Heritage church reborn

A condemned and rotting 136 year-old Petone church has been given a second chance.

When Tony Cook’s son suggested he consider purchasing the Wesley Church on Nelson Street four years ago, Tony had a look and said, “You’ve got to be joking”.

“But the more that I looked at it, the more I thought, why don’t I give it a shot.”

Part of Tony’s motivation to restore and redevelop the church was his love for heritage buildings and, as a joiner, a professional appreciation of the craftsmanship that went into buildings of this era.
His enthusiasm hit new highs after looking around Ponsonby’s restored villas, cafes, restaurants and commercial buildings while in Auckland in 2017.

“In Ponsonby, people were taking pride in their heritage buildings and I thought this is what Petone is looking to do so let’s get the ball rolling.”

Fast forward two years and the church is rebuilt, its exterior restored and now accommodating three two-level apartments ranging from 147 to 171 m2, excluding decks and garaging. While the exterior has been faithfully reproduced, thanks partly to drafting plans from images from the Methodist Church’s archives, the interior is 21st century, with touches like tongue and groove ceilings and the restored stained glass windows tying the architectural periods together.

But it wasn’t easy. Removing wall cladding and linings revealed extensive rot. From the totara piles up, only the roof trusses could be saved. Even the windows were unsalvageable, fixed to the building’s framing making them impossible to remove intact.

The owner of a joinery company, Tony made the gothic windows for the building. In fact all of the timber joinery – one of the standout features of the building – along with other architectural features are Tony’s handiwork.

The church was built in 1883 by volunteer labour on land donated by Edwin Jackson, an English settler and pivotal figure in the early development of the European settlement at Petone.

From 1888, the building went through a series of alterations and extensions and a pipe organ was installed in 1915. The church was deemed earthquake-prone in 2013 and its final service was held on 8 December of that year. At that time, it was known as the Petone Multicultural Methodist Church, with Tongan and Samoan residents a significant part of the congregation.

Asked why he chose such a challenging project when there were easier and more profitable development opportunities out there, Tony says it was important to him to preserve an architectural style that is now rare and a building that had been a part of his home town for generations.

“And I like a challenge. I don’t tend to do half measures.”

Lower Hutt residents or businesses looking to restore or preserve heritage buildings can apply to Hutt City Council for assistance from the Built Heritage Incentive Fund.

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