Some lost Wellington buildings

A while ago I bought from an ‘op shop’ (charity shop) an old edition of ‘FMR’ (Franco Maria Ricci), No. 14, September 1985. I’ve seen a few of these magazines in op shops – they’re always beautifully produced with lavish illustrations. This particular edition featured Tuscany and one article that caught my eye is called “Florence Lost”. I never thought of Florence as having lost buildings, but in 1864 Florence was named capital of Italy – “an event that caused more destruction in the city than had centuries of war and feuding. Buildings were torn down and streets straightened in an attempt to plaster a ‘modern’ urban façade over a medieval town. Among those who mourned the loss… was the artist Fabio Borbottoni.

I had never heard of him but he did more than 100 paintings recording buildings that would soon disappear. These are just two of the images reproduced in FMR. The text of the accompanying article was written by Italo Calvino.

DSC04538 DSC04539

This brought to mind some of the many buildings that Wellington has lost over the decades. Wellington became capital of New Zealand in 1865 – just a year after Florence – but (so far) it has retained the capital city position, unlike Florence. As far as I’m aware it didn’t lead to wholesale destruction of ‘old’ Wellington, because British Wellington had only been founded 25 years earlier with initially mostly raupo (a plant) and wooden buildings. These were prone to fires and two large earthquakes (1848 and 1855) had also destroyed most brick buildings. Becoming capital city in fact led to a building boom and reclaiming more land from the sea to build on.

If I only consider buildings lost in the 20th century, there are too many to list. Perhaps we had our own Borbottoni in the articles that David McGill (text) and Grant Tilly (illustrations) produced in the 1980s for the local newspaper on many buildings that have since disappeared. Most of these were later collected into books called ‘Cityscapes’, ‘Harbourscapes’ etc.

This was the General Post Office seen here draped to recognise the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. A hotel now occupies this site – the only remnant is the name of the square in front: still called Post Office Square.

GPOGeneral Post Office, Wellington. Original photographic prints and postcards from file print collection, Box 4. Ref: PAColl-5744-07. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Another ‘remnant’ recalled by a street name is the old Colonial Museum, built the same year Wellington became capital and previously located behind Parliament in Museum Street; seen here in January 1931. This shows a Parliament gate in the front, and the wooden museum on the right. colonial museum

Museum Street, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP-4597-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The museum was demolished after a new one was built in Mt Cook (a suburb of Wellington to the south of the CBD). This 1936 museum is now the ‘old’ museum as it has been replaced by Te Papa on the waterfront, but it wasn’t demolished. It was used by Massey University and now forms the backdrop to the new War Memorial Park, Pukeahu, and is seeing life again as a museum – of World War One; at least temporarily.

A building later on the site of the first museum in Museum Street – Broadcasting House, built in 1963 was shamefully demolished in 1997. Seen here ‘as new’ it is the low-rise in front of the government department building behind. Interestingly, on the far right a strip of wooden building can be seen. This is no longer there either. Broadcasting house

Broadcasting House, Wellington, as new. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 :Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-5105-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The wooden building was one of the three Parliamentary Buildings – the history of that site is an interesting one. The first building on the site was Colonel Wakefield’s house – he was the local man in charge of the New Zealand Company settlement in Wellington. His house later became the Governor’s house (once Wellington became the capital) but it was replaced in 1871 and that is the building seen just on the edge of this image. The 1871-built wooden building – seen below in about 1930 – was demolished in the late 1960s / early 70s to make way for the Beehive, or the Executive Wing – the conical shaped building that houses the prime minister, Cabinet and some other ministers.

Parliament 1930 Unidentified ceremony at Parliament Buildings, Wellington. New Zealand Railways: Assorted photographs. Ref: 1/2-023743-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The other two buildings on the Parliament site have been there since 1899 (the library) and 1912-21 (the Parliament House). This latter replaced one lost to fire in 1907.

A lot of buildings were demolished in the 1980s boom (before the stock market crash in 1987 brought this to an abrupt halt, thus preserving more from demolition). This lovely ‘Spanish Mission’ style hotel seen here about 1925 was one of them – the Midland Hotel, it has been replaced by a park called Midland Park. It is a well-used park, but one that is quite often overshadowed by the surrounding tall buildings.

Midland HotelMidland Hotel, on the corner of Lambton Quay, and Johnston Street, Wellington. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972. Ref: 1/1-019597-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

I could go on, but I think that’s enough destruction for one post! Another story could be the ‘almost lost’ buildings… there are many of them too.


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