It was on November 24 of 1860 that Toowoomba was proclaimed as a municipality.
Within two years a City Hall – the first purpose built construction of its type in Queensland – was erected on the corners of James and Neil Streets. A timber building, it served as Toowoomba’s City Hall until 1881 when councillors decided an updated set of chambers was required and a brick town hall was constructed.
When in June of 1898 a fire destroyed the School of Arts, an opening came to move the City Hall to its present location
on the corner of Ruthven and Herries Streets. With the region growing rapidly, leading to Toowoomba being annointed a township in 1892, the previous municipal buildings had by then become inadequate for the demands of the growing community.
With the debt of the School of Arts being taken over by the council in exchange for the property deed a decade earlier, the site was readily available … pending the sale of the old town hall site to the Roman Catholic Church for 2000 pounds. A prize of 25 guineas, which was offered by council for the best design, was won by Brisbane architect Willoughby Powell who had in 1875 designed the original Toowoomba Grammar School building.
A 10,000 pound contract to build the City Hall was subsequently granted to Alexander Mayes, who had served as
Mayor of Toowoomba in 1896 and held the position again in 1903 and 1917. Including council chambers and offices, the School of Arts, a technical college and a 1500-seat theatre, Powell’s design was in the neo-classical style common to public buildings in Australia during that era. It is believed that the building was initially to have included a spire featuring a clock. However, when the clock arrived it was too large for the space allotted which resulted in the spire being removed to make sufficient room.
The foundation stone for the City Hall was laid by the Lieutenant Governor of Queensland Sir Samuel Walker Griffith on February 20, 1900. The building was officially opened by His Worship the Mayor Alderman Matthew Keefe on December 12 of that year.
In 1983 the council’s administrative staff moved to offices in Herries Street. Five years later the City Hall was listed by the National Trust of Queensland as a tribute to its historical importance. Interestingly two of the four ornamental pillars featured outside the building were installed as gateposts at the showgrounds in Campbell Street in the 1940s. However, the pillars were returned in 1985 when those showgrounds were closed.
A refurbishment program, which restored the building to its original state, was completed in 1997 at a cost of $3.4 million. A plaque was unveiled by then Mayor, Councillor Dianne Thorley, on December 12 of 2000 to celebrate the centenary of City Hall’s opening.
Words by Graeme Kelly | Images via Local History and Robinson Collections Toowoomba City Library