15-03-2019

The Coronation Hall, on the edge of the Lake of Remembrance in Queen Elizabeth Park, has seen a lot of changes in its 107 year history.  But it was not the first tea kiosk in the park, as GARETH WINTER from the Wairarapa Archive explains.

Opening summer sports season at Coronation hall in the early 1920s

Opening summer sports season at Coronation hall in the early 1920s

Shortly after the Masterton Borough Council assumed control of what was then called Masterton Park in the early 20th century, they embarked on a number of improvements, including creating ‘ornamental waters’, and erecting tea rooms.

In June 1906 a couple of local carpenters offered to build a combined tea rooms, summerhouse, cloakroom and lavatory if Council would agree to buy the timber. Councillor Temple drew up plans which would cost about £125-150, less if the offer of free labour was accepted.  The Masterton Band were keen to help, envisioning that the new kiosk could also act as a practice room.

In late November 1906 the Council agreed, and came up with an ambitious plan – they would try and build the kiosk in time for the New Year’s Day sports. Incredibly, the tender was opened, closed, and let within a week, and the kiosk/band room, sited behind the grandstand, towards Dixon Street, was officially opened before the end of the year.

It quickly became apparent it was not big enough, and was also poorly sited, the main activity in the park taking place near the lake rather than behind the grandstand. Accordingly a new building was planned, partially funded with money granted by central government to mark the coronation of George V, and called the Coronation Hall.

This more substantial building was designed by Milton Varnham and built by local firm Rose and Mason for the cost of £626. It was officially opened on February 2 1912, accompanied by a full day’s sport, with swimming sports in in the lake, running and cycling on the oval, and highland dancers and the Masterton Band performing.

The Coronation Hall was very popular as a social gathering place.  Bowlers and tennis players from the adjacent courts used it as a tea rooms, and it was frequently hired out for weddings and other social functions.  It even served as educational purpose.  Following the `1942 earthquake, in which many Masterton buildings were structurally damaged, it was used as a classroom by students from nearby Lansdowne School.

As the 1950s progressed the Borough Council found it increasingly difficult to find a tenant for the building and it was losing money.  As they were reluctant to spend any money on a building they were getting poor returns from, the Coronation Hall started to assume a very shabby appearance.  By the early 1960s there was talk of demolishing it, but help came in the form of the Masterton Aquarium Society, who took over running the building.  They ran a small kiosk and also charged a modest entry fee, and a generation of Masterton children were able to see tanks of tropical fish, axolotls and turtles.

By the early 2000s, the Coronation Hall was looking a bit shabby again, and the Aquarium Society ran out of steam.  The Council had adopted a new management plan for the park, and the hall needed to be brought up to fire safety standards. Once it was renovated, the Council sought a tenant for a café-restaurant.

The offer of Wellington property developer Doug Catley was accepted, and he and the Council refurbished the building as a French-style café.  It opened in May 2001, and was soon a popular destination for visitors and Mastertonians alike.

There have been a number of different eateries in the Coronation Hall since then.  People have been able to take advantage of the lakeside setting, to watch the cricketers on the oval, or watch the bowlers on the rinks alongside the building.

A new tenant has recently been secured, so the venerable Coronations Hall looks set to continue to serve the public of Masterton.