Cromwell hall farewelled with foggy dawn blessing

by Kim Bowden - Apr 29, 2024

After decades of discussion, decisions, over-turning of those decisions and then more decisions, the Cromwell Memorial Hall has been officially farewelled by the community it has served for close to 65 years.

Dozens of people, including local government decision makers past and present, mana whenua, council staff and members of the public gathered near the cenotaph outside the hall for a dawn blessing, although thick fog kept the sun's first rays at bay.

Proceedings began with a karakia by Mauraka Edwards of Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, followed by waiata and speeches.

Construction fencing and scaffolding are in place at the Cromwell Memorial Hall, Monday, April 24, 2024, in preparation for its demolition.

Mr Edwards said the ceremony was about "clearing for the work to begin and continue on".

The demolition and building project is being spearheaded by the Cromwell Community Board, and in her address chair Anna Harrison acknowledged the journey that had brought the community to this point.

She says that journey "has been long, and reaching this milestone is cause for celebration".

"We're not just saying goodbye to our memorial hall, we're signalling a change - a moment when we have the opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the future."

Many different activities and events held over the years in the hall were referenced throughout the speeches: weddings, school balls, dances, funerals, Anzac Day services, public meetings, bowls roll-ups and tournaments, karate lessons, theatre productions, music gigs and even movie sessions, where strict behaviour expectations saw movies paused while offenders were kicked out.

"There are many current and past Cromwell people who have wonderful memories of this place," Mrs Harrison says.

Former Cromwell Borough Council mayor Peter Mead says the hall was built with the help of a 'pound-for-pound' subsidy scheme that had central government match local fundraising efforts to develop war memorial facilities.

Mr Mead donned a hat, suit and tie for this morning's event, a nod at the hall's closing to its opening.

"Photographs taken at the time the hall was opened showed many man who attended wore suits, and a significant number of them wore also a hat.

"My dress this morning is therefore an acknowledgment of appreciation to those who had an involvement with the building of the memorial hall.

"It did take an awful lot of fundraising and also thousands of hours of voluntary work."

Mr Mead did also look to the future: "Times do change, Cromwell has changed enormously, and now it is time to move forward into the new era".

Former Cromwell Borough Council mayor Peter Mead says he wore a hat for the closure of the Cromwell Memorial Hall as a nod to those who attended its opening 65-odd years ago.

Speaking to Crux after the official proceedings, deputy mayor and Cromwell councillor Neil Gillespie says he was born the year the hall was opened, and many of his family members were involved in its construction.

Until its closure in recent years, it had hosted many events throughout his life.

"Movies in the holidays, my wedding reception, fire brigade functions, and Anzac Days."

In more recent decades, the hall has been front and centre of his time in local government.

Councillor Gillespie first became a member of the Cromwell Community Board in 1998, and he says discussions on renovating or updating the facility were already underway, although other priorities delayed any action.

In 2017, then the community board chair, Councillor Gillespie used his casting vote to progress a $5.34 million redevelopment of the hall - two months later, the plan was shelved as the board directed staff to investigate building a completely new facility, after more than three hours of debate and another tight vote.

Yet for one Cromwellian the final process towards a replacement facility has felt too rushed.

David George, whose complaint to the Chief Ombudsman sparked an investigation into whether the council had adequately consulted with the community on plans for the new hall, remains unhappy.

He was in attendance today and says he feels "extremely sad and extremely angry", and that he considered heckling during the morning's proceedings.

One of his main concerns is the planned relocation of the war memorial gardens and cenotaph located adjacent to the hall.

However, Cromwell RSA president Denis Ryan has publicly endorsed the council's plans, and spoke today about the RSA's anticipation for the new facility. 

He says although today marked the official farewell for the old hall, the day the power was turned off to the eternal flame within it was the end for him.

"In the hall entrance was the eternal flame, glowing red, 24 hours a day for the last six decades. This was the red, bleeding heart of those men (Cromwell's fallen servicemen). This eternal flame was there for everyone who entered the hall as a reminder for us all to remember them.

"But all is not lost. In two years' time, when the new hall is built, the eternal flame will glow red once again in its rightful place."

Construction fencing and scaffolding is in place around the hall, and building contractor Naylor Love will now begin the demolition process.

During her speech, Mrs Harrison confirmed the long-admired sprung wooden dance floor inside the hall would be salvaged and incorporated into the new facility's dance and movement space.

The build of the $45.8 million replacement hall is expected to take approximately two years to complete.

Read more:

$45.8m Cromwell events centre all go after council decision

Cromwell Museum, RSA distance themselves from hall complainant

Ombudsman investigates Cromwell events centre process

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