For the 30 years Brett and Vlasta Marvelly owned Princes Gate Hotel they were the undisputed crowned heads of this city's accommodation sector.
Now 120 years old, the local landmark began life as the Waihi goldfield's New Central Hotel before its removal plank by plank, nail by nail, to Rotorua in 1917.
With that slice of history in the bag it's high time the Marvelly chapter's added to the archive, Our People's here to oblige, but where to start?
First up we take a peek into the lives of the couple whose name is so familiar but whose background is largely unrecorded.
Talking with them is rather like being a spectator at a ping pong match as we swivel from one to the other, watching as they agree and disagree on various points of recall. For the record, it's a very agreeable disagreement between a couple who've shared their lives since teenagers. Brett was 17 when he met Vlasta, she was a year younger.
Mutual friends introduced them.
Brett was a Waipa Mill cadet living in its signalmen's camp, from there older mates would smuggle him into the back bar of Whakarewarewa's Geyser Hotel.
"The place where the jugs kept coming and where I got my first taste of the hospitality industry."
Vlasta had recently quit Girls' High. "I was one of those who went to school to eat my lunch" and was franking (stamping) envelopes at the Rotorua Area Electricity Authority's office.
Their social life revolved around rugby, initially at the Old Boys' then St Michael's clubs after Brett transferred his allegiance at the insistence of best mate Gordon Tietjens (now Sir Gordon). He was their best man.
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At Boys' High Brett had captained the 1st XV and played in the 1st XI, becoming a rep secondary schools player in both codes.
We simply have to share this pre-electronic era gem detailing how he and "Titch" kept tabs on each other.
"He didn't have a home phone so we had this arrangement, I'd ring him at the Pererika St phone box every night at 7pm to set up our social lives, anyone near the phone at the time got short shift."
Rugby took a back seat when Brett became an on-the-road timber salesman for Statecraft, (Waipa's official name).
Already enterprising, both he and Vlasta had night jobs on top of their day ones, by the time they married in 1978 they'd bought their first section, two more followed as did two houses.
By the time they hit their mid-20s they fancied a scene change, moving to Wellington to manage a 10-storey apartment block owned by one of the country's wealthiest men, Sir Arthur Williams. He was a hard taskmaster.
"One night he rang, said he could see the lights on and ordered us to replace all the bulbs with ones of lower wattage," Vlasta recounts.
Sir Arthur invited Brett to his birthday shindig: "I turned up in my Old Boys' jersey with a tie, the room was full of politicians, including Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, in three-piece suits. I was home within an hour, vowing to buy my first suit the next day."
Hard as the work was, "we had to pay for relievers if we wanted a day off", the grounding they received in accommodation management and providing meals was to pay future dividends, although at the time it did have Vlasta vowing never to work in hospitality again.
Returning to Rotorua jobless, Brett marched into the Hyatt (now the Millennium), boldly demanding to see the general manager. The upshot: he was appointed banqueting manager.
"I didn't have a clue what to do, the food and beverage manager said 'don't let the staff know, just watch and learn from them'."
Vlasta found work with an insurance company but within days felt stupefied by the 9 to 5 routine she'd hankered to return to. She crossed the road, signing on as a Hyatt receptionist.
Brett was promoted to the chain's Queenstown hotel as food and beverage manager but, by then, he'd developed a fascination with Princes Gate. "I used to drive past every day and think 'we could do so much with this place'."
He approached the owners, discovering they were considering selling, the prospect of the looming GST frightened them.
Three months' worth of negotiations followed. "When Brett made our final offer the husband kicked him out, said he'd embarrassed him, but within an hour his wife summoned him back." That's Vlasta speaking.
The Marvellys sold their car and home, joining forces with three other couples to finance the deal.
Brett takes up the story: "It was a really good partnership done at the dining room table, we'd have total control of the hotel's operation. For the next 12 months we worked for nothing except the food and accommodation provided."
"We'd be up at 5am ironing the tablecloths and napkins for breakfast, finish at 11.30pm, putting the same linen in the wash for the morning."
Restoring the hotel to match its colonial heritage was always plan A. The Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) got wind of it and demanded the building be left as is, claiming any work would destroy its integrity.
The Marvellys weren't having a bar of it. Brett curtly pointed out the hotel wasn't heritage protected. The work went ahead "we even found ashes in the fireplaces we uncovered".
There's a good laugh all round when the pair recall how the worm turned.
"Historic Places were back, this time congratulating us on what we'd achieved and immediately decreed it a listed building."
With the refurbished hotel generating good returns the nearby Australia Inn, Mayfair Kensington Motel and Park View Hotel were added to the property portfolio.
Come the 1987 share market crash and the operation took a drastic nosedive, patrons vanished. Facing a 19 per cent mortgage an urgent rethink was needed. Brett and the chef he'd imported from Bermuda conceived the Fawlty Towers dinner show concept that became Princes Gate's talking and tipping point.
The Little Theatre leapt on board, providing the players. Who around in that era can forget Nick Chandler's bumbling Basil Fawlty?
Initially the show was staged at the Park View, with tables priced at $25 a head, punters stayed away in droves.
Defeat doesn't feature in the Marvellys' vocabulary. The show was moved to Princes Gate and the price upped to $49. It was a transformational formula. "Our record was 224 guests in a night."
Brett became his own marketing front man.
"I'd meet tourist buses on the Mamakus giving out flyers. Basil and I went on promotional visits to Wellington and Auckland; we had to stop it because the hotel was becoming known as Fawlty Towers."
That, Vlasta contributes, was far from the Five Star image they'd worked so hard to create.
It was at this point there was a sudden "out of the blue" addition to their lives, with the birth of daughter, Elizabeth. According to her mum they were "zero prepared".
"When my waters broke I did the payroll, then we went and bought a cot, we'd been too busy running the hotel to do it before."
That Elizabeth (now Lizzie) went on to carve a high-profile multi-pronged career of her own is unsurprising. Her parents credit her musicality to her sitting, aged 3, on Dr Jazz's (Neil McKenzie) knee as he showed her how to play the piano. She was exposed on a daily basis to guests ranging from All Blacks to top-flight businesspeople, entertainers and politicians.
From 3 weeks old until she was 7 she had a nanny, when she entered her teens her father vowed to devote more time to her. He leased the hotel to managers "so I could go to school camps, sports and productions with her".
His hotel-attuned brain still ran at full throttle, the couple bought a Hamurana country lodge and when the Okawa Bay Lake Resort was found to be "haemorrhaging money" Brett was brought in to save it from receivership.
Two years on they were back at Princes Gate and the harsh reality that its managers had virtually run it into the ground.
"No rates had been paid, we were left with huge bills, we slowly chipped away. By the time we left it had reached its peak again, it was good to be part of Rotorua's tourism renaissance. Highlights for us were winning the local business awards and Tourism Industry Awards year-on-year."
The role the Marvellys have played in the hotel's renaissance and city affairs, including Brett standing in a council by-election, missing out by one vote, is a story on its own.
If there's one thing he detests above all else is bureaucracy. "I stood because I wanted to bring a business perspective to the bureaucracy.
"I feel sorry for the councillors now, they can only make decisions on what the council officers put in front of them ... Most [officers] haven't worked for themselves, to me that means true business decisions aren't made."
It's Brett Marvelly who was credited with securing transtasman flights for Rotorua. "The council said it couldn't be done, I had good contacts within Air New Zealand, presented a viable business case, the deal was done but it was the lack of forward thinking, financial planning by the bureaucracy that killed them [the flights] off.
He remains bitter he wasn't invited to board the inaugural flight.
With so many shared memories, high points and low, we invite the Marvellys to wrap up our time together with their individual interpretations of their Princes Gate years.
Brett: "It's satisfying to look back on what we've achieved through our own hard work, we never accepted second best."
Vlasta: "I like to think we've left a legacy."
On being parents of their multi-talented daughter, Lizzie Marvelly; singer, outspoken young leader, columnist (this newspaper included) and gay rights leader:
"We are very proud and supportive of Elizabeth and what she has achieved in her young life so far. More importantly, she has great personal values and is not afraid to express her thoughts. I feel subconsciously she inherited our work ethic. We always instilled in her it was better to be a leader than a follower. From a young age she was brought up with us setting goals and objectives as a family. We'd get the whiteboard out every Sunday night and detail our objectives for the week. For her it could have been as simple as making her bed every day or walking her puppy. We always ensured that we celebrated success."
- Brett Marvelly
Born: Wellington, 1956.
Education: "Various primaries, my father was in the civil service, we moved a lot". Rotorua Intermediate (last term), Rotorua Boys' High.
Family: Wife Vlasta, daughter Elizabeth, mother, 95, in Wellington, sister and brother.
Interests: Family. "Supporting our daughter." Since leaving the hotel I've taken up golf."
His handicap? "I am handicapped." Member golf club board, mountain biking, reading (history, autobiographies). Member, former president Rotorua West Rotary Club. Ran 2019 marathon under club's banner for Hospice. Member Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre restoration fundraising body.
On his life: "It's been filled with challenges which I've enjoyed, I don't have any regrets."
On Rotorua: "A great place to live and play but we shouldn't get complacent with what we have and never accept mediocrity."
Personal philosophy: "Work hard, treat people how you want to be treated, enjoy life."
VLASTA MARVELLY (NEE BARTUNEK AND ROGERS)
Born: Rotorua, 1957.
Education: Western Heights, Mount Maunganui Primaries, Mount Maunganui Intermediate and College, Rotorua Girls' High.
Family: Husband Brett daughter Elizabeth, two brothers, one sister.
Heritage: "My father was Czechoslovakian, I'm half Māori, half Irish on the maternal side. I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandmother in Ohinemutu."
Interests: Family. "I've managed my daughter's business and financial affairs since she was 16." Travel, cooking. "The hotel was my total passion."
On her life: "Fulfilling, if I died tomorrow I wouldn't regret anything."
On Rotorua: "I love the city but we do have real issues like homelessness that need urgent sorting."
Personal philosophy: "I don't really have one, just keeping myself well."