March 2, 2011

Time capsules

For a long time, more than a century, Waltham was a suburb in the shadow of the gasworks. In fact, Waltham Road -- pictured above -- was once known as Gasworks Road; it appears in Christchurch newspapers under that name as early as the 1870s. The gasworks and the railways were big employers here; the streets were lined with modest, wooden workers' cottages. Even after the earthquakes, many of those cottages are still standing. Like Sydenham, a suburb of the same age which sits just to the west, Waltham has suffered from creeping light industry that has swallowed up residential streets and the widening of Brougham Street in the early 1980s which bisected the suburb and created cul-de-sacs where there were once through-roads. Of course, the gasworks and the railway yards closed down years ago.

Waltham School is one of the oldest in Christchurch but like many of Christchurch's old primary schools, it has relatively new buildings. According to my memory of John Wilson's history Lost Christchurch there was a programme of demolishing the old, brick, two-story school buildings as potential earthquake risks (Beckenham's went in 1979). Such foresight. Had those brick school buildings survived until last Tuesday, and then collapsed, the consequences would have been unthinkable.

John Wilson's Lost Christchurch -- a diligent record of demolished buildings, published in the 1980s -- will need updating. I would like to consult it but the only copy I am aware of is in the reference room of the central library, far behind the police cordon.

Brougham Village on Brougham Street, Waltham. Architect Don Cowey designed this "ambitious attempt at low-cost living" -- in the words of the Christchurch Modern website -- as a Christchurch City Council commission in 1978. It fits squarely within the post-war Christchurch modernism practiced by the better-known architects Miles Warren and Peter Beaven. Thirty years after construction, it won a New Zealand Institute of Architects award for enduring architecture. The NZIA said: This 1978 development presents an inventive and humanistic approach to the architectural endeavour of community housing. A fine-grained assembly of forms is generated from a thoughtful study of the relationships of living units and the urban issues of a long narrow site along a busy road. The fact that this housing is still used is a testament to the quality of the design and a gesture towards sustainability.

Architect Don Cowey was killed during the Christchurch earthquake on February 22. The Christchurch Modern tribute is here. More words on Brougham Village here.

Buried time capsules were discovered in Cathedral Square yesterday. But in a sense, nearly all of the post-earthquake work reveals traces of lost or buried history. I had wondered about this brick building at 110 Waltham Road. Before the September quake, a sign had identified it as the clubrooms of the Canterbury Mineral and Lapidary Club. But that must be relatively recent. Yesterday, a man was scraping mortar from fallen bricks outside. What was this building, I asked. A library, he said. And there are references to a Waltham Library in Christchurch newspapers as far back as the 1870s. A nice example: in the Star of September 6, 1877, the Sydenham Literary and Debating Club was to meet at the Waltham Library, to discuss "the Sunday Schools of the Future". Source: the National Library's Papers Past website.

The lost sights and the lost smells. Have you ever lived within sniffing distance of a maltworks? There is a cluster of old maltworks buildings on Waltham Road, which survived the quakes, looking only slightly scruffier than before. There was talk, in 2008, of a property developer putting townhouses on these sites; in the meantime, there has been car parts and firewood storage and post-industrial leisure time usage. Once a factory, now a paintball range and kickboxing gym.

Cracks on Vienna Street, Waltham.

This brick bungalow on Buffon Street, Waltham, has been red-stickered and is behind a Fire Service cordon, suggesting that it's unsafe to enter. The inscription -- IOOF no 30 -- tells you that it was once a lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, present in New Zealand since 1843. Below, the partially collapsed World War I memorial gate at Waltham Park.