Historic club, cafe destroyed

21:18, Aug 05 2009
Maranui cafe
GUTTED: From left, surf club captain Shane O'Connor, cafe co-owner Matthew Wilson, club president Jim Warwick, cafe co-owners Katie Richardson and Bronwyn Kelly and club chairman Peter Clark with the burnt-out building behind them.
RECORDS LOST: The fire extensively damaged the building and destroyed irreplaceable surf club records and memorabilia.
CHARRED REMAINS: The Maranui cafe's interior.
FIRE DAMAGE: Co-owner Matthew Wilson said the cafe was 'pretty much written off'.
FIRE DAMAGE: The blaze began around 1.30am on Saturday.
Maranui cafe
FIRE DAMAGE: Melted straws inside the gutted cafe.
CHARRED: The outside of the Maranui cafe.
CHARRED: The outside of the Maranui cafe.

Lyall Bay's surfing community is vowing to rebuild the Maranui Surf Life Saving clubhouse and cafe, after a fire gutted the heritage building.

Club records and memorabilia dating back to 1911 were destroyed in the fire, which began about 1.30am on Saturday.

See updated story: Support pours in for club


The cafe, which became a Wellington favourite after it opened four years ago, was also badly damaged and part of the floor has collapsed.

Fire safety officers and insurance assessors were inspecting the building yesterday but suspect an electrical fault in a storage room on the ground floor started the fire.

Cafe co-owner Matthew Wilson said the building's interior was "pretty much written off".

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"There probably won't be much that's salvageable."

It was fortunate the two-storey clubhouse was still standing, he said. "Apparently if they'd [the fire service] been 15 minutes later the whole thing would have been gone."

About half of the cafe's 30 staff worked there fulltime and would now have to find other jobs, Mr Wilson said.

"They're absolutely destroyed. The fire was upsetting but meeting the staff was even more upsetting. We're such a tight team like a family."

However, he was hopeful that the clubhouse could be saved.

"Everyone that's been through it says it's totally rebuildable. It would be a shame if it couldn't be rebuilt."

Maranui Surf Life Saving Club chairman Peter Clark was also optimistic about the building's future, but said the club could never replace the records lost in the fire.

"We've lost quite a few of the photos and other bits of memorabilia and the club records we had dating back to the minutes of the first committee meeting in 1911.

"We've got our centenary coming up in 2011 and it's a huge blow, obviously."

Reality had still not sunk in, Mr Clark said. "It's pretty surreal, really. Particularly yesterday in the light of day, walking through just trying to take it all in was like a really bad movie."

Club representatives and the cafe's owners would meet Wellington City Council this week to discuss the options, Mr Clark said. He was confident rebuilding could begin quite quickly.

"We're definitely planning on being on the beach this summer."

Joseph Campbell, who lives opposite the club and watched it burn, said locals were feeling "pretty sombre".

"Everyone feels gutted because it's so central to the community here. It's pretty crucial that they get it back again."

Council spokesman Richard MacLean said it was likely the building could be saved, but the repair bill would be hefty.

"In terms of damage to the building we're talking in the hundreds of thousands."

MARANUI SURF CLUB NEARLY 100

* Maranui Surf Life Saving Club was established in 1911 and is the second-oldest surf lifesaving club in New Zealand.

* Its distinctive white wooden clubhouse on Lyall Parade was built in 1930 and a second storey was added in 1956.

* It is not on the Historic Places Trust register but is listed as a heritage building by Wellington City Council.

* According to its heritage listing, the clubroom building is "moderne in style, its strong cubic form and narrow horizontal weatherboards making it a prominent structure on the sweep of Lyall Bay".

* The club is one of New Zealand's most successful surf lifesaving clubs and has won many national, provincial and local titles.

* Several members have completed Cook Strait crossings, including Brien McCrea, who in 1972 became the first person to make the crossing on surf skis.

* The club had a resurgence in popularity after the cafe opened in 2005 and now has about 100 members.

The Dominion Post