Friday, 3 October 2008

Future of Town Hall

The future of the Town Hall is to be discussed at a public meeting on Wed, 22 Oct.
Looking back into the history of this hall, I found that the Otautau Athenaeum existed before the first town hall and was built some time in the 1870s and '80s. Athenaeums were built all over the place in the early years of settlement; it seems nearly every town had one. An athenaeum was like a public library but also a meeting place and had rooms for people to meet and play games. This excerpt is from the Otago Witness, 29 Jun 1888, obtained from National Library's PapersPast website.

According to Ken Bye's Trial By Fire, Trial By Water, by 1883, there was a growing desire for a town hall. This was finally built in 1892, next to the Athenaeum. A portion of the first town hall still stands today as the former O.K. Milk Bar on Main Street.

This was replaced in 1912 with the rather magnificent Town Hall we have today.

This hall was used for all kinds of community gatherings and meetings, from movies, plays, concerts and dances to going-away parties. It was even used as emergency relief in the 1913 flood because it was one of the few buildings that had a second floor.

Today, the hall is used less and less for community events, perhaps in part due to the tenuous seismic structure issue, but also because the town is changing. However, at least one very important event still takes place there every year, and that is to commemorate Anzac Day. After the ceremony at the War Memorial, and parade through Main Street, the whole community gathers at the Town Hall. What would future Anzac Days be like if there is no town hall to go to? Once a building is gone there is no going back.

As the public meeting approaches, there is a lot to consider. At the meeting the community will have a chance to speak its mind on what the town hall means to them and whether it should be kept and seismically improved or whether it's time for a change.

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