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One of New Zealand’s greatest iconic 19th century buildings, the Grosvenor in Timaru, has finally begun a new life, after a rich and chequered past.
While Christchurch has lost great old buildings in the recent 7.1 earthquake, Timaru has had a choice and is finally seeing tourist value in protecting its heritage.
Affectionately known as the Grand Old Lady of the South, the Grosvenor is entwined in Timaru's history with ornate styling dating back to when it was built in 1885. It has been resuscitated to much of its former elegance and glory by new owner, Ping Lim of Timaru.
Celebrities, international rugby teams and royalty have all slept at the Grosvenor over the years. The highlight of the Grosvenor was in 1950s when the Queen stayed there for the Golden Jubilee and she set up camp again in the 1970s when her yacht was berthed at Timaru, Lim said today.
``She slept in room 101 and we still have her menu where she was offered baked mountain trout and Veuve Clicquot champagne among other delicacies. Her historic 101 room is under renovation now and will be re-opened in grand style before Christmas. We are committed to maintaining the heritage and the glory of the Grosvenor Hotel for another 15 years,’’ he said.
Lim has done the South Canterbury huge a huge favour as New Zealand has always been short of good buildings. Timaru has had a prosperous past and still has more than Victorian and Edwardian buildings than most New Zealand cities. It will begin to prosper as a result of protecting its its architectural history just as smaller neighbouring Oamaru has for some years.
The Grosvenor is one of the most important buildings in Timaru and Lim has injected life back into the old building – which was also famous as being the very site where the Canterbury Rugby Union was first formed in 1879 and a plaque on the building stating that still remains.
The revived hotel is once again showing off its old kauri floor and rimu panelling. The once-hidden floorboards are now exposed around the bar and the dining area, hidden by carpet only in the seating area and by the fire. In the dining are a cabinet holds mementos of the hotel's past and above these treasures sits the old Grosvenor Hotel sign, brought back into the gaze of the public after many years of being in storage.
``We tried to respect the English heritage of the Grosvenor and its heritage listed values as we brought the Old Lady back to life. But we also mixed the best elements of heritage with Banksy art.
``But we like the creaking old floorboards, uneven wall lining, and different layout for every room – because that makes the historical charm of the hotel. The challenge has been to bring the old hotel to 21st technology. We have installed wi-fi, heat-pump hot water, LED lights and some of the finest artists Bill Hammond, Hannah Kidd, James Robinson, Lonnie Hutchinson, Rob McDowell (a student of Doris Lusk), Shiori Matsumoto and Bill Scott.
``Timaru used to be famous for its bricks, just like Oamaru stone. Red bricks were its forte and kilns were everywhere until materials ran out. So, just outside the Grosvenor's entrance is a brick arch, paying homage to its original local industry. By the time renovation is completed later next year, we would have the first HoMA (Hotel of Modern Art) in New Zealand.’’
Many famous New Zealand musicians have recently performed at the older silver service e hotel including Phoenix Foundation (award winner of this year's best group), Black Seeds and the Jordan Luck Band.
The Russian rugby team will be staying at the Grosvenor for a week in January in the build up to next year’s Rugby World Cup.