Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010

(by Graham Watton)

Six months ago, under new ownership, the future of the Criterion Hotel was clouded in rumour as to its future use and, in fact, whether it was going to survive the demolishers' hammers. This second rumour raised the interest in Paeroa locals when they expressed concern over one of the town's historic buildings was going to be destroyed.

The Criterion Hotel building was the second of the same name to be erected on the property, the first was in 1875 when Messrs Cassrels and Bennett, who held the lease for the majority of the township of Paeroa, erected a single storey building on the triangle which was created by Normanby Road and Cassrels Street, which ran along the Ohinemuri River bank.

The hotel had its own private wharf on the right bank of the Ohinemuri River for intending customers to disembark from the river steamers which were the only transport contact to the outside world.

This hotel was one of three in Paeroa at the time. The first hotel was the Paeroa, on the bank of the Ohinemuri River nearby a public wharf, in the vicinity of Wharf Street, owned by a Mr Austin. Another was the two-storeyed 32 bedroom Commercial erected by Mr J. Coote, on the corner of Normanby Road and Arney Street (where the Fathers Tavern is today) in the 1880s.

As the Ohinemuri goldfields developed, Paeroa, being the only access to the fields, became the service centre with several other hotels and accommodation houses being opened or upgraded.

By the mid-1890s there was a demand for much improved accommodation.

In 1896 Cassrels and Bennett set out to meet this challenge for improved hotel service and decided to build an up-to-date structure on their present hotel site. They called for tenders to move the existing hotel to the back of their section and set up a temporary bar and accommodation while their new hotel was being built.

An Auckland architect Mr H. G. Wade was engaged to design the new hotel and the successful building contractor was Mr G. Garton of Whangarei. The accepted price was £2324 and work commenced early in July, 1896.

Cassrels and Bennett had, by now, leased the new hotel to the Auckland company Campbell Ehrenfried, a well known brewer, with a branch in Thames, for 21 years. This was done in March, 1896, and the company appointed Mr Edwin Bastings as proprietor.

An advertisement appearing in the Ohinemuri Gazette on February 6, 1897, stated:

Criterion Hotel


Edwin Bastings

has assumed the proprietorship of this first-class hotel, which is most conveniently situated being close to a bank, Post and Telegraph station and coaches to and from Waihi, Thames and Te Aroha.

First class accommodation for travellers and tourists.

Best brands of wines, ales, spirits and cigars.

Billiard room adjoining hotel.

Comfort, civility and moderate charges.

Edwin Bastings—Proprietor.


The new Criterion Hotel was opened for business on Monday, February 17, 1897. Proprietor Bastings threw open the doors for a couple of hours and held a smoke concert later in the day.

The Ohinemuri Gazette went into great detail to describe the new hotel to its readers, stating:

"Mr Edwin Bastings' new Criterion Hotel, which has bold frontages on Normanby and Cassrels Street and stands at the junction of the two thoroughfares named, has just been completed by Mr George Garton, builder and contractor, to the order of Messrs Ehrenfried Bros., the enterprising brewers of Auckland and Thames.

"The building is two-storeyed with a loft balcony on the southern end. Both inside and out, the handsome structure reflects credit on the architect Mr Wade (Auckland), the builder, the decorators and the proprietors. It is certainly one of the best appointed hotels in the Ohinemuri District.

"The main entrance hall (16ft wide) is entered from Normanby Road through large double swing glass doors having fan and side lights. From the hall a handsome stairway rises (5ft wide) built on the premises by Mr A. McKinnon and it is a masterpiece of high-class workmanship. It has a continuing mahogany handrail, beautifully turned balusters in bronze and gilt cut stringers and fretwork brackets.

"On the right and left of the main entrance are two comfortable parlours; further on to the right is a passage leading into a capacious dining room, which is entered by double swing glass doors. On the left of this passage is a conveniently fitting lavatory.

"The dinning room (30ft x 29ft is well lit and is supported in the centre by a massive serpentine marble column, the work of Mr John Edwards, which has a fine effect. A beautiful oilcloth dado (4ft high) sets off the rich wallpaper and the latest tiled grate surmounted by a striking grey mantle-piece, with serpentine marble panels complete the whole.

"On the southern side of the building an entrance hall (9ft wide) entered by double swinging doors connecting the main hall by a similar set of doors. On the left of the hall there is a cosy private parlour, on the right there are three entrances to a bar, which is 20ft by 25ft and has a large polished counter, the outer portion of the bar being divided by panel screens into three serving compartments.

"The bar is fitted with an elaborate ebonise and gold fluted bottle shelves, and there are pretty glass slide windows facing the side and front halls respectively. The bar also contains every up-to-date convenience for the quick dispatch of business. It has additional entrances from both the main and side streets.

"On the left of the side entrance hall is a passage connecting Cassrels Street; on the left is a private sitting room and on the right a large commercial and reading room (30ft by 20ft) where the leading town and country journals, magazines, etc., are filed for reference.

"The servants' quarters comprise five comfortably furnished bedrooms. The scullery is fitted with a self-feeding cistern, bricked copper, double sink with hot and cold water taps, and open fire place for emergencies.

"The kitchen (15ft by 14ft) is fitted with a massive steel range 8ft long, and is furnished with everything. A courtyard is situated between to two main wings with cemented floors and veranda on each side. Water is laid on, together with a force pump which, when required, is used to supply two large cisterns on the roof with water from a well on the premises 40ft deep. These cisterns supply the bedrooms, bar, kitchen and can also be used for a fire hose upstairs.

"From the first floor landing (30ft by 16ft) on the left is a passage (6ft wide) with ornamental and curtain archway; on the right of the passage is a complete suite of rooms, five double bedrooms and provide sitting room; on the left are five single room divided by two side passages leading to ladies' and gentlemen's bathrooms, lavatories etc., the bathrooms have hot and cold water laid on.

"Immediately on the right hand side of the stair landing is a beautiful furnished drawing room (16ft by 14ft) one window of which faces the main street while there are two French casements leading out on the balcony. Next to the drawing room is a large double bedroom handsomely furnished. Turning right of the stair landing is a passage (5ft wide) on the left of which are two comfortable private sitting rooms, further along in the west wing there are 12 bedrooms (double and single) averaging 12ft by 10ft, in the centre passage on the right there is an additional staircase. Every room in the house is lofty being 13ft high and in the centre there are large fretwork ventilators.

"There is also a fireplace in each of the sitting rooms fitted with tiled grates and with beautifully decorated mantelpieces in granite, serpentine, black and gold Egyptian marbles.

"Over the staircase landing are double-sashed windows, glazed with coloured helmet glass. The balcony on the south end is 8ft wide.

"Underneath the bar is a water proof cellar (25ft by 25ft) fitted with the necessary appliances, etc., for storage purposes.

"All the walls of the hotel adjoining existing buildings are of brick and there is iron shutters affixed to windows thus safeguarding the building from outside fires.

"The plumbing work has been faithfully carried out by Mr Paterson (Paeroa), while the whole of the painting, paperhanging and decorative work were executed by Mr John Edwards capably assisted by Mr W. Towers and great taste and artistic skill has been displayed.

"The new Criterion Hotel, it is needless to say, has been beautifully furnished under Mr Bastings' supervision with the view to the comfort of the patrons.

"Mr E. Bastings (the licensee) is to be heartily congratulated on obtaining possession of such a handsome and well-appointed hotel and he will no doubt receive his full share of public patronage."

On August 22, 1899, the Criterion Hotel escaped damage by a major fire. A candle burning adjacent to an up-stairs window set alight to a curtain blown in and started a fire. Fortunately Mr H. O. Searle, of Searle Bros.' Central Boot Store, across the road, saw the incident. He was quick to raise the alarm and the fire was extinguished with only minor damage done to the room.

Another fire was fortunately discovered in the linen cupboard in September, 1908, and was put out by a boarder, the cost of the damages £10/15/-.

When residents of the Ohinemuri County voted in prohibition by a majority of 86 votes at the November, 1908, general election, all hotels in the county lost their sale of liquor licences. After several legal challenges and a magisterial recount, the result of the vote stood. Prohibition came into being on July 1, 1909, and most hotels changed to boarding houses.

Local residents could obtain liquor from outside the county providing they kept within the regulations: Must not exceed one quart of spirits or wine and one gallon of beer per day. And the consignment had to be correctly labelled with the purchaser's and supplier's name and details. There were many orders confiscated and a few residents found themselves before the Magistrate's Court for offences.

The Criterion Hotel was transformed into a private hotel for permanent and casual borders, conducted by Mr A. Cassrels.

Again in September, 1915, a candle left burning near an open window set alight to the curtain blown into the room. Fortunately the proprietor at the time, Mr H. D. McIver, quelled the blaze before any real damage occurred.

The Paeroa Borough Council (formed in July, 1915) in September, 1916, instructed Mr Cassrels to remove the portion of the origin hotel as this had become a derelict building. The building was moved on Mr Cassrels' property on to the bank of the Waihou River, between Cadman Road and Mill Road.

In September, 1918, the Ohinemuri Club was formed by the gentry of the town, and it leased the rooms in the back wing of the Criterion Hotel for use as its clubrooms. This arrangement continued until 1926, when the club moved into its newly-built premises on today's present site. The move was forced onto the club with the restoration of the sale of liquor licences to hotels in the Ohinemuri County.

By the early 1920s there was increasing calls from the Ohinemuri County's commercial interests and residents for abolishment of prohibition.

The general election of November, 1925, resulted in the Ohinemuri County electors, by a 50-vote majority, voted to have the county go "wet" again. There was a re-count and magisterial count before the prohibitionists accepted the result.

Most of the hotel owners from 1909 had allowed their amenities to slowly slide down hill and to get the premises back up to the licensing standards there were "fire" sales of furniture and refurbishment both inside and out of the buildings. As the hotels reached the required standard they were inspected by the Ohinemuri Licensing Committee and granted licences.

On July 1, 1926, the Paeroa and Commercial Hotels poured beer after 17 long dry years. The Criterion, under licence Lewis Emanuel Cassrels, did so the next day. The Royal Mail Hotel was being rebuilt after being destroyed by a disastrous and fatal fire in December, 1912.

During the late 1930s and into the 1950s, the Maramarua Hunt members and their horses often paraded outside the hotel for breakfast before setting off on the annual hunts in the district, mainly over Mill Road and Tirohia properties and also in the Maratoto Valley.

Just when the balcony was added over the Normanby Road front entrance is not known, possibly in 1926 when the refurbishment was undertaken. Apart from this addition the exterior of the hotel remained the same as the original layout.

In the 1970s proprietor Bert Duncan undertook some extensions and refurbishment, including cladding the exterior walls with vertical weather boarding and turning the bridge end verandahs into an extended bar below and accommodation above.

It was during this project that contractors, when replacing the bar floor discovered the well from which water was drawn for the early hotel.

Then in early 2000s proprietors Cornilus and Glenis Dressen removed the cladding to reveal the original ornate window panelling some of which was restored. They also undertook some restoration work inside the building before they transferred their licence and moved out during 2005.

In recent times the building fell into disrepair and required a considerable amount of money spent on it to bring it up to a standard anywhere near that of its heydays.

The Paeroa Courthouse, now used by the Probation Services, was opened in March, 1896, and the Paeroa Hotel in March, 1897, are two of the oldest buildings in use in Paeroa today. There are a few residential homes which are pre-1900.

The Commercial Hotel, which is now known as "The Fathers", was built around 1888, but very little of the original building remains—the top floor was removed in the 1970s and much of the ground floor has been replaced when several major alterations being made to enable it to comply with changing licensing and gambling regulations.

The Criterion Hotel was "the hotel" in Paeroa for most of its life time, hosting many distinguished visitors to lavish banquets and a night's rest from official duties, dinners and the popular smoke concerts, and was always a popular "watering hole" for travellers and locals alike.

There have been thousands of pleasant memories created by the 103-year-old "Cri", but sadly its walls did not talk before they fell to the demolishers' hammer.

The first Criterion Hotel was opened in 1875.

The first Criterion Hotel was opened in 1875.

The Criterion Hotel: 1897—2010
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
The first Criterion Hotel was opened in 1875.
The second Criterion Hotel was opened in February, 1897

The second Criterion Hotel was opened in February, 1897, on the same site as the first hotel. Part of the original hotel can be seen protruding at the left rear of the new building.

The Criterion Hotel: 1897—2010
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
The second Criterion Hotel was opened in February, 1897
Criterion Hotel just days before it fell to the demolishers' hammers.

The Criterion Hotel just days before it fell to the demolishers' hammers.

The Criterion Hotel: 1897—2010
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
Criterion Hotel just days before it fell to the demolishers' hammers.