City engineer on mission to transform substation

23:57, Aug 15 2014
Trevor Lord
PASSIONATE RESTORATION: Trevor Lord and the old heavily disguised city substation which he is developing into an arts-and-crafts style apartment.

A historic electricity substation, built in the heart of Wellington and disguised to look like neighbouring houses, is having a major makeover thanks to an electrical engineer with a passion for old homes.

Trevor Lord bought the derelict two-storey building in Kate Sheppard Place, Thorndon, from the Crown last year. It was then assessed as meeting just 9 per cent of the new building standard, and the day he took possession Wellington was hit by a 6.2-magnitude quake.

But that did not deter Christchurch-based Lord, who had always been intrigued by the building from his days as a trainee council engineer.

Thorndon substation
BEFORE: The building as it looked when it was put up for sale last year.

When it was built in the 1920s, to provide power to Parliament and the central city, the council had an apartment built above the substation, and disguised the exterior to make it blend with neighbouring houses.

All those homes have since been replaced with high-rise blocks but the substation building still attracts attention. "I don't know what the magic of it is. It is not a building you pass by without noticing it," Lord said.

Even the apartment has its own history. One tenant is said to have had a press out the back to print illegal pro-union material during the 1951 waterfront dispute. And from the 1970s it was the base for Vanguard Films.


Lord paid more than the $450,000 rating valuation to buy it, and all up the development will cost him over $1 million. A $35,000 grant from Wellington City Council had helped.

He said that when he bought the property, it was in a dreadful state, covered in graffiti, the roof was leaking and most of the windows were broken.

Nearly a year on, the bitumen roof has been replaced, the steel-framed windows have been restored and work is set to start on the interior, with its lovely old carrara ceilings, jarrah floors, and rimu doors and window frames. The concrete ground-floor room that housed transformers is set to be turned into a large reception-party room.

By the end of the year, Lord hopes to have the building fully restored in its original 1920s arts-and-craft style and ready for occupation by a well-heeled MP, senior public servant or diplomat who would appreciate stylish digs just three minutes' walk from Parliament.

The Dominion Post