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Protest at plan to demolish historic defence HQ on war memorial park

building heritage demo threat
Photo: Alison Dangerfield

by Peter Cook
New Zealand Defence Force plans to demolish the historic General Headquarters Building on Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on Buckle Street have been met with dismay by local residents and supporters of Wellington’s heritage.

Demolishing this building would be like demolishing the Tower of London – it is that vital. A quarter of a million New Zealanders have served as part of this country’s commitment to collective security, and 50,000 died. Many of them passed through this building to get uniforms and equipment, so it bears witness to the sacrifices they made.

To protest against the plans and to request that the New Zealand Defence Force reconsiders its plans, residents of Mt Cook will b holding a silent commemoration there on Armistice Day at 11am to honour and hang on to the GHQ Building.

In 1913 it was the scene of a confrontation that almost sparked class war. Members of the organised Labour movement went there to protest at the Government and exporters who were exploiting the workers and shots were fired on 3 November.

This building has irreplaceable heritage values and its location adjacent to the hugely successful Pukeahu National War Memorial Park demands its retention. A building with its history could not be in a better place for commemoration.

Retaining this building will give Defence the moral high ground in championing the very good historical record New Zealand has in meeting its international defence commitments in the past. Demolishing these buildings will not be seen as commemorating the sacrifices of the past.

All Wellingtonians are invited to come and place a hand on the building tomorrow – at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, November 2015 (Armistice Day).

Background

The GHQ Building was built in 1911 as a defence store for the NZ Military Forces. That was the same year the Territorial Force started training men, the same men who then served overseas. It became General HQ in 1930 and housed the Commandant of the NZ Military Forces for the next eight years. After WWII it was used by the Health Education Department, Dominion Museum and Air Training Corps. It is registered Category 2 by Heritage NZ and is on the Wellington City Council’s District Plan, meaning that it has significant heritage value.

Peter Cook is spokesperson for Mt Cook Mobilised, which was formed in 2007 and represents about 6000 residents in 3200 households.

demo defence bldg
UPDATE: Representatives of about 30 organisations turned out for the Armistice Day demonstration in support of saving the historic building.

7 comments:

  1. City Lad, 10. November 2015, 17:18

    Peter Cook’s informative article is a reminder of just how vulnerable remaining historical buildings are to the “wrecker’s ball”. Cells close by at the historic Police station are ideal to incarcerate demolition criminals.

     
  2. syrahnose, 11. November 2015, 8:28

    Although there may be sentimental value here, as a building, compared to most anyplace outside of NZ, it’s hard to see it as architecturally significant. It’s just a common old brick building, nondescript, warehouse-like, boring…filling a space that could hold something more interesting and useful for the populace.

    All that said, the old police station is relatively much more interesting.

    In Paris or New York or many other progressive cities in the world they wouldn’t think twice about moving into the future with something better. Here, there is a tendency to hang on the to banal and second rate, just because it’s older. Shame is, a handful will squawk loud enough, and the rest of us will have to live with it.

     
  3. Guy, 11. November 2015, 14:35

    Both Peter Cook and Syrah Nose have some good points. But taking a step back, perhaps the more incredible thing is that the Defense force have been keeping an empty building hanging around doing nothing, for a couple of decades. They’re not actually proposing to demolish it yet – it seems that they are just keeping the paperwork alive, should they need to demolish it.

    So the bigger question is surely – what they heck do they want to keep a building for if they plainly have no intention to use it? Effectively, I’d say, it is just acting as a wall, and effectively too, what the city is happy with here too, is a wall. It is a wall to keep us out of their yard, and also a wall to provide an urban edge to the end of the Arras tunnel on Taranaki St. In this case, “we” (ie people of the city) have grown used to it, and quite like it’s old character. It is not particularly clever, nor particularly bad. It is background wallpaper, and quite a nice piece of period wallpaper at that too. The other buildings for the Defense Force behind the wall are arguably far more worthy of demolition, being poor architectural quality. This site is probably not likely to get a huge support for a new building, due to its position on the edge of a proto-motorway.

    I’d like to propose that the City Council approach the Defense force and between them, agree to strengthen the building, and turn it over to a private contractor to run a coffee bar / restaurant / boutique shop / design studio etc in. At a decent price, it would be snapped up. All we would need to do is make sure that the Defense Force are happy that no “subversives” were resident in the building.

    That way, the city gets to keep and improve its wallpaper, the Defense force gets to keep its wall, and the whole city improves by having something more exciting than a empty building in that spot. The city is already facing having the building opposite (the one painted black with poppies) being demolished soonish, when NZTA have finally given up on flyovers. Without those 2 buildings acting as urban “bookends,” the city will be bare and worse off.

     
  4. Mathew, 12. November 2015, 8:20

    Nothing wrong with space in a city. We would not be “worse off,” as the ugly memorial skate park is full of empty space (and Australian rock pillars)…If the NZ defense force are sick of keeping it empty, afraid of being overcome by subversives and want to knock it down, its there building that’s there business. [Abridged]

     
  5. lindsay, 12. November 2015, 8:59

    Guy: there’s talk that the defence people want to have a recruitment centre on the corner. If true, such a centre would be a most relevant occupant of the old historic structure, rather than needing something new.

     
  6. City Lad, 12. November 2015, 22:53

    A new building to replace this unique historic brick structure would be foolish. The Defense force should respect the history of this building. And circulate photographs of the interior to reveal the condition and future possibilities. Also to obtain a reliable assessment of the earthquake rating. It’s stood the test of time.

    Having been unused for so long is unforgivable.

     
  7. Guy, 16. November 2015, 8:12

    The building opposite that I spoke of as likely to be demolished soon – gone already. Demolished this weekend. So, Matthew, you have got your empty space you want. Personally, I don’t think it improves the city to have more empty space there.