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Historic social hub and pioneering missionary printing press premises placed up for sale

Tags: Commercial

A heritage-listed building which once housed such colourful tenants as a popular turn-of-the-century dance hall and a pioneering missionary church-run printing operation has been placed on the market for sale.

The two-storey Central Gisborne property at 26 Peel Street was constructed in 1908 in the Australian Federation colonial style of that period – with a large covered veranda deck supporting by iron pillars above the street promenade.

Historical records from architecture preservation organisation Heritage New Zealand, describe the 108-year-old landmark premises as: “The only commercial building of its style in Gisborne.”

“The building was originally designed and constructed for James Erskine, a local baker, caterer and confectioner whose business was established in 1876,” say the Heritage New Zealand property notes.

“As Gisborne’s population grew and the town continued to prosper, Erskine decided to expand, and in 1906 had local architect, Herbert John Brownlee draw up plans for an impressive building in both scale and design.

“It was 1908 before the Erskine Building was completed, and a newspaper notice announced that Erskine’s tea and supper rooms were open for business. The Erskine Building was a two storey, plastered brick building with a 20-metre frontage, featuring cast iron veranda posts and filigree lacework decoration.

“This supported a generously proportioned, deep second storey balcony of the type often associated with colonial Australian architecture and covered by a bull nosed roof. The asymmetrical neoclassical façade had arched windows, shallow pilasters and plain walls with a parapet and pediment.

“The ground floor accommodated four shops, a refreshments room and dining room, while upstairs was private accommodation, and a social hall which opened to the balcony. Socially it is an important reflection of evolving and increasingly sophisticated socialising trends in Gisborne.

“The 1908 building was a multipurpose design that stands as testament to an increasingly-sophisticated population, as the rapidly expanding farming industry saw the town’s affluence grow,” the Heritage New Zealand documentation states.

“It was a time that saw simple 19th century timber buildings replaced with masonry structures, and the use of architecture as a statement of civic pride and confidence.”

The imposing block became the Te Rau Press Building in 1924, when the Anglican Church printing enterprise of the same name relocated to the building. The business was started by the first principal at Te Rau Theological College, Archdeacon William Leonard Williams, to print material for Maori theological students.

“It has important spiritual value for its association with the Church Missionary Society (CMS),” said the Heritage New Zealand records.

The building then housed the commercial printing operations of Te Rau Press until 1996. The property sat empty until 2003 when significant alterations - including the addition of a new shop frontage, glass doors, timber flooring replaced with concrete, a suspended ceiling inserted below the original ceiling, and seismic strengthening - were made at ground level, to accommodate a retail operation. The north and south parapets were removed after the 2007 Gisborne earthquake.

Now the character-filled untenanted property is being marketed for sale by negotiation through Bayleys Gisborne. Salespeople Karen Raureti and Mike Florance said there were innumerable permutations on how the prime site and buildings could be repurposed.

The building sits on some 1,012 square metres of freehold land – zoned inner commercial under the Gisborne City plan, with the upper floor accessed by a private stairwell separate from the neighbouring retail frontages.

“Obviously, there is the opportunity to regenerate the ground level floorplate of some 513 square metres – either as one large retail tenancy, or multiple smaller boutique entities benefitting from being right in the middle of the town’s retail hub,” Ms Raureti said.

“Most recently, the street-level retail space was occupied by stationery shop Office Products Depot, and is still laid out in that showroom format - with separate office areas and staff amenities at the rear.

“Similarly, the upper level floorplate of 282 square metres, along with the 74 square metres of veranda decking, could be repurposed into one big open-plan character office floorplate, or configure into smaller shared spaces. Subject to council consents, there is also the potential for converting the space into one or multiple apartments.”

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