Shiny and New

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The historic Warkworth Town Hall’s renovation is coming along very nicely. It’s been a challenge – compared to the pretty Masonic down the road it’s been no oil painting for a long time now. But Junction’s mid-November visit made it clear: this is going to be an impressive makeover for an important piece of history. When it was built in 1910, the hall was clad in Clark’s Patent Glazed Stoneware Hollow Building Blocks (Clark’s later amalgamated with Crown Lynn). It’s now the only surviving civic building in the country still wearing these beautifully shiny, ox blood-coloured blocks. Up close, they’re all different, both in colour and, as Site Manager Mauré McLeod tells us, size. “Because they’re handmade, they’re unique. They’ve all shrunk in the kiln in slightly different ways. You don’t see bricks like this anymore… but it’s been a bit hard to get a straight line,” he says somewhat ruefully.

Architect Anthony Matthews had a clear idea of how he wanted the renovation to go. He’s been hugely sensitive to both era and social history, keeping for posterity such nods to previous users as the stenciled numbering on the narrow floorboards (recycled wherever possible) and leaving exposed early graffiti found inside the walls of the wings onstage. The original red folding chairs will also be recycled upstairs.

Inside, plaster dust eddies in shafts of sunlight through tall, elegant windows as builders enjoy their smoko. The height of the stud is a revelation. Classic Art Deco triple-stepped lines and zigzag plaster details edge the ceiling. In the foyer, the cashier’s window has been beautifully replicated, and protective slabs of ply on the floor reveal the most stunning mosaic floor in shades of ox-blood, cream, burnt orange and creamy gold – thousands of tiny tiles in perfect condition, just needing a buff and a protective coating.

When the hall was finished in 1911, the ‘citizen’s ball’ that was held was the beginning of a busy history. There were dances, socials and weddings, meetings of the Philharmonic Society, civic banquets and, from 1913, regular films. World War One saw the community farewelling their troops and war efforts in the hall. WWII was even busier: the Hauraki Regiment was stationed there and Warkworth was a base for American troops too. Dances and films to entertain them were an everyday occurrence and a temporary hospital was set up in a marquee next door.

Judy Waters, 81, went to Warkworth Primary School which was then round the corner. As a little girl, she remembers making flower saucers for the annual flower show at the hall and rehearsing endlessly for the post-war victory concert. “You should have heard the car horns and church bells when the war in the Pacific finished,” she remembers. The whole community headed for the hall to celebrate. As a teenager, she danced the Maxina, Valeta and Military Two-Step there. “We always had live music – it was just the local shopkeepers and community people who’d come along with their saxophones and trumpets, but it was wonderful,” she smiles.

The Warkworth Town Hall was listed as a Category 1 Heritage building in 2007, being not only a rare example of hollow stoneware block construction in Australasia, but also of ‘great significance in the social history of Warkworth’. We can only imagine the laughter these old bricks have soaked up over the years.

Kudos must go to the Warkworth Restoration Trust for their years of fundraising and meetings. Ilona Rogers, well-known performer and tireless chair of the Trust says: “When the doors of the Town Hall open again in 2017, social events will return as well as visiting artists. Already the music society has a program in place, and the Auckland Arts Festival and ballet companies are showing interest.”

Junction congratulates the work of the Trust: more quality cultural venues can only be a good thing. Even better is remembering and honouring over a hundred years of those who have partied before us.

Grand Opening: February 25, 2017 | Dawn Service + Powhiri | Revolving variety show, 10am-3pm | FB: Warkworth Town Hall Restoration Project