Morgan's Building, Cuba Street

Morgan’s Building is one of the over 40 heritage buildings on the Cuba Street strip. Not only is it a Heritage New Zealand Category Two Historic Place, it also has a colourful story associated with it that needs to be preserved, too.

Morgan's building before renovation in 2012.
Morgan's Building before renovation

Keeping history alive in the heart of Cuba Street

In June 2011, property owner Bill Giannakakis was the perfect man for the job when the family bought the building at 199 Cuba Street with a vision to restore it to its former glory – with a new millennium twist.

“We wanted to get the building back to where it was with the original plans and windows – and to be honest, there hadn’t been much done to the building since it was first built, so it really just needed strengthening and upgrading to modern standards.”

The building has retained a high level of architectural authenticity, despite changes to the windows and shop fronts. 

In 2012, the building was awarded $18,000 of funding for earthquake strengthening from the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund.

Morgan's building  in 1975 when it was the site of Janis ladies' and men's hairstylists.
Morgan's Building in 1975. Courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library.

History of Morgan's Building

In 1922, Morgan’s building was built on the corner of Vivian and Cuba Streets for F.J. Morgan as a china and fancy goods store, with a billiards hall in the upstairs area. It is a good representative of an inter-war commercial building built in the stripped classical style of the era.

By the 1940s, the building had been transformed into a barbershop called Janis Hairdressing – containing three barber chairs and a partitioned area for the ladies! The front section was a tobacconist. It was a family affair, with son George taking over the business and renaming the salon George Janis Hairdressers – which is still a recognised name today.

As the red light district grew around it, it’s not surprising the building had a stint as a porn shop in the guise of Peaches and Cream. 

A sure sign that Wellington is a village is the fact that former tenant George Janis used to dine at Ombra when his son worked there. 

Bill is a born and bred Wellingtonian, having grown up in Petone and the Hutt, and doesn’t have any specific memories of Morgan's building from his younger days: “We went to a few stag do’s in the neighbourhood, but I didn’t really frequent the area that much,” he laughs.

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

Morgan's building after renovation in 2013
Morgan's Building after renovation

The project

In 2009, the building was identified as earthquake prone.

The earthquake risk didn’t deter the new potential owners, who bought the rather run-down building with their eyes wide open.

"It ticked all the boxes for us – anyone that invests in property in New Zealand must be aware that earthquake strengthening is something that needs to be taken into consideration.”

The next step was to get an archaeological assessment and have a design outline for earthquake strengthening, and then obtain resource consent to start works.

The project received $18,000 from the Council’s Built Heritage Incentive Fund to help protect the heritage values of the building, and to endorse the Council’s priority for earthquake strengthening and protection of critical access routes.

Since the completion of the project and restoring the building to its former glory, the building is now home to popular restaurant Ombra. 

“Everyone wanted the site – because of the building, but also because of the vehicle and foot traffic that it gets. We had people coming from all over to show their interest, and we didn’t have to offer any incentives at all.

“A brewery and a couple of local restaurateurs were interested, but when we looked at Russell Scott’s other ventures (Leuven, Avida) we knew he was the right fit and a good operator – and Ombra has proven us right.”

Bill attributes the Cuba Street boom to the way local stakeholders have worked together, as well as to the heritage buildings in the area. He believes it’s just going to get better and better.

“The heritage of the area has really contributed to the development of Cuba Street, and with a joint effort between property owners seeing the benefits of these buildings, and more financial support from the Council and Government, this place is going to be even more special in the next 10 to 20 years.

“The Council has done up Cuba Mall and they are doing up lower Cuba Street, and hopefully they’ll do some upgrade work in the upper area soon too.”

And would Bill do it again? Yes, in a flash: “I’d do another project with a heritage building because when it’s done you look at it and it’s a work of art, but it also makes money – and it’s really something to be proud of.”