15 Courtenay Place

As one of Wellington’s oldest streets, Courtenay Place is classified as a Heritage Area, so it’s not surprising there are a number of local heritage buildings that have needed a bit of love and attention recently – and number 15 Courtenay Place has just got that in spades!

Courtenay Chambers was designed by renowned local architect Llewellyn Williams in 1927.

15 Courtenay Place was designed by renowned local architect Llewellyn Williams in 1927

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Courtenay Chambers, more recently known as the Adelphi Finance House, was designed by renowned local architect Llewellyn Williams in 1927, and is a good representation of Chicago-style stripped Classical architecture.  

At seven storeys, the building is one of the tallest in the area, but is also notable for its restrained palate of Classical ornamentation, the well-proportioned composition of its Courtenay Place façade, and for the quality of its design and workmanship. 

When the building was identified as earthquake prone the owners were quick to start work on the project, according to Rolle property manager, and fan of the building, Alex Robertson.

“When the owners were told that it required earthquake strengthening they didn’t think twice about selling at all, as they liked the building, and worked hard to modernise it tastefully by keeping the key features and reinstating the marble in the foyer to match the staircase.”

“We knew it wouldn’t be cheap,” says Alex, but he concedes it was worth it in this case, and the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund team were helpful and flexible.

“They gave us an extension on the project, and were supportive of our plans including letting us make some alterations to include a balcony and adding lighting to highlight the columns on the façade,” says Alex.

In 2012, the building was awarded $18,750 of funding for earthquake strengthening from the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund.

Courtenay Chambers building in 1957 - home to Martins Shoes for over 30 years.

Courtenay Chambers building in 1957 - home to Martin's Shoes for over 30 years

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The Project 

Built in 1927, the building predated even the earliest earthquake codes set after the 1931 Napier earthquake, and a number of elements posed a threat to public safety including the façade, and decorative aspects factored into it too.

The current owners, who bought the property in 1987, were immediately on board with the work that needed to be done, and had a vision of how it was to look, according to Alex.

The initial suggestions from engineers didn’t fit the vision though: “We didn’t want K bracing or sheer walls as they’d make the offices smaller, reduce natural light and defeat the purpose of what we wanted to do.”

“In the end we found the perfect solution, and although we were aiming for 70% of the Earthquake Standard depending on costs, we reached 100% which was a great achievement.”

The building is just getting the finishing touches done to it, including a relatively new initiative for New Zealand, wireless fire alarms installed: “These are great because we don’t want wires all over the building now that we have high ceilings, and it’s looking like the original design again.”

Continuous columns installed through the whole building from ground floor to the top of the building.

Continuous columns installed through the whole building from the ground floor to the top of the building

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The History

Courtenay Place is one of Wellington's oldest streets having been created by the 1855 Wairarapa earthquake, previously being part of the harbour with a canal running off it towards the Basin Reserve.

Over the years, the area developed as a major industrial hub with the first gasworks based where Chaffers New World is now, and other large businesses like Todd Motors and Stewart Timber, before it headed down a more retail orientated route at the turn of the 20th century.

Courtenay Chambers was designed by Llewellyn Williams, who was also responsible for much of Wellington’s skyline including the Embassy Theatre (formerly the De Lux Theatre), Kelvin Chambers on The Terrace, and the Inverleith apartments in Oriental Bay.

The building itself has been home to a number of interesting tenants with Martin’s Shoe Store occupying the ground floor from 1927 to the 1960s. During that period, the store had to make room for an emergency air raid shelter in 1942, with records stating that it was required to “adapt space in the ground floor where suitable, for persons living and working in the building”.

There’s a Council record of a W.N Marsden in 1946, who’s tenancy description includes dentistry and oddly enough, mechanic! It was also home to Ocean Commodities, a coat and frock maker, and the Time Out zone which was host to arcade games and Lazerstrike – in the days before high-tech home entertainment centres were more de rigueur! 

Level five of the building saw the success of a wee dog called Hairy Maclary gain worldwide fame thanks to Mallinson Rendel Publishers Limited, and out back, Taki Rua and Depot theatres flourished in the Alpha Street section of the building.

Alex likes the Capital’s pockets of heritage buildings like in Courtenay Place, Thorndon, and Cuba Street, as he believes it keeps the areas appealing with clusters of similar styles – and 15 Courtenay Place contributes to that now, and in the future.

“The work we’ve done is a long term investment, and it’s good to give the old girl a bit of a makeover that should see at least another 150 years left in her.”

Continuous steel jackets installed around four of the existing columns from the ground through to 600mm above the floor on level 4.

Continuous steel jackets installed around four of the exisiting columns from the ground through to 600mm above the floor on level 4

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The Built Heritage Incentive Fund 

The fund helps with conserving, restoring, protecting and caring for Wellington's heritage-listed buildings and objects. Our current focus is on earthquake strengthening. Find out if your project is eligible for funding.