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When Masterton waited on a mall

In the early 1970s, the face of central Masterton got an uplift. MARK PACEY of the Wairarapa Archives recalls the birth of the iconic building that was Centrepoint.

In 1972 Masterton was about to take a leap into the future. Gifted designer Roger Walker had come up with a plan for a new mall for Masterton; it was ambitious and uniquely beautiful.

Centrepoint got the green light on April 11, when the deal was signed by Mr TJN Meyer, director of Brierly-Jones Investments, with the contract being awarded to Rigg-Zschokke Ltd. The mall was described as “the ultra-modern Centrepoint shopping complex”.

There were 21 shops planned for the mall, and before the construction began, tenants had been found for 18 of them. The remaining three, which were in prime positions, were being held aside for prospective fashion firms.

Before any construction could begin, the old had to make way for the new. The Midland Hotel, which had stood for years on the corner of Queen and Bannister streets, was demolished to make way for the new building.

Workmen descended on the site on a wet day in May, and construction began. The planners were optimistic and said that the complex would be finished by the end of November, with businesses expected to be up and operational by early December, well in time for Christmas.

Two months later, the site was a hive of activity. What was to be the tower, took pride of place among the construction. By August, the site was beginning to gain its iconic Walker architecture. Towers and circular windows were clear to all, with one reporter comparing the site to a launch pad at Cape Kennedy.

While the mall complex took shape at pedestrian level, you couldn’t miss the tower that was rising above it. By September, it was not only the tallest structure on the site, but for Queen Street as well. The scaffolding around the tower was now 60 feet high, but this wasn’t the final height. While this was the final height of the scaffolding, the tower would gain another 14 feet in height once it was completed topper with a viewing platform.

“People will be able to ascend the tower for views of Masterton and surrounding territory. Right now, though, it’s off-limits to all but the sure-footed workmen, birds – and the occasional photographer”. The last being a reference to a Times-Age photographer who ventured to the very top and took a photograph looking down into the tower – not something for the faint-hearted.

As November closed in, the new mall was just about ready. A question was raised about a feature of the mall, or rather something that wasn’t a feature of the mall, a veranda. It was argued that the new building didn’t need one as the shops were all inwards facing inside the building. Within a week of this statement, it was ruled that Centrepoint must have a veranda. It was going to be a close thing to open on time, now that margin was going to be razor thin.

The grand opening was set for the second week of December; those last few weeks were a mad scramble to get things done. The courtyard was in a bit of a mess due to the roof having not yet been completed and it was open to the weather.

The Centrepoint Promotional Society chairman Peter Judd was there in those last few weeks. He had a chat with a reporter from the Times-Age where he described some of the unique features of the new complex, which included a “fishpond with its glass bottom where shoppers could look up and see the aquatic life from a new angle, the basement fashion shops and the sun balcony on the mezzanine floor and of the platform yet to be built within the courtyard for fashion parades”.

Those last couple of days were a blur to many of the new tenants who survived on just a couple of hours sleep a night while they worked tirelessly to get things finished and ready for opening night. As D-Day came around, through immense effort and co-operation, they had made it.

Centrepoint opened on the night of December 11 to great fanfare. Robert Muldoon had been asked to attend and speak at the opening. Unfortunately, between being asked and turning up for the launch, there had been an election in which Muldoon had lost the vote to be National leader to Jack Marshall, so he was a bit bitter on the night, and his speech got rather political.

Aside from Mr Muldoon, the rest of those at the launch had a great time. There was wine and entertainment and the prospect of a new shopping complex that had opened just in time for Christmas shoppers. Centrepoint had arrived. From its tower to its circular windows and pointed roofs, it was unique among its neighbours and was an instantly recognisable feature in central Masterton for many years to come.

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