Rainbow List project underway

25/06/2021

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga has begun work in recognising the LGBTTFQI+ stories of many of its listed sites, starting with 288 Cuba Street, once the home of Carmen’s Curios.


Carmen Rupe. Credit: National Library New Zealand
Carmen Rupe at Carmen's Curios.
Credit: National Library https://natlib.govt.nz/records/38002217expand/collapse

In the early 1970s, transgender icon Carmen Rupe (1936-2011) ran a shop from a building in central Wellington. She described 288 Cuba Street as a “fascinating old house…and such an attractive building which I considered completely ideal for my type of curio outlet”. Carmen’s Curios, inspired by her long-held love of curiosities, sold antiques and second-hand goods and was one of many businesses the entrepreneurial diva ran in the city, where she was something of a local celebrity. The building on Cuba Street was entered onto the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (the List) in 1991 but until this year, the listing was silent on the Carmen connection.

Now, thanks to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s Central Regional Office’s Rainbow List Project, the prosaically named Commercial/Retail Building, List No. 5348’s significance to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex + (LGBTTFQI+) communities has been recognised. Many of the buildings that housed Carmen’s other businesses, such as Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge at 86 Vivian Street and The Balcony nightclub at 57A Victoria Street, have been demolished, leaving the curio shop as a rare survivor of her vivid presence in Wellington.

The Rainbow List Project aims to improve the List’s diversity by recognising sites of significance to Aotearoa New Zealand’s LGBTTFQI+ communities. To date we have focused on upgrading the information on places already listed, like Carmen’s Curio’s, so their list entry appropriately reflects the LGBTTFQI+ aspect of their heritage significance. Other places upgraded as part of this project are the Thistle Inn, List No. 1439, St Andrew’s on the Terrace, List No. 3571 and Lilburn House, List No. 7645, all in Wellington, and Rewi Alley’s House, List No. 5448, in Taranaki.

We would love to hear about other places that tell a rainbow story and welcome suggestions. Get in touch with Senior Heritage Assessment Advisor, Kerryn Pollock, on rainbow@heritage.org.nz or 04 494 8320.

- Kerryn Pollock