Historic building to go

AARON LEAMAN AND DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2013
Euphrasie House faces demolition and the Catholic Church says it has looked at all the other options.

HERITAGE PROTESTS: Euphrasie House faces demolition and the Catholic Church says it has looked at all the other options.

Huntly's Deka sign
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
FADED GLORY: Huntly’s Deka sign.

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It's old Deka sign yes, pre-war mission house no.

The wrecking ball is hanging over one of Hamilton's most distinctive historic buildings but while heritage advocates slam a "lack of will" to save it, it's full steam ahead in neighbouring Huntly to protect the town's ageing Deka sign.

The proverbial sign to nowhere has been standing forlornly for more than a decade after the retailer closed its doors in Huntly, but residents want the faded monument to the fallen chain store protected, saying it has become a popular drawcard with visitors - and a national icon.

The bizarre situation was highlighted this week with heritage advocates pleading before a Hamilton City Council hearing to save Euphrasie House, a massive pre-war Spanish mission style convent that has dominated Hamilton East for decades and housed thousands of school girls, while the Waikato District Council heard of a push to save the Deka sign.

Dr Ann McEwan spoke this week at a hearing into plans to demolish the Euphrasie House in Hamilton East.

The Catholic Church, through the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, is seeking resource consent to demolish the former convent and build a two-storey diocesan centre on the site.

Dr McEwan, who opposes the church's plans to bulldoze the building, applauded Huntly's efforts to protect its own landmark.

"I think communities fighting to hang on to things they value is fantastic," she said.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of mockery about the Deka sign but Huntly could give a lot of people a lesson about community spirit. The thing about historic heritage is it doesn't have to be 100 years old or beautiful in your eyes or mine. Things can be historic because they're part of our history and our mental landscape. They tell us, for example, we're in Huntly because the Deka sign is there."

Huntly Community Board chairman Frank McInally said people as far south as Twizel knew of the town's Deka sign, adding it was an important part of Huntly's recent heritage.

He said the community board planned to ask the sign's owner, businessman Sid Patel, to place a protection order on it.

"There's not a month goes by when you don't hear someone talking about our Deka sign. They've knocked down a lot of our heritage buildings, so it's important we protect what we've got."

Mr McInally, however, opposed the idea of refurbishing the sign, instead favouring the current "faded look".

"We don't want to jazz it up, hell no, just keep it the way it is."

Mr Patel said he had been approached with offers to replace the sign in the past, but had no plans to change it.

The first property he bought was a Deka store in Te Kuiti in 1996.

"I've kept the sign because it has personal meaning to me. I didn't do it to please anybody. It's something I want to keep."

Patricia Smith has lived in Huntly for 17 years and said the sign was part of the town. She said many people still regretted the Deka store's closure.

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Dr McEwan said heritage debates were often "very serious" but New Zealanders also had a sense of humour.

"The Deka sign is quite cool and funky because it's about something which doesn't exist anymore. It's a grown-up attitude . . . whereas in Hamilton we get worried about what people will think of us.

"How hysterical is it that maybe the positive heritage story in the Waikato this year is going to be a Huntly Deka sign".

Leading Hamilton architect and self-confessed Euphrasie House admirer Mark Wassung, a member of a trust trying to save the building, said he believed there were unexplored options to save the convent - such as retaining its facade.

"I love the building. I think it's beautiful. I've been through the building and it's charming, beautiful, it's themed, historic, it's just sad to see something like that about to go."

He thought it was "awesome" that people were talking about preserving Huntly's Deka sign: "There's an element of Googie architecture about it, it's a bit Las Vegas. It's one of the things I look for when I reach Huntly - the power station chimneys and the Deka sign," said Mr Wassung.

Meanwhile, opponents of plans to demolish Euphrasie House claim the Catholic Church lacks the will, not money, to save it.

But diocese general manager Greg Schmidt rejects the claims, saying figures relied upon to prove the church can afford to save Euphrasie House were misleading.

The diocese files financial statements annually with the Charities Commission, but Mr Schmidt said much of the money shown as income had to be repaid, or was for specific purposes.

"We've looked really hard at all possibilities, and this really is the only one that is left, so to say we don't have the will to retain it is not correct."

Hamilton East Community Trust has been at the centre of opposition to the demolition plans and chairwoman Lois Livingston said the church, having bought the site from the Institute Des Notre Dames Des Missions Trust Board knowing it had two heritage buildings, failed to exhaust all possible avenues to save them.

Leading structural engineers Holmes Consulting Group business manager Alan Park, on behalf of the trust, said the $5.6 million estimate to earthquake-strengthen the building was exaggerated to justify its demolition.

Mr Park said allowing the church to pull down the building would "set the precedent for other historic building owners throughout Hamilton" to justify demolition.

The church wants to strengthen the adjoining St Mary's Convent Chapel.

HUNTLY'S DEKA SIGN

Stands at the north end of Main St. Huntly's Deka was one of eight stores in Waikato. Brand wound up in 2001; five Waikato stores closed, three rebranded as Farmers. Huntly Community Board want a protection order placed on the sign. Reminiscent of Googie architectural styles – the exaggerated modern architecture seen in America's coffee shops and bowling alleys of the 1950s and 1960s, influenced by car culture, jets, the space age, and the atomic age.

- Waikato Times

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