Famous booked in, now hotel checks out

The City Hotel in High Street gets ready for demolition.
The City Hotel in High Street gets ready for demolition.

Former prime minister Helen Clark, the All Blacks and Kiwi band The Exponents have all slept there.

Prisoners have sampled food from its kitchen and its matriarch became a Blenheim institution.

In the week that demolition work began on the old City Hotel building, its rich history has been revealed by those who worked in the hotel.

Popular with Marlburians and travellers, the hotel was once synonymous with fine dining.

Known as the "sportsmans bar" in 1964 it hosted a lively celebration when Blenheim rugby player Phil Clarke made it into the All Blacks squad. Teams from all over New Zealand bedded down in the hotel when Marlborough held the Ranfurly Shield in 1973.

Gladys Chapman, or "Chappie" as she was known to patrons, was a long established matriarch of the hotel. The late Chapman's parents ran the hotel but it passed into her hands and flourished when licensing was transferred from the Empire Hotel to the City Hotel.

The big room, as it was known, played host to sumptuous Christmas dinners, wedding receptions and club dinners.

Her best friend and former housemaid at the hotel, Beryl Lane, 91, from Blenheim said the hotel was the place to be seen.

"Chappie always put a magnificent spread on," Beryl said. "People would ring up for a bed and she would put them up free of charge. She was a great personality."

Lane said one of her favourite memories was the tale of the picky prisoner.

"We used to supply the prisoners with their meals. A policeman would come with a billy for the food. One night the policeman opened the billy of tea and inside was a note from the prisoner asking if there was something different . . . other than sausages.

"It is sad to see the building go, it is an important piece of Blenheim history."

Malcolm Aitken ran the Top Spot restaurant beside the City Hotel and said it was popular.

"When I joined the airforce in the 1960s the wonderful Miss Chapman put a wonderful dining table on," Aitken said. "We had our functions there and it was the highlight of our life at that stage.

"Miss Chapman was a real treasure and such a sweet lady. In those days the City Hotel was the only place you could dine out. It was considered fine dining for that time and I remember the beautiful white table cloths and the sparkling knives and forks lined out."

Aitken's sister-in-law Glenda Munro ran the hotel for three years from 1987. "It is sad to see the building go but it has been in bad repair for sometime and has probably had its time," Munro said.