by Lindsay Shelton
It’s good news for Wellington that one of the city’s classic 1920s buildings is to be saved and restored. But just as the owner of the Hope Gibbons Building (above) announced plans to upgrade and refurbish it, the owner of a similar building keeps insisting that demolition is the only answer.
Decisions by the two landlords will bring very different consequences for the streetscape and heritage of their city. But Scott Gibbons, great-grandson of the man who built the nine-storey Hope Gibbons Building in Dixon Street, says it’s fortunate that his building is freehold, which means he’s been able to raise finance to do the seismic upgrade and refurbishment which will cost $6m.
One of his tenants is the firm which is doing the architectural work. Hugh Brown of Tennant and Brown told the DomPost it was a wonderful old landmark building, with high ceilings and good light and great views down Courtenay Place. It “hasn’t been mucked about with lowered ceilings, and it doesn’t need air conditioning because in summer you can open the windows to catch a breeze.”
The Harcourts Building (originally named the T&G Building) in Lambton Quay is another wonderful city landmark from the 1920s. Owner Mark Dunajtschik is taking a different stance from Scott Gibbons – he wants to demolish his building and replace it with a 25-storey tower block. A council committee will make a decision next week on whether to issue a demolition permit.
Council staff say the demolition should be approved. But demolition is strongly opposed by Historic Places Wellington., It emphasises the importance of the Category One registration, which confirms the building’s “outstanding historical or cultural significance … This high status is conferred only sparingly and in special cases. There is only a limited number of these buildings in central Wellington.” The organisation warns that in the last ten years no Category One buildings in major cities have been demolished, except in Christchurch. “It would be a most unfortunate and notable precedent if the present application resulted in [demolition] … If full demolition is granted, this is likely to have a profound effect on heritage not only in Wellington, but also setting a precedent for heritage building owners around New Zealand that it is acceptable to demolish our architectural heritage, thus destroying our ‘Sense of Place.’ ”
The cost of earthquake-strengthening work on the Harcourts Building has been put at $10.8 million, which Mr Dunajtschik has described as not economically viable. But he knows there are other precedents where owners have successfully strengthened and restored landmark buildings in the CBD. A convincing example is only a couple of blocks away.
It’s the Harbour City Centre, (originally built as the DIC Building). Like the Harcourts Building, it’s been on Lambton 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). And the building has twice been strengthened against earthquakes.
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. Now that two floors of small businesses have moved out, the original 1920s corridors and doors and safes are being 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.
Maximus: Demolition would be a disgrace