Wellington: Hometown/Boomtown

“What seemed to be forgotten at the time was that their victims weren’t just buildings: they were places in people’s lives, almost friends … some of the best of them were the pubs: The Pier, Barretts; old identities: The Duke, The Princess, and The Empire”.
“Nothing. Not a thing. There’s nothing that I miss. And there’s a lot more that I would like to see go”.

For Wellingtonians, there’s long been a sense that ‘the big one’ (earthquake, that is) is well overdue. I’m told some grew up with this as a constant refrain.

In the 1970s, this outlook ultimately lead to the mass demolition of nineteenth century Wellington. In 1974, the city council required all older buildings that did not meet strict criteria to be strengthened or demolished. They were rarely strengthened.

This 45 minute 1983 documentary ‘Hometown, Boomtown’ captures both sides of this decisive episode in Wellington’s urban history, although it unabashedly comes down on the side of the preservationists.

It features touching and strange moments — the man arriving to meet a friend only to find their rendezvous point gone; the curious theme song interludes; the full scale relocation of an endangered pub; the demolition worker who saw a building coming down one day and thought ‘this is me’.

And it’s a mystery as to why unrepentant Mayor Michael Fowler is interviewed on a rooftop spitting his words into the Wellington wind, but it seems fitting.

For my own part, I don’t want to suggest unsafe buildings should be left unsafe, and I’m hardly modernism’s biggest critic. Yet I can’t ignore that the areas most effected then are those I enjoy least today, and that even without having experienced what went before I can still feel the loss.

I miss those pubs.

With so much of today’s Wellington threatened with a reminiscent ultimatum — strengthen, or go — since the December quake, the debate feels pertinent.