Built in 1898, it has been many things to many people, from dwelling to private hospital to society headquarters – and most recently as a community centre and hot-spot of political activism.
It was badly damaged by fire on Tuesday night [25 August] and has since largely been demolished.
Read more about the building’s history here
Wellington City Council Heritage Manager Mark Lindsay said the building embodied a rich and varied social history of Wellington’s grass roots political activism.
“It provided a haven for the many people who expressed environmental, political or social convictions that lay outside of the mainstream.”
The loss of the house had deprived Wellington of a unique and hugely important part of the city’s heritage, Mark said.
Local historian Kerryn Pollock remembers hosting heritage tours in the area with Natasha Naus in the early 2000s before the Wellington Inner City Bypass was built.
As a former maternity hospital, 128 Abel Smith Street was “representative of the long medical history of that area”, which included doctor’s surgeries and other private health care providers, Kerryn said.
The pair later wrote the book Heritage of Health based on their research.
The private hospital – which first ran as Nurse Murphy’s Maternity Home – not only cared for women, but was run by women, so was also important for our city’s history of women medical practitioners.
The building stopped being a hospital in 1945, and was later bought by the Lebanese Society of New Zealand.
Kerryn was part of a group that cleaned up the empty building around 2002, helping to turn it into a thriving community centre.
She described the building’s fate as an indictment of what can happen when buildings are left empty.
“For it to seemingly end like this, it’s really sad. It’s a pretty amazing building with an interesting and diverse history.”
According to its Wellington Heritage page, the building had a “varied and interesting history since its construction in the 19th century that exults it above the typical history experienced by other inner-city houses”.
“This house is representative of a large dwelling that has been adapted several times to meet changing needs. It is a good example of the Edwardian Free style and is an important element in the landscape of the southern part of the city.”
128 Abel Smith Street has become extremely well known in Wellington due to its association with political and community groups, as well as for the volunteer-run services and workshops it provided.
As well as the building’s cultural and social value, it also added aesthetic value as a landmark building that was highly visible from the urban motorway.