Public Trust Office building opens

9 June 1909

Public Trust Office decorated for the Queen's visit in 1953 (Alexander Turnbull Library, B-K-1225-95a)

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 Āpirana 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 the first Public Trustee, 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.

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