The Adelaide Town Hall is a significant icon in the history of the city. Both the striking physical presence and social importance are admired by residents and visitors. Such qualities make it a truly unique and memorable location to host corporate and private celebrations, weddings, concerts, and conferences. The centrepiece of the building is the regal clock tower that characterises its Victorian era heritage. Former Mayor of the City Edmund Wright (1859) built the Adelaide Town Hall in 1866. Local materials including Tea Tree Gully freestone and Dry Creek bluestone feature prominently throughout the design.
The Adelaide Town Hall has always been a place of the people. The public are encouraged to visit, host an event in one of the several unique venues, or simply enjoy the exhibition space on Level One.
Lord Mayoral receptions and important decisions are made at the Adelaide Town Hall by the seat of power of the city – the City of Adelaide – and hence the venue emanates pride, purpose and public duty. Celebrities have also graced the halls of the venue; in 1964 the Beatles visited Adelaide Town Hall waving to 350,000 adoring fans from the balcony. Today that balcony holds many special memories, provides an intimate and prestigious space for pre-dinner cocktails or acts as spectacular photo location. The Adelaide Town Hall holds a celebrity in its own right – the $1.3 million Walker & Sons Organ. Organists from around the world relish the opportunity to play the organ, which at the time of installation in 1990 was the largest mechanical action instrument built in the UK in a century.
The prestigious organ is well supported by the Steinway Grand Piano that is also available for hire use.
The Adelaide Town Hall has a long history as the city’s seat of local political power. Surveyor Sir Colonel William Light earmarked the one-acre site for use by Council in his original plan for the city of Adelaide. The Council purchased the land from the State in 1840 for 12 shillings (approximately $1.20 AUD). It was initially used as a produce market selling hay, corn, butter, poultry, eggs, fish and vegetables. However the Council saw that a structure was needed to act as a meeting place of the local government and to represent the importance of the Council in the city. The foundation stone for the Adelaide Town Hall was laid on May 4, 1863 and was cut from the Tea Tree Gully quarry. That stone was later covered by the construction of the Albert Tower – named after Queen Victoria’s late husband Prince Albert – which stands at 44m tall. The Adelaide Town Hall was officially opened on 20 June, 1866 and was considered the “largest municipal building south of the Equator” at the time. The Albert Tower was also significant as the only civic building outside of England to house a full peal of eight bells. Today it also holds a three-faced clock, donated by Sir J. Lavington Bonython in 1935. The Adelaide Town Hall incorporated four other buildings on the same site: the Prince Alfred Hotel, the Queens Chambers, the Eagle Chambers and the Gladstone Chambers.
Town Hall Organ
As soon as the Town Hall was officially opened in 1866 the city’s amateur musicians launched a campaign to obtain a pipe organ for the Main Auditorium.Through two concerts they raised £120, which was instead funnelled into the outstanding account for the bells in the Albert Tower. In 1869 the Adelaide Philharmonic society was formed and took over the charge to raise money for the organ. In six years the choir staged 25 concerts raising more than £500 for the organ, to be matched with £600 from the Council to nearly meet the total cost of £1200. At that time the Council ordered an organ from London manufacturers William Hill & Son, resolving to update the organ in later years. The piece arrived by ship to Port Adelaide in April 1877 and was placed on a platform in the Main Auditorium. George Oughton conducted the opening concert on October 2 that year and Melbourne City organist David Lee commanded the keyboard. Between 1885 and 1886 local firm Fincham and Hobday updated the organ and the hydraulic engine was replaced by an electric motor in 1923.
In June 1964 British pop group The Beatles immortalised the Adelaide Town Hall, greeting 350,000 adoring fans from the balcony. The Beatles were not scheduled to tour in Adelaide but a campaign by radio DJ Bob Francis facilitated the change of plans and the band played four concerts to a packed Centennial Hall on June 12 and 13. Prince Charles and Princess Diana of Wales visited Adelaide on April 5, 1983 and attended a State Reception at the Adelaide Town Hall. They too greeted crowds from the balcony. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave a captivating presentation to over 700 people at the Adelaide Town Hall on June 21, 2013, speaking about the benefits of multi-faith societies and mainstream world democracies.