What next for McLean's mansion?


Runtime - 3:35

New Zealand in 1900 had seen nothing like it - a mega-mansion, the largest wooden house in the land.

Even today, with it’s original landholding diminished and surrounded by other buildings, McLean’s Mansion is an imposing structure in central Christchurch.

Frank Film’s latest episode http://www.frankfilm.co.nz takes viewers on a video tour of this remarkable structure - heralded in 1900 as New Zealand’s largest wooden residence.

Some will know it as the old McLean’s Institute, housing ‘refined women in straightened circumstances’, or as the dental nurses hostel and, most latterly in the 1980s and 1990s, the Christchurch Academy, where young people were encouraged into training for a career.

After the Canterbury earthquakes the building fell into disrepair, visited by vandals, many of whom covered the walls and century-old timber with graffiti.

Chimneys were toppled in the earthquakes - 45,000 bricks sit outside the mansion’s main entrance - with more than 250 tonne of bricks and masonry removed since.

The Murray family, which bought the building from the government in the 1980s, had applied for a demolition order but this was ultimately rejected by the Environment Court, much to the relief of local architect Timothy Hogan.

“I was very upset about it, I thought that would be a hell of a loss.”

Hogan now sits on the McLean’s Mansion Charitable Trust, formed to restore and re-purpose the building.

“The intention is to bring the public in, so we’re looking at galleries, a house museum, commercial spaces.”

It’s clear there is a lot of work to do before any re-opening. It may have taken original owner Allan McLean two years to build at the turn of the 20th century, but earthquake repairs and restoration could take many more.

The building has now been taken back to it’s bones, “in all it’s raw glory,” says Hogan.

Project Manager, Richard Herdman, describes it as similar to “a forensic analysis” and “key to understanding how it’s been constructed.”

With a $1.9 million grant for repairs from the Christchurch City Council, the Trust is now seeking to raise additional funding for the restoration, with the aim of ensuring the unique, heritage building is admired anew, as one of New Zealand’s architectural treasures.