Paraparaumu Airport Control Tower (Former)

227 Kapiti Road, Paraparaumu

  • Paraparaumu Airport Control Tower (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7532 Date Entered 11th December 2003

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Ngarara West B5 (CT WN53D/165), Wellington Land District and the building known as Paraparaumu Airport Control Tower (Former) thereon. Refer to the map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 31 May 2018.

City/District Council

Kapiti Coast District

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Ngarara West B5 (CT WN53D/165), Wellington Land District

Summaryopen/close

This place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. Information in square brackets indicates changes made since the original registration:

The Control Tower, at Paraparaumu Airport, on the Kapiti Coast is a landmark structure that has achieved icon status over the fifty years since its construction. The history of the Control Tower is very much tied up with the development of the airfield at Paraparaumu from its construction as a defence measure before World War II, and its subsequent use by civil aircraft when the National Airways Corporation came into being in the late 1940s. The Paraparaumu Airport became Wellington's main airport when Rongotai closed in 1947 for major reconstruction. The reconstruction of a new Control Tower was an imperative for civil aviation movements that suddenly increased to over 20 a day. Aviation requirements were breaking new ground with the building of Control Towers, with no prototype plans available to New Zealand officials. The result was a simple structure that has stood the test of time, with modifications to meet increased technological requirements of civil aviation authorities.

The Control Tower has significant presence in Paraparaumu. [Flight Information Services staff worked in the building until late 2016, and moved to a newly-built control tower at the airport in 2017].

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text from the original registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical Significance:

The Control Tower has been well-known to many hundreds of pilots, flight crews and airport staff, and to generations of residents and visitors to the area for almost 60 years. As well as performing its prime function of overseeing flight operations, it has become identified with both the airport and the town around it to a remarkable degree. For over a decade, this was the main airport for Wellington while major reconstruction was occurring for larger aircraft at Rongotai airport. Traffic movements for both passenger and freight aircraft as well as light aircraft in this period in particular were very high. The Control Tower was also constructed in a period when personal contact with flight crew is quite different from today's technological world.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text from the original registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Aesthetic, Architectural and Technical:

The Control Tower was constructed in a period when new architectural forms were being devised, to provide for expanding functions in the transport field. Its clean lines show the newly developing aesthetic, placing great emphasis on the use and function of the building. The cab construction provides a distinctive architectural character. Its prominent situation on a busy traffic route in Paraparaumu gives the building a considerable 'landmark' significance in a townscape otherwise devoid of such features.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text from the original registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Social:

Changed airport control procedures have led to a modified function of the Control Tower, but the control room is still in use and serves a useful purpose in the operation of the airport. The Tower has a revered status to generations of traffic controllers, pilots, flight crews and to staff who have worked at the airport.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text from the original registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand:

Worldwide, aviation is less than 100 years old, but aviation in all its aspects, the development of passenger flying and freight movement, light aircraft use, and the construction of multipurpose buildings at airports, have played a significant part in the growth of New Zealand. Many early aviation structures are no longer in existence in this country, so it is important that remaining representative types of buildings such as Control Towers are recognised and retained. The Tower at Paraparaumu was constructed in a period of significant growth in air movement in New Zealand, military aircraft and the commencement of the National Airways Corporation for civil air traffic. Despite its distance from the capital city, Paraparaumu was required to be Wellington's main airport effectively for 12 years from 1947.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

In the years between 1947 and 1959 when Rongotai was under reconstruction, and later until 1971, as all official alternate to Wellington, Paraparaumu handled the tourist, business and diplomatic air traffic of the capital city. When the Queen and Prince Philip made their first visit to New Zealand in 1953 they landed at Paraparaumu.

On July 18 1939, the then Minister of Works, Hon. Bob Semple, used the levelling of Paraparaumu airfield as an example of the use of modern machinery with bulldozers and scrapers. In March 1941, the RNZAF made Paraparaumu the reporting point for aircraft crossing the Cook Strait, instead of Rongotai, using the airfield's weather forecasts and communications facilities. Previously, civil aircraft circled the railway stationmaster's office at Paekakariki and the lighthouse at the top of the South Island. By October 1945, Paraparaumu airfield had become part of the main trunk air passenger service for RNZAF Dakotas from Auckland to Christchurch because Rongotai was too small. The airfield was rapidly upgraded with sealed runways and a terminal using old army huts.

There has been two significant aircraft crashes associated with Paraparaumu. In March 1949, an NAC Lockheed Lodestar, ZK-AKZ, on approach to Paraparaumu from Whenuapai, crashed inland from Waikanae, with the loss of all 15 people aboard. In May 1954, DC3 ZK-AQT crashed on approach to the Paraparaumu airfield into sand hills to the south of the airport. Fuel tanks had not been switched across. Three children died. The remaining adult passengers and the flight crew survived.

During the period that the airport was used by NAC, 1.5 million passengers passed through Paraparaumu. They had to travel for just on an hour by bus to reach the capital city. Paraparaumu was the last flight destination for the late Norman Kirk, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1972 -74. He arrived by RNZAF Hercules and was driven off the aircraft in a car headed for Wellington. He died a few days later on August 8th 1974.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

Paraparaumu airport after World War II required an urgent upgrade of all its facilities to cope with main trunk air 'traffic. This meant that there had to be a new control tower facility to clear a significant increase in aircraft movements. The construction of this particular control tower, was the first upgrade in New Zealand. In effect it was a prototype plan required by the civil aviation authority for air traffic control facilities in this country after 1947. From this airports other than the main centres around the country had to cope with a significant increase use of larger aircraft, the DC3 and the Lockheed Lodestar. The Paraparaumu Tower, with its Ministry of Works cab design, on an elevated site, can be credited with being the first of many that were built and are now well established at airfields throughout New Zealand.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

The Control Tower has been a prominent feature in Paraparaumu for generations. Many families in the local area and beyond have a long recall of the history of the Control Tower being tied up with the development of the airfield from its construction as a defence measure prior to World War II and its subsequent use by military and civil aircraft and recreational aviation. It served as the principal airport for Wellington and handled large volumes of passenger and commercial traffic. The Control Tower has been well maintained and retains substantially its original form and character. Several generations of pilots, flight crews and staff who worked at the airport since its beginnings have high respect for the Tower building.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Public interest in aviation in New Zealand has grown with a large number of recent books published on the development of aircraft from inception in New Zealand, the history of our airline companies and references to historic aviation buildings around the country. By special arrangement, visitors are conducted around the Museum of Aviation in Paraparaumu, and are frequently conducted over the Control Tower. Also by arrangement, such tours are now fairly common place at other airfields in New Zealand especially at provincial centres. The history

of these control towers is related and visitors get the opportunity to observe the procedures that staff are required to follow.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The design of control towers for airports immediately value, or design of the place following World War II was ground breaking territory for design teams at the Ministry of Works. With no prototypes, it was a battle of the authorities to agree what was best for control tower design to meet the rapid growth in air transport. The design chosen was practical and the selection of the site on high ground was necessary for the tasks that had to be performed. The location of the Paraparaumu Control Tower is a significant landmark for passing air traffic and it is a site that can be seen over a wide area of Paraparaumu.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

From its beginnings some 56 years ago, the Control Tower has been a significant structure in Paraparaumu, largely because of its siting on high ground and with no other comparable buildings of this kind in the immediate vicinity. The Control Tower has reached an icon status with pilots, flight crews, and former staff at the airport and with the local community, especially given the long period that this airfield operated as Wellington's main airport through the 1950s. It has been well maintained and special efforts are made by community representatives to convey the history of the Control Tower in the context of air movements both past and present.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

Paraparaumu is a very flat landscape with few high-rise buildings of any description, save some apartment buildings, and offices near the coast, but above all the Airport Control Tower dominates. The Tower is a very visual landmark, not only to aircraft approaching the local airfield and to Wellington airport, but it can be seen from a considerable distance away by people passing through Paraparaumu, and from houses in the area. The coastal fringe is characterized by rolling sand dunes which form a border to the airport from the south west, with houses built right up to the boundary of the airport on the western side. Kapiti Road the main traffic route through to the coastal area runs adjacent to the Control Tower. The Tower rises from the edge of the highway from a plateau to dominate a very large acreage of airport tarmacs, runways and aircraft buildings on both the east and western sides of the airport. The elevated site and glass cab providing 360 degree visual control provides the dominance that this structure has on this landscape.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Ministry of Works and Development

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text from the original registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

History of the place:

The airfield at Paraparaumu was developed in 1939, pre the start of World War II, as an alternative airfield to Rongotai, for emergency landings, and diversions from Wellington. The aerodrome was used by units of the RNZAF during the war and buildings were erected by American forces in New Zealand for hospital and administrative purposes. In those days, the concept of "aerodrome control" was in its infancy as radio communications were short range and spasmodic. Thus few, even operational fields, were provided with 'control towers' and signal lamps provided the principal means of control.

At Paraparaumu, a wooden shack served to house this sort of equipment until 1947, when, with the closing and major reconstruction of Rongotai airport, for larger aircraft, it became obvious that a proper control tower would be necessary to handle the vastly increased air traffic (approximately 20 significant air movements per day). On 1 June 1947 New Zealand National Airways Corporation took over internal air services for passengers and freight in New Zealand from RNZAF aircrew. Many airforce aircrew simply transferred to the civil airline which was a merger of Union Airways and Cook Strait Airways which operated before the war.

In August 1947, Rongotai airport was closed to scheduled passenger services because it was not up to international aviation standards. From that date, Paraparaumu became Wellington's main airport until July 1959 when daylight services resumed at Rongotai and night time services in November of that year. Building of the control tower on high ground at Paraparaumu airport, adjacent to Kapiti Road was started towards the end of 1947 to plans drawn up by the district architect of the Ministry of Works. In reply to criticism from Civil Aviation officials about design details, the Ministry responded by saying there were no overseas control tower prototypes available to New Zealand authorities at that time.

A completely new cab was installed in 1955 to meet more exacting requirements of Civil Aviation during a period when Paraparaumu was the main airport for Wellington, with Rongotai closed for major redevelopment for jet aircraft. The new cab had to be replaced in 1968 as it was reported that the cab roof and window frames leaked badly and the seepage of water was endangering radio and electrical equipment. The rusting window frames were also a concern and were not expected to hold the large plate glass windows. Authorities feared they could collapse in strong winds with serious consequences.

The 1968 restoration and reconstruction of the cab was fairly comprehensive and apart from some maintenance and minor improvements, it is largely what people see today. Externally, the solid aluminium window frames are in excellent condition and the Australian hardwood external stairway is well preserved. During the rebuilding in 1968-69, the opportunity was taken to install the latest type of aerodrome console with weather, lighting, telephone and radio facilities.

With the re-opening of Rongotai airport in 1959, commercial air transport mainly in the form of the National Airways Corporation, passenger and freight aircraft, air traffic movements were reduced, but at certain periods the control tower was required to monitor important local passenger and freight services as well as Aero Club and Charter operations.

It is still an alternate airport for Wellington and is used for diversions. With the introduction of initially, viscount aircraft in the 1950s and the replacement of the DC3s by Fokker Friendship aircraft in the 1960s and by later jet propelled aircraft, the use of Paraparaumu airport has been less and less. The airport has been widely used by pilot training organisations. In addition, it has housed the Civil Aviation calibration flight, which was responsible for calibrating navigational aids throughout New Zealand and the Pacific plus it has carried out a VIP role for a number of years until that role was assumed by the RNZAF at Rongotai for royal visits, overseas leaders and other distinguished guests. In the late 1940s Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh visited New Zealand and landed at Paraparaumu.

Among the diversions to Paraparaumu airport were aircraft carrying the Queen and Prince Philip in 1963 who disembarked on the tarmac near the base of the control tower. They were greeted by one local police constable holding back a crowd of locals.

Another more solemn occasion was the arrival of the Prime Minister, Norman Kirk in 1974. He arrived in a RNZAF Hercules and was driven off the aircraft in a car. He died a few days later at the home of compassion in Wellington.

Control tower personnel were responsible for providing information and assistance, not only to aircraft arriving and departing from the airfield, but they were also responsible for aircraft operating in and around the area approximately from Otaki to the north and Paekakariki to the south. Staff were required to alert Search and Rescue organisations, not only for aircraft, but on occasions for sea going craft.

The tower was not only used to control and advise pilots whilst in their aircraft, it was also used by pilots to personally file their flight plans and obtain information on weather and get other briefings that may affect their flight. It was a more personal affair than today's world where briefings are largely provided through the computer.

The tower is not just a building, but a memorial to all those personnel who have worked in the tower, and to the pilots who have used its services. It is a place, where due to the vagaries of the weather aviation one day is often different to the next.

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text from the original registration report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Designer/Architect:

The Control Tower was designed by the Wellington District Architect, Ministry of Works, in conjunction with officers of the New Zealand Air Department.

Builder:

The original builder is unknown, although several local contractors were involved at later stages and with the redesign work carried out on the Control Tower in the mid 1950s and 1960s.

Description:

The large areas of glass sloping downwards at an angle of 26 degrees to the vertical add considerably to the distinctive character of the building and to contribute to the architectural quality of what is basically a utilitarian structure. Similarly the array of antennae on the roof suggest that this has a communications function. The chequer-board external colour scheme, in common with many other control towers, is intended to attract the pilot's eye in conditions of poor visibility.

Current physical condition:

The building is currently in good physical condition having been repainted last year. The external wooden stair and gallery will require minor repairs from time to time, but with periodic maintenance, the building should last indefinitely with few problems.

Notable Features

Amongst the first control towers to be built in New Zealand. The highly specialised control tower form built to plans from Ministry of Works, no prototypes, no overseas examples.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1947 -

Other
1955 -
New cab installed during period when Rongotai Airport was closed for re-construction and Paraparaumu operated as Wellington's airport for commercial aircraft.

Other
2016 - 2018
Tower decommissioned (new control tower completed 2017)

Construction Details

Timber framed with the lower portion sheathed in heavy asbestos cladding. The cab is constructed with tinted glazing set in aluminium framing with solid roof panels. It has a cantilevered gallery with an aluminium and timber handrail.

Completion Date

12th July 2004

Report Written By

NZHPT

Information Sources

Aimer, 2000

Peter Aimer, Wings of the Nation: A history of the New Zealand National Airways Corporation 1947-78, 2000

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Correspondence from the Government Architect, District Architect, Ministry of Works and Department of Civil Aviation

Dominion

Dominion

30 September 1947

Evening Post

Evening Post

25 September 1947

Kapiti Coast District Council

Kapiti Coast District Council

The Celebration of the Kapiti District, 1988

Museum of Aviation (Kapiti) Inc, 1998 (2001)

The case for protecting and preserving the Control Tower at Paraparaumu Airport as a Building of Historic and Architectural Importance: Submission to KCDC by Museum of Aviation (Kapiti) Inc, 1998 and March 2001.

King, 1995

John King. 1995. New Zealand Aviation Tragedies

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Central region office

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.