The Christchurch Town Hall

The Christchurch Town Hall has been a significant building on the Christchurch landscape since it opened on 30 September 1972.

Christchurch Town Hall. 22 February 2019. Christchurch City Libraries collection. https://discoverywall.nz/media/71651
Christchurch Town Hall. 22 February 2019. Christchurch City Libraries collection. In copyright. https://discoverywall.nz/media/71651

Official opening

The Christchurch Town Hall was officially opened on 30 September 1972 by His Excellency The Governor General, Sir Denis Blundell, GCMG, KBE. Initially a joint project by the six former metropolitan territorial local authorities, i.e. the former Christchurch City Council, Paparua and Heathcote County Councils, Riccarton and Lyttelton Borough Councils, and Waimairi District Council, the Christchurch Town Hall is now the responsibility of the Christchurch City Council.

The Town Hall complex is situated on the bank of the River Avon and overlooks Victoria Square. It contains three major elements arranged together as one building.

Christchurch Town Hall 1972 Opening

Take a look back at when the Christchurch Town Hall first opened in 1972. Can we recreate that epic queue at the Christchurch Town Hall Open Days?!

Posted by Christchurch City Council on Thursday, February 14, 2019

Douglas Lilburn Auditorium

The Auditorium was conceived primarily as a symphony concert hall, but was designed to be suitable for a great variety of public assembly purposes, including a lyric theatre mode. It seats an audience of 2,354, an orchestra of 120, and a choir of 400. The Auditorium is elliptical in plan with two levels of tiered seating surrounding the level central floor and the orchestral stage. Encircling this hall are two levels of promenade foyers and backstage accommodation. The installation of a pipe organ in the Auditorium was completed in May 1997.

Originally the main performance space was known simply as the Christchurch Town Hall Auditorium. On 2 March 2004 a plaque to commemorate the Christchurch home of Douglas Lilburn, New Zealand's leading contemporary composer, was unveiled outside the south-western door of the Christchurch Town Hall. During the period 1941-1950 Lilburn had lived in a dwelling on the site of what would later become Christchurch Town Hall and it was there that he completed a number of compositions, including ‘Landfall in Unknown Seas’, ‘Allegro’, ‘A Song of Islands’ and ‘Symphony No.1’ for orchestra, among others. Following the laying of the commemorative plaque a recommendation was made to also rename the Auditorium in his honour.

James Hay Theatre

The James Hay Theatre was designed as a traditional drama theatre and concert chamber for similar musical performances. It holds an audience of 1,006. The theatre has a fan-shaped auditorium with one upper gallery, both leading from a common foyer which embraces the outer arch of the fan at the back of the tiered seating, and is quite open to, and forms an extension of, the auditorium space.

Foyer, convention and function rooms

The foyer, restaurant, convention and function rooms provide facilities for public dining, private and civic receptions, conventions, exhibitions and meetings.

Christchurch Town Hall view
Christchurch town hall interior, September 2010. Flickr CCL-CWF10-P1100066

Between the Auditorium and the theatre, a common entrance foyer with mezzanine refreshment bars lead directly to the Boaters Restaurant which projected over the edge of the river bank. This area is now known as the Avon Room.

The upper floor contains a 500 seat banquet hall known as the Limes Room (464 m²). The Conference Room (232 m²) is divisible into two parts. Adjacent is the Cambridge Room (232 m²). It is the upper floor of an extension completed in 1976 which includes catering, office accommodation and utility rooms on the ground floor.

The CSO Centre

The CSO Centre, designed by Warren and Mahoney was built as an addition during earthquake repairs to the building and was opened in August 2019.

The three-storey building, which connects into all levels of the Town Hall, houses the orchestra’s rehearsal rooms, known as the Ron Ball Studio, administration offices, the Rodney Eastgate Music Library, and a Players’ Lounge.

Other features

The cost of the total project, as extended, with furnishings and equipment, was approximately $4 million. $500,000 was raised by voluntary subscription through Town Hall Promotion Inc. The balance was found by constituent local authorities, mostly from loans.

The Ferrier Fountain in front of what was then Boaters Restaurant was donated by Mr and Mrs Jack Ferrier to mark the opening of the Town Hall.

The architects were Warren and Mahoney of Christchurch, and the main contractor C. S. Luney.

Christchurch Town Hall
Christchurch Town Hall. September 2010. Flickr CCL-CWF10-P1100058

Since its opening, the Town Hall has hosted many civic functions, local cultural and commercial events, shows, and concerts. It was home to the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, the Christchurch City Choir and several amateur theatrical groups.

Recent history

The Town Hall’s function rooms were augmented in 1997 by the opening of the Christchurch Convention Centre, which was built to adjoin the Town Hall via a glass flyover bridge over Kilmore Street. The Convention Centre was demolished in April 2012 as a result of earthquake damage.

Repair, restoration and extension

On the 29th August 2013 the Christchurch City Council voted to fully restore the Town Hall as part of the development of a new Performing Arts Precinct for Christchurch. All the options included the partial or entire retention of the Town Hall. Under the option chosen, the Auditorium, entrance foyer, James Hay Theatre and the Limes Room would be retained. The Boaters Restaurant and the Cambridge Room would be rebuilt.

The Christchurch City Council began an expression of interest (EOI) process for contractors interested in tendering for the Town Hall conservation project on September 2014 and the tender process closed in February 2015.

On 11 June 2015, Christchurch City Council was "asked to confirm the August 2013 decision to spend $127.5 million on fully repairing and restoring the 1972 heritage-listed Christchurch Town Hall, which has been closed since it was damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes." The restoration was approved as reported by Lois Cairns and Tina Law reported in The Press: Christchurch Town Hall $127.5m restoration approved.

Foundation work repairs on the town hall complex began in November 2015.

In July 2017 approval was given for the works to be extended to include a new three-storey Warren and Mahoney-designed building as a rehearsal and office space for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, as well as offices for Vbase, the venue management company that operates the Town Hall, and public toilets. 

Reopening

The first public access to the repaired complex was on Saturday 23 February and Sunday 24 February 2019 at which time the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, the Avon Room, formerly the Boaters Restaurant, and the Limes Room were completed.

The first performance, a concert by the CSO and Shapeshifter in the Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, took place on 1 March 2019.

The James Hay Theatre reopened in May, and with the opening of the CSO's new headquarter extension the repairs and restoration were completed in August 2019.

See the Town Hall project timeline.

Town Hall open day. 23 February 2019. Christchurch City Libraries collection. In copyright. CCL-DW-71331
Town Hall open day. 23 February 2019. Christchurch City Libraries collection. In copyright. CCL-DW-71331

Find more in the collection

Related pages

Online resources

Christchurch Town Hall
Images on the Discovery Wall website.
Christchurch Town Hall
Our images of the Town Hall on Flickr.
Christchurch Town Hall
A Digital NZ set of images of the Town Hall.
Christchurch Town Hall - Foundation laying Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision
Excerpts from the broadcast of the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone for the Christchurch Town Hall in 1969.
Opening of Christchurch Town Hall Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision
Excerpts from the broadcast of the opening ceremony for the new Christchurch Town Hall. 1972.
Christchurch Town Hall
Wikipedia page about the Town Hall. Includes links and Wikimedia Commons media.
Christchurch Town Hall
Warren and Mahoney portfolio page.
Christchurch Town Hall
Marshall Day Acoustics about the acoustics of the Town Hall auditorium.
Public Art in Central Christchurch
PDF publication on the Christchurch Art Gallery website. Contains information on the Ferrier Fountain and interior Town Hall artworks including Rainbow Pieces and the Women’s Suffrage Commemorative Wall Hanging.
Christchurch Town Hall for Performing Arts and the Performing Arts Precinct
Details of the conservation project from the Christchurch City Council. Includes history and background and latest updates.

Source

This was originally derived from the Christchurch City Council handbook of 1998.

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