Holloway Rd's nod to history

JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 10:35 02/11/2012
Holloway Rd
ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY

Then: Holloway Rd about 1900. A muddy road and banks prone to slips

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The Wellingtonian

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Holloway Rd, in a gully at the bottom of Aro Valley, is the sort of dark, narrow, winding, dead-end street that lends itself to all sorts of stories.

It's true there has been a murder there, and fires, major landslides, a famous centenarian, a Black Power house, a brothel, politicians of all hues and some off-beat and talented artists and photographers.

Locals talk of the Ghost of Holloway Rd, though its location and history vary.

The area, once called Mitchelltown, belongs more in a rural setting from the 1940s than a modern capital city.

Though Holloway Rd is hardly an advertisement for modern living, both ends are charming.

At the Aro St end are 160 heritage-listed pohutakawa trees and at the other end is Waimapihi Reserve, the site for a theatre production in the 2009 Fringe Festival. The reserve, once a tip, was developed by local residents in 1983.

The reserve was full of gorse, dead cars and other rubbish, but the locals tended to it with loving care for many years. These days the city council looks after it.

Tourist buses sometimes include Holloway Rd in their route and the reserve is a favourite spot for picnickers.

Mitchelltown was named after Henry Mitchell, who arrived at Port Nicholson in 1841. He subsequently bought a vast amount of land between Aro St and Karori and sold portions to the council and selected private home- owners. Mitchell named all the surrounding streets, mainly after his friends.

Local body politicians Terry McDavitt and Stephanie Cook have lived in Holloway Rd for two decades. Green MP Gareth Hughes lived there and so did National/United MP Pauline Gardiner.

Former Prime Minister David Lange was a regular visitor. He used to turn up at No 108 each year to celebrate the birthday of William "Pop" Swensson.

After Swensson's death in 1993, by which time he had become New Zealand's oldest man, his house was turned into a museum. Until 1973 it had a shop below, converted from a butchery.

The street for decades was a popular site for student flats, which were remarkably cold and damp.

Dwellings in Holloway Rd remained virtually untouched for 40 years, not entirely because of the unwillingness of their owners to modernise them.

In the 1960s Victoria University decided it would be a good site for a playing field and the council put a designation over it, so that no building consents for houses could be granted.

If owners wanted to sell their houses, they had to sell them to the university.

In the 1960s, The Evening Post described Holloway Rd as "sagging stairways with most of the tread rotted away", leading to "sagging, open doors and damp, musty rooms where glass from broken windows crunches underfoot".

The designation was finally lifted in the 1990s. The street was then able to be somewhat modernised, though it is still really a Bohemian enclave.

In times past there was a school at the beginning of the street, and five shops, including the Mitchell Town General Store on the corner of Aro St and Holloway Rd with its wood painted lime green and its roof blue. Recently Millie's Bed and Breakfast has been situated at No 33. Who'd have thought visitors would have paid to live in the street! A dog training school has been based at No 1 for some years.

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There's a nice spirit in Holloway Rd.

Many Holloway Rd residents have often lived in several houses in the street, and can recall receiving tap dancing lessons in one, attending baptisms in another, birthday parties and so on. Each Christmas morning residents head to the Waimapihi Reserve for a party.

A notorious Russian spy drama unfolded in the public toilets just around the corner from the bottom of Holloway Rd.

In 1974, Bill Sutch, an economist, historian and writer, was charged with trying to pass classified information to the Soviet Union.

Police had observed Sutch meeting a Russian diplomat in the toilets around the corner from the bottom of Holloway Rd. He was later acquitted.

- The Wellingtonian

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