About the Sir Howard Morrison Centre

History of Use

Rotorua Municipal Buildings

The Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre sits on land gifted by Ngāti Whakaue, in the heart of Rotorua city.

Designed by architect Edmund Anscombe, in Spanish Mission style, the Centre was opened on 26 July 1940. It combined the municipal offices, museum, borough library, concert chamber and picture theatre.

Rotorua Municipal buildings including Regent Theatre (now Civic Theatre) and Concert Chamber

Rotorua Convention Centre

In 1995, the building underwent significant renovation, blending the original Spanish Mission design with contemporary elements. The new design enclosed the central courtyard with expansive curved glass walls creating a large internal foyer and curved banquet room. When viewed from the air it formed the shaped of a grand piano.

The new design enabled the building to be used for conferences, exhibitions and entertainment.

In 2010 a major upgrade to the stage house and backstage changing rooms was completed.

Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre

In 2007 the Energy Events Centre, a new events and conference facility, opened behind the Museum, and much of the conference business was drawn away to the new venue.

By this stage the Convention Centre was starting to get tired and dated, and usage of the venue had started to decline. The decision was made to re-purpose the building as a performing arts centre, and in September 2014 the venue was renamed the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre in honour of one of Rotorua’s performing arts legends.

Sir Howard Leslie Morrison OBE (1939 – 2009)

Rotorua born and bred, Sir Howard Morrison became one of our most beloved New Zealand entertainers, who helped bring Māori culture to mainstream New Zealand.

1956 announced the arrival of ‘The Howard Morrison Quartet’. An entertainment phenomenon that had sold out concerts, hit records, and forged the singing careers for four Māori boys into the annals of New Zealand’s entertainment history.

Sir Howard Morrison Quartet, 1960

Morrison’s solo career followed after the Quartet disbanded in 1964 and from that time he went on to achieve many milestones including:

•       New Zealand Entertainer of the Year award in 1966

•       Asia-Pacific commissions by the NZ government promoting exports and tourism during the years 1968-76

•       OBE honours for services to Māori in 1976

•       The Royal Variety Performance of Whakaaria Mai in 1982 before Queen Elizabeth II. ‘Whakaaria Mai’ became a number one single, remaining in the New Zealand charts for 19 weeks

•       ‘This is your Life’ television show in celebration of his career in September 1989

•       Entertainer of the Decade award in 1989

•       Knighthood honours for services to entertainment in 1990

•       Waikato University’s award of an Honorary Doctorate in 2006.

He championed the ‘Ride for Life’ horse trek throughout the country, raising $1.2 million for the Life Education Trust and he also established two separate tertiary education scholarships – one funded by John and Susan Amos, and the other by Sir Owen Glenn.

Sir Howard Morrison OBE died at home in Rotorua on 24 September 2009, aged 74 and is remembered as a popular entertainer and a charismatic leader who navigated two cultures for the benefit of both.

Construction History

Original Construction

The Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre is listed by Heritage New Zealand as a ‘Historic Place Category 1’ structure. The original building was designed and built in the 1930s as a Municipal Office and Theatre for the Rotorua Borough Council. It comprised an administration (north) wing, a Concert Chamber (south) wing, and the Regent Theatre auditorium.

Rotorua Municipal Buildings, c1940s

The original structure is plain reinforced concrete beams and columns in the wings, with pumice block cavity walls to the front and back of both wings and to all exterior walls of the north wing. Remaining side walls of the Concert Chamber were constructed of nominally reinforced pumice concrete.

The auditorium structure is made up of a steel frame supporting the circle, with concrete encased columns and bare steel beams. Walls are nominally reinforced pumice concrete, similar to the Concert Chamber. The original ground floor generally comprises lightweight timber joist/bearers on concrete piles, with some areas of concrete. The administration and Concert Chamber wings have laminated timber trusses with timber sarking. The Foyer roof has steel trusses, again with timber sarking. The first floor of the administration wing has concrete slabs on concrete beams.

Regent Theatre (now known as Civic Theatre) auditorium

Changes and Additions

Between original construction and the 1990s, numerous upgrades and additions were made. These included extending the administration block (1950s), enlarging the stage area (1970s), adding a Concert Chamber egress (1970s), and adding a reinforced concrete block plant room (1980s). A public toilet block was also added during this period to the south of the Concert Chamber and has since been converted to a storage room.

The most significant additions to the building occurred in the 1990s. A curved Banquet Room was added to the north wing, and a curved glass entry was added to the existing Foyer, wrapping around the Concert Chamber. Both these new structures have concrete floors with steel frames supporting the lightweight roof and heavily glazed exterior.

View of the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre showing addition of curved Banquet Room to the north and curved wall enclosing the Foyer to the west

A kitchen and plant area, added to the north east of the building, is of fairly robust construction, with doubly reinforced concrete walls and concrete floors.

The Fly Tower was extended in 2009, with lightweight cladding and steel bracing.