Albemarle Hotel

A classic Edwardian building with an eventful past and a promising future – Wellington’s ‘grand old lady’, the Albemarle Hotel is set to have a makeover thanks to her owners and the Council.

The elegant Edwardian style facade of the Albermarle Hotel.

The Albermarle Hotel's facade

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A rich past

The Albemarle Private Hotel was built in 1906 as a temperance hotel. Prominent local architect, James Bennie, designed the three storey hotel in a classical Edwardian style. A tangible reminder of the social history of the Cuba, Vivian and Ghuznee Street red-light district, the Albemarle has remained a local icon following the transformation of the area into Wellington’s famous inner city slice of bohemia.

Earthquake prone and in need of attention, the Albemarle Hotel was vacant for some time. Falling in love with the character the building brings to the city and its rich history, a well-known Wellington family trust bought the property fully aware of the extent of work needed to make it economically viable and operational, while respecting its heritage values.

A promising future

The trust proposes to adaptively reuse the building as a café, bar and restaurant, a use that is compatible with its past as a hotel.

Seismic strengthening works will be essential to ensure the building can continue to be used.

The applicant worked closely with the Council’s City Planning team and heritage advisors to gain the resource consent to undertake the proposed works. A pre-application meeting with Council officers helped highlight any issues early so they could be addressed before starting work on the application.

The proposed plan for the Albemarle Hotel.

Proposed plan for the Albemarle Hotel project

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The transformation project

The project involves conserving, adapting and strengthening the existing heritage building so it can accommodate a café, bar and restaurant.

‘New windows and a first and second-floor balcony will be added to the western side (Glover Park side) as well as new doors on the ground floor which open out onto the adjacent Glover Park. The roof top bar, the decks, a corporate convention hall and much more will bring the building back to its glory and buzzing with activity’, says Martyn Pierce, the project’s architect.

The seismic strengthening works are mostly confined to the interior. The project will retain significant heritage fabric whilst utilising suitable engineering options that allow for reuse of buildings and improve economic viability. After the works, the existing building will be much safer as it will be strengthened to 70% of the current building code while a new rear addition will be to 100%.

‘The project also impacts increased activation and passive surveillance of Glover Park. All of this enhances the vibrancy of the area and in long-term adds value to heritage significance of Wellington’, says Martyn.

The project is making quick progress with ongoing support from the council. The resource consent for the project was issued in April, a few months after the November pre-application meeting. A fully equipped team comprising structural engineers, architects, planners, acoustic managers and a heritage architect are working on the project.

In acknowledging the contribution that heritage buildings make to Wellington, the Council offers incentives such as the Built Incentive Heritage Fund to encourage owners of heritage buildings to undertake strengthening works.

‘The council has been supportive and easy to approach. We had extensive conversations; adjusted our plans as based on feedback and moved ahead without a glitch. The Built Heritage Incentive Fund has been a great support as well’ says a representative of the trust.

The Built Heritage Incentive Fund 

In February this year the Albermarle project received a Built Heritage Incentive Fund grant of $60,000 to assist with seismically strengthening the building.

The original technical drawings of the Albermarle Hotel.

Original architectural drawings

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Quick bites of history

The Albemarle Private Hotel was built as a temperance hotel. Nineteenth century social reformers formed temperance societies in an attempt to reduce the use and abuse of alcohol which was seen as a cause of poverty, ill health and immorality.

The hotel was built in 1906 at the height of the Edwardian building boom in the Cuba Street area, due in part to the electrification of Wellington’s horse-drawn tram system in 1904 and a sharp rise in the city’s population.

The hotel appears to have generally served a working class clientele of tradesmen. During WWI many of the hotel residents were listed in the ballots and called up to serve in the armed forces. The professions of Albemarle Private Hotel residents noted in these ballots include labourers, engine drivers, butchers and tinsmiths. The building was later listed as a boarding house in 1950-1951, and finally as a massage parlour, at a time when the area around Cuba, Vivian and Ghuznee Streets was known as Wellington city’s Red Light District.

The most notable personality associated with the property during these years was Clare Hallam (1885-1976), a property owner and boarding-house keeper who made her name and fortune from her willingness to rent boarding house accommodation to homeless alcoholics and others who struggled to find long-term housing.

The building has remained relatively unchanged for over 100 years and contributes to the sense of place and continuity of the Cuba Street Heritage Area.

By working closely with the applicant, the Council has ensured a viable long-term future for the building without compromising its important heritage qualities.