THE DREAM AND VISION OF ONE MAN
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.