OPINION: To this day Esk St isn't without its sensual pleasures. Or sensory ones, anyway.
We're not thinking about anything west of Wachner Place, but of the times when they're making waffle cones in the New Zealand Natural cafe, or when the fragrant offerings of the street's ethnic eateries aren't being whipped away on the wind.
That's when the street can invite passers-by to pause and inhale.
But for many decades, before any of those businesses arrived, there were different wafting enticements.
Reaching from the late 19th century until the late 1960s, the street was home to the David Strang coffee mill, which also made spices and jellies.
Among older residents, nostrils still faintly flare at the memory. The air, it's been said, was redolent with the aroma of freshly ground coffee, chicory, and other spices. Award winning products they were, too.
Strang's Coffee Essence was a dark, thick liquid in a tall bottle, richly flavoured with chicory and sold throughout the country, until post-war migration led to such new ideas as having coffee made directly from fresh beans.
The long-gone mill's facade was uncovered last week when walls were demolished at the back of the Southland Education building in Esk St. This, in turn, prompted delightful reminiscences from Freda Gorton and Margery Williamson, who worked at the mill during the 1940s, of gentlemanly bosses, handsome delivery boys, picnics, dances and shouted Thursday trips to the pictures.
The mill building is now owned by H and J Smith, which had been proceeding with demolition on that part of the site on the advice that the building was beyond repair and unsafe.
However, the Historic Places Trust has asked the company to stop work for a further assessment.
Good. There is history here, and a fondly recalled history at that. We should have our fingers crossed for the future of the facade. But we should also be realistic.
It is quite deep back on the site, and on land privately owned. H and J's has declared no particular plan for what will happen with the land – the idea was that the site be cleared before any such decision is reached.
It is not enough merely that the facade prove salvageable.
The question would then become whether it has a future – one that makes sense in the context of whatever use to which this site could, or will, be put.
Whether a solution that satisfies both sense and sentiment is really achievable remains to be seen. At least, now, the decision can be made knowing what stands to be lost. Or saved.
The future of many of Invercargill's intact heritage buildings is uncertain due not only to the passage of time, but also a heightened sense of earthquake risk and challenging new building code standards. The Invercargill City Council is usefully setting out to establish a prioritised list of the city's most historic buildings, to at least bring clarity into which buildings are to be the agreed focus of community effort to save them – and by extension (or omission, anyway) which buildings will ultimately be goners.
The old Strang building reminds us that issues can arise when a facade, rather than an entire building, may be salvageable. A case, perhaps, of saving face. Which is OK: some faces are worth saving, if we can manage it.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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