Thursday, May 06, 2010

Heritage detailing for pleasure and profit

Astor Hotel

Large, rambling old building standing defiantly alone at the top of Symonds St while all around is being razed to the ground.

The Lounge Bar (upstairs) has an aura of old-fashioned respectability. Large, comfortably furnished and unpretentious, many would see it as their "local." In a district starved of decent bars, it does a hectic lunchtime trade, then lapses into nonchalant mode before awakening for the evening. Across the passageway is an overspill room wherein dominates a pool table. Drab, and a little remote from the action, it does have access to the food bar.

At ground level is the Public Bar. Even with the attempt at enlivening this barren area with partitioning, a melancholia pervades. Bottle Shop.

 Good and Bad Pub Guide to Central Auckland,
 Colin E Malden, 1991

Defiant though it might have been The Astor Hotel was eventually razed to the ground, in 1997 - six years after this description was written and one year before this present author settled in Auckland. It must have been nice.

The reason for the demolition was road widening. Here is a picture of the widened road:

As you can see, the widening has not solved traffic problems. If you are especially observant, you might also notice the ghastly Città apartments, which the people at Resene describe thus:
A stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of Queen Street, the Citta Apartments on the crest of Upper Symonds Street and Khyber Pass successfully meld urban location, convenience and modern, stylish design and finishing. Ground floor retail provides a shopfront to the project and protects residents from the passing vehicular and foot traffic while giving them a quick stop shopping option, while the enclosed courtyard is a quiet haven from the busy city. The building design blends heritage detailing with solid masonry and modern comfort
Some points worth noting:

1. You would need a pretty good throwing arm to hit this building from Queen Street, although the experience would be satisfying if you succeeded.

2. The residents apparently need to be protected, by shops, from the traffic on the widened road and from passers-by.

3. The heritage detailing and the building it details have replaced real old buildings.

Buildings, especially old ones, do not stand much of a chance in Auckland. If it is not the ever-widening roads, it is the pressing needs of developers wot does for them. And so the local pub is replaced by through traffic, and its surrounding buildings, the places where the locals used to live, are replaced by heritage-detailed apartments for people who want to live in the city but be protected from it. To add insult to the city's injury, the successfully-melded apartments are named Città, a word you may pronounce as you wish. Incidentally, the guilty men and women responsible for this melding are the Brown Day group.

Some memories of the Astor Hotel and its locality remain, at
Jonathan Ganley's excellent point that thing, and in the art of Janine Randerson and that of Marie Shannon. Little else remains, although a piece of the hotel was relocated to Grey Lynn.


Christopher said...

I was at a meeting, held in the basement of the Orange Hall, on Newton Rd, held to discuss the demolition of the Astor, and the construction of the new intersection. People were invited along, and around 150 did, thinking that they would be able to have a say, and to argue for retention of the Astor.

The meeting slowly descended into anger and outrage as it became clear that the decision had already been made to demolish the Astor.

The small, straight white male from the transport department showed graphs and posters and waved his arms around alot, claiming that 7 seconds, yes, 7 seconds would be saved with a reconfigured intersection.

Doug Astley, the Transport Committee chair at the time, and long time Cits'n'Rats stalwart grew impatient with the crowd; they were passionate people with a view. He was an authoritarian from Roskill.

About half way through the meeting he snapped, stood up, and, waving his hands in a dismissive motion, said "I'm going on holiday tomorrow. We have already made the decision to demolish the Astor and build the intersection and that's that. You people simply don't understand."

After a shocked moment of silence, the room erupted into pandemonium. People yelled, threatened, and became outraged.

Clearly, there was no point in being there, so people just left. As a moment of how some politicians are, generally those from the right, it was terrifically interesting.

I would like my pony back; Council (aka straight white middle aged males) promised me 7 seconds. I've yet to see it.

Rusty said...

When do the tarps go on?

Marie said...

I can also say, to quote Lou Reed quoting, I think, Cole Porter (in a roundabout way) that I got bit in the Astor Bar. By something living in the carpet that raised a nasty welt on the back of my calf that didn't go down for days. Loads of fun.

Anonymous said...

I live across the road from the citta, a little way up from where that photo was taken, it is an utterly abhorant building take completely destroys the ambiance of the entire nieghbourhood. Knowing a little about the history of the area, like that the astor was an essential venue as part of the intense punk movement in auckland of the late 70s and early 80s, i cannot believe that such a terrible decison could have been made.

I note now that the aforemention Orage Hall, just around teh corner, is probably being purchased by the Auckland Council to potentailly turn into a future train station on the planned city loop. If they can do a job lik ethey did with Britomart then well and good... but you also have to be a little suspicious.... i love this part of town and i would really like if some better planning and thought went into the area to make it more pedestrian friendly for example... it is a great part of town