Antrim House, completed in 1905 for Robert Hannah (1845-1930) and his wife Hannah Hannah (1852-1928), is a significant historic dwelling in the city of Wellington.
Robert Hannah was born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1845. In his youth he was apprenticed as a boot-maker, and at the age of about 18 immigrated to Australia. Around 1866 he joined the flood of migrants to New Zealand in search of their fortunes on the gold fields, settling in the West Coast town of Charleston where he opened his first boot shop. Hannah eventually moved to Wellington in 1874, where he opened a boot shop in Lambton Quay. This was followed five years later by a boot factory and associated retail shop in Cuba Street. Known as R. Hannah and Co, Ltd., the firm quickly grew with a factory in Lambton Quay (1894) and then later in Leeds Street (1908). In 1875 Robert married Hannah Fergusson, a recent immigrant from Ireland. The couple were to have eight children.
Robert, Hannah, and their young family moved to Boulcott Street about 1878. At that time Boulcott Street was considered to be one of the better streets in the city, being the home of noted Wellingtonians, John Plimmer (1812-1905), Sir Walter Buller (1833-1912), and T. G. McCarthy (1833-1912). In 1894 the family moved to a residence in Khandallah, known as Tara Hall. During this time Robert Hannah served on the Onslow Borough Council. The family returned to Boulcott Street by 1898, moving into a house remembered as 'Tera Tangata'. In 1901 they acquired the adjacent property, which was destined to become the site of a new home, Antrim House.
Robert Hannah commissioned Thomas Turnbull and Sons to design the new house. This architectural firm had had a previous association with Hannah, having designed a factory at the back of Hannah's Lambton Quay store in 1894. It is almost certain that William Turnbull designed and oversaw the construction of the house, as his father Thomas, had by that stage retired. Constructed mainly of kauri and heart totara on concrete foundations, Antrim House was (and still is) a fine example of an Edwardian Italianate house. The two-storey building with tower, topped with a mansard roof, was an impressive residence situated on a large section with garden and out-buildings. Within the house, imported pressed metal ceilings and kauri panelling added to the house's opulence, and bore testimony to the success of Hannah and his company.
The family moved into the house late in 1905. It was home to 10 members of the family and a number of domestic staff. Hannah Hannah died in 1928 and two years later Robert Hannah followed her. At the time of his death Robert Hannah had 30 shops throughout the country.
From 1931 the house was leased by the family for use as an exclusive residential hotel. In 1938 the house was sold by the Hannah estate, but continued to be used as a hotel. In July 1940 the upper storey of the house was severely damaged by fire but due to war shortages the owners were unable to restore the house to its former state. Instead a simpler style was chosen, utilising Art Deco motifs. The grand staircase was replaced and the decorative ironwork from the tower was removed. In 1949 the New Zealand Government acquired the house with the intention that it would be used to accommodate visiting VIPs. This did not eventuate and the Department of Labour ran the house as a Public Service Hostel for young men.
During the 1970s the New Zealand Historic Places Trust became concerned at the future of Antrim House. When, in 1977, the hostel was closed, the Trust lobbied the government to preserve the building. Finally in 1978 it was agreed that Antrim House would become the new headquarters of the Historic Places Trust. Extensive repairs and maintenance were carried out over the next few years by the Ministry of Works, and the house was opened by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Alan Highet, on 26 May 1981. In recent years the Trust has carried out various renovations, and it is now occupied by its National Office.
Antrim House has great historic significance as the home of the successful Wellington businessman and founder of R. Hannah and Co, Ltd., Robert Hannah. For over 40 years, following the death of Hannah, the house was a home for a number of people, first as a private hotel and then as a government hostel for young civil servants. It is the longest standing head office of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. It has architectural significance as a fine example of an Edwardian Italianate style house designed by a notable architect, William Turnbull. It is a prominent landmark, particularly as it is one of only a few houses left in what was once a predominantly a residential street, and it is still surrounded by its grounds and trees.