Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grafton dramatic: the former Grafton Library

Claire in A Latitude of Libraries last Sunday posted a wonderful article on the former library for Grafton in Mt Eden Road, just down from Upper Symonds Street. A rather sumptuous Edward Bartley design, who won the competition held in 1911, just a few years before his death. It was the second branch library for Auckland City from March 1913, trumped for top title by the Leys Institute in Ponsonby -- but it was also a political statement in favour of the concept of Greater Auckland.

All the recent breast-beating about Super City and ultra-amalgamations ... as with so much in history, we can say "we've seen it all before" even if we weren't even twinkles in our parents eyes. In my case, there might have only just been the start of a twinkle in my grandfather's eye on my father's side, during the period when Auckland City mayors promoted the joys of being part of a cleaner, better organised, better watered city to the scattering of boroughs, town boards, and road board areas surrounding it.

In the case of Grafton's library, it wasn't built to serve Grafton, exactly -- the main residential centre for Grafton was back across the Grafton Bridge, to the north-east -- but it was a dangling carrot, in brick and stone, to the good folk of independent Mt Eden and Eden Terrace. Mt Eden people used it quite a bit.

It was also not simply just a library. In those days, libraries had to be multi-media centres, much like today. This one opened with a lending department, reading room, committee meeting room and a lecture hall to hold 200, capable of hosting lectures on current events during World War I. The hall was one of the headquarters of the Emergency Precautions Service during World War II.

It also served, from 1913, as the base for the Grafton Shakespeare and Dramatic Club. The club, formed in 1912, was apparently the country's first amateur dramatic societies. One of the club's members, Helen Stirling MacCormick, also a member of the Auckland Repertory Company, went on after leaving the country in 1938 to British stages and a part on the first British radio soap opera of its kind, Front Line Family. Some of her documents and keepsakes are at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

They tried to close the library in 1954, in 1960, in 1978, and succeeded in 1990, just after the last great municipal amalgamations. Just as Mt Eden finally joined the city -- it lost its library.

Since 1996, it's been an alehouse named Galbraith's -- still a place, in a way, for a sharing of the minds.


  1. It is definitely one of the better places in Auckland to relax in traditional pub setting and drink arguably the best beer in the city.

  2. Great to read your take on it, Lisa, and thanks for the link.

  3. You're at risk of becoming the Wikipedia of NZ history and folklore - looked for "grafton library auckland" and not at all surprised to see "Timespanner" as the top hit once again.

    I hope the National Library has started collecting local websites too - would be a crying shame if in the long term this sort of material became as inaccessible as much of the pre-internet local history (e.g. almost all of Dick Scott's books)

  4. I've got a feeling someone has been downloading at least some of the blog site somewhere. I'm always happy for folks to save stuff from here.

  5. At some time after closing the library, the building was an entertainment venue and I would love to remember the name of the impresario and the club. This pre-dates Keith Galbraith.
    Phil Marks