Dr Anna Crighton Chair of the Christchurch Heritage Trust and Founding President of Historic Places Aotearoa has generously provided the text for the Op-Ed that appeared in the Press print and online. (18th October 2017)
The text is as follows:
"Saving heritage buildings can be a win for owners and the public alike"
The imperative for the rescue of a historic building is reliant on one significant aspect – a willing owner. Despite the destruction of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes followed by CERA’s ‘scorched earth’ policy, there were determined and diligent building owners who successfully proceeded with their restoration plans despite the government’s blue print parameters. It is fortunate that some of the most noteworthy heritage buildings in the central city had visionary leaders who saw the benefits in repairing their buildings during the recovery period. The Arts Centre of Christchurch, Christ’s College, the Heritage Hotel (Old Government Buildings), the Canterbury Club, Knox Church and the Isaac Theatre Royal to name a few. The Press stated in its Editorial of 21 February 2015 ‘The privately-funded labour of love that has returned the Isaac Theatre Royal to us in this past year has done more for central city vibrancy, so far, than has come out of the blueprint’.
There are challenges in preserving damaged historic buildings - in securing insurance, raising finance and rebuilding public confidence in the safety of older buildings but despite these challenges there are owners prepared to realise the opportunities behind historic preservation. A stand-out example of a willing owner is the Catholic Diocese and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, regarded as one of the finest examples of church architecture in Australasia. The Diocese did everything right according to international best practice – removed the two bell towers at the front which had collapsed destabilising the dome, catalogued and stacked heritage fabric and stone ready for reuse and shored up and weather proofed the remaining structure. Then quietly, without controversy, and taking time to decide the future of the building, the Diocese believes it can now save the largely undamaged nave and progressively build back other parts over time.
The Christchurch Heritage Trust (CHT) took the step to save, not one, but two central city Heritage New Zealand Category 1 listed buildings – the former Trinity Congregational Church (Trinity), 1875, from demolition and Shand’s, circa 1860 from exile. For the earthquake strengthening of Trinity the CHT invested in innovative successful techniques from Italy, techniques used for the first time in New Zealand. These techniques for unreinforced masonry saved time and money as well as retaining the integrity of the original fabric. It is now known that Kate Sheppard taught Sunday School and worshipped in Trinity and Henry Nicholas, Canterbury’s only Victoria Cross recipient from the first world war, also worshipped there. Shand’s is the oldest wooden commercial building left in the central city and is typical of early buildings from colonisation times. This quirky landmark now stands next to Trinity in Manchester Street with its memorable green and red livery and shingled roof.
The same vision is echoed by the owners of the recently purchased Public Trust and Midland Club (aka Caffe Roma) buildings. Owners Box 112 have the courage to tackle the restoration of these larger projects from the success gained from smaller characterful commercial projects such as ‘The Anchorage’ in Walker Street. Realising the same philosophy, to understand the bones and value of a building, their belief that existing structures form knowledge of the city’s identity explains their drive for restoration and repurposing. ‘A huge amount of faith and experience for what, for most people is a terrifying and lonely experience’, said Box 112 co-owner Sam Rofe, ‘is repaid through the overwhelming feeling that it is time for the vandalism to end. We can lament the past but can now save what’s left’.
Art Deco style ‘Kensington House’, a modest human scale character building, holds the line in Manchester Street. Now a distinctive building it stands alone in a desert in Manchester Street. Co-owner Shaun Stockman said it is a building ‘you didn’t notice’ pre-earthquake but it has a colourful history and deserved to be saved’. It has been repaired to 100% code and is now fully tenanted by small businesses.
The Christchurch City Council, Heritage New Zealand and the New Zealand Lottery Board provide incentive grants for heritage rescue. Investment in cultural heritage preservation through these heritage incentive grants provides a lifeline for heritage retention. This investment goes straight back into the local economy. Economic benefits of conserving our most threatened type of cultural heritage include central city revitalisation (without requiring large-scale new developments), heritage tourism and small business incubation.
The rescue of historic and character buildings is imperative because of their human scale, they add interest to the streetscape and offer affordable rents thus attracting small business back into the city centre. They are about people, place and time and are a signpost that leads us from the past into the future.
Dr Anna Crighton is a heritage property owner and an art and architectural historian who is widely known as a staunch advocate for heritage and cultural values. She is Chair of the Christchurch Heritage Trust and completed her Doctorate in 2012.