Clark Mauger is excited about what the future holds for a large old substation building in Sydenham he bought in 2017, with restoration in mind.
Now the project is almost complete, he is on the hunt for tenants to make the most of the imposing heritage survivor which today is one of the largest buildings of its kind left in New Zealand.
While its purpose was utilitarian, the 1928 Milton Street Substation was originally designed to look rather grand to appease local residents of the day who didn’t want ugly brick boxes disfiguring the city. This explains why the building still looks so impressive from the street front: classically-influenced and finished with a huge pair of decorative flaming stone torches.
On seeing it listed for sale two years ago, albeit with some earthquake damage, Clark knew it was exactly what he’d been looking for.
“I’ve always been attracted to older buildings though it would be fair to say I was naïve and didn’t appreciate how much work it would need,” Clark says. “[But] I have no regrets at all. I could see it had incredible potential; it’s such an inspiring building to be in.”
His goal has been to save as much of the original architecture as possible, while also making it much stronger. Over the past two years, he’s drawn on the expertise of structural engineers, heritage architects, and the council’s heritage team to get the job done. Support for the project has come from Heritage Equip, which offers funding towards seismic strengthening work for heritage buildings. The remainder of
the work has been self-funded.
The entire building has been earthquake strengthened with steel bracing and a new reinforced ring foundation installed. At the time of writing, massive front doors were in the process of being restored with rotten timbers having been carefully removed and replaced. Internal steel doors still carry notices reading: ‘Warning: Beware of CO2 when door is closed’ and ‘Warning 1000 Volts’.
A new rear extension has been added to replace the original that was earthquake- damaged and beyond saving, but effectively it replicates what was there. A balcony has been added above that will link through to an office mezzanine. The restoration work is due to be completed next month.
With its bare brick and bracing ambience, it is easy to imagine a colourful future for the substation.
“I’d love for it to be a function centre of some sort. That would be awesome. I want people to enjoy it.”
The large adjacent ‘City Care’ yard is earmarked for residential and commercial development this year, so the substation has potential to really blossom as a local hospitality hotspot.
So many heritage buildings were pulled down in Christchurch, post-earthquakes. Clark is proud to have saved this memorable piece of Sydenham’s electrical past.
“I won’t ever sell it – this is my baby.”