National War Memorial (1931−32) & Former National Museum (1936), Buckle Street

A panorama showing the Carillon, and the former National Museum under construction, in 1934.
The Carillon, and the former National Museum under construction, in 1934 - with a bare Mount Victoria in the background (ATL G477571/2)

National War Memorial

The government began planning a national war memorial soon after the end of World War I. In 1928 it was decided to incorporate the memorial with the new national museum and build the whole complex on the top of the flattened
Mount Cook.

The building was designed by Gummer and Ford, and was intended as a sister structure to the peace tower carillon in the Ottawa Parliament Buildings, Canada. It is made up of steps, a pool and forecourt, bell tower or campanile, and a base, which contains the Hall of Memories. The building was officially dedicated at the 1932 ANZAC Day ceremonies but the Hall of Memories was not finally completed until 1964.

Built on a magnificent site, this is Art Deco architecture at its very best. Aside from the clever use of classic Deco motifs, such as the tower fins, the entire tower is full of visual interest with the use of different materials and motifs. A Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was constructed in front of the Hall of Memories in 2004.

An information panel about Mount Cook can be found on Buckle Street. 

Former National Museum

The former National Museum occupies what was once a small peaked hill, but which was steadily reduced over time to a level site. Built from a half-and-half combination of government funding and public subscription, the museum replaced the Colonial Museum, which was located in cramped conditions in a building behind Parliament.

Planning on the new museum did not begin in earnest until the 1920s. In 1928 it was decided that the museum would be combined with the National Art Gallery and War Memorial. Gummer and Ford won a national design competition, and Fletcher Brothers was awarded the building contract. The huge brick Mount Cook prison, then occupying the site, was demolished and construction began in 1932.

The building was officially opened in August 1936. During World War II the museum was taken over by the Defence Department but reopened again in September 1949.

As the collections expanded, pressure grew on suitable available storage and in 1989 it was decided to build a new museum. This building was closed in 1995 and the new Museum of New Zealand — Te Papa, located on Wellington’s waterfront — was opened in 1998.

Ownership of the building was transferred to the Tenths Trust and it is presently occupied by Massey University’s Wellington campus. 

Image reference: Alexander Turnbull Library G477571/2