Category Archives: The Inspiration


The Cuba St Project on the street for Fringe 2013

Today is a very auspicious day at 12 noon on the 12/12/2012 The Fringe Festival 2013 will launch its programme.

I am very pleased to announce that The Cuba ST Project will be participating in the Fringe and coming to the street from the 15th February to the 8th March 2013.

I have been busy researching more photographs and stories from the streets past that I shall be sharing with everyone during the Fringe.

I have also been meeting with current business owners in the street to gain their support. I am thrilled that 13 businesses throughout the street with be participating in this free event. Students from the Victoria University Architectural School are also going to be involved.

It is also fantastic that the Wellington City Council Creative Communities panel have allocated some funds to assist with bringing this project to the street and the Cuba St community.

I shall be updating this site with more information about bridging this project from cyber space to the street.

If you know anyone who could be interested in this event, please encourage them to sign up to the blog site so they can become involved.

All hail the Fringe participants for 2013.


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Matterhorn Time Warp

I am old enough to remember the Matterhorn as a trendy coffee-house of  the 70’s.  Suzies in Willis St was another also run by a European immigrant, it was this generation of immigrants who introduced the coffee culture to Wellington.

The Matterhorn coffee-house was opened in the 60’s by a Swiss German couple, whose names have disappeared from my memory bank. The fact I can’t remember their names is a concern, as they were my bosses in the early 70’s. I worked for them on a Friday after school for a couple of years. Late night shopping on a Friday used to bring hoards of people into the city for that after work retail experience, this is pre-weekend opening.

This couple where the archetype of a business marriage they worked hard and had high standards and expectations of their staff. Waitresses had to wear a uniform, not just a skirt and blouse, but the full maids outfit! A milk chocolate-brown dress with a bodice and full knee-length skirt gathered at the waist, a white short sleeve puff shirt and to top it off a starched white ruffle fringed apron. Maid fantasies must have been on the minds of many a male patron, not that I was aware of that possibility in my naïve teens. I do remember many of the older European immigrants who came to the café the women dressed in their finest cashmere coats, hats with plumage, white gloves and handbags that snapped shut after the pennies were exchanged.

The menu was reflective of its time and pandered to the NZ palate. Not only did the sausage roll’s fill the pie warmer but you could have mince on toast and toasted sandwiches with a number combinations, ham, cheese and tomato being a favourite. They did manage to slip in a few European specialities’ frankfurters with potato salad and iced coffee and chocolate were popular.

I am not certain but I think they may have owned the building or had elements constructed for them? The facade above the street veranda is a superb example of branding from the era. Funny not a lot of people have noticed this feature. The other famous element of the establishment was the large black and white photograph of the Matterhorn Mountain the image dominated the seating area that was encased by a Swiss style veranda as you entered the coffee-house. And of course the famous outdoor seating area at the rear of the building, it was a lovely place to sit with your cuppa, have a fag and feed the sparrow population.

Forty years later it’s great to see such a large number of coffee houses filling Cuba St. The passing of the waiting staff wearing uniforms gives us more to look at with the staff now more likely to have nose studs, dreadlocks, purple hair and other interesting fashion statements reflecting their individuality.


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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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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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