First State House
12 Fife Lane, Miramar, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
25th September 1986
Lot 53 DP 11187 (CT WN6C/1362), Wellington Land District
Since the day it was first occupied in 1937, the First State House in Miramar has served as a symbol for the first Labour Government's extensive housing scheme.
The state housing scheme was prompted by an acute housing shortage during the Depression that was caused by a decline in building construction and movement into the cities by those looking for work. Few city-based families could then afford the coveted detached, suburban house with the quarter acre section, and the increased demand on rental properties caused rental rates to soar. The Labour Government, elected in 1935, pledged to build houses of a 'modern standard and comfort'. Distinguishing it from earlier schemes that had focused on the provision of accommodation to semi-skilled workers, the Labour Government's programme was based on the principle that decent housing was a fundamental right for all New Zealanders.
The state house subdivision in Miramar, Wellington, was one of the first to be completed in New Zealand. The First State House was the first building in the subdivision to be completed and made available to state tenants. As a result the house was a focus for government publicity for the housing scheme. An official opening ceremony was held in 1937. The ceremony received extensive newspaper coverage and was broadcast on national radio. The iconic image of the opening is a picture of Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage carrying furniture into the building.
The First State House was based on one of 400 different house plans designed for the scheme by architects employed by the newly established Department of Housing Construction. Constructed by private building firm, Higgins and Arcus, it is a single storey building with the hipped roof of locally-made tiles and the low maintenance veneer of plastered brick that lend state houses their distinctive appearance. As in all state houses, the building was designed to maximise the available sunlight and the interior was arranged to promote a harmonious home life while remaining hygienic and efficient.
The McGregor family were the first state tenants in the house. David McGregor, a tram conductor, had previously been living with his family in a sub-standard dwelling in Happy Valley. The McGregors gained their new home by ballot, the system initially used to allocate state houses until complaints forced a merit system to be set in place. Security of tenure depended solely on the McGregors' ability to pay the rent and care for the property. Their rent of 32s 6d per week was based on the average capital cost of their type of house plus maintenance and insurance requirements. It could not be raised, except to cover rates and insurance, unless they were evicted.
In 1968 the McGregor family purchased the First State House. This purchase reflects the changes to the New Zealand Government's approach to state housing. The high standards initially set by the first Labour government meant the housing scheme was expensive to maintain. Costs rose dramatically after the Second World War and from 1945 the tax payer began subsidising state tenants. Although the scheme raised the national standard of living it failed to resolve the acute housing shortage, and public discontent with the scheme escalated. In 1949 Labour lost the election to the National Party. The National Government cut back on building state houses and promoted home ownership. From the 1950s families such as the McGregors were able to purchase state houses for the first time, and many took advantage of this option.
The First State House was repurchased by the Housing Corporation in 1983 in recognition of its importance as a symbol of the state housing programme and was used to accommodate state servants on transfer. In 1987, fifty years after the McGregors moved into the First State House, over 91,000 state houses had been built throughout the country. To mark this anniversary a ceremony was held at the First State House. Despite the celebrations, government support for state housing had declined sharply in the 1980s. In 1991 the government indicated that no new state houses would be erected and that, apart from very limited groups, it would no longer provide housing for New Zealanders in need. In 2003 the New Zealand Housing Corporation builds and leases state houses to New Zealanders in 'greatest need'.
The First State House is historically significant for its use by the First Labour Government as a symbol for their national housing programme. The importance of the symbolic nature of the house was acknowledged when it was repurchased by the state in 1983 and used for the ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the state housing scheme. As a symbol for the housing programme the house has national cultural significance. As a typical example of an early state house, the First State House is architecturally important for the insight it provides into attitudes held concerning the ideal of home and family life that dominated 1930s New Zealand and formed the policies of the first Labour Government.
Higgins and Arcus
Plastered brick building with a concrete tiled gable roof.
5th December 2002
Report Written By
B. Brookes (ed.), 'At Home in New Zealand', Wellington, 2000
Gael Ferguson, Building the New Zealand Dream, Palmerston North, 1994
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office