General Headquarters (GHQ) Building (Former)

Located at the corner of Taranaki and Buckle Streets, designed in Edwardian Baroque style, the brick building known usually as the General Headquarters (GHQ) Building was completed in 1912 and is probably the oldest existing military administration building remaining in New Zealand. The NZ Defence Department wishes to demolish it, along with its neighbouring building HMNZS Olphert, which are both categorised as earthquake risks.

UPDATE: We were pleased to see on the ‘Save the GHQ’ facebook page on 29 April 2016 that: “Council has now had a couple of positive conversations with Defence, they are committed to keeping the building which is great news but we all need to work together to find some new uses for it. More conversations to follow and information will be posted on how you can help later.“… We await further information.

Buckle St GHQ 1913Photo: At Buckle Street, Wellington, during the 1913 waterfront strike. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972. Ref: 1/2-048786-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22820606

This image taken during the 1913 strike shows the building in the background. This photo has been included in the recently released heritage trail “World War 1 Heritage Trail: Wellington’s Parades and Places”.

The building began as a defence stores office. It became the defence headquarters from c. 1931 to 1938. This is a listed building (Category 2) by Heritage New Zealand (GHQ Building) and an important part of the military history of the Mt Cook area of Wellington. It bookends the street; the “twin” building at the Buckle/Tasman St corner being the former Police Station, now in private hands and in excellent exterior condition. Closed for 20 years, we believe the former GHQ building should now be strengthened and returned to reuse.

The building was given a temporary reprieve for the opening of Pukeahu National Memorial Park on 25 April 2015. Ministers have been careful, however, not to commit themselves to preserving this building beyond the ANZAC commemorations and thus the threat of demolition is still real.

HPW will be working on this issue over the next few months with the other two agencies who are similarly anxious to save the building; they are Wellington Civic Trust and Mt Cook Mobilised.

There was a protest meeting at the building on 11 November 2015 at 11am (Armistice Day). Click here for more information. Two photos from the protest – on the left, Peter Cooke from Mt Cook Mobilised and City Councillor Iona Pannett in the front. On the right – slightly later after the rain and more people arrived. It was good to see three city councillors there – Iona Pannett, Nicola Young and Andy Foster.

The Autumn 2015 issue of Heritage Quarterly (published by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga) has an article on page 14 about the building, which says that “Defence is now intending to develop it as a Reserves and Recruiting Centre.” However, this refers to the site rather than the building.

On 22 April 2015, The Dominion Post published our Letter to the Editor about the GHQ building:

To the Editor

 Congratulations are due to the Defence Services for sprucing up the exterior of the former General Headquarters Building at the corner of Taranaki and Buckle Street so that it plays a fitting part in the opening of the new Memorial Park this month.  This lovely 1911 brick building was part of New Zealand’s preparations for the expected Great War and is the last heritage defence building left on the Mt Cook site.  Congratulations also to the City Council and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage for including an account of this building in their excellent booklet on the World War 1 Wellington heritage trail, accompanied by a photograph of the historic 1913 confrontations in Buckle Street in front of the GHQ building.

 However beauty is only skin deep as this building remains closed, run down inside and unstrengthened.  Both the Minister of Defence and the Defence Services have to date refused to give assurances that it will not be pulled down after the ANZAC day commemorations.  It is ironic that one of Wellington’s most tangible links to World War 1, a building of historic and architectural merit, may become rubble during this time of remembrance.

 Priscilla Williams, Vice-Chairman Historic Places Wellington

The building now has photographs of World War One soldiers in each window, giving the public plenty to look at (see below).

The April/May newsletter of the Wellington Region Heritage Promotion Council also has information about our advocacy of GHQ building. You can download a PDF copy here: WRHPC Heritage Today Apr-May 2015.

General HQ building in 2014
General HQ building in 2014
GHQ Building in Feb 2015
GHQ Building in Feb 2015
GHQ Building crest Feb 2015
GHQ Building crest Feb 2015
GHQ Building door Feb 2015
GHQ Building door Feb 2015

Photographs by Priscilla Williams

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These two photographs by Vivienne Morrell, taken in April 2015.

Our Letter to the editor of the Dominion Post in November 2015:

To the Editor

Your newspaper has recently given coverage to the possible fate of the historic defence buildings on the corner of Taranaki and Buckle Streets.  The most important of these is the 1911 former GHQ building which wraps around the corner in a rhythmic series of windows enhanced currently by the portraits in each frame.  This building however is important not just through its architecture but also because it is the last of the buildings from the Alexandra Barracks stationed on Mt Cook.

Your edition of 10 November published one of several amazing photographs taken during the tense moments of the Buckle St riots which were a flash point in the 1913 general strike.  The GHQ building is now the only one left standing out of the elegant series of defence buildings shown in the 1913 photographs.

While the New Zealand Defence Force will be mindful of the costs involved in restoring and maintaining a heritage building, we hope that they will also be balancing in the equation the advantages of keeping such an important building as a showcase of Wellington’s defence history and conversely the serious loss to the city if they were to destroy this unique legacy.

Peter Dowell, Chairman Historic Places Wellington”

Two photos of the Olphert Building (Feb 2016):

The NZ Defence Force issued this media advisory on 30 March 2016:

30 March 2016

Media Advisory

CONTAINERS INSTALLED AS PUBLIC SAFETY MEASURE

Containers are to be placed near a building on New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) land in Wellington to help keep the public safe in the event of a significant earthquake.

The General Officer in Command Headquarters (GOCH) on the corner of Taranaki and Buckle Streets has been assessed by engineers and is only 9 percent of national building standards. The building is vacant but given its location on a busy thoroughfare, the NZDF is placing containers on the footpaths nearby to shelter the public from falling masonry in a significant earthquake.

NZDF is taking this step after carrying out work to assess the earthquake risk of buildings throughout the Defence estate and undertake remedial work to minimise the risks to personnel and the public.

Another old building, the HMNZS Olphert, is also at less than 10 percent of national building standards but its location at the back of the site makes it less of a risk to the public.

NZDF planners applied to Wellington City Council for permission to install the containers, which will be put in place overnight from 30-31 March.

The GOCH, constructed between 1911 and 1913, was originally used as the Defence Stores Office. In 1930, it was extensively converted with the creation of office spaces to become the GOCH. The building was used by the NZDF and other government departments from that time but has been vacant for more than 22 years.

No decisions have been made about the site in the long-term.

Any future plans for the building will be in keeping with the Pukeahu Park precinct, and will retain as much as possible of the GOCH building’s heritage values in acknowledgement of the NZDF’s historic association with this site.

ENDS

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