Makeover of his­toric pro­por­tions

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS ETHERIDGE

Three rare and his­toric houses have had a $4.5 mil­lion makeover with a lit­tle help from the ‘‘other side’’.

The Sy­monds St mer­chant homes, owned by the Univer­sity of Auck­land, were built in 1884 to 1885 and ren­o­vated this year. The houses are be­lieved to be the only Ital­ianate ar­chi­tec­tural style houses to still ex­ist in Auck­land.

One spooky in­ci­dent dur­ing the five-month project made it mem­o­rable for those in­volved. Pho­tos taken on a cell­phone dur­ing the de­mo­li­tion of walls in one of the houses fea­tured an ‘‘eerie grey fig­ure’’.

Arts fac­ulty me­dia ad­viser Anna Kel­lett says it was a one-off and the fig­ure has not been seen since.

Ac­cord­ing to the His­toric Places Trust, 50-year leases for num­bers 14 and 16 Sy­monds St – known as Okareta and Mona – were given to wine and spir­its mer­chant Ed­ward Lewis in 1884.

Mona was let out to two sur­geons for a decade. Lewis and his wife Julia moved into Mona in 1894. They re­mained there for 14 years. Ed­ward Lewis died in 1909 af­ter they moved out.

Each house’s orig­i­nal name – Okareta, Mona and Bel­grave – has been re­in­stated to cel­e­brate the his­toric mile­stone. Unique fea­tures of the style in­clude tall first-floor win­dows and Re­nais­sance-style pil­lars and trim on the ex­te­rior.

The univer­sity ac­quired the houses in the 1960s and they were the head­quar­ters for the po­lit­i­cal stud­ies depart­ment for 50 years.

Now the arts fac­ulty calls the three newly ren­o­vated mer­chant houses home.

Jar­rod Shearer, di­rec­tor of fac­ulty op­er­a­tions, says the houses suf­fered from damp­ness in the lower lev­els, leav­ing a bad smell and air­flow is­sues.

One of the mer­chant houses was built on foun­da­tions con­sist­ing mostly of crushed and com­pacted shells brought up from the wa­ter- front, he says.

Two of the houses are near iden­ti­cal, while the third is a scaled back ver­sion of Ital­ianate style.

Shearer says it is un­known why the third house, Bel­grave, is dif­fer­ent but could have been be­cause the orig­i­nal own­ers ran out of money dur­ing the build.

Plans to ren­o­vate the houses be­gan in early 2013.

Shearer says the univer­sity is ded­i­cated to restora­tion and her­itage, hence the $4.5m up­grade.

The houses now have a higher ca­pac­ity – 31 peo­ple can be ac­com­mo­dated across all three – and im­proved teach­ing spa­ces in the base­ment lev­els.

Shearer says the restora­tion will ex­tend the houses’ life by 100 years.

Pho­tos: JESS ETHERIDGE

Keep­ing cul­ture: Fac­ulty op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor Jar­rod Shearer says the Univer­sity of Auck­land in­vested $4.5 mil­lion into the re­ju­ve­na­tion of the 1880s-era mer­chant houses.

Twin share,

above: The near iden­ti­cal mer­chant houses Okareta, left, and Mona. New look, left: The third mer­chant house, Bel­grave, on Sy­monds St.

Go to auck­land­c­i­ty­har­bournews. co.nz and click Lat­est Edi­tion to view a tour of the ren­o­vated mer­chant houses.

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