As the Basin Bridge Board of Inquiry has been debating the merits and issues about Heritage, and in particular the heritage aspects of the CrÃ¨che of Compassion, over the last week, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the crÃ¨che. It is, of course, about to embark on a journey, or two, or in fact three! Firstly, it is going to be jacked up, then moved back, then reallllly jacked up, then moved sideways. It is quite a lengthy, and evidently rather expensive process.
Is it worth it? And why are they even doing it? It has emerged this week that in fact, there is no reason why it is being done now, as part of the War Memorial Park Underpass works, as it is not necessary for that project. It’s not in the way of the underpass, it is more that it is just in the way of the future flyover (or should I say, the flyover of the future!), which is of course a project that does not yet have any Resource Consent. In fact, the longer this Board of Inquiry goes on, the less likely looking it is that the flyover will actually go ahead, if you believe some people.
But yes, the move of the CrÃ¨che has been allowed to go ahead under the Pukeahu (Memorial Park) enabling legislation, which means of course that it has happened without input from the Historic Places Trust (or Heritage New Zealand, as they are known now). HPT might have, for instance, had something to say about the construction of the plinth upon which the CrÃ¨che will sit, being composed of big tantalized timber piles, and looking wholly unsuitable really for a building of age to be sitting comfortably on. It is always going to be looking like it is a moved, temporary thing, on it’s timber pile, rather than integrated into the landscaping in a more cohesive manner as you might expect. That’s a typical – and not unexpected – solution from NZTA, who deal with roads, and don’t know really how to deal with buildings, other than to knock them down. I certainly hold fears for any buildings that NZTA is involved with ever looking good, or coherently designed, or integrated into the fabric – its just not a thing that the reading agency can do. No doubt they’ll plant some ivy to cover up their sins. And sins there were aplenty this week, with the rather venerated senior statesman of the New Zealand heritage scene, the very reverend Jeremy Salmond, eventually admitting that the whole Flyover was in fact a sin, and ugly, dominant, overbrooding, and ultimately un-mitigationable to boot. Did he really say that, or was it just my imagination? Its certainly what it seemed like he ended up saying to me… Rather nice for one of the NZTA’s paid hounds to be admitting that in public, however reluctantly.
There is an extraordinary amount of so-called Heritage in the vicinity of the Basin Reserve, according to the NZTA reports. I would count the Old Museum Stand as one, and the little noddy-like memorial on the other side of the reserve as another, with the CrÃ¨che as a third, even if it is outside the Reserve itself. Arguably, if you were feeling generous, you’d say that the old groundskeepers cottage is a bit heritagey-looking, but then so as well is the Vance Stand, which may be the only thing standing at the Reserve after the big one hits. The Old Museum Stand is history already, closed and rotting and semi-collapsing, and a total earthquake risk. To be honest, the Vance Stand is not that much better, shedding several panes of glass in the Seddon quakes last year. But what else is listed as heritage? Apparently, those two ugly little brown gateways letting you in and out are also heritage (the Reid Gate and the Dempster Gate) and also some neighbouring concrete fence-posts, although not the actual timber fence itself. Even the pathetically badly designed concrete public toilet block, all covered with ivy and not a thing of good design or beauty at all, is mentioned on a heritage register somewhere. There are, apparently, 27 separate pieces of heritage in the vicinity. Count them, if you can. Of these, the CrÃ¨che is just one – but arguably the most important.
So, with the CrÃ¨che about to be moved, within days, and for it to remain sitting forelornly alone in the whole Pukeahu Park, standing out awkwardly alone like a wallflower at a school ball, what is the CrÃ¨che and why should we care? There is a photo in the War Memorial Park viewing booth that shows the situation a hundred years ago, which explains it much better than I can. It didn’t use to be alone. It used to be surrounded by Catholics – a Catholic church (St Joseph’s), a Catholic school (St Patrick’s), and all sorts of other Catholic paraphernalia. Probably a shop selling rosaries, or buying paintings of your favourite saint perhaps. Whatever it is that Catholics do. Actually, what they really did here, was a centre for the hopeless. A home for the incurables (perhaps now we would call that a hospice). The CrÃ¨che of Compassion was only a small part of that – and somehow, all the rest of that has gone. St Pats has somehow moved to the other side of the mountain, and St Jo’s has moved to the other side of the valley. The Home for Incurables has been demolished, some time ago, along with the old schools and church buildings. But what will the new use for the CrÃ¨che of Compassion be? Will it revert back to the descendants of Madame Aubert, who doled out soup from its doorstep? Will it be a home for local waifs and strays? Or will NZTA just keep it vacant as they do with so many of their properties?