Saving a sense of history

NO REPRIEVE: Demolition of the Majestic Theatre is to go ahead.
NO REPRIEVE: Demolition of the Majestic Theatre is to go ahead.

A white plastic burial shroud encases the demolition-ready Majestic theatre.

The doomed 1930s-era building - Christchurch's first fully steel-framed building - has been the focus of a retention campaign but earthquake damage plans to widen Manchester St sealed its fate.

Although the Majestic will soon join the list of hundreds of heritage buildings lost since the quakes, at least a dozen private and public restoration projects are underway.

PRESERVING HISTORY: Stone-cladding contractor Richard Lloyd talks to Anna Crighton, chairwoman of the Christchurch Heritage Trust, inside the Trinity Church on the corner of Manchester and Worcester Sts in Christchurch.
PRESERVING HISTORY: Stone-cladding contractor Richard Lloyd talks to Anna Crighton, chairwoman of the Christchurch Heritage Trust, inside the Trinity Church on the corner of Manchester and Worcester Sts in Christchurch.

High-profile projects include the Arts Centre, Municipal Chambers, Provincial Buildings and the Isaac Theatre Royal.

Other historic buildings, such as McLean's Mansion, the Old Post Office and the Public Trust Office, still have uncertain futures.

One of the most significant of those being retained is the Canterbury Heritage Trust-owned former Trinity Church on the corner of Manchester and Worcester streets.

Trustee Anna Crighton said make-safe work completed this week had allowed its dangerous building classification to be removed, meaning restoration plans could progress.

The trust's other major restoration project is Manchester St's Excelsior Hotel, built in the early 1880s.

A single facade has been protected, which Crighton said provided "tangible evidence" of the heritage detailing for the rebuild.

The trust is waiting for innovation precinct details to be released before it can begin the search for an anchor tenant.

"We're very keen to advance that corner site - it is a landmark site and we have had plans drawn up for a replication of the Excelsior facade," she said.

"We can't do anything until we've got a tenant signed up and we can't get a tenant until we know what's going on. It's real chicken and the egg there at the moment."

The trust had planned to restore the Billens Building on High St but it was destroyed by fire in December 2012. Nothing could be salvaged, so the site would be cleared and sold.

Another historic facade awaiting a new body is the building at 203 High St occupied before the quakes by clothing label Victoria Black.

Building owner Barry Watson said although it was "early days" his aim was a faithful restoration. Plans are in the hands of his architect.

Watson bought the building in 1978 and said he had spent much on strengthening pre-quake as the original purchase price.

Opting for a modern replacement was not an option, he said.

"I loved the building. Tourists used to photograph it because it was a stand out."

Retaining a heritage building was not as difficult as some made out, Watson said.

"People are more interesting in smashing stuff down and putting up new, cheap crap.

"There's going to be some beautiful buildings come in this city we're going to be absolutely blown away with . . . but there's going to be some terrible tat. We're already seeing it."

The historic Peterborough Apartments were saved after construction firm Ceres bought the quake-damaged building for $19 million in December 2012 and pledged to spend at least $25m on its restoration.

Ceres corporate property manager Bernie de Vere said the company was still finalising its insurance settlement, but had continued with extensive make-safe work. A complete refurbishment is planned.

"We would dearly love it to look like the Arts Centre, with maybe an area on the ground floor where you could sit outside, and maybe not have so many apartments in there and more of a mixed-use type of property," he said.

"We're just too early to get into that at this stage."

Plans unveiled in late 2011 for the Wood Brothers mill buildings in Addington have not been sidetracked by an impending ownership change.

Owner John Cameron said the sale was expected to confirmed next month and the new owner "very much" had the same vision for the site, which was mixed commercial and residential use.

He was hopeful an application for council funding to assist with the restoration would be approved.

"[The incoming owners] are wanting to kick on with [plans], but I think they're waiting to see what happens with the heritage funding.

The old buildings are very expensive to restore and strengthen," Cameron said.

Doubts over the future McLeans Mansion, a wooden homestead hidden away in the central city between Manchester and Colombo streets, were raised in July last when a Section 38 (demolition) notice was issued because its owners, Andrew and Scott Murray, had exhausted all avenues for funding the substantial repair costs.

Music groups had expressed an interest in taking over the building but it appears none of those possibilities have borne fruit.

The owners have not responded to repeated interview requests from The Press.

A Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) spokesman said although section 38 notice remained in place, demolition was not being enforced because of an "exclusion zone" protecting neighbouring St Mary's School.

The heritage-listed Old Post Office in Cathedral Square has been subject to a Section 45 notice - meaning it is deemed too dangerous to be occupied - since February 2011.

Owner Gordon Chamberlain said this month he had been battling his insurance company about the fate of the building for three years. In November, the owner of the Public Trust Office in Oxford Tce applied to Cera for a Section 38 notice to allow the demolition.

However, Cera declined the application because it did not meet the Canterbury Earthquake Recover Act's criteria.


Restoration of one of the oldest stone churches left in post-earthquake Christchurch has been green-lit after the completion of a two-year stabilisation project.

Repair of the former Trinity Church on the corner of Manchester and Worcester streets was taken over by the Canterbury Heritage Trust in May last year when a lack of funding left its fate in the balance.

The $300,000 "make-safe" work competed this week allowed a Section 38 (demolition) notice on the 139-year-old Benjamin Mountford-designed building to be lifted.

Trustee Anna Crighton said completion of the nearly two-year project was "very exciting" and meant restoration plans could progress.

"It's a gorgeous little building," she said.

The timber interior was largely undamaged but the masonry walls had either cracked and collapsed. Bracing has been installed inside and out.

"That's been quite an engineering problem because they can't just throw up steel frames. They've got to be specially made and to size," Crighton said.

A conservation architect has been employed and engineering options are being considered.

Restoration could take up to two years.

The trust plans to sell the building with a covenant ensuring its preservation.

It will work with the new tenant to incorporate the future use in the interior fitout.

Although last used as a restaurant, Crighton did not believe hospitality was the best use of the space.

"I think the central city is restaurant-ed out, or will be," she said.

Her preference was for a performing arts space, which the building had been in the 1970s.

"The acoustics in there are fabulous, so as a small theatre I think it would be fantastic."

The Press