Refurbished Taisho Era hall set to debut anew

Central Public Hall, an 84-year-old Neo-Renaissance civic gathering place, will reopen Friday after a three-year, 11 billion yen restoration.

After nearly eight decades of use, the hall was dull and worn out, its wood floors scarred by wear and its doors creaking. The Taisho Era (1912-28) structure is now set to debut afresh.

The expensive renovation was backed by Osaka residents as well as business and academic circles and architects, according to Yukikazu Toyoda, director of the hall.

“In the 1970s, there was a redevelopment plan for the Nakanoshima area that called for all traditional buildings, including the prefectural library and Bank of Japan branch, to be replaced by high rises,” he said.

“But the public hall was too precious, even for local carpenters, to be scrapped because so many parts of the building, including the decorations at the top of the columns, were good examples of their craftsmanship.”

Built in 1918 on the island of Nakanoshima, sandwiched by the Dojima and Tosabori rivers, with a 1 million yen donation (the equivalent of 8 billion yen now) from stock dealer Einosuke Iwamoto, the hall has long been a center of cultural, political and social activities for local residents.

The original design was by architect Shinichiro Okada, who won a 15-man competition in 1912. The design was later modified by Kingo Tatsuno and Yasu Kataoka, who designed Tokyo Station, another brick Taisho Era monument.

When the hall opened to the public in November 1918, about 100,000 people visited the modern structure in its first four days.

As party politics gained sway during the Taisho Era, the hall provided a perfect platform for politicians to give speeches and parties to hold meetings.

The building also served as a major stage for cultural events at a time when there was no other similar facility. The latest operas from Russia and Italy were staged in its auditorium. Osaka residents have also attended appearances and lectures there by such figures as Helen Keller and Yuri Gagarin.

Embracing the importance of such history, the Osaka Municipal Assembly decided in 1988 to preserve the hall, voting in favor of renovation and quake-resistance work.

About 10 percent of the cost was financed by public donations. The rest came from the city coffers.

About 20 percent of the renovation went for installing earthquake-resistance features, the largest single expenditure. The structure will now be able to withstand a temblor of the same scale as the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, Toyoda said.

Other renovation work was also costly, including reproducing the color of window curtains based on analyzing black and white photographs dating to when the hall was built, and laying in a third-floor wooden floor using the same type of materials and design method as the original.

The outer walls were meanwhile steam-cleaned to brighten the structure.

Toyoda said the hall, even before renovation, was sound.

“Unlike construction work these days, the gravel used in the concrete of this building contained no salt. So the reinforcing steel inside has not rusted and the surface has not cracked,” he said.

A council under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology decided Oct. 18 to register the hall as a national cultural asset.

Toyoda said there is no other building like it in Osaka. It was used by more than 700,000 people annually before the restoration and is expected to serve just as many if not more after it reopens.

Costs for use of the public hall are kept low. The 1,100-seat auditorium can be rented for 20,000 yen an hour. The lowest-priced meeting room goes for 1,300 yen per 150 minutes.

“The hall was made of 1,500 tons of domestic marble. It provides not only space at a bargain price but also an ambience that cannot be experienced elsewhere,” Toyoda said. “I hope it will be a new center for a wide range of civic activities.”

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