Centenary Exhibition N.Z. 1940
1940 See full details
The government allocated £250,000 to the centennial celebrations in 1936 - a very significant sum given that New Zealand had only recently begun to emerge from the Great Depression. £75,000 of this went towards the Wellington exhibition. The Rongotai site was confirmed in 1937 and Edmund Anscombe was chosen as architect for the project.
The Wellington Centennial Exhibition site consisted of six huge exhibit buildings constructed under one roof so that all exhibits could be enjoyed whatever the weather. These were grouped around an outdoor performance area of more than seven acres. The focal point was the 155 foot tower, symbolising the progress and ambition of the young nation. The 55 acre site was covered by 14 acres of buildings and 40 acres of gardens and amusement sites. It boasted the grandest lighting scheme ever planned in the Southern Hemisphere, with 37,000 lights, powered from 26 substations. There were sound shells, a broadcasting studio, a huge tea-room, a dance hall, a crèche, a free kindergarten and a replica of the Waitomo caves. ‘Playland’ was the largest amusement park ever built in the Southern Hemisphere. Its outstanding feature was a 3000-foot long roller coaster, built on the adjoining Rongotai College sports grounds. As painted by the artist, it appears a wondrous spectacle.
Five weeks before the exhibition opened a meeting was called to discuss policy in the event of war being declared. It was resolved that the Exhibition should carry on as to cancel might be damaging to national morale. It was launched on 8th November 1939, before a crowd of 40,000 people. During the 154 days that it was open it had 2,641,043 visitors, more than one and a half times the entire population of New Zealand.
When the Exhibition closed, the international pavilions were dismantled and fire destroyed most of the remaining buildings in 1946. Two surviving remnants of the great complex are the central fountain, now in Kelburn Park, and the statue of Kupe, now cast in bronze and located on the Waterfront.
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