The Beatles played the Majestic Theatre in 1964. Last week, despite local community protests and objections from the Christchurch City Council, they began to demolish the Majestic. The demolition was ordered by Warwick Isaacs of the Christchurch Central Development Unit in order to do some road widening. It joins a very long list of heritage buildings that have been destroyed and there are still more demolitions planned.
I'VE ALWAYS LIKED 'Christchurch (In Cashel Street I Wait)' by The Exponents. In fact in a cardboard box somewhere, I have a 12" dance mix vinyl copy of the 1985 song. In those days the band were known, of course, as the Dance Exponents.
One of the strengths of lead singer Jordan Luck's songwriting in those days was his uncanny knack of evoking a sense of place in just a few words. 'Caroline Skies' is a song that speaks of summer days down on Caroline Bay in Timaru while Sex and Agriculture tells a story of getting up to no good in and around Ashburton.
And in Christchurch (In Cashel Street I Wait) Luck sings:
Churches, Townships with Churches
I’m Counting Bibles, Counting Pews
Cathedrals, Cities with Cathedrals
Stained Glass Windows are my View
Christchurch, In Cashel Street I Wait
Together We Will Be, One Day
Unfortunately this song now only evokes memories of a Christchurch that has all but vanished. The big quake may of devastated the city but the bulldozers and wrecking balls of Gerry Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) are in the process of finishing off the job. What is often described as Christchurch's Gothic Revival identity has all but been obliterated by CERA'S 'scorched earth' policy.
It has made a mockery of comforting statements made by Christopher Finlayson, the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. In 2011 he said:
"The heritage buildings throughout Canterbury are an important part of the region's character and its history. The earthquake caused significant damage to many heritage and character buildings. The cost of their repair and restoration will be considerable, and it is appropriate that Government assists with local rebuilding and strengthening efforts to preserve this history.
But as of February this year 43 percent of central Christchurch's heritage buildings listed with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust had been pulled down. In total over 240 buildings have been demolished.
The Christchurch City Council have been powerless to stop CERA's carnage. In 2011 former Councillor Peter Beck told The Press that the way heritage buildings were being pulled down left him feeling impotent.
''It's another example of the way in which the local community, through the council, is being ignored. The view of the people in this city is not being listened to.''
Last year a 5000-signature petition was presented to Parliament calling for a halt to the demolition of quake-hit heritage buildings.
Green MP Eugenie Sage, who presented the petition to Parliament, said:
"This is an unprecedented loss of our history and heritage. CERA and the Government appear to have blocked their ears to public concerns about retaining Christchurch's heritage buildings and how they contribute to the city's character and its attractiveness to tourists."
Last week the demolition of another heritage building, the Majestic Theatre, began. Opened in 1930, the Art Deco building suffered only moderate earthquake damage and was repairable.
Heritage groups appealed to the city council last month to intervene. Although the city council have objected to the demolition, Mayor Lianne Dalziel said that the council had no grounds to seek a judicial review.
Dalziel is right. CERA's dictatorial powers mean it can knock down any building it wants with legal impunity.
The Majestic Theatre is, for CERA, another round peg that won't fit into the square hole that is the Government's dismal central city blueprint. The Majestic is in the way of widening Lichfield Street a few metres.
The obliteration of Christchurch's identity is the price the good people of the city are being forced to pay for the characterless glass and concrete edifices that dominate the Government's blueprint. This plan, which was supposed to attract billions of dollars (mostly overseas money) into the city has completely failed. The cost of that failure is the extinguishing of the Christchurch we once knew and loved, the city that 'Christchurch (In Cashel Street I Wait) speaks of. The good people of Christchurch have good reason to think they are now strangers in their own city.
Gerry Brownlee and his chums have not only not only ripped down the central city they have also ripped out its heart and soul.