Labour of love sees Waipu icon restored

When author and journalist Lindy Davis came to Waipu 12 years ago, the town’s historic National Bank of New Zealand building made an immediate impression.

Lindy Davis outside National Bank, Waipu
Lindy Davis outside the former National Bank of New Zealand building in Waipu. Image: Lindy Davisexpand/collapse

"The building’s elegance and timelessness was something that initially drew me. Whenever I drove past it I’d always imagine what it might look like if it had some love," she says.

"It was a beautiful building with good bones, but I could see it slowly disintegrating."

Lindy was able to do something about the Category 2-listed building when she and the family took ownership just under a year ago.

What followed was a hands-on apprenticeship on heritage conservation and building project management.

"Ensuring that we sourced materials sympathetic to the era of the building was a challenge, as was finding certain timber profiles to match the nearly 100-year-old building," she says.

"This was made more complex by two lockdowns which prevented us from getting certain materials out of Auckland."

Unlocking the secrets of the building, including the areas that needed the most work, wasn’t always straightforward.

"The bank was initially lit using kerosene lamps, and the bank manager’s home was heated by open fires," she says.

"There were three chimneys, which logically should equate to three fireplaces. Two were difficult to locate, however, and turned out to be in terrible condition behind gibbed walls."

Hours spent restoring timber joinery and doors that were under multiple layers of paint and putty proved to be difficult – but gave Lindy a fresh appreciation of the quality of craftsmanship of the original builders.

"Generally speaking, the quality and workmanship of timber joinery from last century is far superior to anything I’ve seen mass-produced now," she says.

Close involvement in the restoration resulted in a couple of amazing finds – including a wedding album that belonged to a doctor and his wife who had lived in the house 20 years earlier, which was found behind one of the original fireplaces.

"It had slipped behind the facade of the gibbed wall and mirrored wardrobe and landed covered with dust in the fireplace," she says.

"My son managed to track down the doctor’s wife and return it."

They also discovered a cheeky signature in the ceiling of the vault dome in the bank building dating back to the original 1934 pour.

Lindy is drawn to heritage architecture – whenever she visits towns in New Zealand, it’s usually heritage buildings that catch her attention. The prospect of buying and restoring one, however, would never have occurred to her in the past.

“It was only because I had admired the building and hoped someone might do something special with it, that I did.  I would otherwise never have imagined myself involved in a restoration project of this magnitude.”

Community feedback on the renovation has been overwhelmingly positive, and Heritage Northland Inc has agreed to fund an HNZPT listing plaque in appreciation of the restoration work. 

Thanks to Lindy and her team, the building will be an iconic feature of Waipu for years to come according to HNZPT Northland Area Manager, Bill Edwards.

"The work that Lindy has done with this building has ensured that it will continue to make a wonderful contribution to Waipu’s unique streetscape and heritage values, and will be enjoyed by future generations," he says.