About the Rotunda
This building is one of two built in Rotorua in 1915 and opened in January 1916 as dormitories for the King George V Military Hospital for convalescent patients during the First World War. It was designed by the architectural firm of Hoggard and Prouse and built within six weeks by the Wellington firm of Campbell and Burke. The two octagonal dormitories were named Anzac and Suvla Wards.
The King George V Hospital was used as a civilian hospital in the 1920s. At the end of the decade the two octagonal dormitories were moved to Ōtaki to become part of New Zealand’s first permanent children’s health camp, which opened in 1932. They were dismantled and sent by rail to the camp where they were re-erected by the Lower Hutt firm of S Jarvis and Son. Dismantling the buildings was no easy task as the various nuts and bolts used in their construction had been fused together by the Rotorua sulphur. Jarvis and Son nearly went out of business as a result.
The rotunda is now the last remaining original structure of New Zealand’s first permanent children’s health camp. It is of outstanding national significance. [This building] has high technological interest as its design reflects the attitudes of the day towards the treatment of the sick. It is probably the last World War One hospital building of this design remaining in New Zealand.
Alison Dangerfield ~ Area Manager, Heritage New Zealand
The two rotundas - one for boys and the other for girls - each held, at peak, 60 beds. Such was their impressiveness in size and uniqueness that those who were among the first intakes and are now in the nineties, still recall the experience of sleeping in them. Some even remember exactly where their bed was located. These buildings became a feature of health camp promotions over the years, appearing on posters, tea-towels and first-day covers.
The buildings were temporarily used as hospital wards during the Second World War, mainly for geriatric and orthopaedic patients, until mid 1944. The nurses affectionately called the rotunda used for male patients “the bull ring”. After renovation they re-opened for health camp use in December 1944.
The eastern rotunda was demolished in 1963 and the remaining one was converted from a dormitory to a recreational building. Over the years the remaining building has been used for concerts (having proven to have excellent acoustics), dances and gymnastics
In 1982 the Manawatu Daily Times described the building thus: “Today this building remains not only as a historical reminder of service and utility but as a very happy place of activity … It stands proudly as a living piece of both New Zealand’s and Otaki’s history” The same is true today.
The rotunda is registered Category One on the Heritage New Zealand List and is a heritage building on the Kapiti Coast Heritage Buildings Register (B9). It has high technological interest as its design reflects the attitudes of the day towards the treatment of the sick.
It is not only important for its structure and historical usage but also for its association with nationally important figures; such as Dr Ada Paterson, who was responsible for establishing the Health Camp Federation with its network of health camps, Dr Harry Gibbs who chaired the Otaki Camp Committee for 20 years, Otaki’s Dr Gertrude Atmore, who served for many years as the camp’s doctor, and the local philanthropist Byron Brown, who donated land for the health camp and for other important buildings in Otaki.
Over recent years the remaining rotunda has fallen into disrepair and has been mothballed awaiting a decision on its future. In the year 2000, the seven children’s health camps around New Zealand were taken over by a Charitable Trust called Stand Children’s Services (Stand) including Otaki Health Camp. In 2018, confronted with rising maintenance costs, Stand decided to close the Otaki Camp.
Investigations have begun in conjunction with Heritage New Zealand into how this building can be saved and restored as a memorial to the pioneering days of the health camp movement and as a community facility.
Alison Dangerfield, Area Manager of Heritage New Zealand is enthusiastic about the potential for repair and reuse of the building. She commented “buildings which have had little maintenance over many years, on first look can seem a bit challenging but this challenge is one that has been met by many people all over New Zealand. The adaptive reuse of such a remarkable structure, which has played such a significant role in the lives of so many New Zealanders, will enable this part of the country’s history to be appreciated by generations to come.”