Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Queens Head horror too awful to destroy

The Queens Head. File photo / Richard Robinson
The Queens Head. File photo / Richard Robinson

Lest we forget! As a reminder to future generations of the awful destruction that occurred during World War II, the occasional landmark ruin was left unrestored, as a place of reflection. The Hiroshima Dome and a tower of old Coventry Cathedral spring to mind.

In Auckland, it hasn't been the night-flying bombers that obliterated the historic fabric of the city, but the local property developers.

Now, a quarter of a century after all but the facade of the century-old Queens Head Tavern opposite the Town Hall was bowled to make way for a glass tower, there are plans to remove these last vestiges of the old pub.

The new developers, led by former shareholders advocate Bruce Sheppard and Greg Rathbun, want to destroy the remaining facade and convert the ground level of the tower block into an "international-quality arcade" of 42 individually owned "freehold" shops.

Bayleys Real Estate says the "ugly duckling of Auckland's 80s facadism ... will make way for a revitalised retail frontage".

"Ugly duckling", is putting it lightly. Stuck to a slab with no relationship to the new building behind, the Queens Head facade was the worst/best example of the depths Auckland's architects and developers were - and still are - willing to plumb to make a buck.

The Bayleys' statement tries to make out facadism was a 1980s aberration.

If only that were true. But a stroll down Queen St to Shortland St - where the outer skin of of the old Jean Batten State Building is oddly transplanted onto the backside of a new glass tower - shows facadism is still alive and kicking and even winning prizes. Last year, the local Institute of Architects awarded this Frankenstein of a building its heritage award. Only in Auckland.

Which is why the Queens Head abomination should be made to stay, as a mute and permanent reminder to the city authorities across the road, and to the rest of us, of how low our property developers and their handmaidens are willing to go.

In 1986, the Mayfair Corporation and Angus Group applied to bowl the Queens Head Tavern building and replace it with a 20-storey tower. The pub had a Historic Places Trust heritage listing, but no listing on Auckland City's register.

The developers, all heart, offered to retain the facade if the city let the new building rise two storeys higher than planning regulations permitted.

Faced with more than 700 objections and threats by protesters to pursue the issue through the courts, the developers withdrew their request for bonus floors and began the demolition.

As a peace offering, they offered to retain the facade anyway.

No doubt it could be argued that 25 is a bit young to qualify anything for heritage listing.

But there's surely a case for arguing this ruin is such a stand-out exemplar of facadism that it deserves to be preserved, not just as a warning to younger generations but also as a lasting embarrassment to those responsible.

Historic Places Trust architectural heritage adviser Robin Byron met Andrew Krukzeiner and other representatives of the redevelopment team three weeks ago, in an attempt to persuade them to retain the facade and better integrate it with the remodelled interior.

The ball is now in the trust's hands. As the facade is registered by the trust, it can, under the Resource Management Act, insist on a notified hearing before the Auckland Council.

That could lead to delays the developers might not welcome.

Ms Byron says the trust believes the Queens Head remnant does carry "some historic memory of the Queens Head and its contribution to Auckland social history".

To me, it also stands as a stark reminder of what dreadful things Aucklanders can do to their heritage.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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