Excelsior Hotel to rise again in heritage style

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 04/08/2011

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Heritage advocates have rescued the earthquake-hit Excelsior Hotel and will spend $8 million restoring the site to its former glory.

Christchurch Heritage Trust chairman Derek Anderson said the 128-year-old building was bought on Friday, returning to the trust company four years after it was sold to a property firm.

The central-city hotel had taken a battering in the quakes.

Anderson said only the Manchester St wall would be retained, with the north-facing wall and interior to be rebuilt almost from scratch.

"It was unthinkable that it should come down," he said.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority had planned to demolish the building but the trust had successfully argued parts of the facade could be saved, he said.

The building would take about three months to dismantle and another 18 months to rebuild.

It would cost $8m and with only $4m in the coffers, the trust company would have to find a commercial partner to get the job completed, he said.

Anderson would not comment on how much the building had cost, but said it was only marginally more than the land value.

Christchurch Heritage also owned Smith's Bookshop on Manchester St, which would be demolished but rebuilt in a heritage style.

It was hoped the hotel would be an anchor for a heritage precinct based around lower High St, including Sol Square, Poplar Lane and parts of Manchester and Lichfield streets.

"It sits in a very prominent site for the High St precinct."

The High St Precinct group has been pushing for the area to be recognised as a "heritage zone" in the post-quake draft Central City Plan, expected to be released this month.

Last month, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee played down the idea, saying the June 13 quake had made saving many historic High St buildings "an impossible proposition".

However, interim group chairman Laurie Rose said buildings could be saved and for those that were rebuilt, most owners were keen to retain a heritage style.

"It will be buildings with a similar scale and design aesthetic that reflect the heritage past in a modern way," he said.

With the exception of such buildings as the Christ Church Cathedral and the Arts Centre, High St would probably be the only central area to retain remnants of its heritage past.

This week, the first attempt to fund the retention of a heritage building – the Guthrey Centre in the City Mall – failed, with advocates saying they were losing the battle against the bulldozers.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has approved the demolition of 152 heritage buildings and the partial demolition of another 34. These included The Press in Cathedral Square, St Luke's Church in Manchester St and the Harbourlight in Lyttelton. Only 45 buildings have been approved for make-safe work.

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WHERE AND WHEN

Location: 120 Manchester St

Built: 1881

Heritage: Category one

History: The site has had a hotel in some form since 1865.

In 1880, the owner lost his publican licence for failing to halt a riot between Protestant marchers and the mostly Catholic hotel patrons.

The current building was erected in 1881 – while the hotel was unable to trade – and was renamed the Excelsior in 1908.

Source: Historic Places Trust

- The Press

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