Newcastle City Hall | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Newcastle City Hall

Item details

Name of item: Newcastle City Hall
Other name/s: Newcastle Town Hall; Part of the SHR-listed Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre Precinct
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Community Facilities
Category: Hall Town Hall
Primary address: 289 King Street, Newcastle, NSW 2300
Local govt. area: Newcastle
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Awabakal
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT1 DP225689

Boundary:

The curtilage follows the property boundary on the north and west sides, taking in the City Hall itself, Christie Place, the adjacent footpath and lamp posts and part of Wheeler Place,. The eastern boundary extends from a point six meters east of the footings of the Civic Theatre Building, north to the Hunter Street footpath and south to the King Street kerb. The three lamp posts in front of Nesca House, immediately to the west of the City Hall precinct are included in the listing.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
289 King StreetNewcastleNewcastle  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

Newcastle City Hall is of historic and aesthetic significance to the State of NSW as an imposing civic building embodying the civic pride of NSW's second city in a restrained inter-war classicism. City Hall is an outstanding example of the Inter-War Academic Classical style in NSW. The building's planning, construction and history of use demonstrates the evolution of local government in Newcastle, reflecting the growth, development and increased power of local government across the twentieth century in New South Wales. The style of the building is illustrative of significant social and aesthetic values of the inter-war period in NSW, demonstrating a desire to hold onto traditional forms of architectural stylism particularly in public architecture, in the face of modernism and social and political change. Locally, the architectural pretensions and central Newcastle site demonstrates the perceived centrality of local government to the City of Newcastle during the interwar years, and ambition of mayors and civic leaders to leave their mark on the city by transforming this previously industrial area into a unique cultural precinct to form the civic heart of the City. City Hall has strong associations with its designer Henry Eli White, an internationally noted theatre architect of the early twentieth century, and JV Rowe, principal designer for the Wunderlich company from 1904 to 1925, responsible for the original interior finishes and decoration. Locally the City Hall has a significant association with Alderman Morris Light (1859-1929), Mayor and businessman, the realisation of the City Hall and Civic Theatre complex being his greatest achievement. The building is also associated with Alderman Joy Cummins, who was the first female Lord Mayor in Australia.

NB This entry for Newcastle City Hall should be read in conjunction with that for the Civic Theatre (5060931). Although each is, individually, of state heritage significance, they are listed together on the State Heritage Register as the Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre Precinct.
Date significance updated: 03 May 13
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Henry Eli White, J V Rowe (interior)
Builder/Maker: Charles Davis and Son
Construction years: 1928-1929
Physical description: Newcastle City Hall is a three storey stone-clad building in the Inter-War Academic Classical style. It is supported by a steel frame and reinforced concrete floors. Like the similar Brisbane Town Hall, its design follows the precedent established in the nineteenth century, where the strong vertical mass of a central tower emerges from a relatively low base over three storeys. The building features imposing symmetrical pavilions with coupled Roman Doric and Ionic orders on the three main facades, which are designed to be seen 'in-the-round'. On the southern, King Street, faade a Porte Cochere is supported by sandstone Roman Doric style columns, the balustrade above the entablature has circular turned balusters. The balusters are slim and have been largely replaced by synthetic stone balusters.

The upper two storeys of the major facades are treated as a single storey united by Ionic columns. The ground floor is treated as a rusticated plinth. This device prevents the classical detailing on the building looking distorted. The rear elevation, backing onto Christie Lane, is painted cement render. A deep continuous base course is broken by two original escape doors and a new escape door introduced in 1980. Sandstone quoins return on both ends, three moulded string courses and a cornice being the only features. Blind windows are then used to excellent effect.

The external wall cladding and elements such as the Porte Cochere, the clock tower, balconies, balustrades and external stairs are built of Sydney 'yellowblock' sandstone. Externally, metal grilles, window and door frames are used.

A vehicular ramp leads up to the main entrance midway between the ground and first floor levels. The entrance is then enclosed in the Porte-Cochere. The flat roof of the Porte-Cochere provides a terrace off the main staircase mid-way between first and second floors. This ingenious planning device clearly defines an imposing entrance and again helps break the height and bulk of the building. The scale is further reduced by means of a flight of steps from King Street.

The clock tower is an imposing landmark and distinctive feature of the city sky line, indicating the Civic Centre of Newcastle. The tower is a reinforced concrete and steel framed structure clad in Sydney yellowblock sandstone ashlar with rusticated quoins.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The City Hall appears to be in good physical condition.
Date condition updated:17 Apr 12
Modifications and dates: Repairs and sympathetic alterations were carried out internally in 1981.
Current use: City Hall and offices
Former use: Aboriginal land, town lot, City Hall and offices

History

Historical notes: In July 1927, following much pulic debate and two referenda, the Council resumed just over 2 acres of land for the civic complex, including a site owned by John Brown. Included in the resumption were 10 lots in Section A of the original 2000 acre grant to the Australian Agricultural Company. Newcastle City Hall still stands on Lots 10,11,and 12 of this portion, while Christie Place occupies Lots 13 and 14 with Wheeler Place occupying lot 9. The land was swampy and required six feet of fill to prepare it for the new engineering works including a blacksmiths' shop, fitting and machine shop and a moulding shop.

In November 1927, Council decided to change the external cladding material from brick and cement to freestone. Within three weeks the decision had been made and the building was to be faced with 30,000 super feet of stone from Waverley in Sydney, increasing the cost of the project by 26,480 pounds. The work was suspended until government approval was granted for an additional loan of 81,000 pounds to cover the cost of the stone and increased land acquisition costs. (The loan was finally repaid in 1960.)

Pouring the foundations of Cockle Creek concrete reinforced with BHP steel began on March 7 1928. Seven tons of steel were used in one area at the base of the tower. Existing overhead high tension mains in the vicinity of the site were put underground to allow an unimpeded view of the Town Hall, and a substation constructed to the west of the building. The foundation stone was laid on April 20 1928 by the Governor Sir Dudley de Chair, who travelled by train to Newcastle. He described the people of Newcastle as industrious and enterprising and declared the Town Hall 'one of the noblest structures of the kind which has been erected in the State'. He then laid the foundation stone of polished trachyte.

As a general policy in construction of the Town hall, the Council preferred to use local materials, suppliers and contractors. British steel had been specified but steps were taken to substitute BHP steel. BHP steel was more expensive than the specified imported product, and Council approached the BHP to bear half the costs of the steel, which they accepted, reducing the cost of the steel by 250 pounds.

J.V.Rowe, recognised furnishing expert, was engaged to undertake the interior decoration. Rowe had come to Australia in 1904 as chief designer for Wunderlich. He is credited with introducing Art Nouveau to Wunderlich. He continued to work for the firm until 1925. He was Principal of the East Sydney Technical College. Previous commissions include the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney, Rose Bay Golf Club and private homes in Sydney.

On December 14 1929, the Governor Sir Dudley de Chair returned to Newcastle to open the town hall. The adjacent Civic Theatre was opened by the Premier, Mr T Bavin. To mark the opening, Council declared 'Civic Week', a week of celebrations.

The clock was initially to be a gift to the city but the cost of 850 pounds was borne by the Council. At the time the clock was seen as a worthy rival to London's Big Ben. The clock and bell were supplied by Prouds, together with 15 small electric clocks which were synchronised with the father clock.

Lord Mayor Morris Light's original concept was later modified to encompass the Civic Theatre including an exhibition hall and 14 shops, public open spaces (Christie Place and Civic Park) and new roads (Wheeler Place and Christie Street). The construction of the City hall and the Civic Theatre was the catalyst for the transformation of this part of the city centre. This generous vision for the civic precint which forms the centre of today's Newcastle, and the lavish construction of the Town Hall and adjacent Civic Theatre was made possible by the optimism and booming economy of the early-mid 1920s. The use of a classical style for the Town Hall is reflective of a persistent belief in the western world that the true architecture 'had its roots in Greece, Rome and the Renaissance and that some form of classicism was the only safe port in a stormy sea of change' that was the early twentieth century. (Apperly, Irving and Reynolds, p. 154)

In 1937 the 11 borough councils in Newcastle were amalgamated to form the City of Newcastle and the Town Hall became the legislative and administrative hub from this time. The name was changed to City Hall in honour of this event.

During the war years City Hall formed an important hub for charitable and patriotic organisations as community activities of this nature burgeoned, and also hosted recruitment rallies, patriotic fundraising concerts, returned soldiers events. The National Emergency Services organisation was moved into the No. 1 Committee Room in the City Hall in March 1941, and in January 1942, as the war seemed to draw perilously close to NSW, the main door of of the City Hall was bricked up as a protection against potential blasts.

By the late 1950s and 1960s the City Hall was becoming crowded and the City Engineer, Aldermen and the public jostled for space. Both public and staff facilities were seen as shabby and inadequate. The pressure was finally relieved with the construction of the Civic Administration Centre in 1977, and the relocation of all administrative functions out of the City Hall. Local architects Suters and Busteed and local builder R W Black were engaged to carry out refurbishment works aiming to incorporate new services, such as air conditioning, and converting previous office space into public spaces, at the same time maintaining and enhancing the dignity of the original design. In 1981 these works recieved an award from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects as one of the best examples of building recycling in NSW. The City Hall was largely spared by the 1989 earthquake, but some repairs to the tower were necessary. After 2001 major stonework conservation was undertaken (Conservation Management Plan, p. 2)

City Hall continues to house Council Chambers, as well as hosting civic receptions, community gatherings, weddings, national and international conferences, trade shows, seminars, corporate meetings, product launches and social functions.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Developing local, regional and national economies-National Theme 3
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Significant Places: How are significant places marked in the landscape of Parramatta by, or for, different groups?-Monuments and Sites
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Changing land uses - from rural to suburban-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages 19th century suburban developments-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages 20th century Suburban Developments-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Civic centre-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages 20th Century infrastructure-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. 19th century government - a regional centre-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Local government-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. Local and municipal self-governance-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Interwar Georgian revival-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Interwar Academic Classical-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Newcastle City Hall is of historic significance to the State of NSW. The planning and construction of the building in the 1920s and the over crowding and final separation of administrative functions in the post war years demonstrates the growth, development and increased power of local government across the twentieth century in New South Wales. The style of the building, combining a modern construction with classical configuration and facades, is illustrative of significant social and aesthetic values of the inter-war period in NSW, demonstrating a desire to hold onto traditional forms of architectural stylism in the face of a growing modernist movement, particularly as an expression of civic pride and aggrandisement. Locally, the architectural pretensions and central Newcastle site demonstrates the perceived centrality of local government to the City of Newcastle during the interwar years, and ambition of mayors and civic leaders to leave their mark on the city by transforming this previously industrial area into a unique cultural precinct to form the civic heart of the City.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
City Hall has strong associations with its designer Henry Eli White, who was an internationally noted theatre architect of the early twentieth century, many of whose domestic and oveseas theatres are listed on state and national heritage registers. In this major civic building he employed a restrained interpretation of Academic Classicism to embody the civic aspirations of Newcastle in the interwar period, today respected as the focal point of Newcastle. City Hall is also associated with JV Rowe, principal designer for the Wunderlich company from 1904 to 1925, responsible for the original interior finishes and decoration. The City Hall has a high level of local significance through its association with Alderman Morris Light (1859-1929), Mayor and businessman, who served on Newcastle and Carrington Councils for 35 years, was the catalyst for the building of City Hall. Among his other notable achievements was his push for the electrification of the Sydney to Newcastle Railway line. His greatest achievement remains the realisation of the City Hall and Civic Theatre Complex. Showing foresight and integrity as a statesman, Light demonstrated his democratic spirit by taking the concept to the people on two occasions in referenda about the location of the building and its uses. The building is associated also with Aldreman Joy Cummins, who was the first female Lord Mayor in Australia.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Newcastle City Hall has aesthetic significance for the State as an outstanding example of a major public building designed in the Inter-War Academic Classical style set adjoining community open space and associated cultural institutions. The building is one of the finest examples of its class of item in the State of New South Wales, with a largeness of scale and an imposing presence in the streetscape befitting its civic and political importance to the Hunter region. Its style expresses the conservative community attitudes of the day in regards to appropriate design in public architecture, combining classical elements with the beauty of Sydney yellowblock sandstone. It employs the use of modern construction materials (reinforced steel and concrete) with a traditional facing material. It forms a central part of this landmark civic precinct, back to back with the Civic Theatre designed by White as part of the same project, and its classicism provides a striking contrast to the modernist Nesca House (State significance), situated to its west.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Although this aspect of the building's significance has not been specifically researched, it is clear that Newcastle City Hall is a potent symbol of civic pride held in high esteem by the local community. It remains in active use as the seat of local governance and plays host to a constant stream of community and local business events, as well as regional and national conferences and performances. It is a prominent civic icon, with an accessible and democratic atmosphere, which provides a sense of place to the local community.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
City Hall has the potential to yield information about the role of administration and government in a major regional city during the Inter-War period and about the history of the second largest city in New South Wales. It has the potential to yield information of the decorative techniques of the period and of the 1980s period. Archaeologically, the site has the potential to yield invaluable information relating to the early settlement of Newcastle and industry on the site until the construction of City Hall in 1928, including the Australian Agricultural Company, which owned the land until the late 19th century.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The building is one of the the only examples of its class (a large Town Hall designed in the Academic Classical style from the Inter-War period ) in New South Wales.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
City Hall is representative of a wave of classical architecture which struck Australia in the 1920s before the widespread advent of modernism in the years following. It can be ranked alongside other major Inter-War Classical buildings in Australia such as the Commonwealth bank in Martin Place and Central Block of the State Library of New South Wales. Purpose-built as the seat of govenment and administration od NSW's 'second ciity', it is among the most outstanding examples of this style of architecture.
Integrity/Intactness: The integrity of this item is very high and its symbolic importance is underscored by the value placed on its setting - parklands rich in public art (sculptures), fountains and other cultural institutions. The view to the clock tower from the southern approach has been marginally compromised by the erection of the City Administration Centre in 1969.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Recommendations

Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Recommended ManagementReview a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) 
Recommended ManagementPrepare a maintenance schedule or guidelines 
Recommended ManagementCarry out interpretation, promotion and/or education 

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for commentNewcastle City Hall CMP - for HB comment May 30 2008
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions HERITAGE ACT 1977

ORDER UNDER SECTION 57(2)

Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre Precinct
Newcastle

SHR No. 1883

I, the Minister for Heritage, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the NSW Heritage Act 1977, do, by this my order, grant an exemption from section 57(1) of that Act in respect of the engaging in or carrying out of any activities described in Schedule C by the owner, mortgagee or lessee of the land described in Schedule B on the item described in Schedule A.

The Hon Robyn Parker, MP.
Minister for Heritage

Sydney, 22nd Day of July 2012

SCHEDULE A

The items known as the Newcastle City Hall and the Civic Theatre Building, situated on the land described in Schedule B.

SCHEDULE B

All those pieces or parcels of land known as Part Lot 1 DP 225689 in Parish of Newcastle, County of Northumberland shown on the plan catalogued HC 2545 in the office of the Heritage Council of New South Wales.

SCHEDULE C
Newcastle City Hall
1. External façade remediation programme and associated conservation works carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 City Hall Conservation Management Plan and including change of materials to improve durability where this does not affect heritage significance.
2. Installation of accessible lift including associated structural modifications to the lift shaft and external lift motor room, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan, particularly Conservation Policy 48, page 67/8.
3. Reconfiguration, upgrade or renewal of commercial kitchens in existing locations.
4. Modification or replacement of building services to meet standards, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
5. Internal alterations to the IT department, not affecting original fabric.
6. Alterations to seating in the Council Chamber, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
7. Renewal and replacement of flooring in service areas, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
8. Renewal or replacement of air conditioning plant on the roof, not visible from the street together with associated ductwork, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
9. Works to Concert Room and Banquet Room floors, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
10. Works to Concert Room and Banquet Room floors, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
11. Reconfiguration of the plant room roof to improve slope.

Civic Theatre Building


1. Internal fit-out of shops on Hunter Street frontage, not affecting the shopfront windows or significant fabric.
2. Fit-out to the space currently trading as the Civic Brasserie -limited to internal changes to non-original fabric and not involving external fabric or finishes.
3. Signage for the purposes of advertising shows and theatre events, limited to periodic replacement of print media on the existing armature above the Hunter Street awning.
4. Under-awning business identification signage of shops on Hunter Street frontage, limited to content of existing suspended signage and not affecting the external fabric or finishes of the shops.
5. Modification or replacement of existing building services to meet current operational and Australian standards, carried out in accordance with the policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan and with the advice of a qualified heritage architect.
6. Upgrade of services within existing conduits and ducting.
7. Renewal or installation of air conditioning plant on building roof, not visible from the street.
8. Alterations to back-of-house storage areas, prop rooms, dressing rooms and service areas not affecting original significant fabric.
9. ‘Make good’ works to the west façade of the building. Following demolition of the Civic Arcade.

Christie Place
1. Construction of temporary access roads during City Hall façade restoration and ‘make good’ works to Civic Theatre building.
Sep 27 2012

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register - Element 0188327 Sep 12   
Local Environmental PlanCity Hall and Lamp Posts 15 Jun 12   
National Trust of Australia register  4415   
National Trust of Australia register  4416   
Royal Australian Institute of Architects registerNewcastle City Hall    

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Newcastle City Wide Heritage Study1996 Suters Architects Snell  No
Review of Potential Heritage Items for Marrickville Council2009 Paul Davies & Associates  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Other  Newcastle City Council Website
WrittenApperly, Irving and Reynolds1989A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture
WrittenDepartment of Commerce - Heritage Group2008Conservation Management Plan, Newcastle City Hall (draft)
WrittenParris, Michael2018'Key sites go to market'

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5055746
File number: H04/00091/7 (ICONS)


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