Sign of the Takahe
200 Hackthorne Road And Dyers Pass Road, Cashmere, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
2nd April 1985
Lot 16 DP 6163 (CT CB374/164), Lot 63 DP 4030 (CT CB293/34), Canterbury Land District
Corner of Dyers Pass Road and Hackthorne Road.
This building was constructed between 1918 and 1946, with the first section opening to the public in 1920. It was part of Harry (Henry George) Ell's (1862-1934) scheme for a road along the summit of the Port Hills, which border Christchurch to the south. Ell planned to construct a road that would run from Godley Head to Akaroa via Gebbies Pass and would have resthouses along the way. He was dedicated to preserving the last remnants of native bush on the hills and persuaded local landowners to sell or donate land. The Sign of the Takahe was the largest and most ambitious of Ell's resthouses. (The other rest houses include the Sign of the Bellbird (1914), the Sign of the Kiwi (1915) and the Sign of the Packhorse (1916).)
The Sign of the Takahe is a stone building designed in the Gothic style. Ell had originally intended it to be a replica of a Dickensian inn, but by 1923 he was looking at Gothic architecture of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for inspiration. The resulting building is two-storeyed with an asymmetrical plan and a crenellated three-storeyed tower on the southeast corner. The northwest facade, which overlooks the Canterbury Plains, features two oriel windows. Although conceived by Ell, J.G. Collins, a local architect, became involved with the Sign of the Takahe project. The date of his first involvement is uncertain. The earliest known drawing of the Takahe by Collins dates from 1934 but it is unclear how much involvement he had prior to this date. The construction of the Takahe had started before plans were drawn for the building, though Collins' influence on the final design of the building is marked.
Ell struggled financially with his Summit Road project and the boards he established to help with the scheme often publicly refused to pay the debts Ell had incurred in the building of his scheme. The Sign of the Takahe was saved by the Depression work schemes, which enabled Ell to use government-funded unemployed workers, many of whom were skilled artisans. These men produced the fine detailed carving in both wood and stone that typify the Sign of the Takahe both inside and out. Elll died in 1934 but many of the men working for him continued to labour on the Sign of the Takahe until the outbreak of the Second World War. The Summit Road Trust was established after Ell's death to continue his work and the Takahe officially opened in 1949.
This building is significant as the most elaborate of the four rest houses constructed as part of Ell's Summit Road project. It is a wonderful blend of various Gothic architectural periods. An impressive collection of heraldry hung inside includes the coats of arms for many of the early Canterbury settler families, governors- general and prime ministers. The Sign of the Takahe is open to the public as a restaurant and is a popular place for sightseers.
Collins, John Goddard
Collins practised as an architect with the firm of Collins and Harman from 1903 until 1955. He was competent in a variety of styles, from Gothic Revival, as seen in Canterbury College (c.1905-23), through to the modernist, post-war styles of architecture. The South British Insurance Company building (1951) is an example of the latter.
Collins was particularly noted for his attention to detail, as cna be seen in the Sign of the Takahe (1918-46). He was the architect for Nazareth House (first block 1909; west wing 1929; chapel (1939) and much of Christchurch Hospital, including the Nurses' Home and Chapel. For this last building, Collins furnished plans and supervised construction free of charge.
Ell, Henry George (Harry)
Henry George Ell (1862-1934), more commonly known as Harry, is primarily remembered as the instigator of the Summit Road, which runs along the crest of the Port Hills in Christchurch. Born in Christchurch he left school and worked on a sheep station and then in a wool-scouring works. He served as a member of the Armed Constabulary at Parihaka in Taranaki from 1881-1884. He then returned to Christchurch and held a number of other jobs. From 1884 he became involved in local politics and in 1899 he was elected to Parliament as an independent liberal member. He was noted for his interest in welfare and education issues, and for his interest in the conservation of New Zealand's native flora and fauna. It was partly due to his energy and passion for conservation that led to the passing of the Scenery Preservation Bill in 1903. After he unsuccessfully stood for Parliament in 1919, 1922 and 1925, Ell devoted his time to the Summit Road scheme, which he had begun in 1906. His plan was to establish a series of reserves along the tops of the Port Hills, joined by a road and serviced by a series of rest-houses along the way. By the 1930s Ell had obtained a string of reserves along the Port Hills and large portions of the road had been completed. Three of his rest-houses, the Sign of the Bellbird, the Sign of the Packhorse and the Sign of Kiwi had been built by 1920: the last and most elaborate, Sign of the Takahe, was erected with the help of relief workers during the Depression. Ell did not live to see his last rest-house completed, but his 'Angels', as the relief workers were known, continued, completing the Sign of the Takahe in 1949. Ell constantly struggled to find funding for his Summit Hills project and developed a reputation as an intolerant oddity. However, his determination and hard work left Christchurch with a wonderful legacy, which is widely used by many today.
18th October 2001
Report Written By
Gordon Ogilvie, The Port Hills of Christchurch, Auckland, 1991
Kirsty McMillan, 'The Sign of the Takahe', in Ian Lochhead (ed), A Century of Architectural Drawing : Works from the Armson-Collins Collection, Christchurch, 1994, pp.7-9