The ground between King William Road and the lake was considered an admirable site for the type of recreation ground frequently seen in continental cities and “when it has been levelled and the edges sloped down to the Torrens bank ... there will be no prettier spot around Adelaide”.
At the opening of the rotunda the Adelaide City Council Brass Band played a specially composed piece of music, the Rotunda March: “The water of the lake, the trees that fringe its banks, the people sauntering along the margin of the water while the boats glide past will together form a most pleasing picture equalling perhaps the attractions of the celebrated sheltered bay in the Botanic Gardens of Sydney.”
The rotunda is a dominant and decorative element of the Torrens Valley and is intimately tied to its development and beautification. Torrens Lake was created in 1881 when the weir was opened, and the transformation of the valley from a series of muddy waterholes to a navigable lake is one of the most enduring and practical testaments to the short-lived South Australian boom period. During this period Adelaide was consolidated, reaching a maturity expressed by the construction of museums, libraries, public buildings and recreational structures.
Plans for a rotunda were initiated by Sir Thomas Elder, who wrote from Scotland in 1881 that it was being made at his expense to be sited in the ground “granted by the Government to the Corporation as a place of recreation and a promenade for the people of the Colony on the banks of the River Torrens”.
The rotunda, manufactured by MacFarlane’s Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, was described as octagonal and 24 feet in diameter, with spandrels and acanopied roof with overhanging eaves, the whole surmounted by a domed cupola and bold finial with cast-iron railings. It was shipped from Great Britain in 1882 and erected by Charles Farr. The floor of the rotunda was raised about 18 feet above the original ground level with steps of granite.
Ever since, the rotunda has been a focal point for recreation and entertainment in Elder Park, later reinforced by the Advertiser Sound Shell and the Cheer-up Hut, which in turn were replaced by the Festival Centre Theatre Complex.