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Our Environment: Issue 15 Winter 1998

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

Uncertain Future For City Landmarks

The future of Warners Hotel and the former Lyttelton Times building in the north-eastern corner of Cathedral Square, and the former Star building in Gloucester Street, is uncertain.

Following the hearing of the Resource Consent application by the owners to demolish all three buildings, the hearing's Commissioner, Mr Bob Batty, resolved that the application to demolish the former Lyttelton Times building be granted. Registered as a category one historic place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, it is the only nationally recognised building of the three. The application to demolish Warners Hotel was turned down and Mr Batty granted only partial demolition of the former Star building with the proviso that the Gloucester Street fašade and returns were to be retained.

Photo courtesy of Canterbury Regional Council Archives
Photo courtesy of Canterbury Regional Council Archives

This decision has subsequently been appealed to the Environment Court by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the Christchurch Heritage Trust and the owners of the buildings.

The heritage buildings on the north eastern side of the Square - the former Lyttelton Times Building (1902-03), Warners Hotel (1900-01), the Press Company offices (1909) and the Government Buildings (1911) - remain as the architectural response to the optimistic ambience which had prevailed in the economic future of the province at the turn of the century. Equally these buildings reflect the variety of

architectural styles common to this period as employed by the architects Collins and Harman, the Luttrell Brothers and J.C. Maddison. Each building is therefore a key element within the largest surviving group of heritage buildings in Cathedral Square; each making a vital contribution to the streetscape of Christchurch's premier urban space.

Within the first month of the arrival of the Canterbury Association's first four ships, the Lyttelton Times began publication as a weekly paper on 11 January 1851. When it ceased operation in 1935 it was New Zealand's oldest newspaper. Based in Cathedral Square from 1863, it was initially housed in a two storey timber building. In 1884 the Lyttelton Times Company built a three storey brick building facing Gloucester Street. Designed by J. J. Collins the building is one of the most impressive works erected by Collins and Harman, a notable Christchurch architectural firm. It is also arguably one of the best examples of commercial Victorian design in a Venetian Renaissance style in New Zealand.

In 1902 the Lyttelton Times Company commissioned the Luttrell Brothers to design a substantial masonry building to replace the wooden building on Cathedral Square. The four-and-a-half storey building, of brick construction with Oamaru stone facings upon a Port Chalmers bluestone base, was once the highest building in the Square, with the exception of the Cathedral itself. The building is the earliest example demonstrating the principles of the Chicago high-rise office building style in New Zealand and reflects the introduction of American style and technology to the field of commercial building design.

This building not only contained office space for reporters but the upper floors were fitted out and leased as hotel rooms to Warners. Though this venture was not successful and ceased in 1905, due to the noise of the presses being transmitted throughout the building, this association only serves to strengthen the historical link between the three buildings.

The history of a hotel building on the Warner's site stretches back to 1863 when John Coker established 'The Commercial and Dining Rooms' catering mainly to 'commercial gentlemen'. The hotel has, however, become forever associated with the name of its third owner - William Francis Warner who took over the business in 1874.

In 1903 architect J C Maddison designed a three storey masonry building for Warners fronting Cathedral Square. A restrained yet monumental example of Victorian classicism, it relied for much of its architectural effect on mainly regular fenestration.

The Luttrell Brothers added another storey to the whole complex c1910 and they were also responsible, in 1917, for the demolition of the northern section of the building to make way for the construction of the Liberty Theatre, later Savoy which was recently demolished. The cinema was intended to act as a buffer between the hotel and the Lyttelton Times building to abate the habitual problem of printing press noise which kept guests in Warner's awake at night.

Viewed as a whole, Warner's belies to some degree its original aesthetic intent. However, it still retains considerable architectural qualities, the south facing portion later erected by the Luttrell brothers eventually establishing the existing architectural character of the whole hotel complex.

The relationship of these buildings to the architectural and social heritage of Cathedral Square is particularly significant. They remain as an integral part of the last group of heritage buildings which reflect the former common activities of buildings in the Square - that is, one of hotels, Government buildings, and the seat of the media.

Jenny May
City Design and Heritage

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