some interior doors and the 1860 Welsh slate floor. He re-laid the slate in his first building project.
His collecting earned him the nickname “Junkie Jack”.
Jack’s vision was to create a village modelled on old Auckland, so that people could see what the city was like back in the day. He wanted his village to have the feel of old Auckland more than total authenticity, so the buildings are a mash up of materials from different pubs.
Part of one building even includes the wheelhouse of HMNZS Kiwi. The Kiwi was a minesweeper in WWII and had the distinction of repeatedly ramming the much larger Japanese submarine I1 at Guadalcanal, until the sub’s crew ran it aground. The attack was a heroic action under continuous light arms fire. The 140mm gun from the submarine is on display at the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum in Devonport. The radio mast from the Kiwi is also at Ryders, along with a wheelhouse off the old double ended Waitemata vehicular ferry, EagleHawk. There is even a pump from the Edwin Fox in Picton.
There are limits to what one man can achieve but Jack gave it a pretty good go, setting up a garage, fire station, railway station and two pubs. His wife Margaret once commented, “It’s an interesting hobby, and he doesn’t drink or smoke”.
As a coachbuilder, he also loved vehicles and transport in general. Then for good measure, one day he decided to go into sports memorabilia as something different because so many people at the time were getting into antiques. His mother had trained Jack to know and appreciate antiques. A relative, another (John) Jack Ryder 1889 - 1977, had been an Australian cricketer, so maybe there was something in the family. The more recent NZ cricketer Jesse Ryder is not a relative.
The coachbuilding trade was in decline, so Jack started working on the Auckland wharves and stayed there for 35 years. His spare time was spent collecting artifacts and developing his village. He also worked alongside some sportsmen, as it was before the professional era. He seemed to get on with everyone and became well-liked by many prominent sportsmen of the day, who happily gave him autographed sports gear and uniforms, in addition to the items that he purchased.
He covered many sports. Several racing drivers and speedway riders were represented including Stirling Moss, Ivan Mauger and Ole Olsen. The cricket collection was really extensive with signed bats, gloves, uniforms, and caps. Cricket memorabilia came from sportsmen like Geoffrey Boycott, Colin Cowdrey, Mark Taylor, Sir Donald Bradman and Mark Waugh. Jack also prolifically collected rugby, league, and boxing items.
There was some ill feeling by the sports codes that gave Jack access to the players when he tried to auction off the collection in 1987. Fortunately, Jack had set unrealistically high reserves, and nothing sold. In the years since, many of the less important items have been sold to maintain and develop the museum.
The Ryder family had moved to the property in 1943 after their land was bought by the government for the then US Naval Mobile Hospital 6, which later became Avondale College. It had previously been an orchard owned by Major Rastrick. This part of Avondale had an extensive horticultural history and a huge protected pecan tree still stands in the middle of the village.
In recent decades visitors would be more familiar with the lunch/dinner and movie experience in the 60-seat private cinema. The cinema was built in 1975 by Jack and Margaret’s son John, who still runs the projection room, and they started the catering side in 1985. Clint Ryder is the face of the catering operation and the famous roast meals that are cooked on wood fired ranges. This takes huge commitment, with a 4am start to cook a lunch. The roast cooks until 10am, then Clint lets it rest for an hour before cooking it some more then carving for the guests.
They cater for groups from 25 – 60 people, so if you want to experience it gather 24 of your close friends and book your date. You get to choose the movie.
Some of the great feedback includes:
“This place is a suburban treasure hidden away in the back streets of Avondale... great little movie house and an amazing collection of artefacts from my childhood and early New Zealand - well worth a visit.” – Glen
“This is such a unique place to come to for dinner and a movie. The theatre is intimate and comfortable and the setting with the historic collection of old New Zealand items is great to wander around.” – Annette
Car Clubs and seniors’ groups are the primary customers. Indeed, I first went to Ryders for a mid-winter dinner and movie with my group from the NZ Military Vehicle Club. It was such a great evening that we have been back annually for the last five years. The dining room is toasty warm from the wood stove. Even the windows are historic from the Market Hotel. They still have the gold leaf sign writing on them advertising products like “Waitemata Draught Beer from Dominion Breweries 100% hygienic system”. It’s a unique venue which makes people really comfortable socialising together.
In our changing world and with COVID19 affecting businesses, we cannot take places like this for granted, so enjoy the hospitality while you can!