MERCURY THEATRE (KING'S THEATRE 1910)
Architect - Edward Bartley (1839–1919)
 
 

Located just off Karangahape Road is one of the most important buildings in Auckland; THE MERCURY THEATRE, which is the oldest surviving theatre in Auckland, built as the KING'S THEATRE in 1910.

The KING'S THEATRE went through several name changes; THE PRINCE EDWARD, THE PLAYHOUSE before eventually being named the MERCURY THEATRE in 1968.

 
Had this building been located almost anywhere else it would have doubtless enjoyed landmark status simply because of its engaging façade. However it’s position on a relatively narrow sloping street means it is quite difficult to really take in and appreciate the quality of the architecture.
 
 
The building was designed by Edward Bartley as an imposing piece of Edwardian Baroque architecture but it’s importance lies not so much in it’s appearance but in its history.
 

Tthe Fullers company was one of the businesses concerned with public entertainment in Auckland at the turn of the 20th Century, providing excursion tours by boat and coach. In 1910 they expanded by constructing the KING'S THEATRE on what was then Upper Pitt Street.

The new theatre opened on 28 November 1910 at a cost of £7,777.

 
26 November 1910
 

The new "Luxurious" theatre was intended by the owner Benjamin Fuller to be as up-to-date and as safe as possible. To begin with electricity was provided both for the auditorium and the stage lighting [gas flames and flimsy scenery and costumes were often a fatal combination] Most importantly the stage was separted from the auditorium by an Asbestos Drop Curtain in case of fire.

Bartley's fit-out of the interior used components chosen to be as fire-restistant as possible. Little wood was used and the staircases are constructed using concrete. All the interiors have ceilings made of pressed tin panels. Pressed tin ceilings were common in many buildings of this period partly becuase they were thought [erroneously as it happens] to be a fire retardant surface.

Although intended primarily as a live drama venue the KING'S THEATRE was built with the facilities to screen the new Electric Moving Pictures. This was to prove very important for the survival of the building since it actually has a very shallow stage. In fact it opened in 1910 with the showing of a Film, obviously a very up to date and modern thing to do.

 
 
Moving pictures were first shown in Paris in 1896, within six months they were being shown in the AUCKLAND OPERA HOUSE and over the next 14 years several theatres and halls in New Zealand were converted to show Motion pictures on a regular or permanent basis.
 
Cinema Posters March 1911 in Nelson
 
The first purpose built Cinema in Auckland was the 1911 LYRIC THEATRE on Upper Symonds Street (demolished). The oldest purpose built cinema is the VICTORIA CINEMA in Devonport from 1912 [which is also the oldest Cinema in continuous use in the Southern hemisphere.]
 

In 1911 the KING'S THEATRE showed the first Colour Film screened in New Zealand. This film was apparently screened at Fullers three major Auckland theatres; the GLOBE, Queen St, The KINGS THEATRE, Newton and the OPERA HOUSE Wellesley Street.

This film was not just a coloured in Black & White Film, but one of the twenty or so early colour processes that were experimented with before Techicolor was perfected in the mid-1920s, the earliest colour film process was patented as early as 1899.

 
 

The colour film shown in 1911 will have used the 1908 Kinemacolor process which required two projectors. One projected a red and the other a green image which had to be carefully syncronised to create a coloured moving image.  

This was created by the viewer's persistence of vision. The process was not ideal; quickly moving items like the wagging tail of a dog tended to appear alternatively red and green. It was very easy for the two projectors to get out of synchronisation creating an irritatingly blurred image so Kinemacolor was swiftly superceded by other processes.

 
     
 

It isn't known what the colour film shown in 1911 was called; it would have been very short and was of course silent. 

 
These short films tended be non-fiction pieces with topics chosen to show off the novelty of colour; shots of flowers and gardens and events such as fashion shows.
 

If they were pieces with storylines they were often very simplistic comedies with settings and costumes chosen to highlight the use of colour; this scene with circus performers is an example.

 
 

In the first decades of the 20th century Moving Pictures were often used as a novelty item before the proper performance of the evening. At the upper end of the market "Artistic" shorts or Travelogues might appear before a piece of Live Theatre. The Durbar at Delhi 1911

At the lower end of the market comedy shorts and cartoons would be included in a line-up of vaudeville acts.   List of Early Cartoons.

 

Emile Cohl - Fantasmagorie 1908

 
As this newspaper article from 1911 illustrates Fullers apparently provided a whole evenings entertainment with a selection of films.
 
Article image
 
Article image
 
 
 
The showing of motion Pictures was obviously much less complicated than organising the many performers, costumes and scenery required for live theatre. This and the fact that during the 1920s films became increasingly longer and more sophisticated meant that cinema began to displace live theatre as popular entertainment.
 

It was undeniably easier to turn a profit from moving pictures than live theatre and several theatres became cinemas at this time. The KINGS THEATRE was one of several live drama venues in Auckland and it's constricted stage area was probably a major factor in the decision to convert it into a full-time cinema.

 
To relaunch the venue Fuller decided to build a new entrance, probably because, amongst other reasons, the new [and very large] George Court Store obscured the view of the France Street facade from Karangahape Road.
 

Directly to the north of the theatre was a slender piece of property between the Hallensteins Building and Bradstreets Drapery Store.

On this site was constructed the new entrance to what was now the PRINCE EDWARD THEATRE.

 
The site for the new entrance cost £ 13,000 and was designed by the architect Daniel B. Patterson who designed many cinemas for Benjamin Fuller.
 
 
 
The PRINCE EDWARD THEATRE was named after Edward, Prince of Wales whose Tour of New Zealand in 1920 was still very much in the public mind. Prince Edward [later Edward VIII] was one of most glamorous personalities of the period and his popularity was on a par with of film stars during the 1920s.
 
 
The New K Road Entrance [behind Policeman]
 
 

The New Entrance: Ticket Booth [left] and display cabinet [right]

The marble stairs decend from Kroad to a lower level to make

the ascent up the Grand Marble Stairs more impressive.

 
The new entrance was designed as a long corridor with a Roman Vault. It was an elegantly slim space, two storied in height and distinguished by marble stairs and oak panelling. As well as large bracket lights the entrance was lit by concealed uplighting (a very modern and glamourous touch).
 
 

The New Entrance:

The view back to the Karangahape Road Entrance doors. This image shows the Art-deco bracket lamps and the Oak-panelled walls.

 

The newly restored leadlight skylight arch.

 
The new entrance was in the form of a broad staircase which decended from Karangahape Road in easy stages down to a lower level. This was largely in order to make the Grand Staircase more impressive.
 

At the top of the stairs was a new lobby surmounted by a leadlight dome in the Neo-Greek style which was artificially lit from above at night. The whole effect was described in the Auckland Star as "extremely artistic".

 
The theatre reopened on 16th of July 1926. It became Fuller's most important venue in Auckland after a devastating fire gutted Fuller's Opera House in Wellesley Street West in December 1926 (that building was not rebuilt and was eventually replaced by the rear portion of Smith & Caughey's Department Store).
 
 
The Dome Room in 1941
 
The Dome Room [as it is now called] is an example of the type of sophisticated Palm Court interior which evoked the glamour of the large luxury hotels and ocean liners of the period.
 
 
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The PRINCE EDWARD was one of about six cinemas operating in the Karangahape Road area between the turn of the century and the 1960s, when the popularity of suburban life & radio and the advent of television lead to a decline in the cinema business.

 
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~The PLAYHOUSE~

 

In the late 1930s the name was changed to THE PLAYHOUSE. This was partly due to the fact that Edward, Prince of Wales was no longer a prince and after the abdication crisis in 1936 his name was no longer a drawcard, but also because the theatre was being used for live drama productions again.

The PLAYHOUSE is a name with a very long history including theatres operating in London since the Restoration period. The current PLAYHOUSE in Northumberland Avenue in London dates from 1907 and is probably the source of the PRINCE EDWARD's renaming. That theatre was known for premiering the works of George Bernard Shaw, and Somerset Maugham as well as being managed by Gladys Cooper.

 

In 1946 Fullers sold their entire  set  of public entertainment venues in New Zealand and concentrated on providing ferry services.

THE PLAYHOUSE was one of these venues and was thus operated from this time on by the Kerridge-Odeon group.

 
 
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The ROYAL NEW ZEALAND BALLET
 

On June 30th 1953 the first performance of the Royal New Zealand Ballet took place at the PLAYHOUSE THEATRE. This was a historic event  made all the more intriguing by the fact that the Playhouse's stage is very shallow. Even staging small dramatic performances is often problematic but for the needs of a Ballet performance the stage is ridiculously small. Perhaps this was when the stage was built out beyond the proscenium arch.

 

The opening work, entitled ‘Dance Without Tears’ was choreographed by Poul Gnatt.

 

Fokine's "Les Sylphides" with Gloria Young and Poul Gnatt
 

Gnatt had been the principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet until moving to New Zealand and founding the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Poul_Gnatt   Royal New Zealand Ballet

 
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During the 1950s the theatre had a resident company, the New Zealand Theatre Company. In the early fifties, plays, musicals and reviews were performed interspersed with films. In 1956 the original entrance in France Street was restored. In 1967 the Playhouse closed, and the 1926 entrance was sold off as a separate property.
 
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THE MERCURY THEATRE
 

In 1968 the Cinema became the home of the MERCURY THEATRE COMPANY. The building was extensively refitted to serve as the company's headquarters and principal venue.  The name was derived from the Mercury Theatre Company established by Orson Welles in New York in 1937.

As the K Road entrance was now no longer available the France Street entrance was reopened as the main entry to the theatre. The auditorium was reduced in size at this time, part of the rear of the stalls was partitioned off to create a larger lobby.

The rear part of the upper circle was separated from the auditorium and a secondary performance space created for smaller productions.

The Dome Room was now used as a rehearsal space and dance studio.

The renovated MERCURY THEATRE opened with a production of J. M. Barrie's comedy, The Admirable Crichton. The Company's range of productions was eclectic; a dozen or more shows were presented every year, ranging from children's pantomimes to cutting-edge drama.

The company presented classics by Shakespeare, Shaw, Sheridan and Chekhov, as well as new works from playwrights such as Christopher Hampton and Tom Stoppard. New Zealand authors were well represented; including Roger Hall, Bruce Mason, and Maurice Shadbolt.

 
 
  
 
The musical productions ranged from items like Chicago, The fiddler on the roof, Porgy and Bess, The Sound of Music, South Pacific and WestSide Story, to full-scale operas, such as like The Barber of Seville, Don Giovanni, Gounod's Faust, Madame Butterfly and Turandot.

Although the Mercury drew large audiences, the costs of maintaining a full-sized company and mounting lavish productions were high.

The opening of the Aotea Centre in 1989 also changed the landscape of Live drama in Auckland.

 
 

In 1992, to the disappointment of Auckland's theatre-going public, the company closed. The final production was an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, written by Alan Bennett with music and songs by Jeremy Sams.

The MERCURY THEATRE had been the focus for live theatre in Auckland for over two decades. Both as a venue and as a training ground for actors, it played a significant role in the theatrical life of NZ and is remembered fondly by a great many people.
 
In 1992 Auckland City Counci renamed France St as Mercury Lane  to honour this memory.
 
 
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The MERCURY THEATRE building is currently the premises of the Equippers Church.
 
 

During the time it was used as the MERCURY THEATRE the interior of the auditorium had been left intact but was painted matt black. The Equippers Church has tried to recreate the original colour scheme  of cream, red & blue. Much of the detailing has been painstakingly highlighted in gold.

 
The PLAYHOUSE 1948
 
The building is available for hire and recently saw the production of a theatrical work for the first time in over 15 years when the Auckland Opera Studio staged the opera The Seven Deadly Sins in 2006.
 
The MERCURY THEATRE is now owned and operated by:
www.equipperschurch.co.nz
 

Current view of the auditorium

Note the builtout apron stage

 
 
 
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Fly My Pretties - September 2013
 
 
The Show Must Go On - Auckland Arts Festival 2011
 

Rhian Sheehan ~ Standing In Silence ~ May28th 2011

 
A model showcases designs by Stolen Girlfriends Club on the catwalk during New Zealand Fashion Week 2010 at Mercury Theatre on September 23, 2010 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Stolen Girlfriends Club - September 23, 2010
 

Beyond the Box - Kurt Weill's - The Seven Deadly Sins - 2006

Mezzo-soprano Bianca Andrew (left) and dancer Anita Hunziker
 
Article image
The Client
 
Sir Benjamin Fuller
 

(1875–1952).

 

Born in London on the 20th of March 1875, Fuller started his stage career at the age of nine as a member of a troupe of nigger minstrels and, later, as a young man, sang in the chorus of grand opera at Covent Garden.

In 1895 he worked his passage to Australia, where he joined his father's touring variety show.

The show afterwards toured New Zealand, where the Fuller family settled, and John Fuller senior began in business himself by organising popular concerts in Auckland.

The Fuller brothers [John and Benjamin] became involved in the management of touring theatrical companies. In 1914 Ben and John became joint governing directors of John Fuller & Sons Ltd and Ben was based in Sydney.

This became a large operation which grew from just organising transportation for performers to include catering and excursion packages for the general public.

Eventually the novelty of the new Moving Pictures meant the company began to incorporate them as part of the evening lineup in their theatres.

By 1927, Benjamin and his brother John (1879-1959) controlled 13 theatres in Australia, in addition to their New Zealand holdings.

With the advent of “Talkies”, the firm, in association with Henry Hayward of Auckland, went fully over to importing and showing Motion Pictures.

 
 
In the 1930s Sir Benjamin left the company in the hands of his son and retired to Great Britain.
In 1946 the complete Fuller holdings in New Zealand, 64 theatres, were sold to Kerridge-Odeon.
Sir Benjamin made large donations to many Australian educational institutions, and in 1921 he was knighted for his gifts to the University of Sydney to help young doctors.
 
Amongst his many charitable interests he was chairman of the Howard Prison Reform League, vice-president of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution, and president of the Australian Council for International Social Service.
 
 
He was one of the people involved in the founding of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1929, (a private radio service which was nationalised in 1932).
 

Benjamin had married twice. On the 6th of October 1900 he married Jessie Elizabeth Burton, née McDonald, a widow; she bore him a son in 1902 but died in May 1903. 

By his second marriage to Elizabeth Mary Thompson of Auckland he had a son and two daughters.

 

Sir Benjamin collapsed on the 10th of March 1952, in a London tube train and died in St Georges Hospital.

 
He was survived by a son of his first marriage, and by his second wife and their two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £173,180.
 

Benjamin Fuller was one of five children born to John Fuller and Harriet Jones ~ all of whom settled in New Zealand:

Benjamin Fuller

Walter Fuller

John Fuller junior

Hetty {Mrs John Hamer of Dunedin}

Lydia {Mrs Chief-Detective Boddam of Wellington}

 
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The Architect
 

Edward Bartley 

(1839–1919)

 
Bartley was born in Saint Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands. He arrived in New Zealand in 1854 and married Elizabeth Hannken in February 1859.
 
Trained as a carpenter and joiner, he worked as a builder when he arrived in the colony. In 1872, he went into partnership with another builder, forming Matthews & Bartley, Builders.
 
He moved to the North Shore in 1872, later building his own home in Victoria Road, Devonport. He became a prominent Devonport resident and was active in local politics.
 
He was active in the Eight-Hour Movement, a member of the Royal Rifle Company Volunteers, the Auckland choral Society, the Microscope Society, Tthe Photography Society, the Museum Institute, the Auckland Institute of Architects and was a founding member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1906.
 

Along with his sons Alfred, Arthur and Frederick who became architects he also trained Malcolm Keith Draffin (1890-1964).

Keith Draffin would go on to be one of the architects of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The firm of Bartley & Son continued under Alfred Bartley after the retirement of Edward Bartley in 1914.

 
During his long career he served as architect to the Anglican Church, the Auckland Savings Bank and the Auckland Hospital & Charitable Aid Board.
 
The Mount Eden Public Library designed by the firm Bartley and Wade was probably his last building.
 
For the 1913 Auckland Exhibition he was a member of the Building Committee which selected the designs and oversaw the construction of the exhibition buildings in the Auckland Domain
 
Edward Bartley in 1913
 
Bartley's work is found from Whangarei to Cambridge.

His notable Auckland buildings include;

Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street, 1881

St John's Church, Ponsonby Road, 1882

Jewish Synagogue, Princes Street, 1884

Costley Home for the Aged Poor, Greenlane, 1889.

Jubilee Building, Royal Institute for the Blind, Parnell, 1892

KING'S THEATRE, Newton, 1910

Mt Eden Public Library, 1912.

Edward Bartley's Devonport Home where he died in 1919.

Edward’s wife Elizabeth was born in Sydney, Australia in October 1838 and came to New Zealand in 1840 with her mother. The family settled first in the Coromandel, later moving to Auckland.

She probably met Edward through the Auckland Choral Society. They were both amongst the foundation members in 1856

Elizabeth died in December 1921 and was buried with Edward,  at the O’Neill’s Point Cemetery, North Shore.

 
 
Children of Edward Bartley and Elizabeth Hannken
 

Arthur Edward     (1859- 1940) Frederick Adolphous (1862- 1899)

Alfred Martin       (186?- 1929)

Matilda Louisa    (1867-1868)

Emily Bertha       (1869-1944)

Harold Edgar       (1871- 1872)

Mabel Theresa    (1872-1873)

Albert Ernest       (1873- 1940)

May Elizabeth      (1875- 1951)

Eva Rosine          (1877- 1954)

Percival Leonard  (1878- 1908)

Amy Zealandia    (1879- 1880)

Claude Victor       (1881- 1919)

 
 
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Daniel B. Patterson

1880 - 1962 

Architect
 
Patterson was the architect of the 1926 Entrance which is now known as THEATRE Cafe.
 

Born in England, Daniel B. Patterson came to New Zealand in 1910 as a qualified architect. One of his first jobs was to prepare details for the Ferry Buildings.

He became a member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1914. 

 

In 1915 Fuller had Patterson create the STRAND CINEMA in Queen Street as a flagship for his firm. He was apparently the main designer for Benjamin Fuller almost two decades.

 
The STRAND CINEMA was intended to set a new benchmark for the industry in New Zealand and was certainly a prestigious venue at the time.
 
Fuller wanted to attract a more leisured, monied and respectable audiences to his theatres and cinemas and required elegant, sophisticated interiors.
 
New regulations of the period demanded better fire safety  which included better lighting and easily understood ways of exiting a building.
 
Fuller and Patterson met these new regulations head on and produced spacious but unfussy interiors lined with fire proof materials and elegantly lit with leadlight  windows and electric lamps.
 
Patterson was adept at providing elegant interiors which were easily cleaned and met the new safety requirements.
 
Central to this vision were good detailing and the judicious use of quality materials including Oak timber paneling, porcelain floor tiles, marble, and leadlight windows.
 
Porcelain floor tiles - one of Patterson's trademark materials
 
His design work for Fullers Cinema Chain was spread throughout the country although comparatively few of the buildings or interiors have survived intact.
 
The THEATRE Cafe interior may be one of the only interiors left which can give an idea of his cinema work, which were very similar to the lobbies and lounges of the great hotels and ocean liners of the period.
 
Patterson's Marble Staircase
 

Patterson succeeded Edward Bartley as the architect for the Auckland Diocesan Trust Board. He was also architect for New Zealand Breweries Ltd and Campbell Ehrenfried Co Ltd.

 
Patterson was the senior partner in the firm of Daniel B. Patterson, Lewis and Sutcliffe.
 
Much of Patterson's prolific architectural ouput survive and include banks, fire stations, hotels and churches as well as commercial, administrative and residential buildings throughout the Auckland province.
 

Most notable of these buildings in Auckland are several branches of the Auckland Savings Bank which are all variations on one design and were thus intended as a 'House Style".

 
Former ASB Branch Jervois Road
 
The nearby 1944 Fire Station on the corner of Pitt Street and Greys Avenue is probably one one of the best examples of Streamline Art-Deco Moderne in Auckland.
 
1944 Central Fire Station
 

Buildings produced by  the firm of Daniel B. Patterson, Lewis and Sutcliffe.


Domestic~

* Nathan House, Manurewa.
* 1922 additions to Birchlands - now Government House in Mt Eden.

* Alterations to Bishopscourt, Parnell.

Institutional~
* Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Mt Eden.

* St. Stephen's College, Bombay

* Avondale Fire Station. 1929  
* Central Fire Station 1944

Commercial~
* Ellison Chambers, Queen St. 1912

* Dalgety Building, Albert St 
* L. D. Nathan Building Fort St [demolished]

Ecclesiastical~ 
* St. David's, Khyber Pass. 
* St. Columba's, Grey Lynn. 
* St. James', Orakei. 
* St. Andrew's, Kohimarama.

 
 
Daniel B. Patterson died 7th May 1962 aged 82.
 
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~ BRAZIL ~

1995 -2007
 

Formerly Brazil Cafe,

now Theatre Cafe.

256 K Road

 
 
 

1995-2007
 
When the PLAYHOUSE THEATRE closed around 1960 the K'rd entrance building was sold off as a seperate title and became the Norman Ng fruit shop [said to be the only fruit shop with a marble floor].
 
When Norman Ng's closed in the early 1990s the space was fitted out as one of K'rd's most famous and popular cafe's; Brazil.
 

Brazil is how most people remember this space; The place aesthetic had a strange, anarchic, and post-apocalyptic feel to it probably derived from the films Blade Runner and Brazil.

The name may have been derived from directly the 1985 film BRAZIL or from the ancient mythical place Hy-Brazil .

 
Run by brothers Brothers Dominic and Simon Taylor for 23 years in 2007, the cafe closed: NZHerald
 
The last day of trading was the 30th of September 2007.
 

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  BRAZIL exterior
 
  BRAZIL interior
 
  BRAZIL interior
 
 BRAZIL interior
 
 
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~ HANDMADE BURGERS ~
2008
 
In 2008 the space reopened as Handmade Burgers with a renovated interior with a new mezzanine floor and staircase.
 
HANDMADE BURGERS
 
The leadlight skylight was restored and new entrance doors created. Many other interior details were recreated as part of this renovation but the aged effect on the Roman Vaulted ceiling was retained.
 
HANDMADE BURGERS at Night
 
HANDMADE BURGERS upstairs
 
Various portions of the interior were recreated including parts of the moulded panelling.
 
The restoration of the arched skylight was a major achievement - several panels were intact and thus able to be used as a template to recreate the missing portions. The centre  panel was absent however and a new design was made by Edward Bennett to complete the composition.
 
Before restoration
 
The Restored Skylight
 
Unfortunately no images of the original front doors have been located so new doors were designed in a version of the Art Deco style and constructed in Kauri, bronze and New Zealand Greenstone.
 
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2010
 
On the 12th of December 2010 the space reopened as THEATRE CAFE. 
 
THEATRE Cafe
 

The new interior redesign incorporates most of the Handmade Burger refit including the new staircase and restored skylight. .

 
THEATRE Cafe
 
Several areas of new oak panelling matches the original work by Daniel B Patterson although it is not in places where panelling originally existed.
 
The new counter is very like the original one installed when this was BRAZIL.
 
 
Image
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Auckland 1010

09-303 0501

 
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