There is no standing still: The Auckland City Corporation’s 'Municipal Record'

In 1924, Auckland City Council began publishing the Municipal Record, to promote the progress of the “Queen City.” Inspired by publications abroad, and encouraged by central government to publish details of civic work, the magazine was launched. There were plans to publish quarterly, and it was distributed free of charge, with the hope that Aucklanders would take more of an interest in civic matters, and accord “a fuller measure of sympathy and understanding” to Council staff.

Ref: Front cover of the Municipal Record, Vol. 1, No. 1, 15 March 1924.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

The Record promoted Auckland as a pioneer town growing into a modern city. Editor Robert Hill wrote that people new to Auckland, whether from New Zealand or abroad, should make an effort to learn about their new city. “These people know little or nothing of the city and until they do, they cannot become imbued with that intense civic enthusiasm that is a characteristic of so many older residents of Auckland.” Hill also hoped to promote Auckland to readers internationally “who have in all probability never heard of our city.” Ten thousand copies of the first issue were printed to distribute at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.

“The city must either move forward or backward – there is no standing still. And it is not in keeping with the spirit of Auckland to make a retrograde step.” (April 1925)

While council issues such as traffic congestion, the housing crisis, and street works were reported, promoting the city’s attractions was at the heart of the Record. Prince’s Wharf, the largest wharf in the Southern Hemisphere and described as “one of the world’s notable structures in reinforced concrete,” was touted as an example of vision and foresight characterising Auckland’s growth. Articles were published on the wonders of the water supply, reminding readers that in the recent past, water came from public wells. “From 5am queues were formed at the public wells, each person taking it in turns to fill his or her bucket. There are men and women still resident in Auckland who, as boys and girls, took their places in the water queues and struggled home labouring under the heavy and awkward load day after day.”

A recurring topic was the hoped-for new civic centre. It would be not just an administration building, but a complex that incorporated a new art gallery.

“We owe a duty to our children – and our children’s children. It is within our power – the power of the ratepayers of Auckland City – to present the Auckland of generations ahead with a public asset of great character and of incalculable worth.” (April 1925)

The land earmarked for this was the Old Market land between Wellesley and Cook Street. The city’s first markets had been held there until 1917, and the land cleared of derelict buildings in the early 1920s. It was hoped the new civic centre would “uplift and ennoble the character of the city and have an elevating influence on its citizenry.” Inspiration came from grand overseas buildings, particularly those with outdoor spaces, pictures of which the Record included for Aucklanders to dream about.

Ref: Henry Winkelmann. The Civic Square land at the junction of Queen and Wellesley Streets, prior to clearance,
March 1925. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1-W314.

Ref: Henry Winkelmann. The Civic Square land, looking down towards corner of Queen and Wellesley Streets,
March 1925. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 1-W674.

The phases of the grand plan were documented in subsequent issues. Designs were invited from architects and the winning design was that submitted by Gummer and Ford. The project was taken to a poll for approval, but in spite of the Record championing the cause, Auckland ratepayers voted not to go ahead with raising the loan of £340,000 for its construction.

Ref: Front cover of the Municipal Record, Vol. 2, No. 1. April 1925, showing the accepted design
for the new Municipal Building. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

With the failure of the Civic Centre proposal, a new plan was hatched. This time the civic centre would be built on Princes Street overlooking Albert Square. The Record extolled the value of the site. “Any person who wishes to conceive the vista of commanding buildings on such a site need only consider that the buildings would be conspicuous from the waterfront, and they would be visible from all vantage points around Auckland, even as far away as the Waitakere Ranges.” Again, the plan was ambitious. Buildings, including private houses, would be removed from Princes Street, but there would be no impingement on Albert Square itself. The Art Gallery and Municipal buildings would be built on the Albert Park side, while a Town Hall would grace the university side of Princes Street.

Ref: Drawing of the new proposal for a Civic Centre in Auckland. New Zealand Herald, 22 April 1926.
Retrieved from the  Papers Past website, January 2020. 

But the proposal was lost, again at the citizens’ vote. This left the conundrum of the old Market land. In 1929, it was announced that the land, now colloquially known as the Civic Centre, had been subdivided and the lots sold. “The class and design of building to be erected will make the block one of the most handsome in the city.” One of those buidings was the Civic Theatre.

Another significant issue the Record covered with gusto, was the rivalry between trams and buses. Ratepayers were asked to vote on whether to approve additional funding of £500,000 to the Tramways which would extend the tracks and overhaul the plant. The August 1927 issue explored the rivalry in the lead-up to the vote. The work included improving the Tramways Workshops at Mount Roskill. “Every possible device for the treatment of a sick tram or the birth of new ones is here,” the Record proclaimed. “A hive of industry where all the bees seem happy and most certainly busy.” 

Such was the interest, that on the day of the poll, August 17th, turnout exceeded that of any previous loan poll. The residents of Pt Chevalier, notably, voted in favour of the loan; tramway extensions had been promised them if it went ahead. But they were the only suburb to vote as such. Despite the aspirations of the Record to influence readers to approve the loan, Auckland ratepayers rejected the proposal decisively.

There were other projects that never came to be. A 1.5-mile-long underground tunnel was proposed, that would run from the planned new station at Beach Road, to link up with the line at Morningside. The tunnel would pass beneath Albert Park and Queen Street at Myers Park, and come to the surface after Newton Road. An underground station would be built beneath, giving the city a Town Hall stop.

Ref: Plan showing 'Route of Proposed Railway Tunnel, Auckland NZ'. From: Municipal Record, Vol. 1, No. 4., January 1925. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

In 1929 the final issue of the Municipal Record was printed. There was nothing to indicate it was the last, although there had been concerns that the Record was a waste of time and money. A few years earlier, a councillor put forward a proposal to reduce it from four issues a year, to two. Other councillors disagreed, as it was seen to be putting Auckland on the map internationally, and the proposal was rejected. The final issue, when it appeared at the end of January, was a special Scientific issue. Devoted to topics including birds, plant life, shore life and Māori life, the issue was timed to celebrate the New Zealand Institute Science Congress being held in Auckland. 

Auckland Libraries holds copies of the Municipal Record in the Central City Library.

Author: Joanne Graves, Research Central.