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There has been a sense of ex­cite­ment brew­ing in one of New Zealand’s old­est sub­urbs as the late Les Har­vey, fondly known as the pa­tri­arch of Auck­land’s up-mar­ket Par­nell Vil­lage, has ‘come home’.

The Har­vey fam­ily hon­our their beloved father and cre­ator of iconic Par­nell Vil­lage with a statue of their dad out­side An­toine’s on Par­nell Rise, Les’ first ten­ant and the place where his dream be­gan.

Par­nell Vil­lage was the brain­child of one man, Thomas Les­lie Har­vey, Les Har­vey, as he was known to all. Pop­u­lar with tourists, to­day Par­nell is an up-mar­ket vil­lage, a vi­brant shop­ping com­mu­nity fea­tur­ing an in­ter­na­tional line-up of more than 40 restau­rants, cafés and bars, Auck­land’s largest art gallery precinct, in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers, bou­tique re­tail­ers, qual­ity craft shops and a col­lec­tion of Auck­land’s finest jewellers.

Par­nell Vil­lage re­flects the mag­i­cal world Les built with so much love and pas­sion over 40 years ago. How­ever, to ap­pre­ci­ate the pre­sent, we first need to un­der­stand the past.

Par­nell was the first sub­urb in New Zealand, es­tab­lished in Septem­ber 1841. The pur­chase of land for Auck­land was con­firmed in 1841, and blocks of 3-5 acres were sold, quickly sub­di­vided into 36 al­lot­ments and meta­mor­phosed into the vil­lage of Par­nell. Most of the early set­tlers were me­chan­ics and trades­men who con­gre­gated in Me­chan­ics Bay, where the first Euro­pean sub­ur­ban and in­dus­trial devel­op­ment took place. Early in­dus­try in­cluded boat build­ing, a sawmill, brick­works, flour­mill and Robert­son’s Rope Walk.

For a time Par­nell lan­guished. In­dus­try, of­fice, tran­sient accommodation en­croached. How­ever in the early 1970’s Par­nell was unloved and con­se­quently be­come run down and di­lap­i­dated.

Les Har­vey could see some­thing in Par­nell that no one else could. A self-con­fessed cus­to­dian and clown, Har­vey had vi­sion with fore­sight well be­yond his years. His dream in­volved Par­nell re-in­vent­ing it­self as ‘Par­nell Vil­lage’, a com­mu­nity of old world shops, sunny court­yards and

most im­por­tantly had a heart. This con­cept be­came the cat­a­lyst for the re­gen­er­a­tion of Par­nell as both as a tourist cen­tre and a prime res­i­den­tial area.

Fol­low­ing the war, bull­doz­ers be­gan rip­ping the heart out of old Auck­land, smash­ing down the brick and tim­ber build­ings of the 19th cen­tury to make way for tow­ers of glass, con­crete and steel.

Les, a man who was pas­sion­ately in love with the way the city used to be, fought to stop them. A crafts­man, fa­natic, philoso­pher, artist, mil­lion­aire, lover of old bricks, en­emy of progress, owner of dozens of beau­ti­ful old build­ings in Auck­land which he vowed to pre­serve for the fu­ture.

Les made it his mis­sion mak­ing sure that the ru­ins of build­ings be­ing torn down all over Auck­land city could be used and pre­served in creat­ing some­thing unique and mag­i­cal.

As many other Vic­to­rian build­ings un­der­went de­mo­li­tion in Auck­land at the time, pe­riod ma­te­ri­als be­came avail­able cheaply, and the build­ings of Par­nell Vil­lage emerged al­tered, ex­tended and ‘tarted up’ in a some­what fan­ci­ful but fun Vic­to­rian style. Les cre­ated the Vil­lage by us­ing bits and pieces sal­vaged from these de­mol­ished build­ings and much of the work he did him­self. Les planted many of the trees up and down Par­nell Road, laid bricks, helped con­vert old houses and back yards into one of Auck­land’s iconic streets. The rest was done by crafts­men work­ing to his de­sign. A bow win­dow from Dunedin, a carved door from Oa­maru, some­where else is a slab of kauri that was in the bar of an old coun­try pub. Ev­ery frag­ment has been re­stored and recre­ated into what Les thought a sub­urb should be like.

Well renowned for his al­most sin­gle-handed trans­for­ma­tion of Par­nell he be­came a pub­lic fig­ure for many pub­lic bat­tles with bu­reau­cracy to save old build­ings. Les scorned coun­cils, plan­ning boards, govern­ment de­part­ments, pro­ce­dures, town plan­ners and ar­chi­tects alike. Not ad­verse to con­tro­versy or let­ting any red tape stand in the way of his dreams, af­ter years of bat­tling, Les has fi­nally re­ceived recog­ni­tion for his ef­forts to pre­serve the past by creat­ing a new fu­ture.

The re­mark­able part of how Les op­er­ated is that he never sold any­thing. Les be­lieved how­ever, he owned noth­ing. He was sim­ply a cus­to­dian look­ing af­ter beau­ti­ful things so they would be pre­served for peo­ple to en­joy them. Les was a man who didn’t ever re­ally know if he was a multi-mil­lion­aire or a multi-pau­per, pro­fess­ing not to care ei­ther way. He was proud to call him­self a pa­triot.

Les was an un­abashed ro­man­tic whose other love was his fam­ily, his late wife Zena and sons Kevin, Tom and daugh­ter Nancy. His fam­ily

meant ev­ery­thing to him and his dream and vi­sion con­tin­ues with the on­go­ing own­er­ship of the Har­vey fam­ily’s com­pany, City Con­struc­tion. Les’s son Kevin now runs the fam­ily busi­ness, whilst his other son Tom con­tin­ues to tend to the beau­ti­ful vil­lage gar­dens, the ma­jor­ity of which were orig­i­nally planted by Les him­self.

Les passed away in 1994 aged 78. If he was alive to­day, you would see him walk­ing the cob­bled pave­ments of his beloved vil­lage with a fresh flower pok­ing out of a bat­tered 40-year-old panama, wear­ing a grey suit wth pants and jacket that don’t quite match. His striped shirt open at the neck and bulging at the waist.

A visit to Auck­land wouldn’t be com­plete with­out a wan­der through the beau­ti­ful mag­i­cal sub­urb of Par­nell Vil­lage. The magic of de­light, wonder and sur­prise.

We thank you Les for your love of the past and for see­ing some­thing ‘mag­i­cal’ in Par­nell. Whereas most peo­ple only saw grimy, peel­ing paint­work and crum­bling bricks you chose to make the magic ap­par­ent for us all to en­joy. We can now cel­e­brate with you - wel­come home.

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