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Saving a hall and its history

hall for marines

By Gregor Thompson
The Titahi Bay Marines Hall, built in 1942 as a recreational hall for US soldiers stationed in New Zealand during World War II, has stood empty since 2012 due to structural issues.

Despite some resistance, primarily from the Porirua Little Theatre Company who occupied it from 1951 onwards, but also from locals who have fond memories of the hall, in May 2018 the Porirua City Council (PCC) made the decision to bulldoze it.

Now, after two years have passed with little progress, the PCC have sought a voluntary suspension of demolition of up to 130 days on grounds that,

(a.) “the applicant (PCC) intends implementing a consultation and engagement plan with the local community and stakeholders, to seek the views and opinions for what a possible commemoration and/or memorial may look like.” This, being a course of action that was hitherto deemed unnecessary. And,
(b.) “that the Proposed District Plan will be notified shortly, expected towards the end of August 2020, that it would also be reasonable to consider the new provisions as part of the decision making process.”

Neither of these clauses suggest any reversal of the decision. However the public consultation may rally interest and could stimulate a more sensitive council response that acknowledges the cultural and historical significance of the site.

History

The US Marines Hall is the only surviving building of its kind in NZ. Over 27,000 marines were camped in NZ during WWII either recovering from active service in the Pacific or training to join that fighting effort. Of the hundreds of buildings built for the marines, no other similar building exists today. This building is unique in New Zealand for both its recreational nature and for the fact that it remains on its original site.

The association of the New Zealand and US forces during this time of global warfare is of tremendous historical importance and recognition of this alliance is quickly fleeting New Zealand memories.

At the time of its erection the plain and unadorned styled building was the largest and most prominent building at the camp. While fulfilling is original purpose, the hall was surrounded by tent sites and huts housing the American visitors.

The hall’s purpose was entertainment, built for American jazz, music, comedy and dance. The idea being that some 2000 marines in the area would not need to travel to Wellington for entertainment.

The Marines Hall hosted some of the very first moments where New Zealanders were physically exposed to Americanism, the cultural tour de force that is perhaps only just now losing its mass-appeal.

In the summary of a comprehensive but unsuccessful submission written in June 2017 by Anne Lowe, an architect and member of the Porirua Little Theatre Company, Anne states:

“It’s not without irony that the application for demolition is being made by Porirua City ‘Growth and partnerships’ when the proposal seeks to remove a much‐loved space where community connections cultivated in favour of grass and a plaque. A plaque could never bring to life the space people came together, trained, danced, played music, sung, learned, took risks, laughed, cried, formed lifelong friendships and fell in love.”

Given how far down the line this is, and the current condition of the property with virtually all materials having to be replaced, it is unlikely the decision for demolition will be re-evaluated.

However, the Government’s $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) has not yet been fully allocated. Perhaps applying may be worthwhile, it would also have the double effect of bringing jobs into a community that is likely to be acutely affected by Covid-19 unemployment.

Whatever the case, the situation will continue to unravel and, given the uniqueness of structure and its history, it’s this writer’s opinion that it would a shame to let the community forget this story. A “commemoration and/or memorial” will not suffice.

So, given the opportunity of a consultation period, it would be appropriate for the ideas behind the building’s construction to transcend its demolition. The council should foster proposals that incorporate arts and culture – given the enormous benefit they provide, the same benefits that have been sorely missed since the building’s closure in 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Patel, 27. August 2020, 18:10

    It is very typical for this kind of heritage destruction to occur in New Zealand. It is why New Zealand has a reputation as cultureless, because it destroys historic landmarks. It is inconcievable that the American forces association would allow this to occur, when you consider the sacrifice the American troops made to keep the Pacific free from the Japanese threat.