Total demolition of this heritage building in the CBD? It sounds severe.
But it’s what the owner wants to do. His plan is detailed in a resource consent application that’s now on the city council’s website. It was also the subject of a report in yesterday’s DomPost, in which the owner says he wants to replace the 84-year-old Harcourts Building with a lightweight replica facade in front of a new 25-storey tower.
The 1928 building is on the corner of Grey Street and Lambton Quay. The Historic Places Trust has given it their top number one heritage category. The council’s register of significant buildings describes it as:
Aesthetically significant for its bold, sculptural facade, a crucial element in the Lambton Quay streetscape, and perhaps the best example in the city of the Chicago style. The building is in remarkably authentic condition, both outside and in significant interior spaces.
It’s also listed as an earthquake risk.
“It’s all very well for people to say the building should be preserved, but who pays?” says the owner and developer Mark Dunajtschik. The Historic Place Trust’s general manager says there are better alternatives for the facade than to re-create it in polystyrene which “can very quickly get chipped away.”
Earlier this year, a consultant for Mr Dunajtschik said: “One thing that’s very important to people is that old buildings don’t fall on them. We have proposed a solution that will satisfy the public needs and Mr Dunajtschik’s need to have a viable building, and there will be one less building in Lambton Quay that will land on the public on the footpath … where the carnage could be horrific.”
So if the owner gets what he wants, the look of Lambton Quay would not change – well, except for the tower and the fake facade.
Only one block away, there’s a better example of a building owner doing the right thing in the best interests of the city – the old DIC department store which is now called the Harbour City Centre. Like the Harcourts Building, it’s been on the Quay since 1928, and it sets an example which shows that Mr Dunajtschik does have other options. The handsome original facade has been impeccably restored (not demolished), without the need for polystyrene. And the building has twice been strengthened against earthquakes. Its ground floor interior has been successfully redeveloped too, with the high ceilings kept visible at the same time as mezzanine areas were added.
The re-strengthened building is such a success that Contact Energy is doubling the amount of office space which it leases. There’ll only be one loss. After two floors of small businesses have moved out, the original 1920s corridors and doors and safes will be replaced by a modern fitout, to suit the contemporary needs of Contact. Some of us will miss the old fittings and the incomprehensible numbering on each door. But it would have been a far greater loss for Lambton Quay if the entire building had been demolished. And it would be a great loss for the character of the Quay if the Harcourt’s Building is pulled down.
Demolition would be a disgrace for Wellington
Photos: Wellington City Council