Street history: Cuba St

Last updated 10:27 31/08/2012
Royal Oak Fire
The spirit of Cuba St was captured in a 1969 Evening Post article.

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Cuba St's long and exciting history began in the 1840s.

It was named after the ship Cuba, which arrived on January 4 that year, bringing some of New Zealand's earliest European pioneers.

The Tonks family was one of Wellington's earliest families, and has had a long association with Cuba St.

Family members arrived in 1842 on the Birman and established themselves in upper Cuba St.

Tonks Gr, formally Tonks Ave, is where the family resided and where son William Tonks established numerous brickyards in 1847.

In 1866, he became known for the first major harbour reclamation work.

Large scale reclamation of Wellington harbour had begun in the 1850s. Tonks assisted in the construction of the sea-wall by building Wellington's first tram line to move spoil from the back of Lambton Quay.

By the 1860s, gas lamp lights had been installed along Cuba St to light the way for horse-drawn trams.

In August 1878, the first steam tram travelled through Cuba St, from Pipitea Station to Vivian St. Horse-drawn trams took over in 1880, followed shortly after by electric trams.

The last electric tram ran though though Cuba St in May 1964. A year later, the street was closed so the unused tramlines could be removed.

As a result of a public campaign the stretch of road between Manners and Ghuznee Sts was permanently closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian mall. Cuba Mall was opened in 1969 by mayor Frank Kitts.

Cuba St is home to numerous heritage buildings, though one of its most infamous no longer stands. The Royal Oak Hotel was sited at the corner of Cuba and Dixon Sts. Its upstairs bar was home to Wellington's gay community.

Sadly, it collapsed 1879 in a fire that also destroyed 29 other buildings on Cuba, Manners and Dixon streets.

The site of the Royal Oaks Hotel is now home to the Oaks Complex, which is occupied by food shops, travel agents, and clothing stores.

Cuba St was once filled with markets, grocers and labouring businesses, now it is thriving with boutique retailers, second- hand stores, tattoo parlours, and cafes and bars.

The Bucket Fountain is a major attraction that never falls short of attention. It was designed by architects and town planning consultants Burren and Keen, and was erected as part of Cuba Mall in 1969.

Cuba St is often referred to as Wellington's bohemian quarter and is considered a hotspot for artists, musicians and students.

Its retailers have embraced the street's distinct culture, and have appointed Fidel's Cafe owner Roger Young as the unofficial mayor.

Cuba Street is never short in entertainment, with buskers making use of the lively mall.

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- The Wellingtonian


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