A sneaky peek at Miramar's history
Miramar has a long history ranging from Kupe first seeing the Peninsula, to Sir Peter Jackson helping make the Peninsula the place to be seen – and there’s a lot that’s happened in between.
Group in car outside Miramar Tea Rooms circa 1910
Māori legend refers to the intrepid explorer Kupe landing on what is now known as Miramar Peninsula when he first discovered Aotearoa. His descendants settled on the island of Motukairangi, which was surrounded by a lagoon known as Te Rotokura or Para.
The lagoon was drained with the arrival of the European settlers in 1840, and the area named Watts Peninsula until the land was bought by former Royal Navy colonist James Coutts Crawford who renamed the area Miramar – Spanish for ‘sea view’.
The area was predominantly for farming, but was also a popular recreation spot with a hunt club, polo field, golf links, and a trotting club. Things started to pick up when 132 residential sections were sold in 1902 and the Miramar Borough Council was established in 1904.
Miramar gasworks circa 1920s. Photo by Gordon Burt
The arrival of city trams coincided with the Wellington Gas Company moving there in 1907 to process the coal arriving at Miramar Wharf, but the area wasn’t amalgamated into the Wellington City Council until 1921.
The gasworks supplied gas to suburbs as far reaching as Khandallah and Ngaio, but were shut down post World War II as there was a major move towards electricity – although the building was demolished, a wall or two still stand near the former site in the popular Gasworks pub.
With the introduction of trams linking the city to the Peninsula, local entrepreneur Mr Chase-Morris took the opportunity to launch a theme park called Wonderland in the area between Darlington and Camperdown Roads.
According to the Dominion newspaper, Wonderland opened in November 1907 to a lot of pomp and ceremony with the Mayor’s wife, Lady Ward, doing the honours as her husband was “prevented by stress of work” but she made a “charming substitute”.
"Wonderland" amusement park in Miramar circa 1907
Wonderland had a toboggan, a helter-skelter, a waterslide, boating lake, and band rotunda, much of which was bought from the Christchurch International Exhibition the year prior.
Mr Chase-Morris designed the park with the intention for “the citizens of Wellington to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded them, for getting away for a spell from the cares and worries of business and domestic work.” Unfortunately his dream was short-lived as the park went into liquidation in 1911.
Something with a bit more longevity is Miramar’s film industry which started back in 1928 when the Miramar Film Studios were set up to produce tourism films promoting New Zealand. The Government bought the independent film company in Darlington Road to produce New Zealand’s efforts in World War II, and the National Film Unit (NFU) was born.
The NFU moved to Avalon in 1979, and Sir Peter Jackson bought the Miramar facilities in the 1990s, using them to make his cult classic Braindead in 1992.
Interior of Capitol Theatre in Miramar circa 1928. Photo by Gordon Burt
The area’s film history is also enhanced by the opening of the Capitol Theatre in 1928 which started screening silent films, then converted to the more modern “talkies” in 1932. The Capitol closed its doors in 1964, and had a stint as a shopping mall before it was lovingly restored as the Roxy Cinema for $6 million by a group including Oscar-winners editor Jamie Selkirk and Weta Workshop co-founder Sir Richard Taylor.
Another highlight on Miramar’s calendar was the opening of the first state house in New Zealand on 18 September 1937. The three-bedroom plastered-brick house on Fife Lane was such a publicity-friendly event that Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage and many in the Labour Cabinet helped move the first tenants into the house.
New tenants David and Mary McGregor were then overwhelmed by the over 300 people who wandered through their home on the day, and the ongoing flow of sight-seers for weeks after.
The house is now classified as a Category 1 heritage site by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Find out more about our Building Heritage Incentive Fund and how we can support you.
Images courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library.