Sunday, 3 April 2011

Another Building Turns 100

In 1911, a fresh, new building was erected on the corner of Chester and Main Streets across from the current medical centre which was then the Wallace County Offices. It was the new Smith and Laing building - ironmongers, and sellers of furniture, hardware and everything else under the sun. Smith and Laing began their first business in Esk Street, Invercargill, in 1900 and subsequently had premises in Otautau and Winton. Their slogan was 'the store that serves you best'.
(Source: 8 Aug 1911, Otautau Standard. Retrieved from Papers Past website)

By 1924, the building was bought by Jack Robbie and Bill Smith and became the new location for the Wallace Motor and Tourist Company. They sold Buicks, Morris and commercial vehicles, operating for the next 10 years.

(Source: The Southern Motor Industry by Jack Johnstone).

Interestingly, world wars actually figure into the history of this building. After WWI, the usual war memorials erected were monuments of one style or another. However, after WWII, there was a movement to make war memorials something that the community could use. So it was with this in mind that in 1948, the Otautau RSA and the Town Board had been considering what would be a fitting memorial for the local men who served in World War II. It was felt that the former garage would fit the bill, but there were major renovations that needed to be made. Those renovations didn't happen until 1953-54 when good wool prices gave them the money to afford it. Part of the building had been used for wool storage, and when prices escalated, it paved the way for the conversion work to proceed. The Otautau RSA named the building the Otautau RSA Memorial Hall and Youth Centre. It was then gifted to the community, and the Town Council accepted guardianship of it.

The building saw a lot of use for about 38 years as a place where kids could come and play organised sport, where community events and entertainment happened, and where the RSA had their club rooms. In 1990, with declining use, the Wallace Community Board sought tenders and sold the memorial hall to a local business owner, relocating the RSA to the former Plunket and Library Rooms that had been built onto the Town Hall in 1931.

After a century of use, the old Smith and Laing building, "the store that serves you best," still stands proudly in our town and is the home of Steentjes Joinery Co.

Thanks to Peter Ayson, Secretary/Treasurer of the Otautau RSA, for writing the history of the RSA with respect to this building.

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