On 9 June 1909, Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward opened the Public Trust Office Building in Lambton Quay, Wellington. It was such an important occasion that the Minister in Charge of the Public Trust, Hon A.T. Ngata, invited a number of members of both Houses of Parliament and prominent Wellington citizens and their wives to the opening ceremony, which took the form of a lunchtime banquet followed by a concert and dance in the evening. At the banquet Ward paid homage to the late Premier, Sir Julius Vogel and Hon. E.C.J. Stevens, who was present, for their work establishing the Public Trust in 1873. It was the first state-backed institution of its type in the world and became the model for similar systems in England, Canada, Australia and Fiji. Lady Ward subsequently unveiled large portraits of Vogel and Stevens in the building.
There was cause for celebration – it had taken 36 years from the inception of the Public Trust for it to have purpose-built premises. In 1894 government architect Sir John Campbell had been asked to prepare plans for a new Public Trust Office Building alongside Government Buildings. This was the beginning of a controversial and drawn-out process. Builders J. and A. Wilson eventually got under way with construction. Campbell’s Edwardian Baroque style building housed the Public Trust from 1909 until 1982, when it moved to a new building next door.
This left the Public Trust Office Building empty and with an uncertain future. There were calls for its demolition, but after a public outcry the Minister of Internal Affairs issued a protection notice. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) subsequently placed a heritage order on the building. In the decades that followed it underwent refurbishment and several changes of ownership. Creative New Zealand were the main occupants from 1985 to 2013. They and other occupants were forced to vacate the building following advice from structural engineers after the Seddon earthquakes in 2013. In 2014 Cheops Holdings Ltd (Maurice Clark) purchased the building, which reopened on 27 October 2015 after extensive strengthening and refurbishment. It is, now occupied by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
Maurice Clark, Minister Maggie Barry ONZM and Ministry CE Paul James at the unveiling of a plaque on 27 October 2015.
In February 2016 a rededication ceremony for the 63 Public Trust Office employees who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars and paid tribute to their sacrifice as ordinary New Zealanders who were civil servants and fathers, sons and brothers was held.
The names of the servicemen are recorded on the two plaques which feature in the foyer of the Lambton Quay Public Trust building where the honours boards were originally installed. Both plaques were removed when Public Trust moved out of the building in 1982 and have been reinstated after they were located in the current Wellington Public Trust premises as the result of a research project.
View more details about the servicemen listed on the Roll of Honour on NZHistory.net's website.
Former State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie placing a wreath at the 04 February 2016 rededication ceremony.
New Zealand Institute of Architecture 2016 awards for Wellington
In May 2016, the Public Trust building won two awards for 'Heritage' and 'Interior Architecture'. Warren and Mahoney Architects were involved in this work with the judges noting that “the design successfully preserves the character of the building” and the key to success was “the ability of the client, architect and engineer to collaborate'. Maurice Clark, CE of McKee Fehl also received the Ath Cup (in memory of Ian Athfield). The Ath Cup is for outstanding achievement across all fields of architecture, building and design and is awarded to someone who has made, in the case of Maurice, a significant contribution to restoring the Wellington landscape.
For more details including the full list of Wellington winners, read the Architecture Now article here.
Thanks to Creative New Zealand for permission to adapt and reuse material they developed for a website at the time of the centenary of the building in 2009. The research for the website was undertaken by Lift Education and Tanya Fagan. An archived version of the website www.oldpublictrust.co.nz can be found in National Library's National Digital Heritage Archive under the heading ‘Old Public Trust Building'.