The Hotel Waterloo was designed by Wellington architects Mitchell & Mitchell and opened in October 1937. It was designed in the Art Deco style and is unique as the first use of the “podium” design in New Zealand. The concept of podium and tower, fashionable for office tower blocks since the 1970s was pioneered in New Zealand by this design.
The Dominion newspaper, dated 16 October 1937, highlights the opening of the Hotel and mentions a number of design features, many of which still exist today. “The Rimu handrail’ which runs unbroken from the top floor to the ground is a particularly striking piece of work.’ … The doors to the rooms are made from Queensland Maple ‘regarded the world over as one of the finest cabinet making woods and in constant demand’ … ‘taken from the butts of the trees, the portion whence the most attractive and delicate efforts of grain are obtained’.”
The tariff in 1937 was 21 shillings per day including bedroom connecting with private bathroom and toilet, latest type telephone and central heating and breakfast and dinner.
The Hotel Waterloo was still classed as five star plus, or Maximum by the Licensing Control Commission in 1953 when it was fully booked for the tour party accompanying Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation Tour, at which time its tariff was 39/6 per day, plus 5/ for a bathroom.
It was closed down ready for demolition in 1987, but the planned redevelopment did not proceed and the building sat empty for 4 years. During that time it fell victim to thieves and vandals, who stole fittings and chopped out copper piping, kicked in doors and smashed toilets. The place was a mess.
After an extensive refit taking six months, it was reopened as Downtown Backpackers in 1991.
The current owners purchased the building in 1997 and began restoration of the hotel. Recent accomplishments have been the restoring of the Art Deco features in the corridors, the stripping and varnishing of the maple doors (which had been painted brown) and the upgrade of the bar which involved the installation of the huge Rimu doors that open through to the games room, and the installation of the carved Maori fire place, a carving of some significance. A maintenance team continued with the restoration and the building was repainted in its original colours.
Since the reopening Downtown Backpackers has room for 270 guests and has been chosen as finalist for the New Zealand tourism Awards in 1999, 2000 and 2001. The hostel was also a finalist in the Golden Backpackers awards 2012.
In 2014 Downtown Backpackers rebranded as Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers under the same Management.
We are aware that some people are concerned about the earthquake risk in Wellington. We are fortunate in that our building was built in 1937, six years after the 1931 Napier earthquake at a time when building standards increased significantly. We also have all of the original plans and structural drawings for the building which we supplied to our engineers. They have concluded that the exterior walls and the floor plates of this building meet 100% of current code. Having said that we did have a number of non-structural brick walls between rooms on the ground and first floors of our building which in the event of a big shake had the potential to collapse. One of these we demolished and replaced with timber, the others have been strengthened in 2012.
The building is not considered to be earthquake prone.