‘For the Benefit of the People of the World’

There has been some sad news from Rotorua today, that the Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga O Te Arawa, originally built in 1908 as a spa bath house, has closed indefinitely as a result of the cracks in the building caused by the Kaikoura earthquake in November.  Unfortunately, the staff at the museum are to be made redundant, and the decision of the future of the building is not to be made until next April.

According the history of the building on the Heritage New Zealand site, the building stands on land that had been gifted by the Ngati Whakaue iwi ‘hei oranga mo nga iwi katoa o te Ao’ (‘for the benefit of the people of the world’) when the government established Rotorua as a tourist resort in 1880, to take advantage of the health benefits of the geothermal properties of the area.  The government began its major investment in the town at the turn of the century, and this building was constructed as a bath house in 1908.  It is one of the few real half-timbered buildings built in New Zealand in this period.  It was built in that style to be familiar to overseas visitors, and is opulently decorated inside.  It also has some special New Zealand architectural features, such as pumice concrete panels.

A notable part of its history was when it became a treatment centre for hundreds of soldiers who returned from World War One, but as spas went out of fashion, it closed as a medical centre in 1966, and was later restored and turned into the city’s museum.

Stewart Brown, the museum’s director, said yesterday of the building’s engineering assessment: ‘It’s a complex building and due to its Heritage 1 status, we also need to protect the integrity of its heritage features. That means the whole process – before we even get to assessing any work required to strengthen the building – needs to be more detailed and will take longer than it otherwise might’.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-9-52-54-amView of the Tudor-style bathhouse and surrounding gardens, taken by William A Price soon after the official opening in Aug 1908.

The museum building is listed by Heritage New Zealand as a Category One historic place, and also sits within the Rotorua Government Gardens Historic Area, and beside a number of other listed historic places, such as the Spanish Mission style Blue Baths, and the very special Te Arawa War Memorial, which is a memorial to the men of the Te Arawa iwi who died in World War One, which contains elaborate carvings by sculptor W.H. Feldon.

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 10.47.15 AM.png

Main image: Photographer: Padawane, Wikipedia Commons, Released under the GNU Free Documentation License.  1908 image: New Bath House, Rotorua. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001503-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23060993.  Te Arawa war memorial image from the Te Ara war memorials site.

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