Historical Significance or Value
The Omnibus Garage has historical significance. It is an early example of a purpose built bus depot and is identified with a pioneering borough-run bus service. When the Omnibus Garage was opened in 1939, trams were still the mainstay of public transport in most New Zealand cities. Since their introduction to New Zealand in 1904, buses were used primarily to support the tram network. Their potential would not be tapped until after the Second World War, when the cost of repairing aging tramlines prompted local authorities to consider alterative forms of public transport. Yet in outlying areas, where the cost of laying tramlines was prohibitive, buses became predominant at a much earlier date.
An example of this can be found in Eastbourne, a remote settlement located across the harbour from Wellington city. The first bus service to Eastbourne was developed in the mid-1920s and was expanded following its purchase by the Eastbourne Borough Council in 1927. In a borough that had previously had to rely on ferries for access, the success of the venture was assured. Despite its relatively small size, by 1937 the Eastbourne Borough Council was able to fund the construction of a purpose built Omnibus Garage. At a time when most bus companies operated from converted shops, offices and garages, the move was relatively unusual. The Omnibus Garage was opened in 1939, just months before NZR Road Services (then one of the largest bus operators in the country) completed its own purpose-built facilities in Dunedin. Such complexes would become increasingly common as bus services were consolidated into major companies and the role of buses increased, yet the Omnibus Garage in Eastbourne remains an early example of a purpose built bus workshop and garage.
The Eastbourne Omnibus Garage is of technological interest as an example of a purpose-designed bus garage. When constructed, the building included steam cleaning ramps, a large garage area, two workshops with work pits, a paint workshop, and accommodation facilities for the drivers. Only minor alterations have been made to the Garage since its construction. These include the partitioning of the paint workshop area and the construction of concrete block extensions to the workshops on the south side of the building. The Garage has also retained interior features such as the original safe deposit box, the workshop pits, and the fireplace surrounds in the accommodation areas.
The Omnibus Garage is of social significance to Eastbourne. Because of its location, communication with the Hutt Valley and Wellington is an important issue in Eastbourne and its growth and prosperity depends on reliable transport. The development of the bus service ensured that the link between Eastbourne and the greater Wellington Region was maintained and strengthened when other means of transport could not be relied upon. The role of the bus service increased in importance as the ferry service, the only other form of public transport to the area, became increasingly unreliable before ceasing altogether from 1948. The Omnibus Garage played a key role in insuring that the service remained operable and has provided over 66 years of service to the Eastbourne community. Since its construction, the building itself has been a community symbol or reference point that continues to contribute to the identity of the Eastbourne community. The Eastbourne community has demonstrated its commitment to the service, and the building over a long period of time. The Omnibus Garage itself was funded by Eastbourne's ratepayers. Its original owner, the Eastbourne Borough Council, took a poll of its ratepayers on 22 Sept 1937, to determine whether there was sufficient support for obtaining a loan to construct the building. Votes for were 195, with just 44 against. When the costs proved to be greater than the amount funded by the loan, the remainder was obtained via a special rate levied on ratepayers. The bus service and Garage became an essential part of the settlement's promotion of itself as a holiday and tourist destination and, once completed, the Eastbourne community ensured that it had prominent coverage in publications about the suburb. The centennial publication "Sunny Eastbourne: the Playground Suburb" devoted over a quarter of its 52 pages to the new building and the promotion of the bus service. Walks to Butterfly Creek reserve and the Pencarrow lighthouse took people past the bus garage, and there is anecdotal evidence that drivers took such sightseeing passengers to the Garage, from where the walking track to Butterfly Creek over the hill departed. When the Omnibus Garage was threatened with demolition in 2005, the Eastbourne community banded together to attempt to save it. The community vigorously opposed demolition of the building and provided the owners with alternative means of re-using the site in a profitable manner.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Omnibus Garage reflects the importance of omnibus transport to outlying areas in early twentieth century New Zealand cities. These areas were isolated from the tram network that supplied the bulk of public transport during this period and, without the buses, development and growth in settlements such as Eastbourne would have been stifled. Buses now take precedence over trams throughout New Zealand and depots and garages are relatively common. The Eastbourne Omnibus Garage stands out as an early example of these purpose-designed buildings.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:
The Eastbourne community has demonstrated its commitment to the service, and to the Omnibus Garage, over a long period of time. In 2005 the Eastbourne community took action to save the building from demolition. The land on which the Omnibus Garage was built was part of the Eastbourne Domain at the time the garage was constructed. However, in 1941 the land moved into EBC ownership. Plans to sell the blocks of flats were proposed in 1996. In 2000 plans to redevelop the area were put forward. Both plans met with opposition from residents. Despite this, the flats were demolished in 2004 and a permit to 'remove' the bus garage, workshop and offices was issued by Hutt City Council on 4 March 2005. Local residents protested and formed a group under the name 'Eastbourne Rights'. In August 2005, their efforts prompted the Hutt City Council to halt the development of the subdivision to allow the group to put forward alternative proposals for the land.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The Omnibus Garage is of technical interest as an intact and early example of a purpose-designed bus garage and workshop complex.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:
The Omnibus Garage has some commemorative value as a reminder of the Eastbourne Borough Council. The EBC was established in 1906 and absorbed by the Hutt City Council in 1989. The Council worked continually to promote access to the Eastbourne settlement. It purchased the Bus Service in 1927, and arranged for the construction of the omnibus complex, which was completed in 1939. The building still bears the name of the EBC, and as such, it is a fitting memorial to the organisation.
Trams played the starring role in inter-city transport in early twentieth century New Zealand, buses, first introduced into New Zealand in 1904, were cast into a supporting role. Few of the largely private operators of bus companies could compete with the tram and so their services were relegated to the outer edges of cities. They provided links between tram networks and direct routes to isolated areas where cost prohibited the laying of tramlines. Legislation passed in 1913 allowed local authorities to establish motor bus services. Few took up the opportunity and early bus operators remained largely privately owned. In 1926, however, the Control of Motor Omnibuses Act was passed. This Act required bus owners to register their vehicles and, as local authorities became licensing authorities, many local authorities began to buy out the private owners. Although they would not come into widespread use until after the Second World War, from this point onwards, the role of buses increased and, in post-World War II New Zealand, would finally replace the tram on the public transport stage.
An early example of a site where buses, not trams, predominated, can be found in Eastbourne, a settlement located across the harbour from Wellington city. Because of its remote location, Eastbourne has always considered its connection with the Hutt Valley and Wellington to be vital to its growth, both as a resort and commuter suburb. Yet it was not economically feasible to lay tramlines through to the outlying area. Access was provided primarily by the private excursion ferry services established by Captain 'Bully' Williams [1832-1890] in 1886. The ferry service became daily in 1901 and, in 1913, the Eastbourne Borough Council purchased it.
Around this period the firm Sievers & Bosher began providing transport services to ferry passengers between the wharf and Eastbourne. When the road from Eastbourne to Wellington was upgraded in 1925, the firm began providing a real alternative to the ferries, starting a regular Eastbourne-to-Wellington bus service with three Dodge motorbuses. While the terminus was the Eastbourne Public Library, the service operated from large 'stables' on the corner of Muritai Road and Karamu Street. In Wellington, commuters or picnickers caught the Eastbourne bus at the Hotel Cecil corner, by the Wellington Railway Station.
To stop this service from denting the profitability of the popular ferries, the EBC offered to buy the Eastbourne Bus Company from Sievers & Bosher. On obtaining ratepayers' approval, the EBC raised a loan for £8000 and purchased the service in early 1927. The EBC also purchased two buses to add to the eight then in operation. The makes of the buses included Graham/Dodges, Minervas, Willy Knights and Leyland (Tiger and Lion) marques.
Foreseeing the future profitability of the bus service (its income overtook the three ferry boats in 1938) the EBC decided in 1937 to raise another loan for 'a suitable building for use as an omnibus garage and workshop with staff quarters and accommodation' just beyond the bus terminus at Tawa Street. In the past, private bus companies had traditionally operated from a motley collection of converted shops, offices and garages. However, as local authorities and large operators such as NZR Road Services began consolidating smaller companies into their public transport networks, purpose-built workshops and terminals became more common. However, the Eastbourne proposal was notable for its size and facilities, which reflected the central role of buses in transport to the borough.
The 'Omnibus Garage Loan' was originally to be £5,000, but was increased to £6,000 the following month, after a revision of the building costs. A poll of ratepayers on 22 Sept 1937 supported the idea (195 voting for, 44 against) and, once Government gave its permission, the 10-year loan was raised. The loan was raised from State Advances Corporation, at an interest rate of 3.5% per annum. As well as issuing debentures to help pay for the loan, a special rate was levied the following year from ratepayers (of 5/12th of a penny in the pound) to pay the "interest and other charges".
The site chosen for the Garage was south of the town on Muritai Road, round Point Arthur, in Korohiwa Bay, near the place where a road departed over the hill to Gollan's Valley. This point was later named Burdan's Gate after early farming settlers, the Burdan family. The land was then part of the Eastbourne Domain, but was transferred into EBC ownership 'as from 6 October 1940'.
Between Burden's Gate and the proposed building site was a motor camp. The actual building site had an early use as the dump for the borough's night soil cart, a practise that only ended when the sewerage system was laid in the mid 1930s. The presence of contaminated soil would account for a council resolution to pay 'dirt money' to the men employed on drain construction on the new garage site, which was underway by March 1938.
C. H. Mitchell and A. H. Mitchell, Wellington-based architects, drew plans for the reinforced concrete building. A Clerk of Works was hired by the borough at £8 per week to oversee the concrete work. In addition, the road from the terminus at Tawa Street to the bus garage was widened and rebuilt. The work on the building was carried out by builder D. Daily, and was substantively finished in March 1939. The cost of the completed building was about £3,000 more than the £6,000 borrowed for it, the balance being found out of revenue.
The Town Clerk, Cliff Bishop, made the arrangements for the formal opening of the new Omnibus Garages. With flags flying, the Minister of Transport Bob Semple declared the completed facility in use on 24 May 1939 by merely 'opening the door'. At the opening, the Mayor, Mr E. W. Wise, estimated that the bus service would carry 500,000 passengers that year.
The bus service and bus culture had become part of Eastbourne's unique identity and the Omnibus Garage became an integral part and a central symbol of that culture. The borough's strong emphasis on its bus link with the Hutt and Wellington was illustrated a few months after the opening in the centennial publication "Sunny Eastbourne: the Playground Suburb", written by Town Clerk and bus service General Manager Cliff Bishop. Bishop wrote 'In controlling the Motor Omnibus and Harbour Ferry Service, the EBC has responsibilities far beyond those usually associated with local bodies of its size'. The booklet profiled the 'new bus garage... recently opened' and devoted over a quarter of its 52 pages to promoting the bus service as a means of commuting or accessing Eastbourne's leisure opportunities.
The Omnibus Garage and bus services were of particular importance during the Second World War. During the war, the ferry services were reduced as Muritai was taken for use as a minesweeper. To compensate, EBC re-employed the firm Mitchell & Mitchell to create new garage facilities on site. Built around a timber frame, the new structures were clad in stucco and had flat, sloping roofs. The EBC also established a new service between Eastbourne and Petone Railway Station.
From 1948, until 1989, the ferry service stopped completely, increasing the borough's dependence on its bus service. To compensate for the loss of ferry transport, the EBC had increased its fleet to 23 buses, with a similar increase in drivers. Workshop staff was doubled to eight. The expansion meant that the EBC had to improve the facilities at the Garage. The toilet facility (one cubicle and basin), was considered inadequate for the increased number of staff, and the union considered the lighting and ventilation in the workshop insufficient. The Building Controller Advisory Committee deferred an extension to the building but painting and minor maintenance was carried out by contractors such as P. M. Cheyne & Sons. In 1956 the firm Mitchell & Mitchell was re-employed. The firm created a larger W.C by accessioning part of the storage area and converted part of the former paint workshop into a locker room.
In the 1960s, the EBC also increased the accommodation facilities. It acquired flats that had been used as transit housing in ex-Army buildings during the war and relocated them on a site to the south of the Garage. Around this period a concrete block extension was added to the south elevation to create more workshop space.
By the 1980s the role of the Omnibus Garages changed. A new interchange was established at Waterloo and it took over workshop responsibilities, making the new bus workshop and outbuildings at Eastbourne redundant. In 1989, as part of the local authority reorganisations, the EBC was absorbed into Hutt City Council. The Eastbourne Bus Company service came under Hutt City Council administration. Negotiations between the Council and the bus company over the Omnibus Garage continued until 1992, when the bus company board accepted responsibility for all maintenance of the building, in return for a peppercorn rental of the premises from HCC ($1 per annum, renewable annually). Cityline took over management of the bus service and garage when HCC sold the Eastbourne Bus Company in 1992. That year, the bus garage building was valued at $330,000, the seven blocks of flats at $700,000, and the 18-bus fleet at $1.039 million.
By the Millennium, the future of the Omnibus garages and outbuildings were under question. As early as 1996, the Hutt City Council had mooted plans to sell the blocks of flats and redevelop the land, but had met opposition from residents. In 2001 the Hutt City Council proposed to sell the land, as part of proposed redevelopment known as the 'Korohiwa development'. Three years later, in 2004, the outbuildings, which were in a very decayed state, were demolished. This left just one of the detached structures on-site, namely the pair of concrete ramps near the Butterfly Creek, which buses were driven up on to for steam cleaning. The three accommodation flats over the Omnibus Garage traditionally occupied by bus company employees were also left vacant. In 2005 the Hutt City Council issued a permit to 'remove' the bus garage, workshop and offices in their entirety as part of the redevelopment plan. Local residents protested and formed a group under the name 'Eastbourne Rights'. In August 2005, their efforts prompted the HCC to halt the development in order to allow the group to put forward alternative proposals for the land. These alternative proposals were rejected in December 2005 and the future of the Omnibus Garages, once so central to Eastbourne's identity, remains uncertain.
The Omnibus Garage is located on a narrow site wedged between bush clad hills and the sea at the south end of Eastbourne. The area is set apart from the main settlement and is relatively isolated. The Garage was designed by architectural firm Mitchell & Mitchell & Partners in 1938. Built from reinforced concrete, it consists of a two storey building overlooking the harbour and a large, single storey garage. The two storey concrete building faces west, over the harbour. The western section of the building extends past the garage by approximately 16 feet (5 metres). The remainder of the building is set back, in line with the garage, creating an 'L-shaped' effect. The effect is emphasised by an exterior staircase, which wraps around the northern extension. The building has a low pitched, hipped roof with wide eave overhangs. The western elevation overlooks the harbour and includes two rows of windows separated by a wide concrete band. The interior includes two workshops, (which feature deep, narrow pits that allowed mechanics to work directly underneath the buses), a paint workshop, an office, store and a drivers' room. The second storey served as an accommodation area and was traditionally used by bus drivers. It includes flats with bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and living room. The Garage extends out behind the two-storey structure and faces towards the north. Designed to accommodate a number of buses, the rectangular, concrete garage is approximately 54 feet wide and 72 feet long (16 metres by 23 metres). Above the wide entranceway, the stepped pediment on the north elevation features low relief geometrical designs and the words 'Omnibus Service Garage Eastbourne Borough Council'. The entrance was intended to feature sliding doors that emphasised the geometric elements of the building. The south elevation replicates that of the north. The pediments to the north and south enclose a low-rise, barrel roof of corrugated iron that includes two lantern lights at its centre, and series of skylights on either side. The eastern wall of the Garage is reinforced concrete. The floor of the interior is a continuation of the road and has been tar-sealed. Near the garage are concrete steam cleaning ramps used for washing the underside of the buses.
The Omnibus Garage has been largely unmodified since its construction. Key changes the portioning off of the paint shop in 1956 to create a locker room, and the construction of a concrete block extension to the workshops on the southern side.
Notable features include the original drivers' cash depository slot, the work pits and the steam cleaning ramps.
Designed and constructed.
Building formally opened on 24 May.
Additional garage facilities created on site.
Additional garage facilities created on site. Interior of the paint workshop portioned off to create a locker room for the drivers and a larger W.C created by accessioning part of the storage area.
Concrete-block extension to workshop entrance at south end of 2-storey block (possibly built to accommodate longer buses).
Removal of northern-most chimney.
Demolished - additional building on site
Additional garage facilities demolished.
Demolished - additional building on site
Additional accommodation facilities demolished.
Reinforced concrete and wooden joinery for all walls, with steel and timber framing and corrugated iron for the bus garage roof. Conventional corrugated iron roof on the 2-storey part. Some wall interstices in-filled with brick. Flats partitioned with timber walls.
1st January 2006
Report Written By
Peter Cooke with NZHPT
Ann Beaglehole and Alison Carew, Eastbourne a history of the eastern bays of Wellington Harbour, Eastbourne, 2001 [Historical Society of Eastbourne]
Eastbourne Borough Council
Eastbourne Borough Council, Eastbourne Celebrates New Zealand's Centenary, 1840-1940 (Sunny Eastbourne, the Playground Suburb), Wellington, 1940
H McDonnell, The First 100 years: Wellington Centenary of Passenger Transport, Nelson, 1978
New Zealand Memories
New Zealand Memories
Tim Kerr, Memories of Eastbourne Omnibuses, vol.54 (June/July 2005), pp. 40-45.
Wellington (N.Z.) Transport Dept, 1987
Wellington (N.Z.) Transport Department, Buses through the years, Wellington, 1987
A fully referenced version of this 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.