Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Concern over unmarked graves halts auction of old church

St Pauls Church. Photo / Supplied
St Pauls Church. Photo / Supplied

Plans to sell a Devonport church with a graveyard have been scuttled after locals objected to the cemetery's sale.

Harcourts Takapuna has withdrawn St Paul's Presbyterian Church from sale and an auction sign in front of the graveyard has been pulled down.

The congregation of the 1917 church at 100a Victoria Rd was dissolved two years ago after a bitter dispute so the property was advertised for sale.

The property was to be auctioned this month but Claudia Page of Devonport Heritage called Historic Places Trust in and said photographs of the half-built church found at Devonport Library had revealed unmarked graves around the back of the church.

"There were certainly graves up to about a metre of the side wall of the church and they are now clearly marked with blue paint. There are probably no graves underneath it but near enough that any boundary would be very close to the graves," she said.

The Burials and Cremation Act made it illegal to sell a graveyard without Ministry of Health clearance, she said. Geophysical surveys were needed to locate graves.

Harcourts is hoping the property can go back on the market soon and Mrs Page expected that to happen but for only the church and hall to go up for auction. The graveyard might be gifted to Auckland Council.

"For me it was about being very clear about finding out what was underneath," said Mrs Page, who had written to the church trustees and Historic Places Trust about the sale. Harcourts had advertised the property for many weeks.

"Reigning supreme at the doorstep of Devonport, on the warm northern slope of Mt Victoria, this beautiful landmark property is available on the open market for the first time ever.

"The church, the adjacent hall and the 4629sq m parcel of land on which they sit might be the answer to your prayers," Harcourts said.

The church was designed by Edward Bartley in the arts and crafts style, with a steep roof, textural brickwork and buttresses, rounded arches, symmetrical composition and decorative arcading.

It has kauri floors, wall panelling and pews, a pulpit, marble font, vaulted ceilings, leadlight windows and feature window of stained glass.

"The church hall has been rented out to various community groups, includes a full catering kitchen, with a proscenium stage ideal for live theatre and music shows. Views from the upper storey span across the rooftops to Ngataringa Bay, Takapuna and beyond," Harcourts said.

"While this absolutely unique property may be taken up by another church group and remain a place of worship, it would make a superb restaurant or function venue. But it could equally be converted into an original and imaginative living space - a heavenly home," the agency said.

- NZ Herald

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