Where to Now for This Iconic Site?

The much-loved Band Rotunda site in the centre of Oriental Parade has had many transformations over the years. The first structure on this site was an appealing little open-sided hexagonal building. It made its appearance in Oriental Bay in 1919. It was the place you went to for an ice cream, for a chat with friends plus a bit of sea-gazing.

It was moved to Central Park in Brooklyn in 1936 to allow for a sturdier building to be built which could also accommodate bathers with changing facilities underneath. This new building with its art deco flavour became a well-known feature of the Bay.

Then a suggestion for a restaurant on the site was made. The New Zealand Home and Building magazine (1985 edition) describes the row that broke out when the restaurant plans became public. Locals were fearful of a licensed premises open until 11 pm in such a tranquil area and nervous that their views would be affected.

After much talk and debate, conditions were set. The building must not be too high or overhang its original boundaries; the design must ensure that the public had access to the top level; the style must not be at odds with the area’s architecture and the extra storey should be in sympathy with the original 1930s building. These last two requirements resulted in the pleasing art deco style that locals have come to love. Construction started in 1984 and Nicholson’s Restaurant opened its doors in March 1985. After 16 years, Nicholson’s was sold and became Fisherman’s Table, “affordable dining with million-dollar views” was the catch-cry of the new owners or “cheap and cheerful” as the locals put it. Over sunny weekends when families crowded the beach, Fisherman’s Table did indeed prove popular. But after 13 years, the owners reached retirement age and decided to look for a quieter life. By this time the building was yellow-stickered and required earthquake strengthening.

Tracy Morrah of Wellington City Council describes the current situation of this iconic site: The Bluewater Bar and Grill, which operated in the Band Rotunda building, closed at the end of March 2016. This followed an agreement reached with the head lessee who sought an early surrender of the lease, largely due to declining business.
The Band Rotunda is effectively two buildings. The lower structure, which was most recently used as Community Rooms, was built in the 1930s. The upper structure (restaurant) was built in the 1980s.
As could be expected for a structure which is about 80 years old and with most of its foundations within the sea itself, the structure is in need of remediation. There are also concerns around the ongoing structural integrity of the inter-floor concrete slab. Remediation could not be reasonably carried out with a tenant in situ or with the community rooms in operation. No detailed costings are available for this remediation, however we expect these will be significant.

Oriental Parade and band rotunda (1932) Thanks to National Library. 

Oriental Parade and band rotunda (1932) Thanks to National Library. 

The site’s profile; complex building structure; planning restrictions (including heritage aspects) and high remediation costs means the Council needs to draw advice from a range of disciplines in order to make a considered decision about the building’s future. The first step in this process is to carry out invasive testing in order to obtain detailed structural engineering advice. This work is currently underway and will inform the next stages of this project.

Iona Pannett, chairperson of the Environment Committee and Portfolio Leader Buildings, added that “Council is obviously keen to make sure that this building is safe but it is a complex project. Once we are further down the track, we need to talk to the local community about what use it might make of the space in the future.”

Here’s hoping that we continue to enjoy that grand old building in whatever form it takes – it is so much a part of the Oriental Bay landscape.

 JCD, Bay View newsletter 68, November 2016