Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Gimmee Shelter

Wellington, New Zealand. A favourite spot on our whirlwind tour of this fabulous country. An uphill and downdale sort of place, with elevation changes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, perilously convoluted roads making their narrow way up and down hillsides. In fact, it seemed like the suburbs were built in separate hollows in the warm flank of Tinakori Hill, each climbing as high as they could, with no thought of easy communication between themselves.

Here's a topo map which may say it more clearly than I.


This view from the window of our 1920s BnB gives you an impression of our Wadestown neighbourhood. Here's our driveway








So when our hosts suggested the local bus as a way to park the rental car for the duration of our stay, we readily agreed. Each day, after a brisk walk downhill to the main intersection, we awaited the number 14 bus at the corner of Lennel and Sefton streets,  at the most delightful bus stop. Here's a great link to its history provided by Absolutely Positively Wellington City Council (who thought up that motto?)


Bill Bryson, who has been known to poke a sharp stick at almost everything, has this to say about bus shelters: "But nobody, absolutely nobody, hates you as much as the people who make English bus shelters...all they give you to rest on is a red plastic slat, canted at an angle so severe that if you fail to maintain a vigilant braced position you will slide off, like a fried egg off Teflon." (The Road to Little Dribbling.)
"320 splendid building sites"


The bus shelter at Highland Park is quite a different place, a charming Arts and Crafts confection, dated my guess around 1910 or 20? Let Streetview take you there.  The best thing about the shelter, which wasn't needed as a refuge from inclement weather,  but proved a nice spot to chat with folks, was a poster of the Highland Park Estate. An invitation to time travel. The poster is a reproduction of the original subdivision offering.


This hilly domain from which these wiggly streets and cliff-hanging house lots were carved was once The Grange, the harbour-view homestead of pastoralist W.B.Rhodes, dubbed the richest man in New Zealand, by about 1849. A  Lincolnshire lad like my guy, Rhodes amassed huge land holdings, and built his home on the hill slightly above our bus shelter. The driveway through the sheep run which led up to the house, later became Wadestown Road. After Rhodes' widow's death, Sir Harold Beauchamp, father of beloved NZ writer Katherine Mansfield, owned the house. (Although we didn't get there, needing a pub more than literary history, here's a Tinakori Road photo of contemporary houses to compensate.)

And in the fullness of time, the old sheep station became the hilly subdivision in which we were short-time residents. The charming cottages were being modernized, but the tiny scale of the houses and lots perched on the hillside told the tale. Have a wander. But don't miss the bus.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Petrolia Power

chemical valley from the point lands
Last week, on a business junket turned mini-holiday, we spent (not enough) time in several unfairly under-celebrated places in our great province - Sarnia and Petrolia. The former has suffered over time because of its 'chemical valley' reputation - which in all fairness has created wealth and beauty along with some nasty messes. We tend not to listen to gossip (consider my love affair with oft-derided Hamilton here and here) and stayed long enough to see where industrial power, vision and energy have created a charming liveable city. Lovely old residential neighbourhoods, parks galore, a river-front walk under the Bluewater Bridge, the old and beautiful Canatara park and an outstanding reclaimed waterfront area with an an hospitable Irish pub restaurant and great dockside breakfast spot on Sarnia Bay all invite a return visit.

And then there's historic Petrolia, "where the world's oil industry started."We made a long-overdue visit to this lovely town, and nearby Oil Springs. A short distance southeast of Sarnia, a meditative drive through rich flat farmland, brought us to Petrolia. It's a delightful Victorian town, its treed central square so inviting in the intense heat of this May day, Victorian dwellings (the tell-tale Romanesque Revival home, favourite of rich industrialists,) and well-turned out civic and commercial buildings.

the 1903 Great Western Railway station
Archival photos show how the now gracefully treed town looked in the 1860s, a forest of giant wooden tripods constructed out of every last tree in sight. Here's a link to Petrolia Heritage for some images to take you back to the oil boom days.

A photo in an interpretive panel at the Petrolia library shows an early view of the town. The crude wooden oil derricks share the frame with an elegant train station.This 1903 structure was the long-awaited improvement to the 1858 station on the town-financed spur line (later The Great Western Railway, then acquired by GTR) to the rail-head at 12 mile distant Wyoming, ending the days of transporting barrels by horse and ox carts along quagmire trails to the rail head. Here's the full story of The Petrolia Spur, thanks to blogger Tom Walter.

Michael, another railway blogger from Ottawa, has this to say about Petrolia's GTR station - and shows off some great old photos. Here's more info and photos from the library website.

Ah yes, the library. This lovely spot brings me back to a reflection on Petrolia Power. No, it's not oil I'm talking about, but people. So many towns and cities spend fortunes on tourism infrastructure and promotion, and miss the most important ingredient in a visitor welcome - people. Experienced in sussing out new old towns, and winkling out their architectural history, we noted a unique and beautiful train station (the library!) and dropped in to check for a architectural walking tour guide. What we got was, yes, a beautifully produced walking tour, an information card about the library and an earnest recommendation to see the Oil Springs museum not far away, but we also got warmth, enthusiasm, town pride and a sincere welcome, in the person of the lovely librarian, whose name I neglected to get. We left, wishing to stay!

a symphony of roof forms
The red pressed brick and stone Petrolia library invited a longer visit, to be sure. Steps off the market square, the cool space offered Ladies' and Gentlemen's waiting rooms at each end of the structure, in rounded sections with wide overhangs supported by elegant brackets, capped by conical turret roofs.  The interior, which made my companion think of Dunedin's wondrous station was a treasure in panelled pine. The main entry is topped by a fan transom, below a square tower with Palladian window. This section once contained the general waiting room, ticket office, operator's desk, with a baggage room at one end.

 On our 'Walking Tour' way, we stopped to marvel at the 1889 Queen Anne style town hall and read the NHS plaque history it shared. We'd barely begun admiring the crisply restored belfry when an energetic pink-suited woman engaged us in lively conversation about Victoria Hall (one of those multi-purpose Victorian civic structures which managed to include municipal functions as disparate as a jail and a 1000 seat Opera House in one elegant structure.)  Here's its profile on the Historic Places register.

 (For more background on multipurpose civic structures check out Cornerstones of Order, by the unassailable MacRae and Adamson, Clarke Irwin, 1983.)

From this second local booster (I actually asked her if she were the mayor, given her pride in the town) we learned of the devastating 1989 fire which gutted the heritage structure (the town's long-time local newspaper editor, our host recalled stopping the presses to share the terrible centennial event.)

bell fell in 1989 fire
 "Wait, I have something for you," and she dashed off into the building, returning with maps and visitors' guide, and led us into the building for a personalized tour. We didn't see the opera house, as work was underway for that day's performance of Shirley Valentine, one of the offerings in a busy summer season.

Victoria Hall has everything you would expect from a Queen Anne civic structure - irregular form, impressive tower, a variety of window shapes, and detail, lots and lots of detail. Love the open gallery just below the clock - meticulously recreated. The buff brick is endemic in the area.

The Olde Post Office opened in 1894, as the PO and offices of the Inland Revenue and Customs, with residences for the postmaster and caretaker on the upper floors. Today the Olde Post Office is home to a Gift Shoppe. I bet it's staffed by friendly invitational folks.

The chunky Romanesque Revival arches above the round-headed windows are a nod to a style popular with the wealthy industrialists of Toronto, an example of the town's establishing itself in brick in the 1890s, putting its frame-built shanty history behind it.


"Oil Well Supply", the building announced, looking particularly historic and photogenic. Denis chatted with a woman returning to her office - turns out the signage isn't renewed for the tourists. This company, founded in 1866 to manufacture drill rigs and equipment for the fledgling oil boom still services that same industry.
 We encountered another photo of the company HQ, in the oil museum in nearby Oil Springs. The photo contains so much information: Anderson and Murray are announced as proprietors, Machine Shop and Foundry, and Blacksmith are advertised as the business of the place. Beside the board walk stand steam engines - one pulled by a team of bemused horses - behatted and bewhiskered workmen, and behind, the ubiquitous three-pole derricks. And is that a drill hole in the foreground?


Given the deep ambivalence many feel about the petrochemical industry these days, perhaps it was not surprising that Den and I were the only visitors at the Oil Museum of Canada NHS in Oil Springs, near Petrolia, our next stop. But oh, the history you will miss, if you fail to visit.

The museum, far from extolling the virtues of oil, tells the story of this area, where oil has sat on the surface of the ground, from prehistory. Oil Springs, a tiny town south-east of Sarnia, is the site of North American's first commercial oil well, dug by hand by one James Miller Williams. The well is there. At the museum. A video animates the journal of a settler wife, and her aversion to the 'gum beds' on their newly purchased farmland, nuisance surface deposits of oil for which pioneers of the area searched for practical uses.

VanTuyl and Fairbank Hardware in Petrolia was opened by J.H.Fairbank, one of Petrolia's founding fathers, in 1865, his partner Benjamin VanTuyl joined in 1874 - it's still a working hardware, operated by the 4th generation of Fairbanks.

 We would have loved these towns and their historic structures, and learned from the plaques and panels, in any case. But our pleasant contacts with two enthusiastic Petrolia hosts made the visit, and the place, that much more special.

I regret not asking them their names. But friends, you know who you are. And you, like many of your fellow townsfolk whom we did not meet, are a bigger resource in your community than even oil.

Friday, May 11, 2018

My Australian Cousin

I have always loved this house on Bridge Street East, Belleville. The excellent LACAC publication Heritage Buildings East of the Moira River provided the date of the build, 1911, and commented on the casement windows, the balconies and terraces. I admire the portico, the beautifully maintained property and the calm reserve of the place. Clad in cream-coloured stucco, it holds its own for dignity, among its predominately red-brick Victorian neighbours.
But the house has stood alone before my approving eyes until a walkabout in Lorne, on the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Lorne is a refined seaside town, graced with ancient blue gum trees, and a rolling topography which creates lovely settings for graceful homes. The walk along Mountjoy Parade, bordered by park, sea views and bluffs down to the surfing beach was heavenly.

Along the route were a number of turn of the (last) century cottages with spreading verandahs and fine wooden embellishments, but the place that struck me was "Jura.' The colourful Lorne Heritage Walk brochure, produced by the Friends of Lorne (and who wouldn't want to be a friend of Lorne?) provided details. The house was built in 1919, shortly after Charles Clifford Walker was overspending on Bridge Street in faraway Canada, by the well-heeled Campbell family, with roots on the Scottish Isle of Jura.

original rubblestone walls
The brochure provides some fascinating information about the build itself. The materials: concrete columns, rough cast walls, orange tile roof. The secrets: inside, a structure of Knitloch, "a concrete block system patented by American architect Walter Burley Griffin" who, among other notable accomplishments, was the architect who won the competition for the layout of Canberra (this link tells the 'rest of the story.')

The interior (into which I covet a visit) shows typical Arts and Crafts details: dark-stained natural wood timber floors, skirting boards, picture rails, built-in window seats and, somewhat surprisingly, walls of unpainted cement below the picture rails, all demonstrating "Arts and Crafts principles of truthfulness to structure and materials." Here's the rest of what the National Trust has to say about the house and the choice of construction
view from the path in front of 'Jura'

The Statement of Significance identifies the builder/owner as Clive Campbell. 'Jura' was the family beach house for the wealthy western district grazier (think thousands of acres of sheep or cattle station in your fave Aussie film or novel) and his family.

Page 91 of the Surf Coast Shire Heritage Assessments document adds other facts. Clive Campbell retired here in 1953 and died in 1972. Wonder if he missed the farm?

The only changes to the house were the filling in of the verandah balustrade, which makes the house a bit heavy looking, but it works with the wide hip roof reminiscent of sheep station dwellings I've seen here and there.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ebullient Ballarat

Arrival of Geelong mail - Main Street Ballaarat, 1854
In the late 1830s the hills and valleys now blanketed by the lovely city of Ballarat, in the Australian state of Victoria, were the preserve of a few squatters on indigenous land. In 1851, gold was discovered and the rough shelters of the city (and from what I can tell, the rough habits of those dwelling therein) were transformed almost overnight and an  architectural grandeur befitting Ballarat's new status in the Empire sprouted. Most of those buildings, and the imposing hilly streets on which they stand, delight still today.




First impressions are everything. When travel by train was the norm, Ballarat Train Station opened (1862) with classical fanfare, and still holds its own. You may appreciate Streetview's  wider view. Train buffs may appreciate that the station has the largest interlocking mechanical swing gates in Victoria, along with original signal boxes and goods sheds.
 The Moorish-inspired Provincial Hotel was built in 1909, and sits across the street from the station. Just the spot for the commercial traveller or visiting provincial official to rest up and steel himself for the day's business along the hill up Lydiard Street.

For years the hostelry languished, but endured through its "eyesore" period, and has been refurbished as a boutique hotel.

Lydiard Street
Reid Hotel (1886)


The once opulent Reid Hotel (1886) nearby along Lydiard Street looks a bit down on its luck, but it looks like home to the town's less well off folk looking for an affordable bed as Reid's Guest House. The Reid Hotel was one of the gold rush era's "coffee palaces", temperance hotels which served nothing stronger than coffee. But when I think back to Australian coffee...
Bank of New South Wales (1862)




The Lydiard and Central Ballarat walking trail guide lists no less than 60 structures from the gold-rush building boom, most within 4 blocks. Fortunately we broke our journey with a night at the former Bank of New South Wales (1862,)  updated and very comfy. It's the two storey building with rounded window pediments, at the right of this photo. Here's a link should you wish to book. And here's the neighbourhood should you wish to check it out.

Just down the street was the George Hotel which was associated with ours, offering some great meals and diversions. Took them up on all offers. The George Hotel (third generation, 1902) sports a unique three storey cast iron balcony, and a view of the (former) Mining Exchange across Lydiard Street.


The George Hotel v.3
our hotel R from the lacy portico of the Mining Exchange

The Mining Exchange (1887-9) where the buying and selling of mining shares took place, is typically boom-town classical in appearance - the parapet is a thing of wonder, and the modified Palladian windows (one with pediment) are just grand.The bow-fronted balcony masks a wide elliptical entrance and rusticated arches. The balcony with its cast iron was reinstated, copying the original,  in 1986.

I'm not making this up, I found the heritage listing online. Thanks guys.






The wild-west gold mining story is told at a popular historic park  called Sovereign Hill (opened 1970) where costumed animators stage gold-rush activities for the tourists. We preferred to wander the streets of the city, and let the  somewhat excessive architecture of Lydiard and Camp Street relate stories from those heady times. I find this juxtaposition fascinating - Sturt Street with its central treed boulevard was built wide to accommodate  bullock carts (which do not turn on a dime, as you can imagine) arriving and leaving with gold field wealth. Imagine the contrast between ox team drivers bringing the dust and sweat of the outback and the newly spawned refinement of this grand aspiring Victorian city with its status as premier city of Victoria's goldfields.

Magnificent Town Hall (1868) with its peal of eight bells
I've found historical photos at a few sites, but  I feel uncomfortable about sharing them without permission.  Photos of miners in 1887, an etching of the early townsite complete with bullocks reclining in front of the frame shack which was Washington Bowling Saloon, restless crowds in front of the Mining Exchange, an image of a gold shipment departing by horse cart for Melbourne under heavy military guard are all available in the Ballarat Historical Society's catalogue. Here are some Past and Present photos going back to 1920s  Go time travelling there.

The amount of gold extracted in the area from 1851 to the present was 643 tons, about 29 billion dollars worth. That could buy a lot of pedimented porticos. And it did, in the same frenzied times that 'Marvellous Melbourne' of the 1880s was benefiting from mother earth's largess.

Admire the splendour.
L: Craig's Royal Hotel R: National Mutual Insurance Co.
 A particular favourite of mine was the 1905 Renaissance Revival/Venetian Gothic inspired National Mutual Insurance Company building at the corner of Lydiard and Sturt Streets. With its
recessed loggias, trefoil Gothic arches abounding, "cusped stilted segmental arches on the top storey" and "openwork octagonal structure" on the roof, once domed, with corner pinnacles, it's a dazzler. Crazy eclectic commercial building.

The modern shop-fronts and awnings don't do a thing for it. The designation report states that there were originally "three corner mansarded turrets capped by finials." A pretty splendid structure, even for ebullient Ballarat.


Craig's Royal Hotel (1862)

Craig's Royal Hotel billed as the "legendary Australian gold-rush era grand hotel" was impressive. My dear man almost had me talked into a $350 stay in a richly panelled fourposter bedded room, so we could visit the outstanding Minton tiled lobby at our leisure, but an incredibly sniffy concierge so put me off, that my only polite recourse was to decline the Craig's invitation. Here's the hotel's long history
French Renaissance ...
meets Tuscan tower and loggias



























Mechanics' Institute est.1859







 Another look at the former National Mutual Insurance Company and Craig's Royal Hotel. If you fancy a wander, here's a Streetview link starting you off at the corner of Sturt and Lydiard Street.
Her Majesty's Theatre (1875 and still a performing arts centre)
 If you find this place as fascinating as I do, you may be interested in the classic (1870) research resource by William Bramwell Withers, available online.

And incidentally, the city was originally (and sometimes today to honour its origins) named Ballaraat. The name is a (curt) nod to the Aboriginal people who were there to witness European ingress in 1837. The name is derived from the words 'Balla' and 'Arat', meaning 'resting place.'