Then story behind the “Piano Corner” sign in Cooks Beach

05 Oct 2021

Then story behind the “Piano Corner” sign in Cooks Beach

The mystery of the “Piano Corner” sign at Colin Harsant’s farm in Cooks Beach may be solved.

In July this year, Cooks Beach’s Gordon Whiteacre took some initiative and reinstalled the sign back into a visible position. The original sign had been erected around 1984 by Bob Norton, a signwriter from Ferry Landing, and was a landmark for those travelling to and from the “Dark Side”. 

Over the years, the Piano Corner sign weathered and fell into disrepair and eventually disappeared totally due to its position being overgrown and obscured with bush. Joe McLean took the initiative to recreate the sign as constant reminder to his father-in-law, Bob Lynch, and his role in the history of the sign, but he re-erected it in the same overgrown place which had visibility issues. Gordon then moved the sign into a place of proper visibility. When it was done, he posted onto the Cooks Beach Community Facebook page that the sign was back and prominently visible from the road, asking if anyone knew the story behind the sign. 

The community was abuzz, spawning a stream of conversation on the page about how great it was to see the sign again, since so many had wondered where it had gone. In parallel was a lively conversation about the origin of the sign and why the spot was called Piano Corner in the first place.
There were some talk of a piano falling off a trailer on the sharp turn in front of Colin’s farm. There were also discrepancies with regard to the decade in which the incident occurred and some side stories shooting off as, well, side stories. Overall, there was a lot of nostalgia about the sign as a key part of the history of the area. Ian Hamilton jumped in with one of the most complete explanations for the sign, which was factually verified and amended by Colin. Here is an attempt to tell the story, with the caveat that is mostly based on oral memories.

In 1980, the Cooks Beach community had fundraised for the building of a community hall on land donated by Gilbert Rivas, part owner of a large part of Cooks Beach. Later that year, a committee headed by Harding Bonnar raised more funds to relocate the former Whitianga Bank of New Zealand building onto the site for remodelling as a community hall. The remodeling of the shell of the bank building was carried out by Ian Free’s building company, Cooks Cottages, and completed in two weeks. A force of volunteers then took on the completion of the internal fittings and décor. 

At that point, various clubs were formed to organise a menu of indoor activities. One such indoor pursuit was the establishment of BYO gatherings on Friday nights, as a social way to connect the community. The two brains behind the Friday nights, Ed Stark and Alan McColl, thought it might be good to have a bit of “honkytonk” on these evenings and started to fundraise for a piano. 

In an effort to get the “honkytonk” underway while the funds were being raised, the two gentlemen organised to borrow a piano from The Coroglen Tavern. They recruited Bob Lynch with his car and trailer, and they set off for the tavern, probably a dangerous place to commence the tricky logistics of moving an upright piano. They loaded the piano onto the trailer in an upright position, which according to piano expert Diana Morcom, is not the most prudent way to transport such a top-heavy item. They threw a rope over it, which Colin said was not actually even physically tied to the piano. Everything was fine until the men hit the sharp turn at Colin’s farm. The top-heavy upright piano just tipped over and fell off the trailer, breaking into a thousand pieces. Diana says there are 12,000 pieces in a typical upright piano, so the mess was substantial. The mess was taken straight to the dump and suddenly the hall committee was fundraising for two pianos. Hence we have Piano Corner, a historic Cooks Beach landmark.