The Next Step

The Next Step

Clearly, the 1952 Music Festival provided the proof Government needed to lend its support to a concert hall scheme. Within one month of the festival, the Minister of Education, Roy Joseph, had written to May Johnstone with a concrete offer of government assistance. The letter stated that Government would, “present one of the hangars now at Piarco free of cost for the purpose… if those interested in this project are able to raise the necessary funds for dismantling the hangar and transporting and re-erecting it on a suitable site in Port of Spain.” In addition, “Government will give assistance to the sponsors in finding a suitable site for the erection of the Concert Hall-Community Centre in Port of Spain. In this connection I am to state that Government considers suitable for the purpose, the two-and-a- half acre site which has been suggested, at the western end of the King George the Fifth Park, and has already written to the City Council on the subject.8

Although Government’s offer was perhaps not quite as generous as the Trinidad Music Association would have been hoping for, Johnstone must have been encouraged by this first definitive show of support. Not only would she have help finding a location for the hall, but Government would give her a hangar as well. She was invited to set up a steering committee to determine the feasibility of the project and to, “complete the plans and arrange an appeal for public subscriptions.” Johnstone immediately got to work inviting people to become part of the Theatre Concert Hall Steering Committee, which met for the first time on 21st May 1952.

The original steering committee was very large, comprising nearly thirty members – most of whom were stakeholders who would benefit directly from the construction of a hall. Johnstone was anxious to have all of the arts represented, thereby ensuring that no one felt the Trinidad Music Association was co-opting the process – in her initial “Memorandum on a Cultural Centre for Trinidad”, Johnstone had assured the Colonial Office that, “in sponsoring this idea, the Music Association does not aim at control in any way. My Committee and I feel that the venture must have governmental and Municipal backing with the full cooperation of all cultural groups.”

At that first meeting it was agreed that the Committee should push to raise upwards of $450,000, the first $350,000 of which to be allocated to the ‘Colony Theatre-Concert Hall scheme’ in Port of Spain, with the additional funds going towards the development of a concert hall facility in South Trinidad. These targets would quickly prove to be unattainable and the South plan was eventually dropped off the agenda. By the end of May 1952, the Port of Spain City Council had written to Johnstone with the news that it had agreed to lease to the Theatre Concert Hall Committee two-and-a-half acres of land on the western end of King George V Park.

The Architectural firm H. Watkins and Partners, was approached to design a Theatre Concert Hall around the core of an airplane hangar, and to make it aesthetically pleasing – befitting of the title of ‘National Theatre’. One of Watkins and Partners’ architects, Mr Fraser Reekie (also a member of the Steering Committee), produced perspective drawings of the Theatre and Concert Hall, after which his firm was to prepare working drawings and provide, “full, normal architectural services for 3% of the total cost of works [the norm at the time was 6% – the reduction represented the firm’s donation to the scheme] plus out-of-pocket expenses.” The drawings, which were published in the press, provided visible proof that the Steering Committee was serious about the business of building a hall. Newspaper articles reflected the public’s excitement: “The idea of an Arts centre is, of course, not new. For a quarter of a century and more committees have been appointed, have met, and disappeared; interested individuals have discussed it in private; plans have been prepared – but the idea, after 25 years or so was still just a beautiful dream, until recently!9

Mr Fraser Reekie’s drawings provided the earliest images of the Hall and appeared in the press and on much of the committee’s fund-raising documentation, but in the final analysis, his plans were not selected for the construction of Queen’s Hall, the Committee deciding instead to select an architect based on the outcome of an open competition.

8 Letter from the Honourable Roy Joseph, Minister of Education and Social Services, (28/4/1952).
9“Architect gives new look to old Hangar”, Sunday Guardian (27/4/1950)