The Municipality of Kew was proclaimed on 19 December 1860, then upgraded to a Borough (1863), a Town (1910) and finally a City (1921). From 1865, its offices were based in the former Athenaeum Hall in Walpole Street, which, although extended in 1883, inevitably became inadequate. Plans for a new purpose-built Town Hall were first mooted in the late 1880s, but fell prey to six subsequent decades of debate. During that time, many sites were considered and rejected, and several schemes prepared. Finally, in 1945, it was resolved to build a new civic centre as a war memorial. The council acquired Southesk, a mansion on the south-west corner of Cotham Road and Charles Street – first mooted as a possible Town Hall site two decades earlier – and plans for a civic precinct were drawn up by John Scarborough. The project stalled until 1957, when a Town Hall Committee was formed and a new architect appointed: Harold Bartlett of Leith & Bartlett. He also proposed an entire civic precinct, of which a large public hall would constitute Stage One.
Designed to accommodate almost any public or official function, the space had had a small stage at one end for intimate theatrical productions, a larger stage at the other (with operable sunken orchestra pit) for musical performances, plus the most up-to-date equipment for live TV transmission. The building, befitting its original intent as a war memorial, was also to include a sculpted monument, for which a separate design competition was held. First prize went to George H Allen (1900-1972), long-time head of the Sculpture Department at RMIT and a former war artist himself (the only one, in fact, to have worked in the medium of sculpture). At the time of the Kew project, Allen was best known for his Cenotaph at the Shrine of Remembrance (1955) and a controversial abstract sculpture at Hume House in William Street (1957).
Tenders for the new hall were called and the contract (worth £104,986) was awarded to H F Yuncken. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor, Cr F C O'Brien, on 1 June 1959. Completion (initially scheduled for October) was delayed by the unavailability of certain materials; it was barely finished in time for the official opening (by Premier Henry Bolte) on 23 April 1960. The war memorial was unveiled two days later (Anzac Day) by Bolte's deputy, the Hon A G Rylah. Fittingly, that year also marked Kew's municipal centenary, and many celebratory events were held in and around the new civic centre in December, including a special council meeting (attended by the Prime Minister), a tree planting ceremony and a youth ball.
Source: Survey of Built Heritage in Victoria: Stage Two (Built Heritage Pty Ltd., 2010)
Plaque commemorating the opening of a new town hall in Kew
Metal plaque recording the official opening of the Kew City Hall, 23rd April 1960. This plaque was given to the Kew Historical Society in 1991 by the former City of Kew.
Inscriptions & markings
Kew City Hall / Opened by / The Hon. H.E. Bolte M.L.A. / Premier of Victoria / 23rd April 1960 / Cr. H.G. Ferguson J.P. - Mayor.