Tauranga Borough Council began acquiring tracts of harbour-side land to the south of the town centre for recreation purposes in 1936. It made further purchases totalling 11 hectares in 1940 with the aim of developing the area as the town’s Centennial Park. After the Second World War, in order to attract a war memorial subsidy, the name was changed to Memorial Park.
By September 1952, rugby and playing fields had been developed. The first building completed was a sound-shell, opened just before Christmas 1954. A memorial cenotaph was erected from dressed stones near the entrance to the park. This was inset with a granite tablet listing the names of 63 local men who had given their lives during the war. It is uncertain when the cenotaph was unveiled, but the war memorial swimming pool within the park was opened on 25 May 1955, the war memorial hall was opened on 12 October 1957, an illuminated fountain was unveiled on 15 December 1962, and the Queen Elizabeth II Youth Centre was opened March 1967.
In 1989 Tauranga City Council and the Tauranga RSA began planning a new memorial in the south-eastern corner of the park which would bring together the names on the rolls of honour on the Tauranga First World War memorial gates, the cenotaph at the memorial park, and the memorial at the Tauranga RSA. This was intended both as a sesquicentennial project and to mark the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.
However, the new memorial was unveiled on Armistice Day 1990 rather than Anzac Day. A series of steps lead up to the cenotaph which incorporates a series of polished black granite slabs inscribed with 86 names from the First World War and 72 names from the Second World War. Other plaques list both theatres of war in which New Zealanders have served, from South Africa to Vietnam, and New Zealand battle honours.
Memorial trees were planted nearby in 1993 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Armistice Day and in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of VE and VJ Days.
Sources: Memorial Park Draft Management Plan, February 1966, Tauranga, 1966, pp. 6-10; Tauranga, 1882-1982, ed. A.C. Bellamy, Tauranga, 1982, pp. 101, 277-80; ‘Single Memorial Planned’, Bay of Plenty Times, 21/10/1989, p. 15; ‘City Cenotaph Dedicated’, Bay of Plenty Times, 12/11/1990, pp. 1, 5.