Town Hall architectural history

Opened in 1904, the Town Hall was designed by Joshua Charlesworth in the Classical architecture style.

Although the Town Hall has been through a number of changes in the past century, it has kept its architectural significance in its style and form. To view a timeline of photos of the town hall, see the Photo Gallery below.

Street scene showing the rotunda opposite Wellington Town Hall.
Wellington Town Hall showing the old clock tower and grand entrance

The building's unique interior spaces include the main auditorium, entranceway and staircase. Original features restored in the '90s include the:

  • cast-iron columns and balustrade
  • dadoes
  • Wunderlich pressed tin ceiling.

Original materials of particular note are the:

  • encaustic geometric floor tiles
  • expertly-carved timber posts to the stairs
  • Malmsbury bluestone on the exterior.

The main alterations were mostly in response to earthquake risks:

  • Mid-1930s: Clock tower removed and relocated to the Central Fire Station opposite the Town Hall.
  • Mid-1940s: Buttress walls and parapet ties strengthened following damage in the 1942 earthquakes.
  • Early 1990s: Town Hall refurbished, with major alterations and seismic securing, as part of the larger Civic Square redevelopment.

Wellington Town Hall architectural timeline

When What happened
1886 - 1890 Land set aside for the town hall on reclaimed land near Jervois Quay, which was created using fill from the cliff-face on Lambton Quay and hauled to the site by horse and cart.
1900 Wellington architect Joshua Charlesworth designs Town Hall in the classical renaissance style.
18 June 1901 Duke of Cornwall and York lays three-ton granite foundation stone with time capsule inside.
1902 Paterson, Martin, and Hunter start building the Town Hall. Cost 68,000 pounds.
7 December 1904 Wellington Town Hall officially opened by Mayor Aitken in front of 3,000-strong crowd. Auditorium acoustics acknowledged as excellent.
1906 Norman & Beard grand organ installed by organ builder J Tustin. Made in London, cost 7,000 pounds and shipped to New Zealand in 51 cases.
1923 Clock donated by John Blundell and installed in 150-foot tower.
1934 Roman-styled main portico, clock tower and other external features removed as a precaution against earthquakes.
1942 Wairarapa earthquakes cause moderate damage to the Town Hall.
1943 - 44 More external features removed and major strengthening done in auditorium and concert chamber.
1970 Interior painted using Grant Tilly-designed colour scheme, based on dominant colours in foyer’s original tiled floors.
1971 Town Hall’s future in jeopardy for not meeting the seismic codes. Public outcry. Council decides to strengthen.
1975 Exterior repainted in two colours, designed by Mayor Michael Fowler.
1977 Public debate about partial demolition to preserve the main auditorium.
1978 'Save the Town Hall' committee formed by a group of music enthusiasts.
September 1983 Michael Fowler Centre built next to the Town Hall.
April 1984 The Council decides to strengthen the Town Hall.
1989 Council votes for integrated Civic Centre scheme, creating a new Civic Square between the Town Hall and old city library (now City Gallery), a new Central Library and new curved Council office building.
1991 - 1992

Concert chamber replaced by conference / reception.
Ilott theatre built, designed in a traditional chamber music room style.
Main auditorium fully renovated and restored to improve function and civic events' space. Stage modernised.
Original features restored, including wrought-iron balustrades, cast-iron columns and balustrades, dadoes and pressed zinc ceiling.

1992 Town Hall complex reopened.
2007 Town Hall assessed as earthquake-prone, meeting only 20 - 25% of new building standard.
November 2013 Town Hall closes to start earthquake strengthening.