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St Gerard’s closing – no money to strengthen landmark heritage building

st gerards rnz pic

Report from RNZ by Harry Lock
Wellington’s landmark St Gerard’s Church will close its doors later next month, after the owners failed to raise enough money to get the earthquake-prone building strengthened.

The church and neighbouring monastery – both Category One heritage-listed buildings – were deemed earthquake-prone after the Christchurch earthquakes. The estimated cost to get the buildings up to standard is around $10 million.

Despite multiple attempts to raise those funds, the owners have conceded defeat.

St Gerard's Monastery - Exterior

St Gerard’s was built in 1908 for the Redemptorists (the Catholic Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) and the monastery was added in 1932. It was taken over by the ICPE Mission – the New Zealand chapter of the Institute for World Evangelisation – in the 1990s. Services have continued every Sunday, while the ICPE Mission has also used the space to run retreats, seminars, youth weekends and parish missions.

“The reality of a large building that needs serious earthquake strengthening has led the ICPE Mission to rethink our long-term presence in Wellington and look at new ways of being Christ’s presence in the city,” said the director of the ICPE Mission, Silvana Abela.

The final service will be held on the Christian holiday of Pentecost in late May.

The Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Cardinal John Dew, will celebrate the final Mass.

The church is noted by Heritage New Zealand as “one of Wellington’s most significant and well-known landmarks,” due to its “spectacular location” and “combination with the large and impressive monastery.”

In the mid-twentieth century, the church was nationally renowned for its choir, with services broadcast on National Radio for 37 years. It holds international spiritual significance, as the “first church in the world to be dedicated to St Gerard Majella”. It also has architectural significance, “as an example of the work of well-known local architect John Sydney Swan”.

The chair of Historic Places Wellington, Felicity Wong, said the building’s closure should act as “a real wake-up call for Wellingtonians”.

“We need to pitch in and try and figure out how we can help the owners raise the money to have those buildings strengthened. It’s a placemaking building, it’s a building we all know and love, it’s a building we’re all familiar with.”

She said there were options on the table. “It needs all of the city to get behind raising the money, to apply for the lotteries, apply to the government through the Equip Fund, through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

“And we all have a responsibility to help ensure that building remains an iconic part of our landscape.”

21 comments:

  1. Claire, 4. April 2021, 15:56

    I am sure now this is in the media the people of Wellington will stump up. This building is in numerous paintings and underpins the Mt Victoria view and look of Wellington.

     
  2. D'Esterre, 4. April 2021, 16:14

    I am so sad about this. St Gerard’s has been a part of the Wellington I know, for as long as I’ve known it. It’s of prime importance with regard to its place in the Wellington landscape. Given that it was originally built for the Redemptorists, and given that it’s dedicated to St Gerard Majella, I wonder if the Catholic church could be persuaded to fund the strengthening? Maybe an appeal to the Vatican would yield results.

     
  3. Iona Pannett, 4. April 2021, 16:45

    Let’s hope a solution can finally be found for this building. The Church will need to come up with the money or a developer will need to take on the job. The Council will assist where it can. [via twitter]

     
  4. Dileepa Fonseka, 4. April 2021, 17:08

    Homeowners/landlords on Mt Vic might like having this building in their neighbourhood, but they won’t pay for its restoration. In Auckland a commercial development at Britomart paid for a large-scale heritage restoration project there. Wellington needs more compromises like that. [via twitter]

     
  5. Guy M, 4. April 2021, 18:51

    D’Esterre, you are joking, aren’t you? The Catholic Church is not interested in restoring their buildings. Money flows into the Vatican, not out of it – except for their legal payouts. The church is clearly dying – if the building is to be saved then a profitable use needs to be found for it. The most obvious use would be: convert it to apartments.

     
  6. Claire, 4. April 2021, 19:10

    Guy I think Wellingtonians would donate. But apartments would be good as long as it keeps its facade and integrity. I think the Catholic Church is broke in NZ but then again St Mary’s in Hill Street has been strengthened and restored. All done by donations.

     
  7. Mark Cubey, 4. April 2021, 23:11

    This cannot stand empty for years while everyone dithers: knock down the risky bits (too much brick!) and create massive modernist slab concrete social housing, crushing the value of the absentee Air B&b owners of Hawker St. [via twitter]

     
  8. Brian Dawson, 5. April 2021, 8:55

    This church hasn’t been a part of the Catholic Archdiocese for some years, and while the Church might be asset rich there are many more important things I hope they would spend their money on. Hopefully a sympathetic developer can preserve the facade while building apartments. [via twitter]

     
  9. Diane Calvert, 5. April 2021, 11:01

    The city is facing increasingly high costs for insurance/strengthening. WgtnCC has heritage buildings (Opera House & Wgtn Museum) that need funds for strengthening & retention. The city is already massively contributing to other heritage blgs it owns – Town Hall, St James, Central Library. [via twitter]

     
  10. Heleyni, 5. April 2021, 11:03

    St Gerard’s should be a community centre, it’s already purpose built! It would be a tragic lack of imagination in the ‘creative capital’ if this monumental building that was built for the community is given over to developers. [via twitter]

     
  11. Toni, 5. April 2021, 13:13

    It would make a great boutique hotel – we haven’t got enough in Wellington as it is.

     
  12. Helene Ritchie, 5. April 2021, 13:22

    The Wellington City Council contributed a very significant amount to the strengthening of the Catholic St Mary of the Angels in Boulcott St and the Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Hill St. Crs Pannett and Young (or Council records) will be able to tell you the amounts.

    St Gerards has had earthquake strengthening challenges for many years. It is a visual landmark and an intriguing building inside. What next for it?

     
  13. Casey, 5. April 2021, 15:08

    Another exciting challenge for Maurice Clark and his team, perhaps. I can’t see other than a self funding conversion to apartments or hotel use.

    WCC ratepayers should not be funding the retention of this building.

     
  14. Jandal Blowout, 5. April 2021, 16:06

    Would make a great convention centre….

     
  15. Guy M, 6. April 2021, 6:52

    Actually, Jandal, no it wouldn’t. It would make a terrible convention centre. Convention centres need lots of wide open floor space that can get reconfigured into many different possible spaces. A small church with a lofty pointy gothic ceiling is pretty much the complete opposite of what a convention centre needs to be.

     
  16. Harold Rodd, 6. April 2021, 7:58

    I agree about St Gerard’s being great as a convention centre. I would be proud to go there if I was an overseas visitor to Wellington.
    Could the place being built in central Wellington be used for apartments?

     
  17. Polly, 6. April 2021, 8:57

    Wellington does not need a Convention Centre; there are already ones being built in Auckland and Christchurch and the way the world is now conventions are not attracting the public to take more flights. One of Wellington’s attractions is the view of St Gerard’s from the city across the harbour. Tourists walking along the waterfront love the vision and many photos are taken.

     
  18. Claire, 6. April 2021, 9:35

    I think it is agreed that this building should be kept strengthened and possible converted. I would be happy for rates to be used. We regularly spend $10million for less important things. Won’t the Govt also stump up as a Category one building.

     
  19. Jandal Blowout, 6. April 2021, 10:13

    That was tongue in cheek Guy, although I can see people being lectured to in the chapel as not much different to a conference. Other uses, PJ’s movie museum, art gallery, kainga ora social housing, library, apartments, hotel, hospital. It would be good if Heritage NZ was more like the national trust in the UK with the ability to take over these types of places and restore/run them.

     
  20. D'Esterre, 9. April 2021, 16:38

    Guy M: “…you are joking, aren’t you?” Of course I’m not joking. St Gerards’ current status notwithstanding, it was once owned by the Catholic Church. The Vatican could pay for strengthening out of petty cash, so to speak. This isn’t just any old church: it occupies a singular place in the cityscape. Moral obligation and all that…

    Mark Cubey: “…create massive modernist slab concrete social housing, crushing the value of the absentee Air B&b owners of Hawker St.” I neither live in that area, nor do I have property there. I wonder what the inoffensive Air B&B owners – and the rest of us Wellingtonians, come to that – have done to you, that you’d wish this sort of thing on them and us. Unless the entire structure is demolished, it will need to be strengthened, regardless of the further uses to which it may be put.

     
  21. Guy M, 9. April 2021, 23:54

    Harold Rodd – re your comment “Could the place being built in central Wellington be used for apartments?”

    Simple answer: No.