Caring for the Grand

By Paul Brooks

Neville Gorrie and the Grand Hotel, recognising community groups. Photo / Paul Brooks
Neville Gorrie and the Grand Hotel, recognising community groups. Photo / Paul Brooks

A grand landmark in downtown Whanganui is on the market after a dozen years of careful curatorship.

The Grand Hotel name features on many a programme, newsletter, advertisement and news story, usually in the part where "thanks are due to ..."

The grand old Grand is renowned for giving, making sure volunteers are recognised, providing meals or a venue, helping out. And behind it all is Neville Gorrie, owner and proprietor for the past 12 years.

Neville estimates he has spent about $1m on alterations, renovation and repairs since 2004.

That extends to the large framed pictures on the walls, most of which come from his private collection. In the lounge hangs a portrait of the young Queen Mother. Many people comment on it and more than a few have guessed her identity.

"I think the right people could lift the place to the next level," says Neville.

"When I came here there were a few Whanganui pictures but I did purchase some more and I did bring a lot with me," says Neville. They add interest to what is already a building of interesting architecture and décor.

Built in 1927 by George Spriggens as the Spriggens Hotel, the Grand Hotel (re-christened The Grand International by long-term owner Tim Hurley) has had a succession of proprietors and a chequered history. Neville bought it in a mortgagee sale.

Fifty-three ensuited bedrooms, 16 staff, a full-time function manager (Jeremy Rogers) and Neville lives on-site, looking after things at night.

He has tried to re-establish its 1920s charm while providing 21st century amenities and comfort. He has restored and enhanced the entrance, made the grand staircase visible from reception by putting firestop doors into a wall, put in new ensuites, uncovered original panelling, rewired, replaced the boiler and heating system, remodelled and brought everything up to scratch.

"I've never stopped working on this building," he says. "It's a bit of a labour of love."

Neville comes from Upper Hutt where his family has been since 1850. He has done a few things - worked in a bakery, ran a trucking business, owned petrol stations.

"I never thought I'd end up owning the Grand Hotel."

He was managing his own bar and restaurant in Hastings when he heard the Grand Hotel was on the market.

"I love old hotels. They've got such a history, and I did always have a soft spot for Whanganui. If I live the rest of my life here I wouldn't be disappointed."

The Grand's distinctive 1952 AEC double-decker bus should be back on the road soon. It will again play a big part in the hotel's philanthropy. Neville has his bus licence and looks forward to taking people on trips again.

"I try to give a little bit of encouragement to lots of groups. I'm more inclined to do lots of little things and I do like to support volunteers."

Once the Grand put on a high tea for about 80 Hospice volunteers. When the City Mission set up their new shop he invited the volunteers to the Grand for lunch.

Neville plays it down but many a group has enjoyed his hospitality on the house, in recognition for a job well done.

"I like to help young people and old people. The years in between, unless something's gone wrong, you should be able to look after yourself."

He's also involved with the Anglican Church. The Grand Hotel is on the market again.
"I think the right people could lift the place to the next level," says Neville.

- Wanganui Midweek

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