“Go to Marton,” we were urged during a recent stop in Bulls, two hours north of Wellington. “It’s only 14km away and they’ve got the most amazing heritage buildings in the town centre. They’re all earthquake prone though and may need to be demolished at some stage, so see them while you can.” So off we went, and on seeing the concentration of buildings, dating mainly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we were aghast at the potential for these impressive structures and all this history to be lost for ever.
Indeed, Heritage NZ’s list of lost heritage structures – lost to fire, to demolition for redevelopment, and to earthquake damage – is disturbingly long. In terms of density, Marton’s relatively small CBD, which supports a population of about 5,000, has 15 category 2 historic buildings and one category 1 building, compared to, for example, New Plymouth that also has 15 historic buildings downtown. However New Plymouth is a city of roughly 74,000, so Marton’s buildings in a more condensed area have a greater and much more interesting visual impact, because they’re not just historic – for such a contained area, they embody several architectural styles.
One example is the category 1 former courthouse building, now in private ownership. Built in the Edwardian Baroque style in 1897 it was used for its original purpose until 1975. It’s a single-storey brick building with white-painted ornate plaster classical detailing, and the letters V and R (Victoria Regina) are plastered within swags, one initial on each side of the ornate doorway.