The Ūpokongaro War Memorial Hall has hosted balls, coronation assemblies and sittings of the Māori Land Court; now Whanganui District Council wants to know whether it should be restored.

The hall could also house a public toilet, the only one between Whanganui and Raetihi.

The council is surveying the public about the hall's future.

The hall has been largely unused for 10 years. Whanganui Rotary stored books there, and the late Ed Boyd planned a museum there, but it never came to fruition.


In March, artist Emma Cunningham wanted to hold her artist open studio there, but the event was cancelled because of Covid-19.

The building needed a complete electrical and plumbing upgrade, Whanganui District Council property officer Dianne Love said.

Former hall committee secretary Fiona Horrocks said it was home to rodents, had lots of borer and its pinex ceilings were collapsing.

A chimney leans out from the wall of the oldest part of the building, and in 2006 it was declared earthquake-prone.

In 2010, when residents were called to a meeting about the hall's future, only one person turned up.

The hall had previously been offered to Ūpokongaro School for $1 plus the cost of moving it to the school grounds. The school board declined the offer, believing it was safe enough for the children to walk to it.

By 2010 community focus had moved to the Macnab Domain Hall in Kaiwhaiki Rd. It became the venue for rugby and polocrosse games, weddings, kapa haka practice, parties and fundraisers.

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"Our efforts turned to that when it became obvious council was not prepared to repair [the Ūpokongaro hall]," Horrocks said.


She knows the hall would cost a lot to restore, but wouldn't like to see "a gaping hole" where it used to be.

Marion Donald grew up in Ūpokongaro and said the hall was the centre of the community.

Laraine Sole's book about Ūpokongaro says the first part of the hall was built in 1879, and for a short time from 1881 it was used for Māori Land Court hearings.

After that it was known as the Court Theatre. It had rifle and indoor bowls clubs, a play group and it hosted the Country Women's Institute and school concerts.

Like the Mangamahu Hall, it's also a war memorial with the names of local people who served in two world wars listed on plaques.

Ūpokongaro was getting busier, Donald said, with Mountains to Sea cyclists passing through in summer. That was likely to increase when the new foot and cycle bridge to Papaiti opens.

Riverboats Wairua and Waimarie bring summer visitors to the church, the Avoca Hotel and Cafe 444, which will open with new owners Paul and Ginny Kinder on July 11.

Cunningham would like to use the hall as her artist studio, and welcome visitors. It could also provide historic information.

She's not sure how a public toilet would work there, especially if it was open 24/7.

A toilet was planned for St Mary's Church, its Friends chairman John Dalziel said, but the idea was shelved when the council planned to put a public toilet in the village.

"I know we need a toilet. We hear people say there are no toilets between Whanganui and Raetihi. It would be well used," he said.

• Letters about the hall have been sent to Ūpokongaro residents, and the survey can be filled out online at Answers must be in by August 31.