Civic Theatre

Fenton, Haupapa & Arawa Streets, Rotorua

  • Civic Theatre (aka Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre) Rotorua. CC Licence 4.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Schwede66. Date: 9/07/2016.
  • Civic Theatre (aka Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre) Rotorua. CC Licence 3.0 Image courtesy of Kete Rotorua.
    Copyright: Kete Rotorua. Taken By: Alison Leigh. Date: 8/05/2013.
  • Civic Theatre (aka Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre) Rotorua.
    Copyright: Heritage New zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 26/02/2003.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7206 Date Entered 23rd February 1994

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Rotorua District

Region

Bay of Plenty Region

Legal description

Sec 1, Blk XXIV, town of Rotorua, Block 1 Tarawera SD

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical : The dual local authority office/theatre function of the Civic Theatre provides, through historical association, knowledge of local authority policies in the past.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Aesthetic : The design of the Civic Theatre consists of a combination of cloisters, garden and decorative elements.

Architectural : Stylistically, the design of the Civic Theatre represents a development of late Spanish Mission style and increases our understanding of Anscombe's oeuvre.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Cultural: The Civic Theatre incorporates civic amenities into the form and function of the building.

Social: The plate incorporates a Civic Theatre function.

Spiritual: There is said to be some significance attached to the site as an historic battle ground.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(c) The criteria states: The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

The architect of the Civic Theatre, Edmund Anscombe, employed the Spanish Mission style as the dominant architectural element in the design of the place. The use of Spanish Mission in this instance occurred some years after the style had ceased to be regionally popular in New Zealand. Nevertheless Anscombe succeeded in developing the style in the Civic Theatre through the happy incorporation of elements of Stripped Classicism, the latter elements being an appropriate concession to the conservative preferences of the so called "inter war" period between 1920 - 1940. The Civic Theatre is distinguished as a special and outstanding place by virtue of the fact it is the only known contemporary local authority building in New Zealand designed in the Spanish Mission style which incorporates a historically and stylistically correct Spanish Mission garden and cloister into the design. By contrast, the other well known and outstanding example of Spanish Mission architecture in New Zealand, Auckland Grammar School, has no garden or cloister. The traditional courtyard enclosing these features was replaced in the design of Auckland Grammar by an assembly hall. The completion date of 1940 for the Civic Theatre is also significant. Public building generally ceased in New Zealand during World War II. When building resumed after 1945, Spanish Mission was not revived as a style. The Civic Theatre, therefore, could well be the last significant Spanish Mission building built in New Zealand in permanent materials. In this respect the Civic Theatre has the potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand architectural history.

(g) The criteria states: The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

Comments on this criteria are confined here to an analysis of the design quality of the building.

1. The Civic Theatre, Rotorua, is basically a building designed in Spanish Mission style, but this needs to be qualified by the recognition of the other architectural elements evident in the composition of the overall design. These are identified below. The employment of elements of several historical styles in one overall design is technically referred to as 'eclecticism'. It should be noted that no revival style has ever been a pure interpretation of a historical model. In New Zealand, as indeed has been the case overseas, the representation of a so-called historical style, has (with very few exceptions) always been an amalgamation of a number of historical designs put together by the architect into a new and original design. Generally the architect has always had freedom of choice to exercise a personal preference in the matter of the style chosen for a commission provided. It suits the practical requirements of the client, and this appears to have been the case with the Commission for the Civic Theatre. The main Spanish Mission elements of the Civic Theatre can be identified at this point in terms of the use of the rounded, or segmented, arch form in the cloisters fronting the main facade; the use of Marseille tiles on the roof of the cloisters; the use of the Baroque pediment at parapet level, incorporating Baroque scroll, Baroque escutcheon, and Baroque mouldings on the Arawa Street elevation, and (also on the Arawa Street elevation) characteristic Spanish Mission-style barley-twist columns dividing the ground-floor windows at the end of the facade into groups of three and five, supporting an entablature with cornice. A notable Spanish Mission element which is missing from the design is the overhanging eve with exposed roof rafters. This element is clearly visible in the more pure interpretations of the Spanish Mission style found on the main facades of Auckland Grammar (Category I) and the Municipal Theatre, Hastings (Category I).

2. The term "Spanish Mission" as used in the context of this report, refers to a modem revival of an historical church mission style which was originally developed in California, and elsewhere in the Americas, by Spanish Missionaries in the eighteenth century. As a modern revival style it made its first appearance at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Following this event Spanish Mission was widely publicised internationally in both domestic (house) form and in the large public and commercial building form. Literature on the subject was available in New Zealand in illustrated architectural periodicals from 1893 to 1934. Some characteristic features of the style have already been noted above. Generally it is identified by the adobe appearance of white plastered walls, segmented arches, tiled roofs and twisted columns.

2. 1. Perhaps the first outstanding public building in the Spanish Mission style to be found in New Zealand, is R. Atkinson Abbott's Auckland Grammar School built in 1913-16. The use of Spanish Mission for a large public building such as Auckland Grammar has been described as being exceptional since the preferred style at the time for academic institutions was Gothic Revival. Nevertheless by 1913 a precedent had already been set for the use of Spanish Mission in the domestic house designs of the Hastings architect William Rush (1872-1965). Rush designed what were arguably some of the earliest Spanish Mission buildings in New Zealand, namely the architect's home "Ngawiwi" at Havelock North (1908), and lona College, Havelock North (1913). These buildings, and the outstanding Spanish Mission Hastings Municipal Theatre by Henry Eli White (1877-1952), were all designed and built within twenty years of the style making its first public appearance at the 1893 Exposition at Chicago. The next major group of Spanish Mission buildings in New Zealand appeared in Napier where the Associated Architects produced some notable examples after the 1931 earthquake.

3. Spanish Mission in New Zealand was essentially a regional phenomena confined mainly to Hawkes Bay where the greatest concentration of Spanish Mission buildings may be found. The similarity of the Hawkes bay climate to California played some part in this regional acceptance of the style (there were other factors, connected with the Napier earthquake of 1931) but it cannot be said that Spanish Mission was widely accepted elsewhere in New Zealand. Nevertheless certain notable examples can be found outside of Hawkes Bay but still confined to the North Island. Generally speaking, Spanish Mission lasted in New Zealand from c.1908 to c.1934, and may be found in Napier, Hastings, Rotorua and Auckland. Apart from Auckland Grammar School, the most notable examples of the style are found in Havelock North, Hastings, and Napier. Comparative examples used in this assessment were Auckland Grammar School by R. Atkinson Abbot, 1913-16, Category I; the Blue Baths, Rotorua by J.T. Mair, 1931, Category I; the Municipal Theatre, Hastings, by Henry Eli White, 1915, Category I; Westerman's Building, Hastings, 1932, Category I; the Criterion Hotel, Napier, 1932, Category I; the Gaiety Deluxe Cinema, Napier, 1932, Category II; the State Theatre, Napier, c.1933, Category II; Colenso Chambers, Napier, 1932 Category II; the C.E. Rogers Building, Napier, 1940, Category II.

4. Spanish Mission in New Zealand initially had to adapt itself to a domestic architectural tradition based on the English Arts and Crafts Domestic Revival. Such eclectic combinations as English half-timbered gables and Californian arches were therefore characteristic of William Rush's early house designs in Havelock North. Commercial buildings which carne later. such as the Municipal Theatre in Hastings, employed a more catholic approach where the architect designed the exterior in Spanish Mission, and the interior in Austrian Art Nouveau.

4. 1. The post-1931 Spanish Mission style is characterised by a new eclecticism in the form of Art Deco elements added to the composition, as distinct from the Arts and Crafts/Domestic Revival/Art Nouveau forms that were found in the earlier group of Spanish Mission buildings. The Art Deco element is interesting from the point of view of the historical development of the Spanish Mission style. One outstanding practitioner of the new Spanish Mission eclecticism was Edmund Anscombe, architect of the Civic Theatre, Rotorua.

4. 2. Edmund Anscombe, whose career spanned the period 1910-45, was the architect of a number of prominent buildings in Dunedin and elsewhere. An Englishman by birth, he began work as a builder's apprentice in Dunedin, and in 1901 went to America to study architecture. He returned to Dunedin in 1907 and designed the School of Mines building for the University of Otago. The success of this design gained him the position of architect to the University. Five of the main University buildings were designed by Anscombe, as was Otago Girls' High School and several of Dunedin's finest commercial buildings including the Lindo Ferguson Building (1927) and the Haynes Building. Contemporaneous with these events, Anscombe won acclaim for his design of the 1925-26 South Seas Exhibition buildings at Logan Park, Dunedin, and the present day Dunedin Public Art Gallery. He came to Wellington about 1928 and was known for his work as the designer of the Centennial Exhibition (1939-40). Anscombe had travelled extensively and had visited major exhibitions in Australia, Germany and America. The practice of Edmund Anscombe and Associates, Architects, had offices in the Dunedin, Wellington and Hawkes Bay districts. Anscombe's buildings include the Vocational Centre for Disabled Servicemen, Wellington, (1943), and several blocks of flats including Anscombe Flats, 212 Oriental Parade, (1937), and Franconia, 136 The Terrace, (1938), both in Wellington. As well as being interested in the housing problem, Anscombe held strong views concerning the industrial advancement of New Zealand. There is a good case for considering Anscombe to be an architect of national importance.

4. 3. Anscombe's Westerman's Building in Hastings exhibits an Art Deco influence insofar as the parapets have a shallow stepped-ziggurat configuration. More importantly, and for the purpose of comparison with the Civic Theatre, is the fact that Anscombe used Spanish Mission barley-twist columns with rounded, segmented fanlights, for the fenestration of the Westerman's Building. These columns are a hallmark of Anscombe. He introduced them to the facade of William Rush's lona College, 1931, when he was commissioned to restore the building after the 1931 earthquake. As noted above, Anscombe used them again on the Arawa Street facade of the Civic Theatre, Rotorua (without the segmented fanlights) seven years later in 1938. The quality of the detailing found on the Civic Theatre is every bit as good as that found on the Westerman's facade.

5. An interesting and significant fact regarding Edmund Anscombe's career is that he outlasted, by a number of years, the Hawke's Bay architects in the continued use of eclectic Spanish Mission. The first design of the Civic Theatre was produced in 1938, some years after the style had ceased to be popular in Hawkes Bay. Anscombe however, by this date, had developed the style in the Civic Theatre Building to include eclectic elements of Stripped Classicism in keeping with the generally conservative preferences of pre-Second World War New Zealand architecture, as exemplified in the work of, for example, Gummer and Ford, and Gray Young. Anscombe may well have felt that in fact a stripped classical element in the design was appropriate for a public building that had an important civic function. His solution, therefore, to the requirements of his client, the climate, and the tastes of the time, enable us to understand and appreciate better the talents of the man providing, in this respect, new knowledge of New Zealand architectural history.

6. What one sees therefore in Anscombe's Civic Theatre is an eclectic mixture of Spanish Mission with inter-war Stripped Classical elements. The latter are visible in the four giant order pilasters rising through two storeys above the ground floor. The Order of the capitals has been literally stripped away and replaced by Classical dentils. A group of four simplified Baroque scrolls form the feet of the pilasters, while at the same time the upward thrust of the pilasters is continued through to the parapet with four simplified Baroque scroll brackets. The cornice lines to either side are decorated with mouldings in the form of half-pipes sitting on the cornice, and these perhaps allude to an aesthetic association with the half-pipe profiled roof tile characteristic of Italian houses since Roman times; the characteristic Roman roof tile, in effect. This latter touch is not inappropriate for a Spanish Mission design. The Baroque design of the parapet of the Arawa Street elevation has already been noted, but by way of contrast, the parapet of the main elevation on Fenton Street exhibits a vestigial Art Deco eclecticism in a minor stepped-ziggurat form. The "Civic Theatre" sign on this facade is almost superfluous to the main effect. Any modifications which have occurred to the Civic Theatre have not detracted from the overall significance of the place.

6. 1. The entire composition of the Civic Theatre is superbly augmented by the introduction, on the main Fenton Street facade, of an integrated courtyard and cloister containing a garden, fountain and trees. Since the fourteenth century, the model for such a garden arrangement has been the Alhambra of Granada. The contemporary Christian Monastery in other locations developed the cloister concept in a hot summer climate as a convenient form of shaded and secluded access to the main building. In the new world of the Americas, both concepts came together in the monasteries and mission buildings of Peru, Brazil, Mexico and California where the church building formed one side of a rectangle enclosing a courtyard with cloisters. Early monasteries and missions tended to have bare courtyards but in time fountains and gardens were created in some of the larger missions. In New Mexico and parts of southern California the architectural style and form of the mission station was found to be suitable as a domestic style for large landowners and ranch holders. The typical south-western Hacienda of the United States consisted of an enclosed rectangle with cloisters leading to the living apartments, with a water well located centrally in the courtyard. Wealthy estates would sometimes boast a garden with fountains. Thus although the ground plan of the Civic Theatre, Rotorua, differs, by virtue of the function of the building from the Hacienda and the mission station, the garden on the Fenton Street frontage is in fact enclosed by a fence, running along the boundary of the footpath which has Baroque moulded copings and balusters entirely in keeping with an eighteenth century style. Historical Spanish Mission elements are therefore successfully employed at the Civic Theatre with the provision of a main access to the building via the cloisters, enclosed garden and fountain. The effect is to invite the visitor to saviour the garden in the warm climate of Rotorua, if only in passing through to the main building. The use of Cyprus trees in the garden is entirely appropriate as they are a traditional feature in the European/Americas context.

7. The development of the Spanish Mission style in the Civic Theatre was enriched by the employment of the sculptor R.O. Gross, who produced the mouldings for the interior of the theatre. If Gross's mouldings are taken in their own right as expressions of his time and of his skill and quality as an artist, they can be compared with the recorded examples of his work which the Trust has, namely the foyer panel sculptures made for the entrance of the State Insurance Building in Wellington, Category I, also erected in 1940.

8. Gross was one of the leading New Zealand sculptors of his day, from 1914 to 1964. Of his work in the Civic Theatre, it can be said that the Maori Frieze is significant in terms of the innovative use of non-traditional fibrous plaster with which the frieze is made. The nearest comparison that can be made here is with the exterior concrete and interior plaster Maori friezes that may he found on the 1940 Otakou Maori Memorial Methodist Church on Otago Peninsula (Category I). The quality of detail of both Maori friezes appears to be the same. The large streamlined mouldings on either side of the theatre's proscenium, and along the cornice line of the walls, are also made of fibrous plaster which may, again, be significant for the time. What is clear is that they are expressive of the concern of the times with streamlining. In this respect they are characteristic of the spirit of the age which is very much apparent in Gross's unique allegorical designs representing the idea of progress, and man's harnessing of the natural elements, which may be seen in his foyer panel sculptures for the State Insurance Building. In a very direct way the existing mouldings in the Civic Theatre are contemporaneous in style, quality, and sentiment, with those which were found on the Centennial Exhibition Buildings at Miramar in 1940. The Centennial buildings were "Moderne" in style, exhibiting a combination of Art Deco and "International" styles where the emphasis was on the aesthetic of speed expressed, e.g. in abstract vertical and horizontal architectural forms and mouldings. While the exhibition buildings were designed by the same architect, Edmund Anscombe, the exhibition buildings did not survive. The Civic Theatre has, and stands as a rare surviving example of the stylistic eclecticism and experimental building materials of the time.

CONCLUSION:

Architecturally, the building bas special design qualities and technical accomplishment. It represents an important development of the Spanish Mission style which in itself tells us a great deal about the development of Edmund Anscombe as an outstanding architect. This demonstrates the actual and potential ability of the place to provide knowledge of New Zeal and architectural history.

On these grounds the place is of special and outstanding historical and cultural heritage significance and value. This report recommends a Category I registration for the Civic Theatre, Rotorua, covering the land and grounds and exteriors and interiors of the buildings situated there, and with special reference to the following architectural features; the Spanish Mission designed Fenton Street facade, including the Spanish Mission Garden, fountain, trees, and cloisters; the Arawa Street facade including all Spanish Mission design features, and all architectural features both original and modified; the Haupapa Street facade, including all Spanish Mission design features, and all architectural features both original and modified; the rear Hinemaru Street facade, including the rear of the stage and fly area, all Spanish Mission design features, and all architectural features both original and modified; the interior of the theatre, including all Maori friezes, and all Moderne style mouldings located there.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Anscombe, Edmund

Anscombe (1874-1948) was born in Sussex and came to New Zealand as a child. He began work as a builder's apprentice in Dunedin and in 1901 went to America to study architecture. He returned to Dunedin in 1907 and designed the School of Mines building for the University of Otago. The success of this design gained him the position of architect to the University. Five of the main University buildings were designed by Anscombe, as well as Otago Girls' High School and several of Dunedin's finest commercial buildings including the Lindo Ferguson Building (1927) and the Haynes building.

Anscombe moved to Wellington about 1928 and was known for his work as the designer of the Centennial Exhibition (1939-1940). Anscombe had travelled extensively and had visited major exhibitions in Australia, Germany and America. The practice of Edmund Anscombe and Associates, Architects, had offices in the Dunedin, Wellington and Hawkes Bay districts, and Anscombe's buildings include the Vocational Centre for Disabled Servicemen, Wellington (1943), Sargent Art Gallery, Wanganui, and several blocks of flats including Anscombe Flats, 212 Oriental Parade (1937) and Franconia, 136 The Terrace (1938), both in Wellington. As well as being interested in the housing problem, Anscombe held strong views concerning the industrial advancement of New Zealand.

(See also http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/ )

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1940 -

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Northern region office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.