Property editor of the NZ Herald

Ponsonby heritage building sold to top investor

The old Ponsonby Post Office. Photo / File
The old Ponsonby Post Office. Photo / File

The man who set last year's New Zealand house price record has bought a Ponsonby heritage building.

Active Auckland-based property investor Ben Cook of Cook Property has bought the former Ponsonby Post Office at 1-3 St Marys Bay Rd.

Last year, Cook paid $24 million for the large, modern Herne Bay house built by John and Rose Dunn, with its own helicopter pad on the roof.

That sale, by agent Graham Wall, was the top residential price recorded in 2015.

Cook has confirmed his latest property investment deal.

"I've purchased the old Ponsonby Post office. The ground floor has been leased to one of Ponsonby's top restauranteurs and will re-open as a European bar and brassiere at the end of the year," Cook told the Herald.

His company's web site tells more.

"The old Ponsonby Post office is a iconic heritage building in Auckland's most dynamic suburban retail location.

"Featuring 300sq m of prime ground floor retail and 300sq m of character office space the ground floor is leased long term to a leading hospitality operator and medical specialist," Cook Property says.

Last year, the Herald reported how the Ponsonby Post Office was for sale with a CV of $4.7 million but had changed hands in 2013 for $4.86 million.

The 651sq m character building was linked to the 1920 murder of Ponsonby's postmaster Augustus Edward Braithwaite. Dennis Gunn, 25, murdered Braithwaite in his home, took his keys and ransacked the Post Office strongroom. He was identified by fingerprint evidence on cash boxes and a recently fired revolver, the Herald reported.

It was the first time in the British Empire that the prosecution sought a conviction for a capital crime based almost entirely on fingerprint evidence. Gunn was found guilty at the Auckland Supreme Court two months later and hanged.

The building has been home to the Belgian Beer Cafe and the Skin Institute. QV records listed David Hough and Katrina Glazebrook as the owners last year.

The market is rewarding owners of heritage buildings who are innovative in their conversions - market conditions make it a good time to add value to existing structures.

It was pitched as an opportunity for hospitality operators, investors and developers, with the potential to run a restaurant and bar or build high-spec residential apartments offering views of the city and harbour.

The property has a historic listing preventing alteration to the exterior, but the interior could be converted.

Harcourts agent Tim Turner said at the time that there had been solid interest.

"The market is rewarding owners of heritage buildings who are innovative in their conversions - market conditions make it a good time to add value to existing structures," Turner told the Herald.

Heritage NZ says Post Office was built by L McKinstry for £3700 (NZ$6780).

Ponsonby is one of the best preserved and most heavily ornamented suburban Post Offices in New Zealand.

"The clock was added in 1913 and the clock tower was heightened by 10 feet from what was originally planned to augment the building's prominent site. Half the cost of the clock was contributed by Ponsonby residents. The building has been an important public facility in the area for 75 years and is highly regarded by local residents," it said.

"Ponsonby is one of the best preserved and most heavily ornamented suburban Post Offices in New Zealand. It has been described as being somewhat ill-proportioned, but its elaborate Neo-Baroque decoration and prominent, elevated site make it a building of considerable architectural significance.

"With its tower and elevated site the Ponsonby Post Office acts as a landmark in the Three Lamps area of Ponsonby. The building also forms an integral part of a precinct of historic buildings including the Leys Institute and the former Ponsonby Fire Station nearby," Heritage NZ says.

Cook Property has a big portfolio which also includes the ornate, historic Blacketts Building at the Queen St/Shortland St intersection. Retailer Florsheim Shoes leases ground floor space in that building at 86-92 Queen St.

The top floor of the historic South British Insurance Building at the intersection of High St and Shortland St is Cook Property's head office.

- NZ Herald

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