The other week I was walking through Newton (one of Auckland’s inner city suburbs) and passed the Orange Coronation Hall- a venue of many a dance in the twentieth century (until 1987), and more lately a church to find that only the façade was left standing and it was primed for development as an apartment complex. I’d heard that it had been sold to a developer in 2010, but like so many sales, nothing happened (or seemed to happen) for years, except for rumours and hopes that it would go back to being a community venue. However, it’s conclusive now what’s happening, and it’s sad that all those dances, the fun, the fights (!) and all of the memories of the Orange as it was affectionately called have been officially consigned to the archive. As a sort of obituary to the venue this post will look at some of its early history that I came across in the course of researching my PhD thesis.
The Orange Coronation Ballroom (also known as the Orange Hall, or simply the Orange) at 143–149 Newton Road in Auckland. Constructed in 1922 and opened in 1923, the Orange Hall was built by the protestant Orange Society in Auckland who would organise weekly public dances and the hall was regularly rented out to organisations and individuals for events. The longest running, and consequently best known band, that regularly played the Orange was led by Ted Croad from September 1934 until circa mid 1955. Three nights a week, including the very lucrative Saturday night, Ted Croad and his wife Edith ran a dance at the Orange, and although in later years it might not have been the most up to date jazz, throughout his tenure Croad’s band boasted many of Auckland’s best jazz musicians. In the early years the band personnel included veteran jazz pianist Edgar Bendall (one of Auckland’s pioneer jazz musicians), Jock Allen, and Bill Skelton on saxophones, and Bill Earwacker on bass. In the heyday of the 1940s the band included a role call of nearly all of Auckland’s best, and best up and coming, jazz musicians including (among many others) trombonists Dale Alderton and Des Blundell, the Campbell brothers- Phil [trumpet], George [bass], Lou [trumpet], saxophonists Bob Leach Art Skelton, Jim and Pat Watters, pianists Nancy Harrie, Crombie Murdoch, and Julian Lee, and Neil Dunningham and Croad’s son Eddie on drums.
During the period of the American residency (1942-1945) the Orange was extremely popular with the lower-ranked and younger servicemen, who did not have as much money to spend on the higher-class cabarets. There were dances there six out of seven nights of the week. Three nights a week the dances were run by Croad and his wife and boasting a band equal to any of those in venues such as the Peter Pan or the El Rey. During the American’s residency the dances became so popular that Croad often had to close the doors, and a queue of couples would form along Newton Road hoping for their chance to get in.
Unfortunately this popularity caused Croad some trouble with the Hall’s trustees (The Protestant Orange Lodge), who believed that alcohol, chewing gum and jitterbugging would be the (physical) ruin of the hall, not to mention the morals of the young people attending the dance. As he was only ever given a week–to–week lease of the hall, Croad had to walk a careful line between keeping the patrons happy and keeping his leaseholders happy. As a result the dances had some of the strictest rules in Auckland: no chewing gum was to be sold, no jitterbugging was to take place on the dance floor, no pass–out chits were to be given, and no alcohol was allowed anywhere near, let alone in the Hall. Despite these rules, the people kept coming, and because of these rules there was very little trouble from inebriated servicemen.
Although Croad is now remembered as a somewhat uninspiring leader he was in his heyday during the swing era. Swing was the music that he loved, and while he could have cut costs by only having an eight–piece band, he loved the sound of a full big band, and endeavoured to have a band of at least twelve instruments. During the years of the American troops residency, he was making a great deal of money form the heavy patronage of his dances, but he spent much of that in hiring excellent musicians who were “well trained, they could read music, had a good ear, and could play a tune.” The repertoire was “what the public wanted– not what the band wanted,” but there were few complaints, and certainly none of them were loud, as this was a good gig.