The following story is an excerpt from a script provided by Grant Stevenson. Mr Stevenson was the event organiser of the 2004 Wellington Town Hall centennial celebration. This script was written by Dave Armstrong and presented at the centennial event by Miranda Harcourt and Franky Stevens.
In the 1870s, the idea of a Town Hall was first raised, but internal council politics meant little could be done. In 1900 a poll was held. All those ratepayers in favour of a Town Hall being built say ‘I’. Carried unanimously.
Architects are invited to send in designs for a new Town Hall and municipal buildings to be sited on the reclamation reserve at the foot of Cuba Street. And the winner, with a design in the classical Renaissance manner, goes by the nom-de-plume of Commonwealth who turned out to be local architect Joshua Charlesworth.
At 2.30pm on Wednesday 7 December 1904, Mayor Aitken led a robed procession into the building to declare it open with suitable music by Mendelssohn and Elgar.
An Evening Post headline read: ‘Opening of the Town Hall. Interesting speech by the mayor!’
By March 1906, the new Town Hall organ was installed. The Mayor declared the Organ open, then a local organist played a toccata. The organ was declared a success.
“The noble arpeggio chords of the Toccata finely displayed the majesty and weight of the instrument, while the quality of the soft registers was very delightful.”
However, amid the tumultuous chorus of approval which has hailed the new organ, it may seem like heresy to suggest that it is really too powerful for its location, and that it would be better placed in a hall of still larger size than our Town Hall.
Wellingtonians were highly satisfied with their magnificent new concert venue.
Well, most of them.
“Dear sir, some 1600 people paid admission to the Children’s Festival at the Town Hall last night. I would have had greater enjoyment had the ladies sitting in the front of me removed their hats. I suggest it should be made a rule that ladies be asked to remove their hats at all concerts in the Town Hall. Yours, Annoyed of Hataitai.”
Now that Wellington had a large venue with world-class acoustics, stars from around New Zealand and the world could perform here.
“Internationally renowned Māori Contralto Princess Rangi Pai is a warm-hearted and sociable singer, though very emotional, temperamental, and to some extent unpredictable.
And to be honest, rather difficult to accompany. Her own composition, the song ‘Hine e Hine’, written only last year after the deaths of her mother and younger brother, brought a tear to the eye.”
Te Rangi Pai’s beautiful song would be sung by men and women many times over the next 100 years.
A host of events big and small
In 1936, the Ngāti Pōneke group of entertainers, together with Māori from other areas, made their first of what would be several appearances in the Wellington Town Hall.
A year later they would take the name of Ngāti Pōneke Young Māori Club.
During World War 2, Ngāti Pōneke would welcome and farewell troops, entertain foreign servicemen, and fundraise. In one vintage year during the war they would perform 265 times.
The 1940 apple pie contest, held in the Wellington Town Hall, was a hotly contested event. The winner of this prestigious event went on to compete in the national apple pie finals at the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition.
When the Second World War finally ended, the Wellington Town Hall was the venue for the victory speeches.
“We must see to it, said Prime Minister Peter Fraser, with a new world based upon social justice and human brotherhood that the dead have not died in vain, and I believe New Zealand will rise to any and every occasion.”
With war over, and a period of peace and prosperity ahead, life could finally get back to normal.
Read more about the events that have shaped our Town Hall in further excerpts from the centennial speech:
- A place for politics and royalty
- A fighting history
- Community hub during times of war
- Music for everyone
- Refurbishments and additions
- Rock and roll at the hall