Street's special resident has kiosk role

LIVING HISTORY: Savage Cres's oldest resident Jack Shortt still lives in the house the family moved into in 1955.
LIVING HISTORY: Savage Cres's oldest resident Jack Shortt still lives in the house the family moved into in 1955.

Savage Cres resident of 66 years, 97-year-old Jack Shortt, will be the guest of honour at the unveiling of the Palmerston North state housing area's history kiosk on Sunday.

Seriously injured and blinded by an exploding shell in the sand dunes at Foxton Beach as a 12-year-old, Mr Shortt spent several years in Auckland in an institute for the blind.

He was a foundation member of what is now the ABC Association of Blind Citizens, a self-acknowledged "troublemaker" who fought for the rights of the blind to lead independent lives.

His appointment as welfare officer for blind people across a huge area of the lower and central North Island, a position he held for 34 years, prompted the move to Palmerston North.

He and his late wife Netta moved into Savage Cres in 1947. It was one of few affordable housing options.

At first living at No 55, a two-bedroom house, the growing family moved in 1955 to No 80, where Mr Shortt still lives.

The painted bricks are an original feature, a reminder of a time when quality building materials were in short supply, and the second-grade bricks needed a coat of paint to improve their durability.

Some alterations have been made around the kitchen, laundry and bathroom, but apart from that, the house is in near-original condition.

In 1961, the Shortts paid a £200 deposit, borrowed from what is now the Royal NZ Foundation for the Blind, and were on their way to becoming homeowners.

Daughter Lesley Cranfield remembers the West End community as a great place for children, with a gate through to "the paddock" of the central park. "There was no stigma about growing up in state housing then. It became a stigma later. But we were proud of it at the time.

"We think we grew up in the best time, in the best street."

Mr Shortt has been a fierce defender of the area, at one time leading fundraising for a community hall that was never built, and at another, campaigning against the proposed building of a facility for people with disabilities that would have claimed half the park.

Savage Cres was one of the first state housing developments in New Zealand, built between 1938 and 1945, and in 1999 it was recognised as a conservation area in the city's District Plan.

There are a range of restrictions on subdivision, demolition, and erecting extra buildings in an attempt to preserve the best aspects of its original design features.

Mr Shortt's sister Betty Evans was also a "Crescenter". She and her husband Jack were the first family to move into the area in 1938. Mrs Evans lived at 5 Mansford Pl, and a photograph of her collecting the milk and paper from the letterbox features on the front cover of the Palmerston North Heritage Trails Booklet, The Savage Crescent Walk.

Mrs Cranfield said one of the nice things about Savage Cres now was that first-home buyers were starting to take over from the private landlords with tenants, and there were children in the streets again.

The area's story will be displayed at a kiosk on the corner of Cook St and Park Rd as part of a joint venture between the city council and Historic Places Manawatu/Horowhenua Inc.

Manawatu Standard