Sydney’s Town Hall is a major city landmark, a focal point in the city centre, a meeting place for Sydney. If you haven’t arranged to meet someone on the Town Hall steps then you probably haven’t been out in Sydney.
Like many of Sydney’s landmarks, the site was battled over and mired in controversy and the design came from a competition.
The City Council came into existence in 1842 but with no real home. Many sites were suggested, one of the first being the old Burial Ground on George Street, next to St Andrews Cathedral. However this was a Government site, a gazetted cemetery, albeit long since closed. Instead the State Government suggested the site of the former Government House in Bent Street, close to the Parliament.
The new Council was keen to stay as far away from the government part of town as possible and was keen on a site close to the commercial centre of town around George Street.
After much wrangling and site suggestions, including Hyde Park, Wynyard Square and Bent Street, the George Street site of the old Burial Ground was secured and a foundation stone set in 1868 (curiously one full year prior to the site being officially granted).
A site does not a hall make and it took another 21 years before the completed building was opened in 1889. Architects were sacked, engineers came and went, materials were defective, foundations undermined and managers inexperienced.
But in November 1889 it finally opened and in opening set Sydney’s public face as we now recognise it. It towered over a largely two storey city, it established for sure George Street as the main street and it confirmed the area around Market Street, Druitt Street and George Street as Sydney’s commercial and Municipal hub. It also caught the St Andrews Cathedral slightly off guard, with the Cathedral spires facing away from the main street, making the building look like it sits the wrong way around.
The Town Hall is a unique public building in Sydney. It is a building for everyone, a building built for the use of the citizens of the entire city. This is why rallies are held in its square, marches march past the front, sports heroes are welcomed, people meet on the steps, its lit up for all types of celebrations, great lectures and recitals are held in its hall.
And inside it is full of treasures, either part of the built form or gifts presented to the city over the 121 years since it opened. Beautiful carved sandstone, iron lace work, stained glass windows of exquisite detail, paintings, silver, marble, art, furniture and interiors.
The Town Hall has just been recognised as an item of state heritage significance and is open for inspection next weekend. Go down, do yourself a favour and have a look beyond the front steps.