By Ilse Dusart
It had the financial support of Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and in its glory days its history included being used as a church hall and a music studio. The scruffy, dilapidated building at 30 Arthur Street used to be the Boys’ Institute – built in 1906 by the same architect who designed the Wellington and Christchurch railway stations.
Relocated in 2005 to make way for the inner city bypass, it’s classified as a heritage building in the Council’s District Plan. But looking at it these days, it’s a heritage building in name only.
Windows are broken, graffiti is splashed all over its exterior, and with holes in the back wall you can poke a camera inside. It’s sad, lonely, and depressing.
The building is mentioned in the Wellington City Council’s Heritage Building Inventory as early as 1995, but not in 2001, though the Council’s Principal Heritage Advisor Vivien Rickard says it is still listed as a heritage building in the District Plan. The 1995 inventory describes its heritage value as a “unique style and building type for [architect] William Gray Young. The Boys Institute Building is an important historical record of a particular building type. It is a prominent facade along Arthur Street, due particularly to its design, scale, and materials.”
The foundation stone, laid on October 3 1906 by Governor William Plunket, can still be seen in the front wall.
The building was moved to its present site in September 2005 along with several other historical buildings nearby – the others have been restored.
David Donaldson’s music production company was based at 30 Arthur Street for almost 19 years before “they chucked us out”.
“Transit wanted to pull it down but there was a lot of protest from the community.”
When Transit moved the building they took out the floors and a stairwell made of beautiful native timber, Mr Donaldson says. “They replaced it with a metal shell.”
Mr Donaldson and his associates asked to get the building back but Transit New Zealand refused. “They said if anyone would want to fix it up, it would take $100,000.”
Wellington State Highway Manager Rob Whight said the building is now owned by the government and administered by the NZ Transport Agency. It was to be offered to iwi Taranaki Whanui which has a right of first refusal under Treaty of Waitangi settlement agreement before it could be sold on the open market. “A covenant will be put on any sale agreement for the property that the exterior of the heritage building be preserved,” Mr Whight said.
A 1995 Works Consultancy Services Heritage Building Report on the “Wellington Inner City Bypass – Heritage and Other Buildings” has subsequently set down rules of protection for untenanted buildings. It reads: “Where tenants cannot be found, protective measures should be taken. This may include the boarding over of windows and other openings where there is a high risk of vandalism. Graffiti should be removed immediately and any broken glass should be replaced immediately. At the present, the government, through Transit New Zealand has the responsibility for the care of the heritage buildings it owns.”
But the reality is that these rules have been ignored – there are missing windows in the facade, broken windows in the back wall, missing bricks, and graffiti disgracing all its outer walls.
The Council’s 1995 Heritage Building Inventory notes that William Gray Young was one of New Zealand’s most prominent architects. “During his career of 60 years he designed over 500 buildings – including the Wellington and Christchurch railway stations.” The 2007 Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, in a section written by former Wellington mayor Sir Michael Fowler, describes Mr Young as “one of the most significant architects of his era”.
“The vernacular, neo-Georgian and neo-classic buildings of his early and middle years are remarkable in themselves and in many cases contribute massively to their environment. His houses, often unique in form and plan, are increasingly treasured.” But clearly not the old Boys Institute.
Historic Places Trust heritage advisor Natasha Naus says the Trust does not have the power to give any fines or other kind of punishment to property owners of heritage buildings that are in disrepair. “We are just giving them advice, the same goes for city councils when they mention a heritage building in their District Plan.”
A 2009 report on the building by Ms Naus emphasises its physical description, its history, and its historic heritage values and significance. In it, she describes an internal structure upstairs of large timber posts, beams and trusses. “There is no access to the interior so it is unknown if these architectural features are still present. The building was strengthened with steel beams for its relocation in 2005.”
Ms Naus highlights a further historic heritage value, by way of the Institute’s association with George Alexander Troup, one of its founders, who was also a Wellington mayor, and a stalwart of 39-years with New Zealand Railways.
The building at 30 Arthur Street is one of her favourite heritage buildings, Ms Naus says. “I would love to see something happen to it, in fact it would be nice if the rest of Arthur Street had houses built on it.”
Ilse Dusart is a student in the Massey University Diploma of Journalism course.