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Back Issues: A pavillion for the people and the pusses


Staff member
Dec 16, 2021
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For 42 years a large flat-topped building has sat in Kaimanawa Park, in Palmerston North, attracting little attention.
So much so that it was a shocked remark by a prominent local heritage worker I didnt know that the Kelvin Grove Community Centre was the Centennial Pavilion! that inspired this story.

Planning began early for the citys 1971 centennial. Potential activities were sought in 1967; and its start and finish dates were decided in 1968.

However, Te Marae o Hine/The Square was not a major feature of these activities, perhaps until the roads crossing it were closed to traffic.

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Manawat Heritage
The front entrance to the Centennial Pavilion with the Public Relations Office tacked on the side.

Architects Maureen and Charles Bird conceived and designed the plans for Te Marae o Hine on behalf of the PN Centennial Association.

Key features included moving the 1870s house Totaranui there; and building a reconstruction of George Snelsons store.

However, the jewel in the centennial eventually became a structure tentatively christened a pavilion for the people.

Until June 1970, the pavilion featured only a little in the plans for Te Marae o Hine. Now though catch-up work began in earnest, its foundations starting on October 12, 1970.

Meanwhile, the steelwork was also ready. The firm Messrs. Gibson & Oliver Ltd. erected the building, and its value on completion was $20,000. Its intended completion date was mid-December 1970 in time for Christmas.

The Manawat Standard of October 16, 1970, contained a sketch of the surprisingly elaborate structure. It had been designed to be constructed in two stages.

The first stage consists of the main general purpose hall, 72ft by 36ft, with entrance foyer and cloakrooms. The long wall of the hall has sliding sections opening onto the open air stage on the Square side, with the audience area beyond on the now-closed roadway. Scenery or cyclorama for open air performance on the 18ft by 48ft stage can be hung inside the sliding door openings if required. It is hoped to construct a canvas awning over the stage at a later stage to further increase the adaptability of the building.

The Centennial Pavilion accommodated a wide array of activities, including performances and displays. On May 12, 1971, a special First Day Cover was issued featuring a 3 cent stamp and envelope marking the Centenary of Palmerston North 1871-1971.

After the celebrations, the building was transferred into Palmerston North City Council ownership. Centenary organiser Mr Plimmer said he would be sorry to see it depart: Its an attractive edifice capable of serving many community needs.

Maurice Thompson/Manawat Heritage
The pavilion in March 1971.

The Public Relations Office took over running both the pavilion and Snelsons store in October 1971. They then added an office (now the small committee room and its two storerooms), that opened in April 1972.

However, one person was strongly opposed to both the enlargement and the extended stay in Te Marae o Hine. This time though, well-known city watchdog cr Pat Kelliher lost both battles and the building stayed.

By mid-1976, the deteriorating external stage, now seldom used, was removed. The corresponding sliding panel walls were then sealed and their windows replaced.

By the latter 1970s, the pavilions fate was again under discussion. Meanwhile, the Kelvin Grove Progressive Assn. Inc. (now KG Community Assn.) was agitating to get such a facility.

The Guardian of April 17, 1979, quoting John Bolton, the city councils director of reserves, records that: The needs of this area [Kelvin Grove] are greater than any other portion of the city. The isolation of the area dictates the need for community facilities. At present they do not have a school to relate to. Therefore to make this community a suitable and pleasant place to live in, it is desirable to have a place of assembly, in which residents may pursue community activities.

The old Kelvin Grove Social Hall was still available then, but needed much work. The suburb had one little park, and one tiny shop run by volunteers.

Finally, the Centennial Pavilion was headed to Kelvin Grove to the proposed Kelvin Grove Park, except that this park was still a paddock, and Rhodes Drive only reached Colonial Place, then also largely still a paddock.

So instead the hall would go to Kaimanawa Park until the new park was ready.

When relocation became certain, anxious cat-lovers feared for the many cats living under the building. The Guardian of February 5, 1980, reported that between 10 and 20 cats lived there, and that people fed them daily. Most were feral.

One distressed carer begged that PNCC install another building for the cats a request that didnt impress the animal control officer.

The Tribune of February 10, 1980, interviewed Myra Te Rangi, who had been feeding the Pavilion cats daily since 1973. She also feared for the cats when the building moved.

The Tribunes editorial, Lets pawse and think of the cats argued that while not as famous as Romes cats, the Pavilion Pusses of Palmerston North had become a feature of the central city.

Warwick Smith/Stuff
The Kelvin Grove Community Centre in 2009.

While Kelvin Grove was gaining a community centre, these cats will lose their own community centre. The editorial was accompanied by a cartoon suggesting how Mayor Elwood might accommodate the homeless felines.

The first two sections of the building arrived at Kaimanawa Park on June 18, 1980. A bulldozer, needed to manoeuvre the trucks through the Kelvin Grove mud, startled two petrified Pavilion pusses who had come along for the ride. They screamed and bolted into the suburb.

The rest of the building arrived the following week, and it was expected to reopen within weeks.

KGPA members had previously visited Kaimanawa Parks neighbours, and theyd agreed to the relocation provided hall-users didnt block their driveways. After all, in theory the hall would soon depart to Kelvin Grove Park, where 25 car parks were planned for that site.

Kaimanawa Street then stopped at the southern end of the park; and the impact of the many huge trucks now servicing the industrial land, and that of the Mihaere Drive overbridge (since 1987), were unimagined.

Similarly, the dramatic expansion of the suburb or a primary school ever being built on the designated education land next to the proposed hall site (now Te Kura Kaupapa O Manawat), also seemed unimaginable.

And so, in December 1983, KGPA suggested leaving the hall where it was. This status remained until 1986 when Kelvin Grove Park was being designed.

At that time, the pro-move faction didnt know how to use the media, and lost on the grounds of being unable to explain the point that later came true to the community.

Car parks being installed at Kelvin Grove Community Centre.

Meanwhile, in 1989, with the 1935-built Kelvin Grove Social Hall now sold, the resulting funds contributed to the new meeting room at the back of the building.

Despite this, the community centre, one of PNCCs largest, still had no car park! Finally, after more pleading, on June 20, 2022, 42 years and two days after the hall arrived, construction on the halls first car park began.

Its 20 parks are due for completion when the rain and KGs clay agree to it.

Meanwhile, this year a sign saying Centennial Pavilion, December 1970 June 1980 was installed in the buildings foyer. It faces the Kelvin Grove Roll of Honour now in its third hall.

Val Burr is a local historian, who has been on the committee of the Kelvin Grove Progressive/Residents/Community Assn. Inc. since the mid-1980s.

Manawatu Standard
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