Housing the Prime Minister

Page 3 – Unofficial prime ministerial houses

Ariki Toa’s role as the prime minister’s official house ended in the 1930s when George Forbes moved out. In 1935 the new prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, a frugal bachelor, made the break permanent by choosing a smaller ministerial home in Molesworth Street. Three years later, dying of cancer, he moved into Hill Haven, 66 Harbour View Road, in the suburb of Northland. Frederick de Jersey Clere had designed it in 1909.

From 1940, Peter Fraser also lived in Hill Haven, entranced by ‘one of the most beautiful views in the world.’ Nine years later, Fraser lost office to Sid Holland, who, preferring a place with a guest bathroom, renovated 41 Pipitea Street in Thorndon. This brick house is close to Parliament, but its surroundings were still industrial, ‘with a brewery chimney quite close, a paint factory next door, commercial offices (B.P. Ltd) on the eastern boundary.’ The section had a small lawn in front and room for a clothes line behind, but the house was too small to entertain official guests.

Holland’s National successor Keith Holyoake also lived there. In 1966 the air was still ‘sodden with the smell of hops and malt from the brewery up the street, and jackhammers are busy tearing down Victorian ruins all around.’ But the economy-minded Holyoake dismissed all suggestions of building a new official residence. The Holyoakes put buckets under the leaks in the kitchen roof whenever it rained.

Ministerial residences

Holyoake was not as eccentric as he might seem. Ministerial houses were seldom very flash. Every time the government changed, prime ministers-elect trotted around these places, often still occupied by defeated ministers and their families. In November 1972, for example, Norman Kirk and his wife, Ruth, went house hunting. Because they knew Holyoake had let 41 Pipitea Street deteriorate, they did not even bother to look at it. They chose a Seatoun house recommended by their ministerial driver.

The Ministry of Works looked after ministers’ houses. As many had been bought only to be demolished for motorway and other development, it skimped on their maintenance and furnishing. Television came to New Zealand in 1960, but the Ministry waited until 1965 before providing TV aerials for ministers’ houses. Ministers paid for their own sets until 1973, when Cabinet made them free – provided the screens did not exceed 23 inches (58 cm).