Temporary Building Closure from 6 June for Seismic Strengthening Work
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Our Cambridge Collection has changing exhibitions about Cambridge. Much of our collection is in storage to ensure its preservation for future generations.
Originally the area occupied by the present Town Hall was the sale yards – the centre of activity for Cambridge. A controversy arose when it was decided to move the yards out near the race course. The hotels would lose money and the town would die!
The Town Hall ended the ten year modernisation plan of the then Mayor, W F Buckland. He had decided this was the place for the Town Hall and the town’s people agreed (150 for and 130 against) to a £5,000 loan. Council offered a £10 prize in a competition for designs for a Town Hall, Municipal Building and Library. Fourteen architects’ drawings were entered and A B Herrold’s design was chosen – but the lowest tender from the builders Chappell & Wooley for £5,194, was £194 over the agreed loan. The Council said no go – the mayor resigned on the spot.
He returned two days later with the support he needed.
Incorporated into the Town Hall were the Borough Offices and Chambers with pressed steel ceiling, and the Carnegie Library – after a generous donation of £1,000 from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Laying the Foundation Stone
21 April 1909 – Performed by His Worship the Mayor W F Buckland, in the presence of a large number of town and country residents.
“The building would be a credit to the architect, the builder and a monument to the indomitable industry and perseverance of His Worship”, said Councillor John Ferguson as he handed the Mayor a silver trowel.
A most important occasion for the town, as it completed Buckland’s plan which he had laid out ten years before. Buckland said the motto of Cambridge was “Legando Crescit” which meant “continually grows” and whosoever chose it displayed wisdom.
They did not adopt the practice of putting coins under the foundation stone!
W G Care was the Clerk of Works appointed by the Council.
Part of the building’s beauty was in the materials – mainly white Huntly brick but relieved by gauged red brick on arches and sills and a line of the same colour running around the building. The base of the walls from foundation to floor-line was built in hollow concrete blocks with ‘rock faced’ fronts giving a solid appearance to the whole building. The main entrance was finished in Doric style with two imposing pillars supporting the front wall and galleries. The stucco work was relieved with red brick-pointed panels, the arches were turned on Oamaru stone and a little Oamaru stone is also introduced on the two side ramps.
The main lavatory was built of reinforced concrete floor and roof so that a hose could be turned on when necessary and the whole thoroughly cleaned.
Town Hall Opening Ceremonies
These were arranged by the Town Hall Opening Committee, Reception Committee, Decoration Committee, Refreshment Committee, Children’s Entertainment Committee and Dance Committee – in all 60-70 ladies and gentlemen.
“Citizens’ at Home” – 14 December 1909, began promptly at 8 pm with the singing of the National Anthem and W F Buckland’s speech. A programme of items (songs, music, Indian Club drill, tableau, etc) was given and after supper everyone admired the scenes painted for the hall. The singing of the National Anthem brought the function to a close.
“Children’s Entertainment” – 15 December from 2:30 to 7pm . The juveniles entered into the programme arranged for their special benefit with great zest, and made merry for several hours. The Children’s Entertainment Committee was helped by the teachers of the District High School. Some selections on the gramophone were given.
The “Summer Dance” – with excellent music, a fairly good floor and a well ventilated room, passed off very successfully. The supper room was found to be quite inadequate for the very large attendance – computed to be fully 150 couples.
F J Brooks the Town Clerk said that the Cambridge people provided a hall, intending that it should be the centre of attraction for the people all around. The Council were acting as trustees; they had built it and were going to administer it in the very best interests of the community. It belonged to the people. Its beauty, its accommodation and stability were evidences of the value of their asset.
The proceeds from the functions were put towards the cost of a piano for the hall.
The Empire Living Picture Company showed films in the Town Hall.
Curle’s Pictures and Haywards were also vying for patrons in the Alexandra Hall.
In 1915 an orchestra was provided and in 1917 new tip-up chairs were installed. June 1921, when electricity came to Cambridge, the Town Hall Pictures were shown for the first time by means of an electric motor.
In August 1927, Amalgamated Theatres Ltd assumed control of the Town Hall pictures. This was their third theatre and their first out of Auckland, and they spent £3,000 to remodel the Town Hall when the old barn-like front doors were replaced by folding doors with panels of plate glass and the corrugated iron ceiling was replaced with decorated plaster. The concealed coloured lighting was only equalled at the Regent Theatre in Auckland and the chandelier was the same style as that hung in the new Parliament House in Canberra. During the next decade a high standard of movie entertainment was provided and their chain extended to over 60 theatres.
Introduction of talkies on 12 October 1929 with the film “The Broadway Melody”. Cambridge was the first town in the Waikato to have talkies and this created much annoyance for the local residents who had to compete to get into their hall with hundreds of people brought in by the busload from other towns. The name changed to the ‘Town Hall Talkies’.
Many travelling theatre groups entertained as well as early soloists Peter Dawson, Gladys Moncreiff and Lilli Kraus. The NZ Symphony Orchestra played. The Cambridge Repertory Society staged plays for many years and the Cambridge Competitions were run here from 1922 to 1994.
The hall farewelled our soldiers to two World Wars – and welcomed home the heroes. Since Anzac Day 1916 it has seen the tributes paid to our fallen.
In 1918 during the influenza epidemic the hall was used as an Emergency Hospital where all cases of sickness requiring medical attention or nursing were promptly notified. The cases, on the recommendation of a Doctor, which could not be treated privately, were provided for on the premises.
In 1947 some of the roofing iron was removed and re-rolled and the store rooms under the stage were converted into offices for the Borough Engineer and Traffic Inspector.
On 1 January 1954 Cambridge hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip to lunch in the Town Hall. People came from miles around. And in November 2000 the hall was turned into a dressing room for the extras of the film ‘Her Majesty’.
Governor Generals, war heroes and sporting champions have been welcomed. Dozens of Debutante Balls, Hunt Balls, school Fancy Dress Balls, Flower Shows, Art Displays, Choir Festivals, private functions – 21st birthdays, engagements, weddings, reunions – gymnastics and probably all sports which can be played indoors, have all made use of the Town Hall.
It was announced in 1960 that £7,750 was to be spent on improvements when the supper room, dressing rooms and kitchen were to be enlarged. A new floor was also put down and in 1964 the stage got a new floor and the cloak room became the men’s toilet. New central heating was installed in 1965.
A new paint job saw the Town Hall’s interior ceiling done in ‘amber sun’, the walls ‘gardenia’ (pale green) and the dado ‘inca gold’. The library in the former council offices was also brightened with a coat of paint and the Museum (moving into the former Council Chambers) had moved into their show cases.
In 1982, there was a face lift to the foyer, kitchen, supper room and main hall. Prince William Theatre was complete by December 1982 for a cost of $100,000.
As the town has grown the Town Hall has adapted with the times. The Borough Chambers moved to the Carnegie Library in 1983 at a cost of $50,000. It has been the Community Arts Centre incorporating the Cambridge Museum. Then the Information Centre.
The Hall’s latest upgrade and strengthening, combined with the new Plaza in front linking the Hall and Jubilee Garden, gives an opportunity for gatherings to safely utilise the area both inside and outside while still retaining its integrity as an Historic Building.