Jul 29, 2009

Art Deco Christchurch: West Avon 1930


The West Avon apartments on the south-west corner of Hereford and Montreal Streets in what was then the inner city suburb of West End.

Built in 1930, but now sporting a 1980s penthouse, the Grade 3 protected building is currently painted in shades of blue and orange.

West Avon was designed by the Christchurch architect Wilford Melville Lawry (1894-1980). A long time resident of Mount Pleasant, Lawry subsequently designed the now demolished 1934 Methodist Orphanage and Children's Home in Harewood Road, Papanui (below). The site is now occupied by an old people’s home.

Among Lawry's other surviving designs are the 1935 Regent Theatre at Hokitika (below top) and the 1940 Century Theatre in Edgeware Road, St. Albans (below bottom), which was converted into a supermarket in 1969.


Cheryl Bernstein said...

In the 1980s we knew the building as the Liquorice Allsorts due to its livery at the time; black, dark brown and pink I think. It looked much better then, the paint job it sports now is insipid in comparison. The apartments are pretty dark and poky from what I remember, but the building itself is a landmark and a treasure.

Marcus Castell said...

The photographic record indicates that until the early 1980s the building remained white, with the architectural elements accentuated in subtle shades of grey. The window frames appear to have originally been gun-metal grey, but had been repainted cream by 1961.

The penthouse first appears in mid 1980s photographs and the current colour scheme, which is now looking a bit shabby and IMHO overly accentuates the architectural detail, dates from the late 1990s.

Anonymous said...

Nice photo. I think you'll find the architect of the West Avon flats was Melville Lawry.

Marcus Castell said...

Thanks very much for the attribution to Melville Lawry (such are the joys of crowdsourcing).

The article is now updated to include a portrait of Lawry and a further three examples of his work.

Able to locate him as attending Christchurch Boys High School 1908-1910, and serving in the First World War as a former draftsman, and then in partnership with Guy Sellars in 1948, but as yet unable to ascertain dates for his birth and demise.

Sarndra said...

Wilford Melville LAWRY
Mother: Jessie
Father: Samuel
Birth registration number:1895/129

[this index states he was born 12 November 1894]
Death: 1980
Death registration number: 1980/36391

Available online via http://bdmhistoricalrecords.identityservices.govt.nz/search/

So at least we know he died in New Zealand. Not buried in a Christchurch City council cemetery as not listed in their database, however i have found there are exclusions on that site sometimes. Also, he may have been buried in a churchyard.

Sarndra said...

I wonder if he was one of the sons of Samuel and Janet LAWRY. Samuel was a preacher. He features on Dictionary of New Zealand Biography [http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb/]

Samuel died 1933 aged 78 and Janet died 1920 aged 60. Both are buried in Sydenham cemetery, Christchurch. Samuel had the means for his children to do well and their ages fit within the scope to be Wilford's parents.

I have women name Janet in my own tree whose name was shortned to Jessie. Just a thought :-)

Marcus Castell said...

Thanks Sarndra, Melville's father; the Reverend Samuel Lawry of Manchester Street, St Albans was a prominent cleric in the Methodist Church of New Zealand.

Melville Lawry may have been cremated (the wish list includes the Linwood Crematorium records coming online).

There are a number of other buildings in the city that could be Lawry designs. Among them are the College Court apartments at 19 Cashel Street West, which bear a strong resemblance to the Methodist Orphanage at Papanui. Another is the Art Deco Holiday Lodge Motel building on Colombo Street, near to Salisbury Street. Both the Avon Cinema on Worcester Street and the demolished five storey Women's Restrooms in Cathedral Square at the corner of Strand Lane could also be a contenders.

Early Canterbury Photography said...

What was the first ugly building that Christchurch architects designed and who was responsible?

Marcus Castell said...

Until the mid 1880s the buildings facing onto Cathedral Square were all one or two storeys. With the completion of the cathedral in 1883 property development in its environs was invigorated and the first generation of buildings was mostly replaced with three and four storey structures in the neo-Classical and Gothic revival traditions.

The pleasing harmony and scale of these buildings survived for nearly eight years until the erection of the nine storey Government Life building in 1963, to be quickly followed by the monolithic Bank of New Zealand hi-rise. Rather than setting aside a specific precinct for tall buildings, our town planners allowed the aesthetic balance of the Square to be effectively destroyed.

An opinion on what constitutes first ugly building in Christchurch has to be an highly subjective appraisal, but the long vacant (except for the ground floor) 1963 Government Life building by the then 98 year-old architectural practice of Collins & Son would have to be our choice - a stark contrast with the earlier The Press building from the same architectural partnership.

Anonymous said...

I am currently a tenant in the West Avon buildings. I can assure you, my apartment is far from dark and poky. I grew up in an Art Deco house and now enjoy living in an Art Deco apartment. I love how it still has orginal features from the 1930s.

Anonymous said...

Government Life building is nice - just needs a tidy up

Anonymous said...

The Art Deco Building College Court is around the corner in Cashel st wonder who built that.
Also on the now Mc Donalds house was an old deco building as well, anyone got any pics of it ?
What was left of the walls were painted blue

Ursula Dougherty said...

I am currently drawing some minor alterations for a W. Melville Lawry designed house in Huntsbury, Christchurch. The original drawings are dated July 1950
The house is small but has a great feel to it.

Anonymous said...

From the Christchurch Press
LAWRY - McARTHUR - 046 --- Rugby street Methodist Church when Miss Bessie McArthur was married to Wilford Melville Lawry
Tuesday 29 April 1924

Unknown said...

Pretty sure the flats are featured in the Victoria video by Dance Exponents.

Anonymous said...

Feeling rather grumpy about this one. Lived in 'the Licorice Allsort building' for a number of years - it was a great place to live - last stint in the early 1990s. Post-quakes, the place is empty and fenced off. Local knowledge says that it could readily be saved, but the owners (and/or their insurers) have decided not to pursue this option. The children of the owners are also rumoured to be cross about this, and want to see it saved, but there has been no budging... Makes me want to leave this place.

Marcus Castell said...

We did leave this place...

Unknown said...

Due to a lack of historic restoration funding, this building will be coming down...but donations can be made by gifting an envelope to the Christchurch City council, which of course will go towards the rebuilding of this building and NOT Tony Marryatt's salary...yeah right.

Unknown said...

Hi there. Im a student and doing an assignment on the west avon building. Is there photos anywhere of the interior when it was apartments. Would really appreciate any help. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I lived there in the early 1990's and I remember it as a rather splendid place. Shame to hear it isnt (hasnt?) survived... 8(

Marcus Castell said...

It is reputed to have been said that the earthquake storm, which Canterbury has been experiencing since 2010, created significant opportunities for demolishing buildings occupying sites that might otherwise be developed as more lucrative investments.

Might this be an example of an intimate liaison between developers and government, to reconstruct the body of Christchurch, to their mutual advantage?

From the inception of colonial settlement our society has acquired an enduring reputation for cronyism and conflict of interest that might ensure imprisonment in Europe, or perhaps even judicial murder in the less liberal cultures of eastern Asia.

“A society gets the criminals it deserves.” Val McDermid, Killing the Shadows