The hundred-year-old Papatoetoe Town Hall (part 1)

On 27 February 2018 Papatoetoe will celebrate the centenary of one of its most iconic buildings, the Papatoetoe Town Hall. A centenary dinner will be held in the hall and stories and photographs from residents and community groups who have used the building over the years will be on display (contact for details). This is the first part of a history of the hall we will be publishing before the centenary celebrations.

In 1916, when plans for the hall were formed, Papatoetoe was a growing and prosperous suburban community offering both the advantages of country living and a ready link to Auckland by the railway line. Its population had more than doubled from 386 to 785 people over the previous three years. Its leading residents decided it was time the town had the facilities to match its size, including a public hall.

View of Station Road East, Papatoetoe, ca 1925. The Papatoetoe Town Hall can be seen towards the middle right. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 05416.

Building a public hall

The Papatoetoe Road Board accordingly bought two sections of land in Station Road East (later St George Street) for the site of a hall. On 7 October 1916 the town’s ratepayers voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking out a £2500 loan to erect a hall that would also house a reading room and the road board’s offices.

Mr John Routly of Auckland was selected as the architect and Messrs Hanon and Sons as the builders. The new building was officially opened on 27 February 1918. Mr Ernest Niccol, the Chairman of the Road Board presided, and Sir Frederick Lang, MP for Manukau, declared the hall open. The formalities were followed by a concert which included items by the Papatoetoe Boy Scouts’ Brass Band. The hall, designed to hold as many as 700 people, was almost full for the occasion.

A description of the building which appeared in the Franklin & Pukekohe Times some 18 months later has never been bettered: “The building is of brick, on reinforced concrete foundations, the façade being in red and buff pressed bricks with Portland cement dressings. Generally, the brickwork is of cavity construction, to give stiffness to the structure with the minimum of material, and to ensure a thoroughly dry interior. The façade is a free treatment of renaissance work … [with] slight use of the Doric and Ionic orders in working out a bold and effective sestina. The auditorium is approached by a roomy vestibule, flanked by large cloak and coat rooms … An ample stairway leads to suitable space for reading and waiting, and to the office of the Town Board. The auditorium is lofty, with plaster beamed ceiling, white plaster walls, with dado finished in dark oil paint for hard wear. The proscenium is flanked with composite pillars, capped with a moulded architrave in white plaster. The interior woodwork is flat varnished heart of rimu …”

The writer ended his article presciently: “It will for many years be the gathering place of the residents of Papatoetoe for purposes from grave to gay.”

G.W. Robertson, view of the Papatoetoe Town Hall, ca 1925. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 01433.

Unfortunately, the same article revealed that the hall, however impressive it was on the outside, had not yet been finished on the inside. The original loan had proved insufficient, and although a total of £3000 had been spent, plans for a gallery at one end of the auditorium and a permanent stage with dressing rooms at the other, had been deferred. (The kitchen, which was located under the temporary stage, had previously been described as dark, damp and draughty). And, although it seems that the Road Board held its meetings at the hall, its offices had not been completed.

During its first two years the hall was usually referred to as the ‘Papatoetoe Public Hall’. After the formation of Papatoetoe Town District on 28 March 1919, it was more commonly referred to as the ‘Papatoetoe Town Hall’. Since the town district included only the central portion of the road district, and the remainder of the road district was incorporated in Manukau County, Manukau County Council became part-owner of the hall.

The hall in its early years

In July 1917 local garage proprietor J. Covine applied to lease the hall to show ‘cinematographic pictures’ (films). On 3 September 1917 the Road Board granted a three year lease for the purpose to Messrs Covine and Ernest. It is unclear whether films were shown there before the hall was officially opened, but it went on afterwards to serve as Papatoetoe’s de facto cinema until the purpose-built Central Theatre was opened on 12 September 1928. The town hall was last used as a cinema in August 1930.

One notable event held in the hall during its early years was the Manukau Queen coronation ceremony. The Manukau Queen Carnival was organized by the local Red Cross to raise money for the war effort. Several weeks of patriotic fundraising activities by committees in Alfriston, Clevedon, East Tamaki, Mangere, Manurewa, Otahuhu, Papakura, Papatoetoe and Westfield culminated with the crowning of Elsie Dow of Clevedon (whose committee had raised more than £3544) as Manukau Queen on 29 August 1918.

Other important events held in the hall in its early years included the newly-formed Papatoetoe Orchestral Society’s inaugural concert on 19 March 1919, and the Papatoetoe Spring Flower Show on 3 September 1919. These presaged many similar future events.

Manukau Queen coronation ceremony in the Papatoetoe Public Hall, 29 August 1918. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 02345.

In 1929 the hall’s stage was enlarged. A quick trawl through newspapers for part of that year shows how richly the hall contributed to the town’s social and cultural life. Events held there included the civic Anzac Day service, Anglican and Methodist church fundraising concerts, a presentation of sports awards to boys of the Papatoetoe Primary School, an ‘At Home’ for the St Mary’s Homes’ Association, a dance school recital, a series of ‘old-time’ dances, a concert in aid of the Papatoetoe School Library Fund, and the seventh annual meeting of the Papatoetoe Town Board.

On 20 July 1933, the Town Board’s new boardroom and public offices were opened in the upstairs rooms of the Town Hall. The work on outfitting the offices had been undertaken by skilled craftsmen working as relief labourers under the No. 5 scheme. The town board chairman was quick to note that the board had paid award wages.

The Papatoetoe public library

It was originally planned to include a library or reading room within the town hall. However, when Papatoetoe’s first municipally-funded library was opened on 5 November 1945, it was not situated inside the hall, but in a small wooden builder’s hut that had been moved to a vacant section next door. Two years later a 12 by 30 feet ex-Army hut was added to double the library’s size.

The first Papatoetoe public library building, photographed in 1949. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 01540.

Frederick William Jenks, stereoscopic photograph of citizens gathering outside the Papatoetoe Town Hall to hear the proclamation of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne, 11 February 1952. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 02061.

Dominion Breweries staff attend a ‘smoko’ in the Papatoetoe Town Hall, ca 1950. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 02568.

Frederick William Jenks, stereoscopic photograph of a happy pack of Brownies outside the Papatoetoe Town Hall, September 1950. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Footprints 02062.

The rest of the history of the hall will be covered in part two.

Author: Bruce Ringer, Auckland Libraries South Auckland Research Centre


The quote describing the town hall in its early years comes from the article ‘Papatoetoe Town Hall’, Pukekohe & Waiuku Times, 8 August 1919, p. 1. Other information comes from a range of newspaper articles which are referenced on Manukau’s Journey and for the most part accessible via Papers Past; also from the Papatoetoe Road Board and Town Board minute books, held by Auckland Archives. See also: Ivy F. Smytheman and Albert E. Tonson, Our First Hundred Years: An Historical Record of Papatoetoe, 1962, p. 59; Bernard Gadd, City of the Toetoe: A History of Papatoetoe, Palmerston North, 1987, pp. 52-3, 55, 65, 73, 80,86, 101-2.