Marlborough businessman buys Napier landmark building to leave to his grandchildren

Well-known Marlborough businessman Graeme McLean has bought the ASB Bank heritage building in Napier for close to $3 million.
SUPPLIED
Well-known Marlborough businessman Graeme McLean has bought the ASB Bank heritage building in Napier for close to $3 million.

Well-known Marlborough businessman Graeme McLean has bought a Napier art deco landmark heritage building, ASB Bank, for close to $3 million.

He intends to leave it as a legacy for his family.

The purchase of the category 1 historic building, built in 1932 following the devastating 1931 earthquake in Napier, rekindles a link with the city and his family history.

McLean was raised and educated in the art deco town. "I want to make it the best-looking heritage building in Napier if I can. That's the plan".

Graeme McLean has set up a family trust to leave the historic property to his grandchildren.
SUPPLIED
Graeme McLean has set up a family trust to leave the historic property to his grandchildren.

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The 87-year-old building is one of more than 100 built in the art deco or in the spanish mission style following the great shake.

The historic building was put up for sale in August last year.

"I feel very passionate about the actual design and heritage of the building. I think it's so unique," McLean said.

"I like the unobtrusive colours of it, the stunning design and especially the craftsmanship that had to go in to building those buildings. You couldn't repeat those today because the craftsmen are not here to do it."

A team of 20 carvers from the Ohinemutu Carving School, set up by Sir Apirana Ngata, produced hand-carved patterns for the moulded plaster ceilings of the heritage art deco ASB Bank in Napier.
SUPPLIED
A team of 20 carvers from the Ohinemutu Carving School, set up by Sir Apirana Ngata, produced hand-carved patterns for the moulded plaster ceilings of the heritage art deco ASB Bank in Napier.

McLean's father was a signalman on the warship Diomede, based at Devonport in Auckland, when it was ordered to sail to Napier at its "best speed" to help with the quake relief effort. 

His father, a resident of Napier, and other crew members found a city "absolutely devastated".

The building on the site in1931 was the Bank of New Zealand, that had collapsed in the earthquake and was further damaged by fire. It took three days for its vaults to cool so searchers could see if money and documents could be retrieved, McLean said.

The BNZ bank was rebuilt and BNZ occupied it for many years until ASB Bank took the lease.

Graeme McLean has owned and sold commercial property and made wine during his business life. Here he is showing international and national wine distributors and writers through one of his vineyards in Marlborough 15 years ago.
JESS PARKER
Graeme McLean has owned and sold commercial property and made wine during his business life. Here he is showing international and national wine distributors and writers through one of his vineyards in Marlborough 15 years ago.

McLean's business life has been varied. He entered commercial property selling in Auckland "as a young go-getter" and went on to own some commercial property, to co-own St Lukes Estate Wines and other vineyards in Marlborough, and to develop a large raspberry farm at West Melton in Canterbury.

In 2005 he lead a group of Marlburians on an expedition to the Auckland Islands, 230 kilometres south of Stewart Island, looking at whether they could establish a crab fishery.  They caught only three-quarters of a tonne on the voyage.

He has now sold most of his properties.

"I consider I'm in the last chapter of my life." 

The main pattern on the ASB Bank's ceiling is Kowhaiwhai - traditional red, white and black Maori patterns. Other motifs are of taiaha - spearheads - and darts, reflecting the bank's role of  protection.
SUPPLIED
The main pattern on the ASB Bank's ceiling is Kowhaiwhai - traditional red, white and black Maori patterns. Other motifs are of taiaha - spearheads - and darts, reflecting the bank's role of protection.

He has grandchildren in Christchurch in their early 20s and he would like them to eventually run the Napier building and has set up a family trust to own it.

"And I wish to see them keep it for a long, long time."  

He said the building would remain a bank. ASB's lease runs until 2023 with a six-year right of renewal.

The extensive Maori motifs on the ceiling of the building were unique, he was told by Napier City Council's heritage specialists.

The council's website describes the art deco style as "stripped classical".  The architects were Crichton, McKay & Haughton from Wellington.

ASB Bank is in the heart of Napier's art deco district on the corner of Hastings and Emerson streets.
SUPPLIED
ASB Bank is in the heart of Napier's art deco district on the corner of Hastings and Emerson streets.

Maori historian and adviser to the council, Charles Ropitini, said Sir Apirana Ngata, a prominent Maori politician and lawyer, had a close association with the building and worked behind the scenes with BNZ on its rebuild.

He brought a team of 20 carvers from the Ohinemutu Carving School, which he set up, to produce hand-carved patterns for the moulded plaster ceilings.

The main pattern is Kowhaiwhai - traditional red, white and black patterns. Other motifs were of taiaha - spearheads - and darts.

The motifs reflected that the building was a bank and depicted the bank's role of guardianship and protection, he said.

McLean bought the building from Laws Investments. The owner was as passionate as he was about the building, McLean said.

Napier's Art Deco Festival attracts thousands of visitors each year.
SIMON CARTWRIGHT
Napier's Art Deco Festival attracts thousands of visitors each year.

"That's certainly borne out by the way in which he carried out any maintenance or repair work or strengthening. He's left no stone unturned to achieve perfection. 

"I'd love to have met the man but unfortunately he passed away."

"It was valued just under $3 million and we paid close to that."

He is meeting with the council to talk about how to improve the building and what he is allowed to do considering there are restrictions on category 1 buildings. 

The sale included a smaller separate building next to the bank which could be turned into an apartment on the first floor.

"You've got to be careful you don't get away from the original materials that are there. And you've got to be mindful that you don't do something that is out of that era as well, " McLean said.

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