Makeover of historic proportions
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.
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.
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.