I continued my exploration of Te Aro the following day, starting off at the bottom of Taranaki Street, where it meets Courtenay Place and going up York Street, a narrow lane that runs up the side of the Wesley methodist church. From here, I cut across a car park and into Holland Street. York and Holland Streets were both typhoid hotspots in the 1890s. Sanitation was a problem in all of Wellington but particularly so in the crowded lanes of Te Aro. Three-quarters of typhoid deaths in the early 1890s were in this area.
Nowadays, the sanitation has presumably been sorted as I don’t notice any unsavoury smells. Less so on Forresters Lane however, on the other side of Tory Street, where the greasy smells of Courtenay Place eateries are extracted through a jumble of vents and pipes at the end of the lane. A dog is barking, tied up outside the Sustainability Trust offices. This used to be the site of the Wellington gasworks, demolished in the 1980s and now occupied by office buildings. There are also a couple of bars tucked away down here – the quirky Alice bar and Motel.
Tory Street feels claustrophobic and congested, hemmed in by tall buildings. A continuous line of cars crawls towards Moore Wilsons for upmarket grocery shopping, or to the less upmarket retail park further up, apparently called the ‘Tory Complex’ (which sounds more like a painful British political condition).
Comparing present-day Wellington with the 1892 Thomas Ward map, it’s surprising how many of the 19th century Te Aro lanes still exist, although Jacob’s Place which ran parallel to Holland Street seems to have been lost somewhere beneath the Century City hotel.
There are a few older wooden villas, dotted around the side-streets off Tory Street, survivors from the old residential Te Aro. The Bryant and May match factory used to dominate this area, but there’s no sign of it now, as far as I can see. But in Ebor Street, the façades of the Ford engineering works buildings have been retained in front of new apartments. The pink façade of the former Il Casino restaurant on Tory Street is a survivor of sorts, covered in green netting while a new apartment complex is sprouting hugely behind it. The new apartments will supposedly ‘compliment the character and integrity of this unique building‘.
At the side of the Tory Complex retail park is the former Wellington Municipal Milk Department. The council took control of the city’s milk supply in 1918, in response to watered down and dirty milk being sold in the city. Milk could not be sold without a license and anything less than full fat milk was illegal. The Milk Department existed until the 1980s. Of course, these days, dirty milk is no longer a problem.
At the top of Tory Street, Te Aro’s lanes are less well-preserved. Alma Street has been absorbed into the Tory Complex carpark. Francis Lane and Sages Lane, the scene of a murder in 1911, are uninteresting service lanes. Mount Cook School has taken over Frankville Terrace and Tory Place, and Tui Street, the location of ‘sad squalid scenes of seamy life’ and a ‘dirty, disgraceful disgusting den of drink and debauchery’ (as reported by the New Zealand Truth newspaper in 1912), is a casualty of the Te Papa research library.
I walk back down the other side of Tory Street and turn off into Haining Street. There is little evidence here of Wellington’s chinatown, which was located here and in parallel Frederick Street from the 19th century. The first Chinese occupants of these streets came from the goldfields of the South Island and ran laundries and fruit-selling businesses. There were ongoing complaints of ‘open vice’ in the two streets including prostitution, gambling and opium dens which provided ample material for racially-charged stories for the New Zealand Truth and were the scene of regular police raids up until the 1960s. Haining Street is probably best known for the murder of Joe Kum-Young, in 1905 by Lionel Terry, an English migrant with extreme racist views.
On Frederick Street is the forlorn-looking Chinese Mission Hall, designed by Frederick de Jersey Clere, surrounded by wire fencing and with the obligatory yellow ‘earthquake-prone’ label on the door. The empty site next door was until recently Murdoch’s icing sugar, spice and pickle company. Further down the street are a couple more buildings with connections to chinatown – the Wellington Chinese Masonic Society Hall, built in 1925, and the building that housed the Tung Jung assocation – a chinese community organisation founded in 1926.
Present-day Frederick and Haining Streets feel more appealing than some of the streets I’ve been walking around, maybe because they have more of a continuous line of buildings of a similar scale. I liked Holland Street for the same reason. But generally, there’s little sense of coherence to many of the lanes and side streets that I’ve been walking up and down. I suppose it reflects the piecemeal development and change in the area, but they’re an odd mix of different types of buildings, of varying shapes, scales and styles. Overall, it feels as if there is too much empty space – too many carparks and walls that were never designed to be seen. But there are also overbearing highrise developments, like the the Soho apartments on Taranaki Street, with their windows looking in on windows. Maybe some of the apartment blocks have gardens, but there is almost no public open space, and unsurprisingly the few people on the streets seem to be on their way in and out of their apartments, or returning to their parked cars.
There’s an odd mix of commercial uses too, from upmarket home design shops and beauty salons, to small car repair businesses, print shops, web design companies, and training organisations. But apart from the two cafes on College Street, there are no concentrations of any type of activity.
It’s all a bit desultory, and that’s how I’m starting to feel, and so I head back to Cuba Street in search of urban vibrancy. But I can’t stop myself wandering off down more lanes. There are empty spaces here too, but at least there are more people around. On Bute Street I find a building with Truth NZ Ltd across the top of the facade and I wonder if this is where the New Zealand Truth newspaper was based. If it was, the reporters didn’t have to go far to find their material.
McGill D (2003) Wellington – a capital century
Yska R (2006) Wellington: biography of a city
Cars parked off Tory Street, Wellington, Bryant & May building in the background. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/1402-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22882062
Barker, Frank Giles, 1891-1955. Barker, Frank G, fl 1920s-1950s :Wellington City Council
Milk Department trucks at the Tory Street depot. Bartlett, R :Photographs of Wellington’s Municipal Milk Supply. Ref: PAColl-3782-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22741725
Houses in Haining Street, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/2-060281-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22542631