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 1970’s was pioneered in New Zealand by this design. Both the Historic Places Trust and the Wellington City Council list the objective of maximising the building footprint for the public areas while maintaining sunlight for the bedrooms as historically significant
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 lifts are described as ‘of the most modern and efficient type’ and the fact that they were completely automatic ‘you won’t see that in any other building in New Zealand’
The Rimu handrail on the stairs ‘which runs unbroken from the top floor to the ground id 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 effects 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 a carved Maori fire place, a carving of some significance. A maintenance team continues with the restoration and the building is currently being repainted in its original colours.
Downtown Backpackers is now one of New Zealand’s leading backpacker hostels. We have room for 270 guests, and have been chosen as finalists for the New Zealand tourism Awards in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and also the Golden Backpack awards 2012 & 2014.
The hostel is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, from the reception right through the hall ways and all of the rooms. This refurbishment will take the maintenance team some time to complete, but the renovations are looking great and the art deco feel to the building is being incorporated.
As part of the refurbishment there has also been a rebrand in the hotel’s name from Downtown Backpackers to Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers. The hotel has gone back to its original roots with the Hotel Waterloo name.