Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is the Property editor of the NZ Herald

Film-makers' capital chapel now stronger than ever

Our Lady Star of the Sea Convent Chapel
Our Lady Star of the Sea Convent Chapel

Call it Grand Designs, Wellywood-style.

Film-makers Sir Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh have refurbished a former Catholic chapel in Wellington, which was closed in 2002 due to earthquake concerns.

The Our Lady Star of the Sea Convent Chapel, built in 1924, is perched on the hillside overlooking Seatoun. It has so much new steel and concrete that it is now up to 100 per cent of the building code, project manager Vince Visser told the Historic Places Trust's Heritage magazine.

Jackson and Walsh, who also own a Wairarapa mansion, bought the property in 2007. Now the chapel is restored, it appears more like a function centre than a church. The trust lists the chapel as vacant and the magazine feature said all but one row of pews was removed.

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh
Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh

A new interior photograph shows statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart, the altar, ornate marble screen behind containing the tabernacle and the Stations of the Cross have also been removed. Former parish priest Monsignor John Cardes was disappointed the items had been taken out but said the film-makers had saved the place from an intensive residential scheme.

Alison Dangerfield, trust architecture heritage adviser, this week described the renovation work as extremely impressive.

"They had a conservation approach, looking at the building, why it was important and why it is important and taking measures to retain those elements that make the place important," she said.

Ken Healy, of Auckland-based heritage building investors Phillimore Properties, said bringing older buildings up to 100 per cent of the building code was a huge challenge for any property owner.

Wellington building owners were often keen to bring structures up to the highest possible seismic rating but such work was expensive and often complicated, he said.

The Historic Places Trust says the Seatoun chapel by architect Frederick de Jersey Clere was significant for its historical association with the Sisters of Mercy and the Seatoun area and for how it was designed to work with the steep terrain.

- NZ Herald

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