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Origins of Library Square unveiled

Design your own park and name it – this was the challenge to the public regarding Masterton’s newest green space. MARK PACEY of the Wairarapa Archive traces the development of Library Square.

In 1990s, the northern end of Queen Street looked very different. The library was there, but it was sandwiched between two larger and much older buildings- the Daniell Building on the right, and C.B. Lai on the left.

Attention had started to fall on the C.B. Lai building in the 1980s. It wasn’t looking so good after nearly 80 years, and after an inspection it was deemed to be unsafe. The Masterton District Council [MDC] thought the land could be put to better use and purchased it along with the C.B. Lai building, which was now determined to be beyond saving.

In October 1995, the big diggers moved in and demolished the former vegetable and thrift shop. After the wrecking was complete and the debris taken away there was now a vacant lot next to the library. Attention now turned to what would fill the space.

There were all kinds of opinions about what should go on the site. Some thought it should be a car park. Masterton designer Steven Kelly drew up plans for the area to be an arts and crafts centre. Members of the public also had ideas for what should go there – and they were about to have their say and be rewarded for their efforts.

The site was to incorporate different elements, and the public was asked to contribute to a design contest for the final concept. By the time the contest closed at the end of March 1997, MDC had received more than 80 designs from as far afield as Auckland and New Plymouth.

The criteria had been set out by the council, so designs didn’t get out of hand: “Designs had to include a mixture of park and car parking, an area for open markets or street theatres and a link between the library”.

The winner would receive a prize of $500, and final judging was set for the end of April 1997. By the time judging started it was reported that there were now 98 entries and the four judges – Masterton Mayor Bob Francis, Hadlow School art teacher Liz Snowsill, Wairarapa archivist and horticulturist Gareth Winter, and Nelson landscape architect Ron Flook – had quite the task before them. By May 1, a decision had been made, but an announcement wasn’t going to take place until the following week.

It was a long wait for the hopeful designers but when the day finally came around, it was Carterton man Craig Whitwell who was announced the winner. It was his design that would form the basis for the overall concept of the new green space. Smaller prizes were issued for others who showed creative flair, including Mākoura College student Alistair Ferris whose design featured a flying fox running from the corner of the Departmental Building down to a hot dog stand. Other imaginative designs included a giant chessboard, a fountain, and – most ambitious of all – a Spanish galleon.

As 1998 rolled around, work on the new park began, wrapping up six months later. The furniture had gone in, and final decisions were being made over the planting in the gardens. But something was still missing. All throughout the process – from design through to construction – the site was still known by the not very catchy name of the “C.B. Lai site”. Given how successful putting the design of the park out as a contest had been, it was decided to do the same thing. The public had had a say in the design, now they would have a voice in the naming of the new green space.

This time there were 200 entries of possible names for the new park. On August 31, 1998, it was revealed who had won the honour of naming the area along with a copy of the book North of the Waingawa. Masterton woman Wendy Gray’s suggestion was deemed the best of the rest, and the new park would now be known as “Library Square”.

But the park wasn’t quite finished. There was one more feature that was still missing, the centrepiece of the whole park. A statue.

A shortlist was put together, and after some deliberation, it was decided that Barret Crumen, better known as Russian Jack, would be the best model for the new statue. Russian Jack was “different and exciting”, and the statue would be a gift to the town from the Masterton Licensing Trust to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Former Auckland artist Kenneth Kendall was tasked with creating the statue of the famous swagman. For 50 years, Barrett had wandered throughout the country, spending much of that time in Wairarapa, where he helped with farm work and would sleep under bridges or in bivouacs by the side of the roads that he built himself. Always with his walking stick, hat, and sugar bags full of personal items, Crumen was a frightening sight for some children but was nonetheless a good and honest person.

His wandering days came to an end in 1965 when, at the age of 87, his frostbitten feet meant a stay in Greytown Hospital. He never left the facility – he died three years later at the age of 90 and was buried in Greytown.

Just before the turn of the millennium, the new statue was unveiled. Library Square was now complete and ready to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike for the foreseeable future.

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