Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area

Woburn Road, Queens Drive, Laings Road And Myrtle Street, Lower Hutt

  • Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area. March 2003 Ridderford Park.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: G Mew.
  • Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area. March 2003. St James' Church Woburn Rd, from the west.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: G Mew.
  • Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area. March 2003. Horticultural Hall, Town Hall and Administration Building, Laings Rd from the east.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: G Mew.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7520 Date Entered 13th June 2003

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Extent of List Entry

The Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area has road boundaries to the south, west and north. These are clockwise, Woburn Road, Queens Drive, Laings Road. To the east, Myrtle Street forms the boundary then continues around the Club grounds, and from there on, separates private property from Council-owned and church owned land back to Woburn Road. A map showing the boundary is part of the Registration Report.

City/District Council

Hutt City

Region

Wellington Region

Location description

The Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area has road boundaries to the south, west and north. These are, clockwise, Woburn Road, Queens Drive and Laings Road. To the east, Myrtle Street forms the boundary as far as the drive into the Hutt Bowling Club; the boundary then continues around the Club grounds, and from there on, separates private property from Council-owned and church-owned land back to Woburn Road. The boundary is illustrated on an Historic Area plan in the Appendix.

Summaryopen/close

Dating to the 1950s the Lower Hutt Civic Centre area is a rare example of successful town planning using the garden city concept. Four buildings of diverse purpose, a church, a library complex, a town hall complex and a horticultural hall, show an integrated design in concrete steel and glass by two noted Wellington architectural firms. All four buildings are located in or adjacent to Riddiford Park, which is of historic value in its own right. This park was the first public park created for the enjoyment of the people Lower Hutt in 1923. However, it was not until 1945 that a Civic Centre Committee was set up to plan for major civic amenity buildings within the park. Mayor P. Dowse was instrumental in seeing the project through to completion from 1950 onwards. The buildings were progressively opened between 1953 and 1959. They attracted immediate public attention, particularly St James's Church which, in 1953, was the most radical modern church design to be seen in New Zealand. The War Memorial Library complex was one of the largest Second World War community memorial projects subsidised by the government and contains important art works in the form of three large murals by the prominent portrait artist, L, V. Mitchell. These murals were an integral part of the war memorial design, complementing external sculpture in bas relief by J. W. Gawn.

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Historical Significance or Value

The Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area is a classic example of 1950s town planning, utilising the garden city design which had been recommended by architects since the 1920s. Placement of important civic administration and public buildings together in parkland surroundings away from main street situations is extremely rare in New Zealand at that date, although various museums and art galleries have been so placed (Auckland War Memorial Museum, McDougall Art Gallery, Christchurch, for example). Also of historic significance and value is the unified approach to design shown by the four main buildings within the historic area, the church, library complex, town hall complex and horticultural hall. Although two different architects were responsible, the post-war modern style, using rectangular, largely unornamented shapes, arranged to form geometric patterns predominates. Similarly, the historic churchyard of St James' merges into the adjacent Riddiford Park, with well-established trees in both areas. Only minor modifications have been made to the major buildings within the area; thus they are a historically significant group representing the vision of the Mayor and City Council of the time.

The Lower Hutt Civic Centre is a relatively rare type of historic area, mainly because of its garden setting. The Mount Albert civic centre in Auckland contains some comparable style 1950s buildings, but lacks the park-type surroundings. The Government Centre in Wellington has garden surrounds, at least near Parliament, the Beehive and the Parliamentary Library, but lacks the cohesion of style shown by the Lower Hutt buildings, where both church and local government buildings are unified. Hastings has a library, an arts centre and a very recent local Administration block set in gardens, but again there are marked contrasts in style over a considerable time period. Christchurch, which claims to be the leading Garden City of New Zealand, formerly had Council Chambers in gardens beside the Avon River, and currently has a museum and art gallery within the Botanic Gardens. None of those buildings date from the 1950s, nor do they form an organised civic centre.

St James' church has particular historic significance and value, representing one of the very first Modern Movement churches in New Zealand to depart totally from the previously-used Gothic idiom. Also, being the third Anglican Church on this site, it represents the historic continuity of this branch of the church in Lower Hutt, and the cemetery contains the historical records of many leading citizens of the Lower Hutt area.

The War Memorial Library is historically significant both by being one of the largest Second World War community memorial projects to attract a Government subsidy towards completion, and for containing a series of huge murals commemorating the fallen of World War 2 by the prominent Wellington artist, Leonard Mitchell. The Lower Hutt War Memorial Library complex has potential for significant interpretation of its history, both as one of the largest 'living memorials' accepted for Government subsidy in the country, and for containing important works of art in the form of the very large painted war memorial murals. These reminders of the major contributions of New Zealanders to the Second World War are to some extent interpreted through the work of the Local Studies Centre within the library.

The area represents important and representative aspects of New Zealand as seen in both the concept of a traditional form of Public Park and in a practical achievement of the garden city concept, whereby public buildings were placed in suitable garden environments. Also, the War Memorial Library complex is a good New Zealand example of a 'living memorial', produced by the combined efforts of a city council, the citizens of Lower Hutt and the government of the time in a typically New Zealand spirit of cooperation.

St James' Church, the first major structure planned and completed in the Civic Centre historic area, represents New Zealand's departure from traditional church forms and acceptance of Modern Movement design being capable of adaption by local architects. The importance of this and the library, and indeed the Town Hall complex, was recognised at the time of their building by the presence of the Governor-General at openings, and the visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1954. Knowledge of the importance of the design of St James' Church is passed on in a publication on 1950s Buildings by Jan Bowman and also by Warwick Johnston in 'Woburn (Te Umumamaku)'.

The concept of setting civic buildings and factories in a garden environment dates back to the garden city ideas first voiced in New Zealand in the 1920s. However, such buildings were seldom located in such settings due to pressure on space and the generally very high costs of land in central city areas. Mayor Strand of Lower Hutt was sufficiently far-sighted to purchase the land for Riddiford Park before prices became impossibly high. Mayors J.W. Andrews and P. Dowse initiated the planning for the Civic Centre within the Park and finally saw it through to completion.

The area has some potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history. The churchyard of St James' already contains interpretative panels drawing attention to prominent Lower Hutt citizens buried in the vicinity. There is also a memorial plaque to Sergeant Ingram and the soldiers killed in the attack on Boulcott's Farm in the Hutt Valley on 16 May 1846.

Riddiford Park also has some potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history through the records left as plaques by those who have planted trees or donated various features to the Park. Rotary are responsible for various features such as a playground and shelter, reflecting their historical associations with community projects in New Zealand.

All of the Civic Centre area is within one of the primary New Zealand Company blocks of land, Section 25, held by Captain Edward Daniell. The area was originally farmed, but the part where St James' now stands was donated to the Anglican Church prior to building in 1848. Later, he also donated more land for the churchyard. Other parts of his land were sold for business and housing development along Main Road and what was to become Laings Road. The area which became Riddiford Park remained as farmland until purchased by the Borough Council.

The four main buildings in the Lower Hutt Civic Centre Historic Area can, as a group, be considered of high architectural significance and value because of their varying function yet unity of design within a comparatively small area. While there are still significant numbers of 1950s buildings remaining in Lower Hutt, most are commercial office blocks. Although several of these have merit in design terms, they are currently unprotected and only have value in individual terms. The four buildings represent the significant change of emphasis in civic architecture in the Hutt Valley that occurred in post-war times. The art deco and stripped classical designs of the 1930s were replaced with modern and functionalist buildings almost totally lacking in external ornament. Both the church and the town hall show some vestigial ornament; the library slightly more in keeping with the war memorial function.

Technological advances in the use of reinforced concrete, steel frames, metal window surrounds and new forms of roofing materials, allowed for the design of stark, cubist forms expressly designed for the functions which were to take place inside the buildings. Large windows were designed to allow maximum amounts of daylight to penetrate, and numbers of internal supports were minimised.

St James' church represents a radical new direction in church architectural design for its time. Most previous churches in New Zealand built around that time (late 1940s - early 1950s) had shown Gothic influences, even though built in modern materials.

Riddiford Park has both aesthetic significance and value as an example of a traditional type of City Park with large flower beds mainly planted in patterns of colourful annuals. There are also extensive areas of lawn, with scattered big trees. Many towns and cities have replaced their large flower beds with lawns and/ or shrubs, as these are cheaper and easier to maintain. The park also includes traditional features such as an aviary, a children's playground, fountain, conservatory and picnic places.

The Civic Centre group of buildings represents an important example of a purpose-built complex, deliberately designed to follow garden city concepts. Collaboration between two major local architectural firms and a single building company resulted in a unified approach to design and construction. Concrete, steel and glass were used to produce essentially cubist and rectangular forms with minimal ornament - following the Modern Movement precepts of the 1950s. The buildings were skilfully placed within or along the edges of Riddiford Park, separated by trees and areas of garden, but linked visually and physically. The church and library were designed to be obvious to people entering the city over the Ewen Bridge. The administration Building, Town Hall and Horticultural Hall were designed to dominate Laings Road by size and bulk, but also by deliberate creation of space around them through the demolition of pre-existing buildings and planting of new garden areas.

The area has high social, spiritual and cultural value to the people of the spiritual; local community, and a part of the area (St James' Church) has very high cultural significance and value to the people of New Zealand as a whole.

The War Memorial Library represents a significant monument to those New Zealand citizens from Lower Hutt who died in the Second World War and the Cenotaph outside is a monument to those who died in both World Wars and subsequent conflicts. Anzac Day celebrations are now held here, drawing the community together. The area as a whole is of limited importance to the tangata whenua; however the War Memorial part of the library commemorates Maori and Pakeha dead from both World Wars, as does the cenotaph outside in Riddiford Park. Maori are strongly represented in the large horizontal mural in the library representing the peoples of Lower Hutt. A special section within the library is devoted to Maori studies. Obviously the library has high potential for public education. The Local Studies Research Room within the library provides wide-ranging historical information about the area and Lower Hutt as a whole.

St James' Church is the main focus for Anglican worship in Lower Hutt, and many prominent Lower Hutt citizens are buried in its graveyard. Traditional services are regularly held to cater for spiritual needs. The cultural significance was recognised during the Queen's visit in 1954 when she noted that the only comparable church she had seen was in Edinburgh. For many subsequent years, the church attracted visitors specifically to view the Avant Garde design. The church design gained the award of a New Zealand Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1954.

St James' church and churchyard reflect the very long Anglican community association with the area, dating back to 1848. The present church on the site still attracts attention from the wider public because of its stark lines and ultramodern design. The award of the NZIA gold medal in 1954 reflected the public esteem for the building, as did the interest shown by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. The churchyard exemplifies community association with the area, as many civic leaders and settler family members are buried within it.

The Little Theatre, Town Hall and Horticultural Hall all have social and cultural significance for generations of Lower Hutt citizens. Both the theatre and Town Hall have been, and are, used for cultural events in which citizens both often perform and form the audience. All facilities are used for conferences, meetings and social events. The Horticultural Hall is used not only for horticultural events, but also for craft markets, charity sales and a wide range of other activities. The Little Theatre, Town Hall and Horticultural Hall all have strong community associations, as they provide essential facilities for public performances and meetings. The Horticultural Hall is also used as a sales venue and for some indoor sporting events.

The Administration Building is the central and chief administrative building for the Hutt City Council. It contains the Mayor's Office and Council Chambers and encapsulates the history of both Lower Hutt City Council and the Borough Council which preceded it. For most citizens it is the focus of city organisation; where they go to get a building permit, to pay their rates, to check the electoral roll, or complain about noise abatement. Hence it is a highly important social focal point in Lower Hutt, especially since the administration area expanded to include Petone, Eastbourne and Wainuiomata. The Hutt City Administration Building has inevitable community associations through the large number of ratepayers who visit it for various purposes. Also, it is of course central to the day-to-day running of local government in Lower Hutt, with council meetings being held in the building which contains the council chambers and the mayor's office.

Riddiford Park has social, traditional and cultural significance for many Lower Hutt citizens of all ages. In part, it represents a park of the traditional kind, with large, colourful flower beds and lawns to picnic on. It has a fountain, an aviary, a conservatory and a children's playground, all attracting visitors who may have gone to the church, the library or other nearby facilities. Older citizens remember with nostalgia the Riddiford Baths formerly located within the Park. Shelters have been built, gates and seats donated and trees planted in commemoration of various people and events.

The social significance of the park as an important public amenity has been vigorously defended several times in the past. The most publicised occasion was in 1951 when the Ratepayer's Association fought the Borough Council over the proposal to put a new road through the centre of Riddiford Park. A compromise was to place Queens Drive on the western margin of the park. Minor skirmishes have arisen over proposals to do away with the traditional flower beds from time to time. There is very strong community association with, and public esteem for, the area as a whole, particularly Riddiford Park, where the public has fought hard on several occasions to retain both the area and its facilities. The siting of the cenotaph in the park outside the War Memorial Library has brought the Anzac Day memorial services to the park and further strengthened the community association with the area. Community association is also very evident in the high usage of the War Memorial Library and all its facilities.

The area as a whole has potential for public education because of its historical associations. Riddiford Park contains memorials and features such as trees planted to mark historic occasions or prominent people. St James' churchyard contains two interpretative shelters drawing attention to historic features of the area. The church of St James' has potential for public education as a unique example of early modern church design in New Zealand.

The area has strong symbolic and commemorative value for several reasons:

1. Riddiford Park was the first actual public park created in Lower Hutt.

2. The park was the scene of a major battle between ratepayers and council over a decision to put a two-lane road through it in 1950.

3. The park now contains the Lower Hutt cenotaph, as well as the War Memorial Library. Various trees commemorate significant visits on notable occasions.

4. St James' Church and churchyard are a focus for Anglicans in Lower Hutt. The churchyard

commemorates many prominent local citizens.

5. The Administration Building is the symbol of local government for Lower Hutt.

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Historical Narrative

Lower Hutt has a long history of gardens and parks, dating back to the 1868 opening of Mason's Gardens at Taita. Ludlam's Gardens, in what is now the suburb of Woburn, covered 35 acres in 1877, and were well known all over the Wellington Province. However it was only after Alfred Ludlam's death that the purchaser of the property, James McNab, opened the gardens to the public as a paying proposition. McNab was followed by Mrs Ross until 1898. Between 1901 and 1923 the area was known as Bellevue, but gradually went into decline as subdivision took place, the last garden area going in 1923. While there were private gardens open to the public, it seems that Borough Councils saw little need for public gardens. However, this changed with the demise of Bellevue.

The land area now known as Riddiford Park or Riddiford Gardens has varied significantly in extent over time. Originally a rough grass paddock to the east of the southern end of High Street, it was bought, prior to potential subdivision, by the Borough Council for public recreation in the early l920s. Mayor W.T. Strand had his Resolution confirmed on 30 July 1923. At that time there was no road where Queens Drive is today, and Laings Road, where the Town Hall and Horticultural Hall now stand, was lined on both sides by private houses. The name Riddiford Park was applied to the area after the Riddiford family provided money for the construction of an open air swimming pool within it about 1926. Mrs Strand, the Mayor's wife, was instrumental in planning subsequent garden development up to the appointment of a landscape gardener, Edward Hutt, as the first Superintendent of Parks and Reserves by the Borough Council in 1928.

By 1931, a substantial rock and alpine garden was in place. The Riddiford Baths, adjacent to what is now the corner of Queens Drive and Laings Road, occupied a substantial part of the park until demolition in March 1982. By 1932, the park contained an aviary, a dental clinic, Plunket Rooms and the Waimarie Croquet Club. Successive Councils gradually added more land to the park as the town centre expanded and the residential areas moved outwards.

Development in Riddiford Park initially followed two contrasting, and sometimes conflicting, trends:

- Beautification, by the planting of trees, shrubs, flower beds, rock gardens, and the laying out of paths and water features connected with the stream.

- Provision of sports facilities such as tennis courts, croquet and bowls lawns, and the construction of a major swimming pool.

The gardens, with their spectacular massed plantings of colourful annuals in large beds, have always attracted and enthralled visitors to the city, but the sports facilities have been, and are, extensively used by Hutt City residents and club members.

The concept of a totally new Civic Centre arose finally from the deliberations of a Civic Centre Committee, first formed in 1945. However, it was not until Mayor Percy Dowse was elected in 1950 that significant progress began to be made. Paradoxically, the catalyst for this progress was the proposal to put a major road through Riddiford Park; what is now Queens Drive. There was significant opposition to this proposal from the Ratepayers Association, but the council pushed through the Lower Hutt Empowering Act, 1951, and the road was built along the western boundary of the park to link up with what had formerly been Barraud Street. Purchase of land in Laings Road and removal or demolition of houses there freed up more land both for park extensions and also for potential Council building sites. During this time the Council offices were located in the former Post Office building on the corner of High Street and Laings Road where they had moved after the new Post Office had opened in High Street in 1943.

St James' Anglican Church and graveyard occupies land immediately bordering Riddiford Park in the southeast corner. In 1946, the 1880 church burnt down, and the parishioners decided that their new church should be in the modern style and should fit in with the neighbouring planned civic buildings soon to be erected.

R.C. Muston of Structon Group Architects prepared plans which were approved in early 1952, the ultramodern church being dedicated on 21 December 1953. R.C. Muston was also employed by the Borough Council to design the adjacent War Memorial Library and Little Theatre complex. The foundation stone for this was laid by the Governor-General, Sir Willoughby Norrie, on 23 July 1953. The library complex was opened on 28 February 1956.

The War Memorial Library and Little Theatre complex is an important element in the Civic Centre area. The low-profile, single multipurpose building is dominated by the tall War Memorial entrance porch, decorated externally by the stylised bas relief of the Spirit of Sacrifice by the sculptor James Gawn. Internally, this porch contains two huge commemorative murals, by the noted portrait artist Leonard Mitchell, one representing 'Sacrifice' and the other 'Freedom'. Also within this porch is a Roll of Honour in book form, listing the Lower Hutt dead from two World Wars. The main part of the library contains a third large mural by the same artist, deliberately placed directly opposite the main entrance, and titled 'Human Aspiration'. Fifty Lower Hutt people, from all walks of life in the city of the 1950s are depicted on this important art work which forms an integral part of the original library design. Large picture windows at either end of the library, and a considerable area of windows elsewhere, were also characteristic of the building, although some have since been blocked off. Another significant feature is a partial mezzanine floor, with etched glass balustrade. The Little Theatre at the northern end of the building is the only purpose-built 350-seat theatre in Lower Hutt. Modifications have been made to the entrance porch, considerably enlarging it from the original, but largely in keeping with the design of the rest of the building.

There is a parking area at the rear of the library complex which is in part shared with the neighbouring St James' Church. An agreement was eventually reached between the Borough Council and the church authorities over some land here being purchased by the Borough. The graveyard was reorganised over time and fencing removed between it and Riddiford Park.

The architectural firm of King, Cook and Dawson was employed to design the proposed new Town Hall and Administration Building. Two letters of understanding, one each from the above firm and Structon Group Architects (dated 8 June 1950) show that the two firms had agreed on which Civic Centre buildings they were to be responsible for constructing. The City Engineer requested Keith Cook to draw up detailed plans in September 1950, but the contract of W.M. Angus to construct the building was not signed until April 1954. The official opening of the building was on 4 April 1957. Although now considered to be within Riddiford Park, the Town Hall and Administration Building were in fact constructed on the sites of a series of private houses formerly lining both sides of Laings Road.

The former Horticultural Hall (opened in 1936 and owned by the Horticultural Society) burnt down within a week of the opening of the new Town Hall complex. In 1959, a new hall was completed on the same site, matching the Town Hall in design and being by the same architect, Keith Cook of King, Cook and Dawson. The Horticultural Society gifted the land on which its hall had stood to the City Council, together with £5000, on the understanding that the Society could use the new hall for their own exhibitions. Car parking areas to the east of the Horticultural Hall are also developed on areas formerly occupied by houses bought by the Council and demolished, but adjoining areas on both sides of Black Creek were turned into formal public gardens, now known as Civic Gardens, although continuous with Riddiford Park behind the halls and administration building.

Riddiford Park has continued to change over the years, with removals of buildings, fences and gates, additions of other buildings in different places, rearrangements of planting patterns, and alterations to the stream pattern.

Physical Description

The Lower Hutt Civic Centre Area covers about 1.6ha (approximately 4 acres) of nearly flat alluvial land at less than 20m altitude near the southern end of High Street, and close to the Ewen Bridge over the Hutt River. The area is on the eastern margin of the Central Business District, bounded by Woburn Road to the south east, Queens Drive to the west, and Laings Road to the north. The eastern boundary is dictated by the curves in Black Creek and includes Council owned land up to the boundary of the Hutt Bowling Club to the boundary of the adjacent private houses and to Vogel House grounds. St James' Church property, including the churchyard, is within the Hutt Civic Centre Area for the purpose of this description, although separately owned.

Most of the area is very gently undulating to flat parkland; a mixture of planted trees, shrubs and lawns, with a small, artificially channelled stream meandering through it. Of the four major buildings within it, St James' and the War Memorial Library complex are set back from the peripheral roads inside the park, whereas the Town Hall complex and Horticultural Hall face directly onto Laings Road, but with their back parts in the park. Large expanses of lawns with flower beds border Queens Drive; there are only scattered trees here. Nearer the stream and churchyard, there are older and larger planted trees, also behind the Council Administration Building and Horticultural Hall. Car parking areas adjoin the Horticultural Hall to the east and are located between St James' Church and the War Memorial Library. Sealed or paved footpaths link all features within Riddiford Park, and Black Creek is bridged in 6 places by narrow footbridges.

Most of the buildings within the area have relatively low profiles broken only by the vertical features of the St James' bell tower and the Town Hall clock tower. Parts of the Administration Building are four storeys high, and parts of the War Memorial Library are three storeys, but both have a background of relatively large trees.

Construction Dates

Completion Date

26th June 2003

Report Written By

Helen McCracken

Information Sources

Bowman, 1998 (2)

Ian Bowman, 'Saint James, Lower Hutt; A plan for its Conservation', 1998

Johnston, 2002

Warwick Johnston, Woburn (Te Umumamaku), Hutt City Libraries, Hutt City Council, 2002

McGill, 1991 (2)

David McGill, Lower Hutt - The first Garden City, Lower Hutt City Council, 1991

Meyers, 1978

J. Meyers, Katherine Mansfield; A Biography, London, 1978

Millar, 1972

David Millar, Once Upon a Village, a History of Lower Hutt, 1819-1965, Wellington, 1972

New Zealand Building Progress

New Zealand Building Progress

Noble Centrepiece in Lower Hutt. Anon. Building Progress, July 1957, pp 71-78

Other Information

St James Church received Gold Award (1954) from NZIA.

A fully referenced report is avaliable from the Central Region office of NZHPT

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.

Historic Area Place Name

Lower Hutt Horticultural Hall
Lower Hutt Town Hall & Administration Building
Lower Hutt War Memorial Library
Riddiford Park
St James's Church and churchyard