Dransfield House (Former Wellington Arts Centre)

335 Willis Street, Wellington

  • Dransfield House (former Wellington Arts Centre). ┬ęPhotographer Alex Efimoff / Alexefimoff.com.
    Date: 22/02/2017.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1443 Date Entered 22nd April 1993


City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Legal description

Lot 1-2 DP 28136 & Lot 8 & Pt Lot 10 DP 549 (CT WNF3/1492), Wellington Land District



Joe Dransfield (1827-1906) bought the land on which Dransfield House stands, part of Town Acre 91, from his brother Charles Edward Dransfield in 1858. He then bought part of Town Acre 93 in 1866, and all of Town Acre 92 in 1868 and thus held a large piece of land in Upper Willis Street. While the Wellington Almanac has Joe Dransfield living in Willis Street from 1863, the house is believed to have been built in the 1870s.

Dransfield was born in Yorkshire and came to New Zealand in 1857. He settled in Wellington where he joined his brother Charles in his established general merchant's business. He became well known as a coal merchant, carrying out contracts for the New Zealand Steam Navigation Company, of which he became a director. His own business suffered financial difficulties and was sold to the United Importers Company in 1888.

Dransfield was politically active in Wellington, representing the City on the Provincial Council (1963-1867 and 1869-1873). He was chairman of the Wellington Town Board which preceded the Wellington City Council and was the first elected Mayor of the Wellington Corporation (1870-1874 and 1878-1879), established in 1870 under a Parliamentary Act of 1867. During his time as mayor, Dransfield actively promoted the reclamation of the harbour. Financial embarrassment led to his resignation in 1879.

Ownership of 335 Willis Street passed from Dransfield to the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency Company Limited in 1886, and to the Bank of New Zealand Estates Company Limited in 1890. During their ownership it was leased and run as a boarding house by Edith Louisa Weston, a widow.

In 1896 the property was sold to Rose Christine Focke, wife of Eberhard Focke. The old City Building Index Register states that E. Focke made unspecified additions to the house in 1896.

In 1905 the property was purchased by Alfred Ernest Kernot, Justice of the Peace, merchant and Consul for Paraguay. He added stables and a coachhouse in that year. In 1923 Kernot sold the property to David Lloyd Clay, a medical practitioner, and following Clay's death in 1935 the property was transferred to the Public Trust and in 1938 to the Wellington City Council.

A variety of tenants leased the property and the house was in poor condition when the Wellington Arts Centre Trust took up the lease about 1979. The Wellington Arts Centre occupied the building until 1989.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Dransfield House is most closely associated with Joe Dransfield who was prominent in Wellington's business and public life. He represented Wellington City on the Provincial Council and was the first elected Mayor of the Wellington Corporation.


Dransfield House is a fine example of a substantial wooden house in the Italianate style built in Wellington, and indeed throughout New Zealand, between 1870 and 1910. Such houses are becoming increasingly rare, especially in inner-city areas and this house is a reminder of how such elegant residences once graced streets close to the city centre.

Dransfield House survives relatively unaltered and has aesthetic interest in the design and interior fittings such as stained glass, joinery and plasterwork.


The house stands back from Willis Street on a large site. It is surrounded by mature oak trees and makes an elegant contribution to this largely low-rise end of Willis Street.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


This two-storeyed house has a hipped roof and verandah to the north and west (street) facades and incorporates Classical Italianate elements modified for construction in timber.

The first floor of the street elevation has a Classical symmetry focussing on a purely decorative central gable above a pair of round- headed windows. On either side of this arrangement is a single round-headed window. The central gable is decorated with fretwork and a finial which adds richness to an otherwise plain facade. The ground floor has a large square bay enclosing the south end of the verandah.

The north elevation has a series of alternating single and paired round-headed windows at first floor and two angled bay windows at ground floor projecting on to the verandah. This verandah, supported by a colonnade of chamferred posts, is continuous along the north and west facades. Likewise, moulded eaves brackets are a decorative element on these facades. In contrast the south and east facades are simple, adorned only with double hung windows with a variety of sash patterns.

The interior retains some of its nineteenth century character, particularly at ground floor level, with timber floors, plastered and timber-lined ceilings, timber arches and corbels in the hall and a staircase with a particularly fine newel post. First floor rooms are of a smaller scale and are simply adorned.


Dates Unknown

Some internal alterations but layout of rooms remains relatively unaltered.

Plastered brick additions on east elevation

Notable Features

Stained glass, joinery and plasterwork.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1870 -
Perhaps c.1875

Construction Details

Timber foundations; timber frame clad with lapped weatherboards; corrugated iron roof sheathing.

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905

Evening Post

Evening Post

'Death of Mr J. Dransfield, 21 September 1906

'Makers of Wellington, Pioneers of The Forties; Joe Dransfield', 3 October 1929

'Willis Street; The Old Clay Point Fort', 17 November 1928

'Know your Wellington', 17 September 1949

'The Street of Trees', 10 June 1981

'Future of Arts Centre a Worry', 11 February 1982

'Arts Centre's Future Safe; No Sale Planned', 2 March 1982

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

CT 2/33; CT24/9; CT58/61; CT95/19; CTF3/1492; Deeds 3/227; Deeds 14/840; Deeds 13/505; Deeds 17/287

Scholefield, 1940

G. H. Scholefield, A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940

Ward, 1891

Thomas Ward, Survey of Wellington, 1891

Wellington Almanac, 1857-1895

Wellington Almanac

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.