Saving Christchurch's landmark Shand's Emporium
Shand's Emporium – ye olde curiosity shoppe, formerly of 88 Hereford St and the oldest wooden commercial building in Christchurch – is to remain in town. Saved, finally.
It was touch and go for a while. There were all sorts of plans afoot. In the 1970s, the New Zealand Post Office planned to demolish it to make way for a telephone exchange, but a petition signed by several thousand people prompted a rethink, and that manoeuvre was halted.
In the days before the Great Shaking took the city apart, Shand's was a quirky landmark, standing among brutalist tower blocks and stone buildings on the block between Colombo St and the river.
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After the destruction, there was talk that Shand's was to be relocated to Redcliffs or to Ferrymead Heritage Park, but the old girl, in her steam-engine green livery with scarlet trim, built in the middle of the 1800s, had such a close relationship with the central city it would have been a shame to be exiled.
Many Cantabrians have fond memories of browsing the curios in the window or stepping inside to negotiate for an antique watch or a piece of chinoiserie. Others trod the cranky stairs to seek a vintage clothing bargain at Tete-a-Tete or to look through the secondhand books across the hallway.
There's something about the building that evokes a special fondness in people's memories. The memories of Vanessa Hardy and her partner, Warren Chilton, the last owners of Tete-a-Tete vintage wares, are tinged with sadness. Now trading as Two Squirrels Vintage in Dunedin, Vanessa and Warren bought the shop in 2005 and were there in February 2011.
For Vanessa, a long-time collector of vintage clothing and loyal customer of the previous owner, it was her dream shop and location, her "little secret at the top of the stairs".
"It was a dream come true for me, for us to have that little shop," she says. "There was a sense of taking that next chapter in the history of Shand's Emporium, because everybody knew it.
"I met so many beautiful people. I always think it was a place where people came and they felt safe. There was a sort of sense of coming home. Lots of people used to come in and say it was their happy place."
Three people had owned Tete-a-Tete over a couple of decades, "before I lost it on my watch", she says.
"Warren was in there and was thrown around like a rag doll. I was on the street and expecting to come around the corner and she'd be gone, but she was determined to protect those inside. She stood up incredibly well."
Shand's was always a somewhat eccentric reminder of the city's colonial past. It was built in either 1851 or 1860 (records of the time conflict) by John Shand, a cotton broker from Liverpool, England and man about town, prominent in racing circles and in politics. The building housed lawyers' offices through the years and a jeweller and watchmaker, who probably installed the street-front plate-glass window for his displays, in the 1930s. It reopened with a flourish in March 1977 as Shand's Emporium. Listed as a Category 1 edifice by both Heritage New Zealand and the Christchurch City Council, it is deemed to be of prime importance and worthy of saving.
Since the 1940s, the Gough family had owned the building. Developer Antony Gough, of Hereford Holdings, has a particular fondness for the old girl and, despite urging from his insurers, did not want to demolish it. He shored it up after the quakes and moved it out of the way of his inner-city developments, and then, in June 2015, sold it for a mere penn'orth – a $1 gold coin – to Dr Anna Crighton on behalf of the Christchurch Heritage Trust.
As he told The Press at the time: "This is a great result for this building and for heritage in general. It's a tremendously positive thing for Christchurch; I can't think of a better solution."
Anna, the trust chairwoman, and Antony were both there in the early hours to watch when Shand's was craned up and over the tram lines and wires at the barn dance on Colombo, Hereford and High streets. Now, it waits around the corner on Manchester St beside the Benjamin Mountfort-designed Gothic Revival building that was originally the Trinity Congregational Church and more recently the Octagon.
The trust is restoring both Shand's and Trinity to their original character. An annex is being added to house a commercial kitchen, toilets, and showers on the ground floor to service the tenants of both buildings and the public, with a smaller first-floor kitchen, toilets and meeting rooms for Shand's future tenants. A covered glass walkway will give access from Shand's to Trinity.
Shand's makeover is expected to cost about $500,000 (partly funded by grants and with a generous pro bono supply of products) and to be completed within a few months.
The old dame was built in the style and materials of the time, with most of its wooden components – weatherboards, floorboards, doors, staircase, mantelpiece and so on – made from kauri. Its chimney and lean-to comprised bricks possibly brought out from England or Australia as ship's ballast and the original Tasmanian shingles were replaced later with corrugated iron roofing. When built, it replicated the style of others around, but a century on, it looked decidedly fragile among its sturdier neighbours.
"It stood out like a sore toe in Hereford St because it was so cute and so small," Anna says. "And the attractiveness of the window – the curios and everything in it – attracted you to it. It's a very compelling building.
"I loved going up to the secondhand bookshop, where you stumbled over boxes of books before you even got in there. Everything was sort of quaint and atmospheric."
In looking for tenants, the trust's first thought was to offer it to lawyers, who were the building's earliest tenants.
"Maybe two or three solo-practice lawyers with a receptionist would fit in there very well," Anna says. "Or there's always going back to what everyone remembers: the bric-a-brac, the curios and what-have-you.
"Personally, I don't want to see another cafe in there; I think it deserves better."
Plenty of people who love the old building signed petitions or agitated over the years to make sure that it lived on to tell more tales. To Vanessa, formerly of Tete-a-Tete, the building has its own strong, indomitable character.
"After the previous earthquakes, she took a big hammering on February 22. She shook like you wouldn't believe. It always amazed me how she still stood.
"I'm pleased they didn't pull her down," Vanessa says. "I think she needed to stay. I would like to see her restored. That would be amazing."