Fond memories of doomed building

STACEY KNOTT
Last updated 13:00 07/02/2014
new hub
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
CHANGING TIMES: Raeburn Wilkes revisits his old place of work, the New Street Bulk Store building, formerly Levin & Co, which was most recently the New Hub. The building is to be demolished.

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Memories of stacks of bagged seeds and lofty schemes to capture sparrows came flooding back to a father and son who visited Nelson's old Bata Shoes building in New St.

The building is to be demolished later this month after it was deemed an earthquake risk.

Now sitting empty, it has had many different uses in its lifetime. Council records show it was a wool store in 1940, then converted to use as the Bata Shoe factory in 1977, followed by a gym in 1990. Since 1998 it has been owned by the council with community groups operating from it, and it was used as a performance and arts venue.

Raeburn Wilkes used to work in the building when it was Levin and Co, a wholesale merchants and distribution store. It was renamed the New Street Bulk Store while Mr Wilkes worked there. While unsure on the dates, Mr Wilkes said he worked there as a storeman in the 60s and 70s for about 20 years.

Turning 90 this weekend, Mr Wilkes wanted to have one last look around his old workplace, though said the changes made it almost "unrecognisable".

"It's a very different place to what it used to be when I was here," he said.

He worked there when it was a storage and wholesale warehouse for groceries, farm equipment, wool and seeds.

Since then it had undergone many different interior and exterior changes.

Walls had been built inside the building since Mr Wilkes last set foot in it. It was once a complete open space but had since been partitioned off into different rooms.

An upstairs office area had also been created after he left.

Mr Wilkes' son Kevin said the building was his playground growing up. He would spend time there as a child after school and on holidays.

"I used to climb up the sacks of wheat and touch some of the ceiling beams as a toddler, I don't think you'd get away with that now,' he joked.

Kevin Wilkes believed it was the same timber flooring throughout the building that his father had once worked on.

He said he remembered going down to the Nelson port in a truck with his father's co-workers to pick up loads of goods that had come in on ships from around New Zealand. He remembered the goods being taken from the ship, stacked into the truck, and then stacked again in the warehouse.

He had fond memories of his time in the building and of his father's workmates and boss and found it "comforting" to be in the building one last time. He used to try to catch sparrows that would fly around the high ceilings, believing the mischievous advice of Mr Wilkes' boss that if he put salt on a sparrow's tail he would catch it.

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Between the two Wilkes, they pointed out where the trucks would come into the loading bays along Halstead Rd when there used to be huge sliding doors to allow access. They recalled where seeds would be mixed and poured into sacks to sell to farmers and where bulk groceries were kept.

Mr Wilkes said he would use a wheelbarrow to shift the products around the building and into the trucks where they were dispatched around the region.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was when they shut for an hour over lunch and he would head to nearby deli KM Blacks for sultana pasties and bread.

He said working in the building was "a very good experience".

- Nelson

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