Revamp for Unique Street
4 June 2008
Christchurch’s New Regent Street will soon be the focus of a major heritage project as part of the Christchurch City Council’s central city revitalisation programme.
The New Regent Street shops are listed as Group 2 in the City Plan, as having national or regional heritage significance, and registered as Category 1 by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The Council is targeting a portion of its Heritage Incentive Grant funding over the next five years to support the necessary repairs, repainting, seismic upgrades and replacement of decorative tiling on the 40 shops that comprise the distinctive street.
Based on 2007 figures, the upgrade is likely to cost about $1.4 million for the whole street, with the cost for each property varying. Of this, the Council can provide grant money of up to 40% of the cost per property. The Council is expecting this to total about $500,000 over the life of the project.
This month property owners and tenants will receive a letter from the Council inviting them to participate in the partnership project, and outlining the works eligible for grant funding. Preliminary discussions with owners have been very positive, and according to Council Urban Designer Brendan Smyth and Heritage Conservation Projects Planner Victoria Bliss, a number of property owners have already expressed an interest in taking up the offer.
Mr Smyth and Miss Bliss said that over the past six years, the Council had funded architectural and seismic investigations and condition reports in a number of units in the street, and a Conservation Plan for the street was being prepared.
The background research has enabled them to identify common structural and maintenance issues across the street, which include the need for seismic upgrades, cavity wall tie renewal, parapet waterproofing, roofing repairs, plaster façade repairs, repainting, and replacement and repair of the original decorative tiling.
Council staff have worked in conjunction with New Zealand Historic Places Trust to source a specialist ceramicist able to replicate the unique hand painted tiles which are such an important decorative element to the street.
They are now working together to identify New Regent Street’s original colour scheme, and investigating options to install replicas of the terracotta Spanish tiles which formerly topped the sloping concrete panels on alternate shop units.
Labelled ‘the most beautiful street in New Zealand’, by Mayor D G Sullivan at its opening in April 1931, New Regent Street is known for its distinctive Spanish Mission architectural style. The style was not commonly used in Christchurch at the time, and a whole street in this style is unique in New Zealand.
The design was the work of local architect H. Francis Willis, also known for designing the Repertory Theatre in Kilmore Street, the Edmonds Clock tower and telephone cabinet in Oxford Terrace, and the streamlined Art Deco dwelling Santa Barbara in Victoria Street.
An entire street made up of small specialty shops was new in New Zealand at the time and is believed to have been a precursor to the shopping mall.
Built by a development company, New Regent Street Ltd., the new street, complete with shop buildings on 40 separate titles, was an ambitious venture during the Depression years. The street was one of the very few large-scale projects undertaken in the South Island during the Depression. Shops were marketed at 2,500 pounds each, with 100 pound deposit and four pounds rent each week, with the shop becoming freehold after 25 years
Petersens Jewellers Ltd has been based in their shop in New Regent Street since 1939.
Many people still remember the Coffee Pot which used to be in the street, and was one of the most popular places to dine out in Christchurch in the 1950s.
The street was converted to a pedestrian mall in 1994 and at the same time the central city tram route was installed down the east side of the street.
These days most of the shops are leased out, rather than being owner-occupied, and visitors to the street are attracted by the cafes as well as the specialist shops.
The street is located on the site of the former Colosseum Building, a large hall built in 1888 which was a popular venue for large gatherings from political speeches to circuses and a skating rink, and later used by a taxi company.
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