Our Local Landmark: Alexandria Town Hall

August 14th, 2020 - by Brad Gillespie

Walking around Alexandria, it’s hard to miss the Town Hall – a two-storey brick building that was originally built for the new municipality in the 1860s, following rapid growth in the area.

Today, the imposing heritage-listed building can still be found at 73 Garden Street, Alexandria. We take a look at the stories behind this iconic community building.

The history

Like many buildings of that era, the Town Hall has undergone a number of facelifts. The initial build was a Victorian style, designed by architect Ferdinand Reuss Senior. By 1893, it sat next to a two-storey terrace built as the Mayor’s residence, making it quite a prestigious little corner for this up-and-coming area.

But times change, and in 1928, architects D.T. Morrow and Gordon were tasked with updating the Town Hall’s façade to the Inter-War Free Classic Style. The building was reopened with great fanfare – a banquet and dance were held, and it was reported that the remodel cost a hefty sum for the time: 6,000 pounds!

Alexandria Town Hall, pictured in "Alexandria, 'the Birmingham of Australia'", 1943 - Photo from Wikipedia

We’re guessing the restoration and conservation works Lord Mayor Clover Moore commissioned to be done on the Hall in 2017 would’ve been a bit pricier – but necessary. The works have maintained what Moore called an ‘important civic building’, and one which remains heritage listed as a representative example of two prominent architectural styles from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It’s also a nod to its political beginnings, and historical links to the local community.

Re-inventing the Town Hall

Like many of Sydney’s grand and prominent old buildings, Alexandria Town Hall has been repurposed for a multitude of uses over the years.

Once built, it was initially the seat of the Alexandria Municipal Council from 1881 to 1948 – and records show it was also used as a public school in the 1880s-90s.

But arguably its most important function was in 1919, when Spanish Flu swept the world and local hospitals were unable to cope with the magnitude of cases. Some Sydney buildings had to be converted to makeshift hospitals and the Alexandria Town Hall was one of them – it operated as a temporary hospital, soup kitchen and sheltering place for locals during the epidemic. This was a necessity for the local community – in Sydney alone, the Spanish flu infected an estimated 290,000 people (and killed 6,387). Worldwide, 50 million died. It’s not hard to see why people are so worried about the current Covid-19 pandemic getting out of control!

The next and most notable use for the Alexandria Town Hall was in the 1940s, when part of the ground floor was put to use as the original home of the volunteer run Women’s Library. The Library remained there until the early 1990s before it was moved to nearby Newtown, where it still operates today. The Town Hall has also been a community centre and a council depot for the City of Sydney and the South Sydney councils.

The Town Hall today

While many old buildings are left to fall into disrepair, the Alexandria Town Hall is still a much-loved institution and community venue. You can hire the Hall for meetings, conferences and events – there are actually two halls, a dancefloor area, small stage, renovated kitchen and lift, making the venue truly accessible to all.

Alexandria Town Hall - Photo from Wikipedia

Although the pandemic has seen the Alexandria Town Hall closed recently, self-help groups can book spaces and some of the community services and programs are running at reduced numbers. The Hall is still participating in online community centre programs, which you can check out here.

If you are in the market to buy or sell or want to know more about our beautiful local area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandria_Town_Hall