Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Historic hall and church under threat

Reverend Ngatokotoru Ine outside the historic Mt Eden Pacific Islanders Presbyterian Church. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Reverend Ngatokotoru Ine outside the historic Mt Eden Pacific Islanders Presbyterian Church. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The character suburb of Mt Eden is faced with losing another slice of history after a dangerous-building notice was issued for the 127-year-old St James Church hall.

At the same time as a team of contractors started demolishing the church college last month, the Auckland Council closed the neighbouring church hall, which is listed as a Category B historic building.

Built in 1885 as a Congregational Church, it became a hall in 1900 when a larger and grander church replaced it.

Both buildings, on the corner of View and Esplanade Rds, have served predominantly the Cook Islands community as a Presbyterian church since the 1970s.

An inspection by a heritage architect last month found a roof truss showing signs of movement and rotting timbers around the unreinforced concrete/masonry walls of the hall, raising the potential of "catastrophic failure of the walls".

On April 20, the council issued the dangerous-building notice and the hall was closed and fenced off.

This came as demolition started next door on a two-storey wooden building dating around 1900, which was the first Congregational College in New Zealand.

The property at 16 View Rd is being cleared for housing. Its owner also bought the neighbouring property at No 18 and removed an old villa from the site to build two houses.

Ngatokotoru Ine, the parish priest for the Pacific Islanders' Presbyterian Church, and deacon Eli Elikana said the parish wanted to save the hall but was not able to pay for major repairs.

They said the parish had done what it could to maintain the two buildings but they had continued to deteriorate. The cost of repairs will not be known until an engineer's report is completed.

Mr Elikana said the church was not in danger "at the moment", but water was seeping through the corrugated iron roof and damaging some internal wooden panels and original paintwork.

The inside of the church is virtually unchanged from 1900, with its original wooden pulpit, pews, organ, stained-glass windows, sloped floor and red, pink and green paintwork.

Artist Stanley Palmer, who lives near the church and lamented the loss of the church college in the Herald last month, said the hall and church had to be preserved.

"The buildings and their interiors are part of our New Zealand history," said the artist, who helped to save the Mt Eden Methodist Church and hall.

The principal heritage adviser for the central city, George Farrant, said the fact the hall was built as a church and became a hall when the parish became a bit more flush and built a bigger church was a neat little bit of history.

So, too, was the location in a suburban area at the foot of Mt Eden.

"Churches are a nightmare in terms of heritage, with dwindling attendances and financial resources and ageing buildings of some significant history," he said.

He held out little hope for immediate council funding to save the hall, saying a $50,000 former Auckland City Council fund to help owners with repairs to old properties was empty.

The council had a $10.3 million Built Heritage Protection Fund, but this was for buying, restoring and selling heritage buildings.

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