Australasia’s only harness racing museum facing bulldozer to make way for car parking

Hall of Fame president Gilbert Myles in a corner dedicated to New Zealand's first million dollar earner Cardigan Bay, who is buried at the front of the museum.

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Hall of Fame president Gilbert Myles in a corner dedicated to New Zealand’s first million dollar earner Cardigan Bay, who is buried at the front of the museum.

The debt-laden Auckland Trotting Club is almost down to selling the family silver but has struck opposition in its latest bid to demolish Australasia’s only harness racing museum to make way for parking.

The ATC reduced its debt from $122 million to $73 million last month by finally completing its sale of a large chunk of land bordering Green Lane Road but now needs to find alternative parking spaces for Alexandra Park patrons.

After having just felled a stand of 100-year-old trees behind the stables for parking it now wants to get rid of the Noel Taylor New Zealand Trotting Hall Of Fame, which it acknowledges on its own website as “one of the best of its kind in the world”.

The building houses priceless memorabilia dating back to the first Auckland Trotting Cup won by Commodore in 1890 and is visited by people from all over the world, also hosting bus tours and school groups since opening in 1997.

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Former ATC president Noel Taylor gifted the club $650,000 to construct the museum and ensure the impressive collection was held in a secure facility accessible to the public.

The Hall of Fame has a legally binding agreement to operate there for a peppercorn rental of $1 a year, with no termination date, but the ATC is now challenging the lease, despite already having accepted payments for the next 50 years.

Hall of Fame president Gilbert Myles, a former vice-president of the ATC, said he was appalled at how the club’s acting chief executive Rod Croon misled members at the recent annual general meeting, claiming the club owned the building because it paid back the $650,000 to Taylor’s estate after his death in 1999.

Club officials at the time are adamant the money was never repaid and a deed signed between Taylor, the club and the Hall Of Fame clearly states Taylor signed a codicil, amending his will to provide for the sum to be a legacy, so the club did not have to repay any money on his death.

Myles said it would be a travesty if the museum was bulldozed, yet another victim of the ATC’s failed building project, which lost $108 million and now sees the club forced to sell its training center at Pukekohe to stave off the banks.

The Hall Of Fame museum is in danger of being demolished for car parking.

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The Hall Of Fame museum is in danger of being demolished for car parking.

Myles suspects the land on which the Hall of Fame sits might be the next to be sold as the club recently registered the area as a new title.

“It wasn’t the Hall Of Fame that brought the ATC to its knees so why should it suffer?

“It’s not the Auckland Hall of Fame, it’s the New Zealand Hall of Fame and people from all around Australasia donated money and memorabilia to help set it up.”

A separate Incorporated Society, the Hall Of Fame had spent a lot of money, and unpaid time, building up and looking after the collection.

It now displays a myriad of items like the framed racing silks of Monte Carlo, the winner of the first New Zealand Trotting Cup in 1904, carts used by champion pacer Young Quinn and the legendary horseman Ces Donald, tributes to Cardigan Bay, who is buried behind the building, valuable gold and silver cups, books, journals and newspapers. It recently transferred 1200 race meetings from film on to disk for visitors to view.

Myles fears for the future of the treasures if the ATC gets its way to relocate bits of the collection to a dingy, rarely visited back room in the grandstand and spread selected trophies throughout the building, like the reception area and Alex Bar.

The last time it agreed to let the club display cups outside the museum they went missing, he said.

What the ATC was proposing should be a concern to harness racing fans around the country, he said. No other harness museums existed in the southern hemisphere.

The thoroughbred code had even failed in attempts to build a museum at Ellerslie.

Despite museum committee chair Wendy Pye sponsoring and unveiling plans in 2006 for a state-of-the-art facility, the $4million funding needed did not eventuate.

The Auckland Racing Club’s extensive collection is now stored in boxes.

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