Waikato Regional Theater design is a nod to the city’s past

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An American oak staircase. Ornate wooden arches. Imposing leaded windows.

Piece by piece, the heritage elements inside the old Hamilton Hotel are carefully removed and stored as the once majestic building is methodically dismantled.

Over the next 28 months, the Victoria Street site will be reinvented as the region’s premier art venue – the Waikato Regional Theater.

Contractor Foster has been busy at the site since a perimeter fence was erected around the property on the corner on October 19.

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Three stores that stood between Embassy Park and the old hotel were demolished, while work began to remove two non-heritage buildings behind the theater.

“The three buildings that were removed date from the 1970s and therefore have nothing to do with the historic nature of the rest of the site,” said Ross Hargood, chairman of the Waikato Regional Property Trust.

Waikato Regional Property Trust Chairman Ross Hargood, left, and Momentum Waikato's director of communications and marketing, Mark Servian, examine an oak staircase inside the old Hamilton Hotel.

MARK TAYLOR / Tips

Waikato Regional Property Trust Chairman Ross Hargood, left, and Momentum Waikato’s director of communications and marketing, Mark Servian, examine an oak staircase inside the old Hamilton Hotel.

The trust is responsible for governing the theater.

The contractors also dismantled Embassy Park’s Rocky Horror decorations, including its chandelier.

Preserving the historic features of the old hotel interior is a requirement of the theater project’s resource permissions, Hargood said.

“They’re taken away, they’re stored in a container or storage facility approved by… Heritage New Zealand as proper storage, and then we’ll put them back when the theater is rebuilt.”

Artist's impression of the Waikato Regional Theater as seen from Victoria Street.

PROVIDED

Artist’s impression of the Waikato Regional Theater as seen from Victoria Street.

Elements of the hotel’s Queen Suite, such as furniture trims and curtains, will also be retained.

Queen Elizabeth II and the late Duke of Edinburgh stayed at the Hamilton Hotel in 1953 during their Commonwealth tour.

The $ 76.3 million theater will feature a 1,300-seat auditorium and replace the disused Founders Theater as the region’s premier arts venue. It is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2024.

The Old Hamilton Hotel was the third building to be erected on the corner site, with the first two being destroyed by fire.

A leaded window that will be reused in the construction of the theater.

MARK TAYLOR / Tips

A leaded window that will be reused in the construction of the theater.

“At the time, the fire was a major danger,” said Mark Servian, director of communications and marketing for Momentum Waikato. Momentum Waikato led the fundraiser for the new theater.

“This building has a lot of concrete, it’s solid. In the 1920s, that would have been a bit of a technological feat. There would have been discussions at the time on how to stop this thing burning. “

Demolition work on the corner site will continue until February, when earthworks are scheduled to begin.

Wood panels like these are carefully removed before the old Hamilton Hotel is demolished.

MARK TAYLOR / Tips

Wood panels like these are carefully removed before the old Hamilton Hotel is demolished.

The supporting work on the facade of the hotel is expected to start in December or January.

The facade faces Victoria Street and Sapper Moore-Jones Pl and has been incorporated into the design of the theater.

“There is a plan that Foster devised to show how the facade is going to be maintained because it’s a heritage aspect, so we have to support it as we reinforce and demolish the back of this building,” Hargood said.

Excavation and piles for the theater will begin from mid-2022.

The interior of the Waikato Regional Theater as depicted in this artist's impression.  Hamilton's famous Ralph Hotere mural hangs on the wall.

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The interior of the Waikato Regional Theater as depicted in this artist’s impression. Hamilton’s famous Ralph Hotere mural hangs on the wall.

Delays caused by Covid-19 delayed the project by about a year to 14 months.

“The only obvious thing that could hold us back further are the issues around the supply chain,” Hargood said.

“All of these things that we have to deal with with Foster. We work on the basis of being honest with each other, about how much money we have and how much time they have.

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s Riff Raff statue will soon find a temporary home near the Waikato Museum.

The statue was removed from its location on Victoria Street to make room for the development of the theater.

Ross Hargood, left, and Mark Servian stand behind the old Hamilton Hotel.

MARK TAYLOR / Tips

Ross Hargood, left, and Mark Servian stand behind the old Hamilton Hotel.

Servian, who led the creation of the Riff Raff statue, said the artwork would likely be on display again to the public by the museum in time for Christmas.

Riff Raff was one of the main characters on the Rocky Horror Show.

Servian said the lockdown restrictions prevented Riff Raff from receiving a public farewell.

“We went down to level 3 and played the Rocky Horror Picture Show on a screen with no one. So we managed a sort of ritual, ”he said.

Riff Raff will return to Embassy Park once the theater is finished.

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