Monthly Archives: December 2011

Change just keeps on keeping on …

Change is the only constant at times and Cuba St has seen an awful lot in its time.

Ernesto café has closed, so has Muchener Burger another long standing Cuba St institution. I hear that Ernesto will be reopening in the vacated burger joints building after some renovations are completed. At least one of the locals is only moving not leaving.

Ernesto was located in the HB clothing factory building on the corner of Cuba and Guzznee Street. The building was orange stickered by council in October 2011 and will be re-strengthened in the next few months. The HB clothing factory was established in the late 1880,s the HB stands for Hallenstiens Brothers  they had store’s throughout the country. I think it is a shame that the building has had its leadlight windows removed,  as these where a visual references to its past and a reminder of our cities commercial beginnings.

In the 60’s and 70’s a shop located in this same building was Crazy Ricks. I knew the shop well in my youth as my theatrical buddy Phil Gordon’s dad Rick owned the store. We frequented the shop often after school before heading up the road to where they lived, a flat above another shop at the top of the street.  My school bag was a canvas army surplus one, just a small example of NZ military remnants available to buy at Crazy Ricks. The store was full of all sorts of products, sunglasses, key rings, tin canteens, torches, camping gear etc. The store was also full of things made in Japan and Korea and cheaper than those available in the department stores of the day.  Rick was before his time when it came to Asian imports and another of the memorable characters now gone from the street forever.

Mucheners which also closed before Christmas was an institution for those in need of a burger having been in the street for 30 years. The burgers where created with good meat, spices and dedication and care for their customers. Even though I wasn’t familiar with the delights of this establishment, I know many people who talk of it fondly. The place will be missed by many particularly after a drinking session in the Street.

Change is inevitable, but I hope that some of our built heritage is left, as it is an important part of the character of our city.

Articles about this recent change can be found at


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Images; Cuba St Creatives Tout Their Wares

Theres nothing like a beautiful day in Wellington. Cuba Mall was full of Christmas shoppers and students looking for entertainment and prezzys, they where rewarded with a number of colourful creatives touting their ware’s.


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Prone to Earthquakes

Anyone living in Wellington knows about earthquakes.  I have grown up in fear of how the ground can rock ‘n’ roll making the buildings I stand in shudder. Within minutes, I am known to quote my estimation of its size, depth and location. Had I been a resident of Christchurch, I would have left town as quickly as I could.

In 1848 the new residents of Wellington where rocked by a large 7.1 quake that knocked down over 70 buildings made of brick and sod. This was the majority of the townships’ buildings. One family of 3 died, crushed by bricks. Quakes continued to rattle the city for over a week. After this quake, a number of people left the city and moved into the regions, onto the Kapiti coast and into the Wairarapa. As timber buildings had withstood this large quake, the settlers rebuilt the town in timber and it wasn’t till the 1870’s that large masonry buildings started to be constructed.

The large earthquake of 1855 estimated to be an 8.2, shook the towns wooden buildings violently; tumbling only chimneys. Most buildings withstood the shake because of their flexibility. The swamp at the Te Aro Pa and the swamp and lake in the Cambridge Terrace  and Basin area were all drained of water. This land emergence greatly affected the residents of Te Aro. The Maori from the local Pa left soon after as their garden areas had disappeared.

The land had risen by between 1 & 1.5 meters around the city shoreline. But out in Petone  land rose by up to 2 meters. As most of the buildings were constructed of wood only 1 person died in the township when his brick house fell on him. Cuba St was extended with more flat land as where other parts of the township. Wharves needed to be extended and this was the beginning of numerous reclamations that gave the locals more flat land to build on.

Today,  53 buildings in Cuba St have been identified as being potentially prone to earthquakes and 16 have had notice served from the council . This notice means that the owners have to strengthen the buildings in the next 10 years. Some of these buildings are so vulnerable that the landlords are required to strengthen or demolish the building in a shorter time frame.

With this situation the architectural fabric of the street will change radically over the next decade. Many landlords will deem it too expensive to strengthen the buildings and decide to demolish and rebuild. Let’s hope these landlords can afford good architects to design new apartments, office spaces and shops so the new look will emerge with positive modernisation. Landlords who decide to retain the original structures will incur high costs; either way it will mean rents will skyrocket.

Who will be able to afford these rents? Small boutique shops and cafes are so much a part of the current character of the street. These businesses will find it difficult to pay high rents. High St chain stores could well afford it, but Wellington does not seem large enough to have more retail outlets of this type. Lambton Quay businesses find it hard enough now.

People have the right to be safe in the buildings they rent from landlords. Will more people be moving their premises out of Cuba Street?  After the recent large quake felt in November, Weltec who have classrooms in the Old Working Mans Club in the mall, decided to end the term early and none of their students or teachers are allowed back in the building. I suspect they are on the lookout for new space before the next term starts.

Park, Robert, 1812-1870. [Park, Robert] 1812-1870. Attributed works :[Sketches showing the damage to buildings sustained in the 1848 Wellington earthquake] 1848. An account of the earthquakes in New Zealand. Extracted from the New South Wales sporting and literary magazine and racing calendar. (Sydney, Printed by D. Wall, 1848). Ref: PUBL-0050-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


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A shopping street from day one

Cuba St has been  a place to shop right from its beginning. The first trading post was built in 1841, near the corner of Manners St and Cuba St.  Captain Rhodes built a whole complex, home, shop and warehouse and the very first wharf in Te Aro. The locals could use the wharf free of charge. Well he must have been an interesting character. Being a ship’s captain he was knowledgable about getting supplies for the shop and by allowing the people to use the wharf he was a savvy shopkeeper and developed a following of loyal client’s.

By the 1870’s there where shops up the whole street, which at that time started at Manners St. The butcher the baker and the candlestick maker could all be found offering services to the hardy settlers.

Dress shops didn’t so much as sell the ready-made dresses that we require today, but they did supply the bolts of fabric, cotton and thread required for the good woman of  Wellington to make the dress they wanted. Mind you so much fabric required! just think of how many hours of labour it would take to produce that layered look of skirt.

If you didn’t have a bloke with a horse and cart, it was more than likely you owned only two or three dresses and would have to of maneuvered yourself about in the dirt of Cuba St ( that would turn to mud in a flash when it rained) being careful not to drag your hem in the mud. Oh the stress of it all, the washing took forever, and if you lived up Cuba St or near about in Te Aro you where probably working in a Thorndon household, doing the lady of the house washing.

By the 1870’s. retailers that are still with us today including Kirkaldies and Stains had opened a branch in Cuba St. The first James Smiths was located in Te Aro House so those ladies with a few extra pennies, could buy that special best dress and attend the occasional social function.

Te Aro House soon to be demolished,  this is what remains of the 3rd building built on this site called Te Aro House image below. The original drapery store built 1840 a wooden building then James Smiths constructed another store in 1888.

James Smith’s shop, Te Aro House, corner of Cuba and Dixon Streets, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-003732-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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The Roots of Cuba St

In my first post I posed the question, what is the future of Cuba St?  For me answering this question involves understanding its past a little better. people, history and buildings being subjects that interest me.

I have been cruising the Turnbull library online, what a great place for researchers and I think money well spent from our nations cultural budget. Years ago I wanted to find out about a house we bought on the Terrace which was built in the 1890’s. I ventured into a small 3rd floor room in the central city and was allowed to pull out numerous old wooden draws full of black and white photographs, fascinating early records of our city. That was a great tactile experience, but looking online is so much quicker!  The  library is now merged with the National library, currently undergoing  a massive rebuild, more money well spent. Though I imagine that will be the last this institution will see of tax payers dollars for a while. The accessing of original records in the future I imagine will be surrounded in more archivist procedure, involving white gloves, paperwork and time getting the originals out from storage.

I have been into another of our city’s great buildings the city library, skimming through a few books written about the city and enjoying my enlightenment. Anyone would think I was getting all academic, but I don’t think I could cope with the formal structure or the fee’s an institution would charge me. I am engaging in more of a stroll through Cuba Streets history, looking for info on the people who built the buildings and the residents and business people who lived and worked there, how the street came to have the character it does today.

Back in 1840 the surveyors off the Cuba had a plan, it was drawn up in England, 1,100 plots to be balloted, but of course it didn’t fit!  Drawn up in a square with the assumption that it was flat, drawn was also a river running through the middle, supposed to be a wide slow flowing navigable one. But in reality the land was steep  with a small amount of flat land leading into the harbour. The large hill ( the Terrace ) and a ravine with a stream separated the two areas, the plots were squeezed into Thorndon and the Te Aro flat area which was much larger . This was the beginning of that distinctive juxtaposition of the two ends of town, that  still exists in Wellington today.

Thorndon flats was described as the aristocratic end of town and Te Aro flats the more democratic community end. Where Stewart Dawson corner is now, was known as Windy Point, this point pre reclamations was the dividing line between the  two community’s. It is noted that the boys from schools at either end of town, would challenge each other to fist fights at Windy Point. Funny that, I have always considered Willis St to be a dividing line between the Suits and the Bohemians. However the gentrification does seem to be moving at a rapid speed up towards Te Aro with Cuba St and its character being part of the attraction.

Bellow courtesy of the Turnbull library Windy Point is that large rock jutting out on the left.

Barraud, Charles Decimus, 1822-1897Chapman, Frederick Revans (Sir), 1849-1936. Barraud, Charles Decimus 1822-1897 :[Te Aro and Thorndon] 1852. Ref: C-007-007. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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Cuba from a ship to a street

My interest in Cuba St starts at its beginning, which is not that long ago when you consider the age of some streets in Europe.

In November 1839 The New Zealand Company arrived in Wellington harbour with Englishman Colonel William Wakefield the skipper of the ship Tory, Wakefield was a member of a property developing family, involved in the establishment of settlements throughout NZ and Australia.  One other ship accompanied him, the Cuba, on board where a bunch of land surveyors. Local whaler and trader Dicky Barrett ( remember Barrett’s Hotel on Lambton Quay? Gone now, I used to pull pints there in my student days) Dicky translated for Wakefield  and a huge parcel of land stretching for miles around the harbour and up the Hutt Valley was bought from local Maori. This included land owned by Maori  from Pito-one  and Te Aro Pa’s. There where about 1,500 Maori living in the region in a number of Pa’s positioned around the harbour. These initial purchases became embroiled in controversy with some issues only now being rectified through the Waitangi Tribunal.

All this initial land was purchased for the princely sum of $350 pounds worth of goods no cash just white mens idea of what the locals might want. the goods traded included red nightcaps, (picture that, the local iwi wearing cozy night caps!) blankets, soap, guns and ammunition, possibly some of this trade was useful, though it was commented on by circles back in England that the price paid to local Maori was a good buy! Just a few months later the Treaty of Waitangi was signed which stopped the NZ company in its tracks and made it illegal for Maori to sell their land to anyone other than the Crown. Whether this improved the price paid for their land is debatable.

Cuba St 1852 right side of painting Te Aro Pa to the far right

Barraud, Charles Decimus, 1822-1897. Barraud, Charles Decimus 1822-1897 :[Wellington from Brooklyn, 1852]. Ref: C-007-011. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Te Aro Pa was on the waterfront located near what is now the bottom end of Cuba St. The Cuba boat load of surveyors carrying guns, took to their work with gusto, driving wooden survey pegs into the ground around the Pa and through their vegetable gardens. The local Maori where in disbelief that their land was being taken over and skirmishes occurred. It seems the chef that did the deal  sold more than his own whanau’s land and included some of his neighbours as well.

Just a few weeks after the purchase in 1839 nine boat loads of immigrants arrived Febuary 1840; These boats names are forever part of our city  as Wellington Street names. The immigrants where eager to purchase land from the New Zealand Company as they had been enticed by the marketing hype back in the UK. The spin doctors of the NZ company boasted that the land in the new Colony post of Wellington had undulating plains suitable for growing grapevines, olives and wheat. A different reality all together really, a case of false advertising I reckon.

The history of the initial settlement of Wellington is full of stories about the wrongs of the settlers and the miss understandings with the local iwi  and continues to be disputed to this day. It’s a complex issue and as I am no expert I wont go into it to deeply, I just wanted to paint the picture of how Cuba St came to be.


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The future of Cuba St Wellington

In February of this year the citizens of Christchurch were shaken to the core, their  city centre was in ruins and many lives were lost. The historical buildings that made up a large part of the city’s character where now just rubble.

After getting over the shock that this was happening in my country, to a city I knew so well, I started to realise that it could easily have been my city the character city of Wellington lying in ruin. It has always been thought that Wellington would be the city that would experience the big quake, a conversation I have heard all my life.

As the country faces the reality of the loss of so many lives and the continuing financial burden for our citizens, many conversations are centering around the state of our buildings, modern and historical. Wellington has many old buildings dating from the late 1800’s that are built of un-reinforced masonry similar to the many buildings that collapsed in Christchurch.

Our local council has reacted as only a council does and bought forward  time frames for buildings deemed as earthquake prone to be either restrengthened or demolished. This is necessary for the safety of people, however this will mean that parts of our city will change dramatically over the next decade.

Cuba St is considered to be the creative capitals arterial vein. The people, buildings and urban community that is Cuba St is Bohemian. A street of cafes, bars, secondhand clothing stores, galleries, jewellers, shops and residential units. This historical street will be hugely effected by the demolition and refurbishment of the many earthquake prone buildings lining its straight but bent street.

The prospect of  the change that will occur in Cuba St during the next few years and my life long relationship with the street has inspired me to acknowledge its past through historical reasearch, photography, interviews and writing, starting with this blog. I want to encourage others to share their stories of the street as well as to consider its future.

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