St Peter's Hall has held everything from Sunday School groups in the early days to movies, concerts, fairs, community meetings and more making it truly the heart of the community. Rosalie Willis looks into the hall's extensive history.
The Paekākāriki community can thank the Sunday School children of St Peter's Anglican church for the building which has housed more events and concerts than any other venue in the small coastal town.
Needing somewhere to go to colour in pictures of Noah's Arc and memorise Bible verses where the children would not distract other parishioners from their worship, the original plan was for classrooms and an assembly room.
However, they were persuaded to build a bigger hall large enough for big gatherings - a decision which has paved the way for community events, concerts and cinema screenings 100 years on.
Built in 1918 by the Anglican Church, the hall located on the corner of Beach Rd and Ames St in Paekākāriki, quickly became the social hub of the community. Tenders went out in October 1917 and local builder Frank Bond took on the job. With the building work supported by volunteers, the hall was completed in time for the planned opening on Easter Monday, April 1, 1918.
Funds were raised by the Sunday School, the Ladies' Guild, Girls' Guild and a fundraising bazaar which sold gifts made by members of those groups. By the time the end of World War I rolled around there was still £400 owing on the hall which was loaned to the community by church parishioner and land owner Jack Smith. Fundraisers consisting of whist drives and dances repaid the loan within four years.
Always the centre of the community, it was the Paekākāriki flood in 2003 that illustrated how important the hall was as a community hub after the council set up a welfare centre there, to house evacuated residents and motorists.
The Anglican Church maintained the building for nearly 90 years and upon finding they no longer had a use for the building, but seeing its significant place in the community, the church sold the building to the Paekākāriki Community Trust in March 2007 for $1.
Movies started being showing at the hall in the 1920s, with local Geoff Roberts recounting how a man named Mr Tootle from Seatoun on the east side of Wellington would drive over once a week to show films.
With no coast road to Paremata, Mr Tootle would drive his old Bedford car over the Paekakariki Hill Rd to the village before showing films on the solitary projector.
Geoff recalls how on many occasions in the 1930s, the general store manager would call the Pauatahanui general store manager to see if he had driven past, giving the locals an idea of how long they had to wait for the movie.
The films always opened with the national anthem and St Peter's was the only place in New Zealand playing two national anthems due to the presence of the US Marines up the road.
With three camps at Queen Elizabeth Park and at one stage more 20,000 Americans stationed in the region, both God Save the King and the Stars and Stripes played before the screenings.
A place for the troops to train, rest and recuperate after returning from the Pacific combat zone, their presence meant the latest Hollywood movies were flown in directly, meaning the continuous showings (up to six times a week) were seen by locals before they were released in New Zealand cinemas.
An iconic location for musicians touring New Zealand, being a short walk from the train station, easily accessible from Wellington and set by the seaside, the hall has had many big names grace its wooden floors.
Dave Dobbyn, the Finn family, Don McGlashan, The Chills, Tami Nielson, Aldous Harding, Nadia Reed, Trinity Roots, Rodger Fox, and Marlon Williams to name a few, along with a host of classical musicians such as the NZ String Quartet have played to locals and dedicated fans from further afield over the years.
While its intimate size, acoustics and location make it a great location for concerts, what really sets apart the hall is the community's ownership, running and use of the hall – operating like village squares of the past.
"Owned and beloved by the community, the hall is special in the way it sees young and old in union celebrating, performing and debating," local Paekākāriki writer, art critic and editor of paekakariki.nz Mark Amery said.
The hall is used for fairs, community meetings, comedy nights, markets, historic talks, the bike library, dance classes and many more niche events such as The Smallest Beer Festival.
When asked what make the hall special Mark said it is not the famous musicians or extravagant events, but all the times involving the whole Paekākāriki community.
"I mostly think of the times involving the community of all ages.
"The incredible centennial weekend two years ago with its music, dancing and food, the recent post-lockdown celebration and other events that have involved real, creative participation by many, the tamariki singing waiata with leading artists and the many-many dances for young and old.
"This only comes with venues that are truly community-led, we all have a stake in its past, present and future."
Thanks to Dave Johnson from the Paekakariki Station Museum and Mark Amery from paekakariki.nz for their help supplying information for this story.