Prison on hill offers differing responses

CLIO FRANCIS
Last updated 05:00 29/10/2012

Wellington Prison will close in November after 85 years. It has occupied its prime spot atop the Miramar Peninsula since 1927 and may be set to stay after the Historic Places Trust recommended it be made a heritage building.

Wellington Prison

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A cabinet minister has called it a disgrace, and a neighbour says it's "bloody awful", but the Historic Places Trust believes the dilapidated Wellington Prison is aesthetically pleasing and should be registered as a historic building.

The prison, which sits atop Mt Crawford on Miramar Peninsula, is due to close next month.

Built in 1927, the prison was described in a recently completed assessment report by the trust as having aesthetic, architectural, historical, social and technological significance.

"Mt Crawford Prison has some aesthetic value, primarily for its understated use of classical decoration. The interior is not without its attractive spaces, with stained doors and floors . . . and the fine double height corridors."

That's rather different from the description Corrections Minister Judith Collins used in June last year, when she called it a disgrace. Prison officers did "their very best in very difficult, Dickensian situations," she said.

Former city councillor and longtime Miramar resident Ruth Gotleib was surprised to hear the prison might be kept as a historic building. "It's bloody awful," she said.

"I do think it's a damn shame that a prison is there. I mean, it's a great spot, the view from up there is magnificent.

"I think it could be put to far more use than as a historic building, I really do. Perhaps facets of it should be kept but, for God's sake, don't keep the lot."

Enterprise Miramar chairman Allan Probert welcomed the Historic Places Trust's recommendation. "We think too much of Wellington's history has been lost to needless demolition.

"There have been so many different proposals over the years for the area . . . the original proposal for that site was a hotel. It would be quite a unique proposition and the thing about having a hotel there was that it would help with the costs of creating much needed infrastructure around nearby areas like Shelly Bay. We have no problem with a historic classification with the right project."

Miramar resident Allan Jenkins said he had no doubt that if the prison was preserved as a museum it would become a fixture on the Wellington tourism map.

"It's an incredibly evocative piece of architecture, its looks very brooding and frightening. These places do active service till they're so out of date that they are almost instant museums, it's just waiting for people to run tours through it. It has potential to actually earn money for the area while recognising its history; it's a great opportunity."

Trust heritage adviser crown land Natasha Naus said preliminary research by the trust suggested the prison would make a good candidate for registration as a historic place.

"Mt Crawford is an intact and representative example of a 1920s prison complex. Its restricted site and isolation has meant little change has been visited on the buildings."

Related story: Old prison reaches its used-by date

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