John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Christchurch earthquake: City's most valued gems lie in ruins

The Timeball Station is wrecked. Photo / Sarah Ivey
The Timeball Station is wrecked. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Christchurch lived in its heritage - grand stone buildings, many of them now shattered by the largest ground shake recorded in New Zealand.

Architect Peter Beaven had his office in the Provincial Council Chambers built in the 1850s and 1860s.

The timber and stone structure, rated a fine remnant of Victorian gothic revival architecture, was the first building in New Zealand to be protected by legislation. Today the stone chamber is in ruins.

Not far away is the Art Centre, another collection of Gothic Revival buildings that was the University of Canterbury until its faculties began moving to a new suburban campus in the 1960s.

The prefabs were cleared away and the original buildings with their archways and quadrangles have become a centre for artists, crafts, cafes and Christchurch's Court Theatre.

It is still standing and its website says it is open.

The central city's fine churches have not fared so well. The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, architecturally rated the finest of them for its originality, has lost its front.

Designed by Wellington settler-draughtsman Frank Petrie in 1899, it won high praise from a visiting George Bernard Shaw in 1934.

He thought it stood comparison with the work of the Italian renaissance master, Brunelleschi.

The better known Anglican Cathedral in the Square was central to the planned settlement in 1850, though it took 14 years for a foundation stone to be laid, a further 17 years for the nave to be built and a further 23 years for the rest to be completed.

It survived earthquakes in 1881, 1888 and 1891 with minor damage to its tower. This time the spire and entire corner section are rubble.

The same fate has struck the Knox Presbyterian Church in Bealey Ave and the Durham St Methodist Church.

All were landmarks, all were among the city's valued gems.

- NZ Herald

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