Documents reveal a last-ditch effort was made to save Sir Peter Jackson's troubled Great War Exhibition after the Government failed in efforts to prolong its life.

The exhibition at Wellington's landmark Dominion Building was initially intended to run for four years during the centenary commemorations of the 1914-1918 conflict.

It was an elaborate recreation of Belgian streets and battlegrounds, and large pieces of World War I memorabilia- including artillery pieces and a tank - loaned from Jackson's personal collection.

At one stage there were tentative plans to use the exhibition as a pilot for the Government to acquire the building and establish a permanent National War Museum.


But the project has been plagued with financial and accountability problems, and delays.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Massey University ended up at loggerheads over the future of the Dominion Building, with the ministry wanting to extend the lease and lifespan of the exhibition and the university wishing to reclaim the space for its college of creative arts.

Massey won the tussle, with the exhibition closing on the first weekend of December in 2018.

Documents released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act show WCC chief executive Kevin Lavery and then mayor Justin Lester met with Massey University Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas on 22 November 2018.

Sir Peter Jackson in the entrance to The Great War Exhibition. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Sir Peter Jackson in the entrance to The Great War Exhibition. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

At the meeting they handed Thomas a letter.

In it they said the exhibition had become a significant landmark in Wellington.

They pointed to the Dominion Building as a "magnificent jewel in the city's architectural crown" and a place where New Zealanders and international visitors paid their respects and contemplated the impact World War I had on national character.

"With all of this in mind, we would implore you to consider all options to allow all or part of the exhibition to continue for an extended time in the Dominion Museum.


"We understand your desire to re-establish the Great Hall and other areas of the Museum building as part of the University's usable space. However, the exhibition has become so important that feel it is imperative it is kept.

"There is nothing similar elsewhere in New Zealand."

Later that month Lavery sent a follow-up email to Thomas suggesting the Civic Administration Building site could be an alternative for Massey to use so the Dominion Building could be kept for the exhibition.

"This is a site that is ideally placed in the centre of the city, near Civic Square and the waterfront, a site I am sure you would agree is more than appealing from Massey University's perspective."

In an email sent in December, Thomas said she raised the potential opportunity with the University's Council.

"We noted that the decommissioning of the exhibition was well underway. While the Massey University Council remains interested in potential possibilities to operate in a central city location, we are committed to regaining the Dominion Museum for university use, and as a regional asset of a different kind."

Initial estimates to remove the exhibition and bring the Dominion Building back to its original state were $2.6m, but as ministry auditors were made aware of the scale of production, this provision blew out.

The ministry has confirmed it has set aside $8.859m to meet these costs.

But it indicated the final cost of the work would not be known until next month "when all matters relating to the exhibition are expected to be resolved".