The Concourse History

The site of The Concourse, previously known as Civic Place, has housed buildings of public significance and been recognised as an important part of the local community for decades.

Town Hall

The first Willoughby Town Hall was built on the site in 1903. The hall doubled as the Council Chambers and the site was shared with the Council Pound, the School of Arts and the Ku-ring-gai Masonic Lodge. A three story administration building was also built on the site in 1967 (with a fourth floor added in 1980).

In 1972, the original Town Hall was demolished and replaced by a new Civic Centre, comprising the Town Hall which seated 850 people, and the smaller Bailey Hall, which seated 350. This building was constructed at a cost of approximately one million dollars and played an essential part in Willoughby City’s community and culture for many years.

The Town Hall was primarily designed to house the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and was subsequently equipped with technical facilities to accommodate orchestral performances. The hall hosted many different types of performances, as well as functions and exhibitions. The Bailey Hall was designed as a multi-function space, providing an area for functions and receptions, as well as facilities for the performance of drama and musical theatre.

School of Arts

The School of Arts ran on the civic site until 1980, when it was demolished to make way for the Civic Arcade – a row of shops on a portion of the eastern boundary of the site at 405 Victoria Avenue.

On 26 June 1935 a landmark event was held at the School of Arts, when around forty representatives of parents, citizens and progress associations met to discuss free public libraries.  Those present were addressed by Mr W H Ifould, the State Librarian, and during this meeting the Free Library Movement was first founded. The aim of this movement was to stimulate public support for public libraries, and bring about local and state government action. The seeds sown in Chatswood began to germinate, and in 1939 the Library Act was passed by the New South Wales Parliament. Willoughby Municipal Council was an enthusiastic supporter of the public library cause and one of its Aldermen, John Bales, was on the committee of the Free Library Movement.

Chatswood Library

On 3 September 1977, after years of book collection and preparation, the Chatswood Library was first opened on the site. The building was 1,770 sqm in area over two floors. The library was an instant success, earning a reputation for the quality of its collections and services, and the professionalism of its staff. It rapidly became the busiest single service point of any public library in New South Wales.

By the early 1990s the growth in the number of users living in the local government area or working, attending school, shopping or doing business in Chatswood, was starting to impact on Chatswood Library. The building which had been hailed as airy and spacious in the 1970s, was steadily becoming cramped. Seating was at a premium and shelves were moved closer together to fit in more collections, creating congestion and making access for people with disabilities or parents with strollers problematic. The addition of computer terminals further added to space pressures. The noise generated in such a busy library made study difficult, and the juxtaposition of conflicting functions in the limited space available highlighted the need for adequate space for people, collections and services.

In August 1994 the State Library’s Building Consultant was commissioned by Council to examine the current and future space needs of Chatswood Library. After examination of Australian and overseas trends in information provision, and using population estimates up to the year 2009, in December 1994 the consultant concluded that by the year 2009 total library space requirements would range from 4 954 sqm to 5 281 sqm in area - approximately three times the net size of the existing library at that time.

The Concourse

Although enormously successful when they were built, the public facilities at the Civic Centre were no longer able to meet the needs of the Willoughby City community, nor the ever-growing number of regional users. South-facing open space provided no connectivity with the buildings and provided inadequate space for most outdoor entertainment. Passageways between the buildings also encouraged loitering and unacceptable activity.

From the mid 1990s it became clear that Council needed to create a centrepiece – a heart and soul for the CBD that would meet the future growth for library services, open space and cultural/community facilities. Council also needed to address the limitations of ageing, dysfunctional and inaccessible public facilities on the site, and how those facilities were to meet the community’s needs within a CBD experiencing unprecedented levels of development and commercial investment.

The site of The Concourse is possibly the most important public site owned by Willoughby City Council and certainly one of the most valuable. The many opportunities it offers to the local and regional resident, visitor and business communities has demanded comprehensive, intelligent and long term planning for its redevelopment.

In 2007 the architectural design for The Concourse was completed. In 2008 the existing buildings were demolished and the commencement of construction was marked with the Turning of the Sod.

The Concourse opened in September 2011,  continues a century old tradition of performing arts, community celebrations and civic ceremonies. Its facilities include the Theatre, Concert Hall,  Studio and Civic Pavilion all part of the Performing Arts Centre on The Concourse, as well as Chatswood Library and a variety of support facilities, specialist spaces and retail stores located on site.

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