The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
June 17, 2009

Thorndon Tavern : Thai Takeaway

Thorndon’s quite the place to be you know. Apart from being riven in two by a motorway, squashed sideways into the base of a heavy tree-clad hill, beset with a massive supermarket carpark at its heart, and lived in by some of the plutiest snobs that Wellington has seen, it’s all actually quite nice. Some of Wellington’s best writers lived there, and some of the worst ones still do.

But there is an eyesore that is troubling the residents, above and beyond such other eyesores such as the American Embassy, the abortion of a supermarket carpark, the ugly lumpy tower of the Police Association, the row of non-descript office towers etc: yes, its the Thorndon Tavern. Despite having such a captive population, and such a choice location, the owners (the Thai Embassy apparently), were happy to leave the former Tavern to rot for 20 years or more, becoming a terrible temptation for taggers to target. And when a Thorndonite is spurned into action, of course being a community of writers, they take action the only way they know how: yes, a Letter to the Editor: I’ve been noting these letters in the paper for a few months now.

Abandoned pub is an eyesore.
Am I the only one concerned at the eyesore that was once the Thorndon Tavern in Wellington’s Molesworth St? The building is clearly derelict and would look more at home in a Detroit slum than it does in a suburb in central Wellington. It’s been vacant for many years and, from the filth that now surrounds it, the broken, boarded-up windows and widespread graffiti, it’s been the overnight home for the homeless and a sizeable pigeon population for some time. The building is a blot on the local landscape and the local bodies should take steps to ensure the property’s owners, whomever they are, take steps to either demolish it or clean it up.
R LUTMAN Paraparaumu.

thorn_tav.jpg

Beautifully timed was R Lutman, as almost the very next day the Thai Embassy explained that they were indeed looking at a new building for the site, but not before Janet Hood of Thorndon had her say

Some questions for Thai embassy.The owner of the decrepit, insanitary eyesore that is now the Thorndon Tavern is, I believe, the Thai Government, which bought a thriving business 20 years ago, closed it, and left the building to rot. Wellington City Council cannot force upkeep, because the building is now Thai territory. This is land-banking at its worst and the Thai embassy should be aware of Wellingtonians’ disgust and distaste for it, aggravated by Thailand’s status as a friendly nation. I suggest that the Thai Government, if it doesn’t want the building, gifts it to the city. Wellington is not a Bangkok property slum and I’d be interested, as would the thousands who work and live in the area, in a full explanation from the Thais about their government’s appalling loss of face.
JANET HOOD Thorndon

Ouch, Ms Hood. That aimed a bit low: but at least it did have the desired effect. It seems that the Thai Embassy is indeed raising its head, taking notice, and has decided to do something. And perhaps amazingly, it seems as though the answer may not be the normal one of “knock it down and start again” that they first wanted to do. I say this because a sign has appeared on the corner of the site: “Thai Embassy Refurbishment Project”. Which gives me hope that it may not, after all, be torn down and started again. Hooray and well done Thailand.

The architect, Colin Gunter, was the NZ Breweries architect, responsible for a number of solid concrete ‘Brutalist’ bars around the country, including the Cricketer’s Arms (now Happy, Club Garibaldi, Latinos bar) and also the nearby NZ Brewery building in Thorndon. There were proposals to replace the building with a tower, with one designed by Craig Craig & Moller, as noted here in Wellurban. There have also been some fairly long and drawn out discussions with the heritage lobby, I’m sure, as the good and bad points of the current building and the proposed development have been debated. While the Tav has been closed longer than I can remember, all I can do is admire the outside, especially the wonderful external staircase. Anyway, it shouldn’t be too long before we find out exactly what has been resolved: we at the Fish, and no doubt the rest of Thorndon, are keen to see what is proposed.

Deepred
17 - 06 - 09

The Asian Financial Crisis had a lot to do with the inertia in developing the site. Even then, land-banking for 15+ years is rather long by anyone’s standards.

Maximus
17 - 06 - 09

Presumably not just the Asian Financial crisis, but the political situation back in Thailand as well? That’s been in turmoil as well. But by that logic, I am surprised by their move now, due to the International Financial Crisis…

starkive
17 - 06 - 09

Thank you for shining your spotlight onto Mr Gunter – whose achievements I had previously admired without ever knowing his name. Notwithstanding the sad state of the Thorndon Tavern and the addition of that fibrolite lift shaft to the Cricketers, they are two of my favourite Wellington buildings – quite different, but both a credit to the concrete layer’s art. Always thought that the Cricketers would make a great conversion – not least after lugging a whole lot of band equipment up to the top bar in its pre-lift days.

Paul
17 - 06 - 09

After a previous bout of letter writing about this a couple of years ago I thought the issue was that the existing building is full of asbestos, before it can be demolished or renovated that has to be removed at considerable expense.

‘Brutalist’ is certainly a good description of the style, they actually put a few frills on The Thorndon compared to the blast bunker that was The Cricketers/Happy.

I remember drinking there occasionally 20 years ago, it was not particularly pleasant or salubrious inside either. Certainly not a lamented passing unlike severasl other old pubs that have gone by the wayside or been gutted/remodelled, The Clarendon, Scribblers, The Caledonian, The Albion, The Terminus, I could go on……

Maximus
17 - 06 - 09

The Cricketer’s Arms (aka Happy) is a strange beast to me. Although Brutalist doesn’t really mean brutal (descended from the french, as noted in the appended excerpt * from Wikipedia) this building really is a pretty solid beast. Presumably constructed both to keep the noise and the drinkers IN, rather than just the traffic noise and the wowsers OUT, its very different from the Thorndon Tav. The Tav is far more open to the street – great for a afternoon pint, its been bastardised around a fair bit, but nothing a decent refurb can’t handle. Of course, what’s good for a Tav may not be so good for a Embassy. Small matter of security and all that…

*Brutalist architecture is a style of architecture which flourished from the 1950s to the mid 1970s, spawned from the modernist architectural movement. The English architects Alison and Peter Smithson coined the term in 1954, from the French béton brut, or “raw concrete”, a phrase used by Le Corbusier to describe his choice of material. The term gained currency when the British architectural critic Reyner Banham used it in the title of his 1966 book, “The New Brutalism”, to identify the emerging style. ref Wikipedia of course…

Guy
17 - 06 - 09

Starkive – Gunther is one of the featured architects in Julia Gatley’s book “Long Live the Modern” But a “conversion” – into what? Not apartments, surely. A theatre perhaps?

starkive
17 - 06 - 09

Oops. Should have read the book all the way through.

I always thought the Cricketers would make a tasty mini-Whitney:
http://www.new-york-city-museums.com/the-whitney-museum.jpg

davidp
17 - 06 - 09

>including the Cricketer’s Arms (now Happy, Club Garibaldi, Latinos bar)

This is across the road from my place and I hate it with a vengeance. I’m surprised to find out that it WASN’T designed by Albert Speer and constructed by Polish slave labourers using concrete they had left over from building the Atlantic Wall.

Still, I’d rather live here than in Thorndon, which is a bit of inner city so boring it might as well be suburbs.

m-d
18 - 06 - 09

I have to say that the angle presented in the image above makes the building look like a particularly bad student project…

starkive
18 - 06 - 09

m-d – are we talking about Mr Gunter’s work or Mr Breuer’s?

m-d
18 - 06 - 09

heck – why not both…

Maximus
19 - 06 - 09

You insult my photo-taking ability? “I have to say that the angle presented in the image above makes the building look like a particularly bad student project…”

Fine. It’s difficult with such tiny flippers to operate those cameras you know. The reason I took that angle, of course, was because of the want to capture the quirky nature of the ‘rocket-launcher’ style of the main escape stair. It is looking particularly beautiful at the moment (not shown in this photo) with a delicate trail of ivy spiriling up the barrel, and shows of the aerial walkway (surely akin to the gantry that would be astronauts crossed to their space craft in when they boarded). This building shows evidence of being a true child of the 60s to me.

The rest of the building hasn’t fared so well. There is a ghastly red awning protruding on the other side that looks as though it may once have belonged to a nascent burger bar, but the building has, shall we say, “good bones” even if nothing else.

There are some good photos of it here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/m-dnw/3633996796/
and here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/polkadotzebra/3373438299/

m-d
19 - 06 - 09

I was just teasing… but thanks for linking to my own attempt. Your post spurred me to upload the images that I took for a recent AC newsletter… so there will be a few more over the next week or so…

Mechaniker
19 - 06 - 09

When I first moved to Wellington in 2001 I often wondered why no one had bought that property and turned it into apartments or office space. 8 years on it still sits there. Very sad.

I hope something starts to happen soon, it would be good for the local industry if ANYTHING happened to that site!

I almost wish Wellington had lowest point building quality thresholds. I’m sure there would be similar local laws in countries like Switzerland or Germany. Where if a site sits in a run down disused fashion for long enough it must be either done up or sold to someone who can do something with it. Its unfair to the city for a site to sit like that for so long. Even tearing it down and turning it into car parks would be a better use for it!

Mechaniker
19 - 06 - 09

Actually, feel free to correct me on my comment about local laws from Switzerland or Germany. I would love to know if other non dictatorship/communist nations had minimum standards for buildings, even if it was just fines handed down…

KiwiJones
19 - 06 - 09

It would indeed be great to see something nice happen in that space. Although I really do doubt that Ms Hood or R LUTMAN had much of an impact. I know developers have been trying to buy that land for years – do you really think that the Thai government suddenly got a case of the guilt trips? Please. I think they have more important things like their country to worry about.

Anyway thank god it isn’t likely to be yet another cheap, nasty, ugly, leaky, yellow plastered Roger Walker building. I was house sitting in the apartments behind Thorndon New World and I tell you… when it rained the walls wept. That guy has a lot to answer for. About a year ago I met WCC’s chief of Urban Planning and he told me that WCC regularly use his services… I felt sick to know that our council supports a guy who has damaged so many Wellingtonians lives.

Finally. Just what the hell is up with that pinky or is it yellow plastered house on the cnr of Grant Road. How the hell did that ever happen – I want to just go there and just paint it one day. I’ll even pay for it myself!!! I’ll do it in the middle of the night with anybody that wants to do it with me. Who cares what the owners think – they need to be chased out of town by the fashion cops!!!

Maximus
20 - 06 - 09

KiwiJones – the pinky yellow plastered house? As in Grant Road in Thorndon? As in a house designed by your said favourite architect? Umm, hate to tell you this, but, you know when you said:
“Who cares what the owners think – they need to be chased out of town by the fashion cops!!!”? Aaah, i think you might be able to guess now whose house it might be.

pjd
20 - 06 - 09

When I was reading the links from HoneyWood today, that link to a blogger (apparently in a Lexus dealership in Lexington, Kentucky), another post of his caught my eye – on how to end urban blight. You might be interested in it Mechaniker. The link is http://lowells.typepad.com/lowells/2009/05/a-modest-proposal-to-end-blight.html
and in it he says – “Just like the properties surrounding our shop, the absentee owners seek to avoid any and all expenses. They avoid capital gains taxes by refusing to sell their properties. They avoid maintenance expenses by refusing to invest to make their properties economic contributors to the community. They avoid property taxes by refusing to improve their decrepit real estate. Such abandoned properties generate near-zero direct contributions to the economy. Moreover, they generate negative economic effects for surrounding properties and businesses: They drive away business and drive down property values. * * * It is time for such neglect to end. It is time to make sure that lazy landowners are motivated
1) to improve their holdings and
2) to transform their properties into contributors to our community’s economic engine.
My modest proposal: Implement a ‘blight tax’. Lexington landownders whose property qualifies as ‘blighted’ would have to pay a moderately severe annual blight tax.

The definition of ‘blighted’ would need to be worked out, but should include an assessment of the property condition, as well as proof of substantial progress on needed improvements. We could start with Division of Code Enforcement standards. To overcome their avoidance of maintenance expenses, property taxes, and/or capital gains taxes, I’d propose that the blight tax have some teeth: Say, 35% to 50% of assessed property value per year. In the CentrePointe case, the blight tax would generate $8 to $12 million per year of revenue to the city until the developers improve their land. When historical buildings were demolished to make way for CentrePointe, many rationalized that the old buildings were greater eyesores than the pit which remains today. I disagree. But a blight tax may also have helped prevent the demolition-by-neglect which occurred on that block over the years.”

Deepred
20 - 06 - 09

Finally, some action at last:

http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/wellington/2518731/Pub-makes-way-for-embassy-at-last

KiwiJones
21 - 06 - 09

Maximus – LOL. It is either your house or Roger’s house. Sigh. How can one man do some much damage to one neighbourhood!!

Rob
22 - 06 - 09

Just a quick clarification on pjd’s comment: Our shop is an independent Toyota, Lexus, and Scion repair shop in downtown Lexington. We don’t have any official affiliation with Toyota, and we aren’t a dealership.

And a quick comment: As an outside observer, I really like the level of engagement in your discussions (especially as compared to the level of discourse in Lexington). You guys are lucky: Even if you disagree with one another, at least you can have vibrant discussions. The vast majority of Lexingtonians are simply unplugged from local issues. My blog is looked at with astonishment by a lot of folks: “You don’t / can’t / shouldn’t say those kinds of things here!”

Keep up the good work (and the discussion).

Rob Morris
President, Lowell’s Independent Automotive

Maximus
22 - 06 - 09

Rob, glad to see you comment here. Wellington’s a small city (say, 180,000 people), but with a vibrant community of architects and we seem to be quite an opiniated bunch. Well, I sure am, and like stirring up discussion.

Ever get any traction on your Blight Tax idea?

m-d
22 - 06 - 09

I’m slowly uploading a few more images of the Tavern, which are best viewed here: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/m-dnw/

Kent Duston
22 - 06 - 09

The Thordon Tavern is an eyesore?! Pffft – what a bunch of pussies the locals must be! If you want a real eyesore, you need a 1900-era villa on the main bus route to the airport that the owners are allowing to collapse into a pile of rusted iron, rotting weatherboards, dead plants and wall-to-wall birdshit …. kinda like this one …..

Maximus
23 - 06 - 09

Kent, I always thought that was an art installation. I love that little house – can you tell us more about it? Presumably the Thai Embassy aren’t involved there – so what’s the story? Why has it been boarded off and unloved for so long? And just how does it get that lovely even rust patina on the roof?

Kent Duston
23 - 06 - 09

The continual postering of the place is a nice touch, I admit. It gives the street a bit of vibrance and stops the posters getting stuck to walls and fences around the neighbourhood, so it’s not all bad. But having said that, the owners have been letting the ex-corner shop decay for literally decades – it was in similar condition when I moved into Mt Vic in the early 1990s. From what (little) I understand they have put through at least one consent that the Council has knocked back, presumably because of site coverage restrictions or somesuch.

The entertaining part of the whole deal is that the Council will allow demolition of pre-1930’s buildings where repair is “uneconomic” – so I’m presuming the owners would have no trouble getting a demolition consent, solely because of their own deliberate neglect. It seems like a pretty glaring loophole – if you have a heritage building you’re desperate to knock over, just let it fall into complete disrepair over a decade or two, then use the economic argument as the excuse.

Maximus
25 - 06 - 09

re Thorndon Tav – a far better photo has appeared here:
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3628/3633996786_bb7fef9b3f.jpg?v=0
Very heroic. Space rocket even.