A once-iconic building that has graced the Rotorua Lakefront for 60 years is soon to be gone, leaving nothing but fond memories in the minds of thousands.

Preparations began this week for the demolition of the Soundshell building, which has been earmarked for removal for several years after the building was closed to the public in 2015.

A number of issues including its structural integrity, general state of disrepair and the discovery of significant amounts of asbestos meant retaining the building was not feasible.

While it's sat barren for the past few years, it wasn't that long ago that music was often heard all night long at the Soundshell as it hosted a range of events from the Rotorua Rock 'n' Roll Club championships to the New Year Mardi Gras Party and iconic Blue Light Discos in the '80s.

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The structure was home to blood drives, craft markets and everything in between but the events have since moved on to other venues and will never be able to visit the Soundshell again.

Rock and Roll competition at Soundshell in 2002 with Tokoroa's Geoff Goossens and Rana Mason competing. Photo / File
Rock and Roll competition at Soundshell in 2002 with Tokoroa's Geoff Goossens and Rana Mason competing. Photo / File

One of the last events to be housed in the building was the Soundshell Market, which held its lease for 31 years from 1988, ending in June 2015.

Rotorua's Holly Faulds, 8, tries on sunglasses at the city craft market at the Soundshell in 2008. Photo / File
Rotorua's Holly Faulds, 8, tries on sunglasses at the city craft market at the Soundshell in 2008. Photo / File

Since then, the market has kept close by and now is based on the grass reserve next door and under the shade of the trees.

Soundshell Market co-founder Liz Davies said the removal of the market's namesake would not force a name change.

"That's what we have been known as for 30 years so what would we change it to? Everyone knows us as the Soundshell Market."

Davies remembers March 24 as the day the Soundshell Market was established by her and her husband Gordon Davies as an outlet for their honey.

New years eve at Rotorua Mardi gras in the Soundshell 2001. Photo / File
New years eve at Rotorua Mardi gras in the Soundshell 2001. Photo / File

She said the market went from strength to strength and in 1991 the couple started the Lakeside Cafe but sold it a few years later.

"It was a really sad day a couple of years ago when we had to leave the Soundshell.

"We lost a lot of our stallholders then, our indoor ones because a lot of them were elderly and couldn't take to having outdoor stalls."

She said the only issue they ever had with the building was a continuous leak whenever it rained but it did not put a dampener on the great atmosphere.

Rotorua 16-year-old Charyll Rota, front, flanked by Lucky Kiel, 16, and Ngawai Taiaa, 17, together with other local youth during dance rehersal at the Soundshell in 2003. Photo / File
Rotorua 16-year-old Charyll Rota, front, flanked by Lucky Kiel, 16, and Ngawai Taiaa, 17, together with other local youth during dance rehersal at the Soundshell in 2003. Photo / File

Davies believed the building was well up and running with weddings and parties before the markets started.

"Throughout its long career, it has been well supported by the locals, I think the locals took it to heart as their venue."

One resident, Lyn Ryan, remembers the structure fondly after spending many weekends browsing the craft stalls or observing the world from the comfort of the cafe.

But in April 1968 she created a memory that would last a lifetime after choosing the Soundshell to host her wedding reception.

"I recall all the guests who attended the wedding commenting on the wonderful view of Lake Rotorua."

She said many of her guests were from places other than Rotorua because her husband was originally from Pukekohe.

"All the visitors were impressed with the locality of the Soundshell and its proximity to motels and the city center."

Used primarily as a stage in its heyday, one of the biggest acts to perform at the Soundshell was American rap artist Coolio, best known for his song Gangster's Paradise in 2003, taking to the stage in front of a crowd of fewer than 50 people.

American rap artist Coolio, best known for his song Gangsters Paradise, performed to less than 50 people in 2003 at the Soundshell. Photo / File
American rap artist Coolio, best known for his song Gangsters Paradise, performed to less than 50 people in 2003 at the Soundshell. Photo / File

The Rotorua Daily Post reported at the time the small turnout at the concert of the Grammy award-winning rapper was put down to public disbelief he would deem Rotorua a worthy city to perform in.

Rotorua entertainer Howie Morrison Jnr said the Soundshell played an important role in the career of his father, the late Sir Howard Morrison.

It was there that he won the Rotorua Soundshell Talent Quest and decided to pursue music professionally.

Morrison Jnr was also one of many that remembered the money or the bag show that was a frequent occasion.

Soundshell lakefront building in Rotorua, home of cherished memories has begun a transformation to a community space and additional boat parking. Photo / File
Soundshell lakefront building in Rotorua, home of cherished memories has begun a transformation to a community space and additional boat parking. Photo / File

"Not many things like that happen now for our young kids but in saying that I don't know how popular it would be with our kids now with technology."

He thought over time it was the markets and the cafe that continued to draw regulars to the building but the musical acts declined slowly over time.

"It is really sad, there are a lot of memories and nostalgia associated with that building.

"I suppose we have to change with the times ... and we have to step aside for progress."

Rotorua kaumātua Monty Morrison organised many News Year's Eve events at the Soundshell between 1998 and 2014 and was present on Tuesday morning when a karakia was said to bless the site.

Original Soundshell, built 1947/48 demolished New Year's eve 1958. Rotorua Museum Heritage Collections ref: cp-2113. Photo / Supplied
Original Soundshell, built 1947/48 demolished New Year's eve 1958. Rotorua Museum Heritage Collections ref: cp-2113. Photo / Supplied

"Standing in the middle of the empty auditorium certainly brought back a lot of memories.

"It's sad but times are changing and I am looking forward to the buildings that are going to be there and give it a new look and feel as it was when the Soundshell was first opened in the late '50s."

He said residents had a lot to look forward to in what would take its place and the history of the building lived on through the markets.

"It is sad to see the old girl go.

"The building has been a grand hostess over the years and we have had fond memories of a building that held a range of events."

Helen Chapman giving blood at the Rotorua Soundshell with her son Tony, 4 in 2004. Photo / File
Helen Chapman giving blood at the Rotorua Soundshell with her son Tony, 4 in 2004. Photo / File

Attached to the Soundshell was the Lakeside Cafe - a weekly feature in Denise La Grouw's routine for 13 years.

La Grouw visited the spot at least twice a week with her 13-year-old son and the pair were devastated when they learned the cafe would close in February last year.

"As [my son] grew he loved chasing the seagulls and used the grass island outside as his own little island of play.

"It was a really special place to us, and if we were going out together that was where we went. I guess we are just too sentimental and these things and places actually mean something to us."

While the main part of the Soundshell building was closed in July 2015, the cafe continued to operate until the end of its lease.

Rotorua Lakes Council's group strategy manager Jean-Paul Gaston said in March 2018 the council had investigated the possibility of retaining the cafe as a stand-alone building but the move was not feasible as it would require constructing a new exterior wall, roof, renovations, asbestos removal and other replacements.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she was looking forward to seeing what the future held for the development which had been a discussion point for more than 10 years.

"It will be a game changer for Rotorua and will breathe new life into the Soundshell site, which has had its day and has been around for about six decades.

"It wouldn't be wise for us to try to hold on to a building that is earthquake prone and contains asbestos."

In its place and as part of the Lakefront redevelopment project, the area will be transformed into a new community space with additional boat parking.

Within the space will be the wharewaka building which will house the ceremonial Te Arawa waka.

Chadwick said locals could remember the legacy of the Soundshell building as a "community space, vibrant and full of life".

During the next few weeks, AP Demolition will prepare the site by disconnecting services, surveying and erecting safety fences.

Construction bgan this week to demolish the once iconic Soundshell. Photo / Stephen Parker
Construction bgan this week to demolish the once iconic Soundshell. Photo / Stephen Parker

The council said in a statement on Wednesday: "The main building will remain standing for a number of weeks until all the asbestos can be removed.

"Specialist asbestos removalists will carry out the process which includes continuous electronic monitoring to check asbestos levels in the air. An independent asbestos auditing company will also be on board to ensure any risk to public or worker safety is correctly managed."

The entire removal is expected to take 10 weeks and residents should see a fresh site ready for construction in mid-May as part of the Lakefront redevelopment project.

Plans to redevelop the Lakefront date back to 2006 when it was identified as an important component for the upgrade of the central city.

Soundshell events
American rapper Coolio's concert
New Year Mardi Gras
Smokefree Rockquest
Headquarters for Rotary Club of Rotorua North's Classic Tagged Trout Tournament
Canadian Club Real New Zealand Comedy Tour
National Youth Week Dance Party
Soundshell indoor market
Cat shows
Rock the Lake
Misfits of Science
Hip-hop artist Coolio
The Happy Sideshow
Art Show
Blue Light Disco
Rotorua Soundshell Talent Quest, won by a young Sir Howard Morrison and the original quartet members
Rotorua Rest Home Games
Rotorua Rock and Roll Club championships
Psychic Sue Nicholson's show, Answers from the Other Side
The Vaudevillian Freak Show
Blood Donations