A historic house lived in by squatters trying to save it from demolition is now a pile of rubble.

The 106-year-old house at Memorial Drive in Hamilton East was at the centre of a public stoush between a group of people living there who believed the house should be heritage-listed, and owner Grant Griffiths who said it was not safe to inhabit.

It's thought "Mem Drive" was built in 1883 because of features consistent with that time but Heritage New Zealand and Hamilton City Council said the house was not heritage-listed.

The five-bedroom ramshackle bungalow had been a haven for unconventional lifestylers and bohemians for the past four decades.

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Students, artists, musicians, filmmakers and politicians had left their mark on the colourful house, which had a vine growing through one room and was known for its summer solstice party.

Last September Griffiths served a 90-day notice on the only legal tenant, who vacated the $1.5 million property in early January.

In February Griffiths, a property developer, asked the occupiers to leave and disconnected water, sewerage and electricity.

However the eight remaining residents, including a British traveller and a dog named Jeff, rigged up a hose with running water, salvaged a working toilet, built a fire bath outside and connected to solar power for lighting.

Ema-Rose Stewart [left] and Beth Noye lived at the Memorial Drive house where students, artists, musicians, filmmakers and politicians left their mark over the decades. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
Ema-Rose Stewart [left] and Beth Noye lived at the Memorial Drive house where students, artists, musicians, filmmakers and politicians left their mark over the decades. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

A petition on Change.Org, which drew 3274 signatures, and a Facebook page were dedicated to saving the house.

But Griffiths said the residents were squatters who were not paying rent and that the property was a fire hazard and not structurally sound after unpermitted alterations over the years.

On Monday he served the remaining residents with a trespass notice giving them 48 hours to leave.

This morning the bulldozers moved in.

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Resident Bob Sharp wrote on Facebook that the demolition trucks were at the bottom of the driveway at 6.22am.

"We informed all contractors on the site moments before they started work that they are all about to contravene the Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 (as at 2018).

"Every contractor read and/or heard that the house and site are pre-1900 and that we had evidence, which we listed. We have video evidence from multiple phones.

"What I mean to say is a very difficult truth to come to terms with - Mem has been demolished - but its community has been alive and strong, and I implore everyone to stay connected and being such cool people to be around."

Bob Sharp helped set up solar power at Mem Drive so the residents had light before the old house was demolished on Thursday. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
Bob Sharp helped set up solar power at Mem Drive so the residents had light before the old house was demolished on Thursday. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

Sharp wrote that the residents had accepted the house's fate.

"While it may be difficult to relocate the community and its spirit in its entirety, I'm glad that we can now move on and come to our own peace. It's now a new chapter for Mem, let's make it a good one."

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Griffiths said staff from Waikato Museum were on site to document and photograph the demolition but he believed nothing was salvageable in the house.

"It was rotten. It's full of borer. We found a possum in there and rats."

He claimed neighbours of the property were relieved the house was gone and Griffiths said the situation had become a burden on his family.

"The stress has been phenomenal."

He said the last tenant came to say goodbye to the house.

During the demolition, a digger struck an undocumented gas pipe, causing the evacuation of nearby Hamilton East School.

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Griffiths said he had no plans to develop the site, which also includes flats.

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