One hundred years of Takaro Park

‘’The health of a city depends largely on the breathing spaces that are available to the populace for recreational purposes, and judged by this precept Palmerston North can claim to be as healthy, if not more so, than any other city of its size in the Dominion.”

So wrote the Manawatū Standard on the state of the city’s parks ahead of the opening of the Takaro Bowling, Tennis and Croquet Club (now Takaro Sports Club) in September 1923.

Takaro Park was developed during the 1920s. Its name (Takaro means play in te reo Māori) reflected a decision by the Palmerston North City Council, then under the leadership of mayor and local MP James Nash, to give Māori names to some reserves, which may have been motivated by a desire to acknowledge the presence and history of Māori in the city.

Manawatū Standard of September 25, 1920 stated: “The reserve at Kairanga and Featherston Street West [will] be called Takaro Park (meaning playground)”, the educational reserve at the corner of Featherston and Terrace streets be called Papaeoia Park (later corrected to Papaioea), and the North St reserve be called Wahikoa Park and that Scandia St (now Albert St) Domain be known as Hokowhitu Domain.

The original pavilion of Takaro Bowling, Tennis and Croquet Club, circa 1939.

At the time of its formation in 1920, Takaro Park was sited on the extremities of Palmerston North, Kairanga St (now Botanical Rd) being on the western boundary of the town and Featherston St only one block away from its northernmost street, Boundary Rd (now Tremaine Ave).

Between 1880 and 1910 residential development in the area was concentrated between Taonui St and the Showgrounds, before starting to move westward. Flooding proved a constraint to residential development in the area, until the Kawau and Mangaone streams were stopbanked in the 1950s.

Like many of the parks developed in Palmerston North during the interwar period, Takaro Park was a joint venture between the city council and local residents.

Ladies' Day at Takaro Tennis Club, circa 1950.

The Manawatū Standard reported on May 4, 1922, that ‘’over 60 residents of Palmerston North’s western area were present at the initial meeting of players interested in the formation of bowling, croquet and tennis greens at Takaro Park”.

Two days later, it reported the formation of the Takaro Bowling, and Croquet Club, with H.B. Free elected president. He recommended they build a pavilion as soon as possible, taking advantage of the Palmerston North City Council’s offer to contribute £250 towards its construction (the club to provide the remainder).

“West End residents had already shown that they could do things properly” he reportedly stated, “and if churches could be built in a day, he was convinced that their pavilion could also be put up in that time.”

The council duly agreed to lease the area required for its facilities to the newly formed club. They then sought ratepayer approval for £15,000 in loans (approximately $1.8 million in 2023) to develop local sports facilities, including £1000 for the development of Takaro Park and £250 for the Bowling Club Pavilion.

The Takaro Bowling Club has hosted many social events, including the Amandrian Folk Dancers Barn Dance, circa 1970s-80s, which at $3 entry per person, including supper, was surely great value.

Responding to concerns some local businessmen expressed about the amount of loan money sought for these facilities, H.B. Free argued the club already had 150 members and that ‘‘the development of Takaro Park had already stimulated building activity in the Western area’’.

The result of which, he forecast, would see the council recoup its investment from the increased number of ratepayers in the locality.

Ratepayers were not so enthusiastic and voted against the loan but development of Takaro Park continued. The pavilion was completed by May 1923.

Its construction was something of a public event. After the building committee of the Takaro Bowling, Tennis and Croquet Club had levelled the foundations, a working bee was scheduled for April 21, 1923, starting at 7am, with the intention of completing the building in a day.

Takaro Croquet Club winners, 1948. Women players from the Takaro Croquet Club after a successful match in the Inter-Club Championship run by the Manawatū Croquet Association.

“Already a number of builders, plumbers and carpenters have volunteered assistance’’ the Standard of April 19, 1923, reported. Moreover, “the lady members of the club will be in attendance and will run a refreshment booth all day for the benefit of enthusiastic workers.

“During the afternoon it is expected that crowds of visitors will be on the ground to watch progress.”

Unfortunately, heavy rain meant the pavilion was not finished in a day, but it was ready in time for the 1923 bowls season. Reporting on the completed facility, the Standard of September 22, praised borough curator Peter Black for having ‘’employed every inch of space to the utmost utility.

“Entering the handsome double gateway, a wide pathway, laid down in fine metal, leads to the pavilion, erected by members of the club, a compact and artistically constructed building which has been equipped with every modern convenience.’’

Courtesy of Clausen’s Carriers, Takaro Bowling and Tennis Club gratefully receive a utility building purchased from the Palmerston North transit camp on October 18, 1958.

Amenities included a bowling green of 120-square-feet on which three games could be played at once; two grass courts and two hard courts for tennis players and a croquet lawn measuring 105 by 84ft.

James Nash, himself an accomplished bowler, congratulated the Takaro Bowling, Tennis and Croquet Club on their achievements at a special function held to commemorate the new park on the opening day of the 1923 bowls season.

Takaro Park has remained a valued asset to its sports club and the wider community. Following concerns it was being underutilised, it was extensively redeveloped in the 1980s.

Assisted by an intrepid guide on the roof, Takaro Bowling and Tennis Club’s new utility hall arrives.

Six hard courts were created for tennis and a new pavilion for the soccer club. Fencing along Botanical Rd, which obscured the park from public view, was removed and access from Shamrock St, Chelwood St and Botanical Rd opened up to improve access.

The children’s playground was also redeveloped.

In 2014, Takaro Park was chosen as the site for Palmerston North’s first free outdoor gym, so that people could obtain the benefits of physical development without having to pay gym membership fees.

Although its form and facilities have changed over time, Takaro Park has gone a long way towards fulfilling the vision of its founders.

Geoff Watson teaches a paper on sports history at Massey University.

- Manawatu Standard