It was to be a gift for the distant future. Newspapers, postcards and brochures were packed into wall cavities exposed by the September 2010 earthquake.
Five months later, the wall linings of Eliza's Manor on Bealey were stripped once more and Ann Zwimpfer and Harold Williams, owners of the historic bed and breakfast and function centre, were putting the updated time capsules back into the reconstructed walls - hopefully, says Zwimpfer, 'for someone 150 years from now'.
For more than 150 years, the imposing 450-square-metre Victorian homestead has stood sentinel on what was once the north belt of the city.
The 30-room timber house was built in 1861 by Charles Wyatt, a member of the Provincial Council and, later, the Executive Council. Since then, the property has been home to Maurice Harris, a merchant and president of the Jewish Synagogue, and later F H Pyne, who established Pyne & Co, which became Pyne Gould Guinness (Pyne installed the imposing staircase in the entrance foyer, constructed in Scotland from New Zealand kauri, believed to have been taken to Britain as ship ballast). It also served as a boarding house for St Margaret's College, a maternity hospital, and as private accommodation for genteel ladies.
After a brief period as a private home in the 1970s, it was converted into a luxury holiday accommodation and wedding venue, named Eliza's Manor House in honour of Audrey Hepburn's performance as the Cockney flower girl in My Fair Lady.
In 2004, Ann Zwimpfer and Harold Williams, then in Auckland, saw a photograph of the Historic Places Trust Category 2 building featured in The Press property section. Within 10 days the grand old lady, then surrounded by other heritage buildings, was theirs.
'We've always liked old buildings and when we came down to Christchurch and drove past at night - seeing it all lit up - it was beautiful, awesome.'
Since then the pair have spent each winter revamping bathrooms and redecorating each of the eight guest rooms.
In the September earthquake, the building incurred some wall damage. Windows broke and two of the eight chimneys fell down.
Following advice from their engineer, the remaining chimneys were taken down. The time capsules were installed, the walls repaired, and the rooms re- papered.
On February 22, 2011, all the rooms were occupied. The painter was putting the final touches to the downstairs ceiling and Zwimpfer was making club sandwiches for an afternoon tea booking.
The shaking at 12.51pm ripped walls apart, cracked skirting, buckled window frames, broke panes, toppled wardrobes, cupboards and kitchen shelves and sent Zwimpfer's collection of 1200 teddy bears tumbling to the floor. Outside, the paved courtyard was cracked and the towering brick wall of the 1925 former deanery next door was leaning dangerously towards Eliza's western wing.
Did they think of returning to Auckland?
'No! Never. This was Christchurch; this was what Christchurch was going through.'
Nor was demolition an option. The success of Eliza's Manor on Bealey rests largely on its reputation as an historic boutique hotel - within days of the February earthquake they were fielding queries from former guests around the world asking if they - and the building - were OK.
'We'd have people coming in off the street, people who had never even been here before, saying how pleased they were the building was still standing.'
Despite the obvious damage, the sturdy old house remained on its foundations and the structure itself was sound. While Williams gives thanks to the five-by-three rimu framing - 'hard as steel, it just wobbled around' - the removal of 60 tonnes of bricks after the September earthquake certainly saved Eliza's from the fate of many of its neighbours.
From February to October, Eliza's was closed to guests as Zwimpfer and Williams worked alongside engineers, insurers and a team of tradespeople to re-line the old lathe and plaster walls with plywood and Braceline gib, repair ceilings, re-lead or reglaze windows, replace damaged skirting and panelling with replica mouldings, and even track down old Marseilles tiles to fill in the missing gaps in the roof. Through ongoing aftershocks and the occasional snowfall they painted, papered, cleaned and, for Zwimpfer, cooked hundreds of lunches for the steady contingent of tradespeople.
Itinerants in their own guest house, the couple moved from guest room to guest room as they reinstated their battered home - and their sole source of income - in time for their summer guests.
'We got stuck in and worked, day and night. The cafe smelled like a brewery and we had 150 years of dust and fat wafting around. We were filthy dirty.'
The views have since changed. Where once the Maid's Room, the smallest guestroom, looked out over nearby office blocks and hotels, now it has a view through to the Port Hills.
Otherwise the old homestead sits benignly in its tended garden, as if 3200 earthquakes over magnitude 3 and $1.5 million worth of repair work were but a distant memory.
'It's been well worth it,' says Zwimpfer. 'It is such a gracious old place.'
- © Fairfax NZ News
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