PHOTO: Erskine Chapel. SUPPLIED
Wellington‘s cherished Erskine Chapel, a historical gem perched on the hills of Island Bay, has at long last undergone a meticulous restoration process after languishing in disrepair for several decades.
Originally constructed in 1929, this architectural masterpiece boasts a striking example of French Gothic design. The chapel was an integral part of Erskine College, a Catholic girls’ school that ceased its operations in 1985, nearly forty years ago.
The journey toward restoration was not without its challenges. In 2000, developer Ian Cassels of the Wellington Company purchased the abandoned site with intentions of redeveloping it into housing. However, he encountered significant opposition from heritage preservation groups.
After a legal battle, the Environment Court ruled in 2018 that while the school buildings could be demolished, the chapel had to be preserved and strengthened. After years of dedicated effort, the newly restored chapel was unveiled on a Thursday evening, marked by choral performances and speeches.
Cassels expressed his immense satisfaction with the outcome but lamented the protracted legal dispute. He stated, “It’s sort of negative, obstructive, and incredibly wasteful of resources. We spent more than we should have on the Environment Court for the privilege to restore this building.”
The restoration endeavor incurred a cost of at least $7 million for Cassels’ company, twice the amount originally anticipated. He acknowledged that the financial burden of the project fell largely on him and his partner, Caitlin Taylor.
Today, the old Erskine College site has been transformed into a residential area with ninety-seven townhouses. Wellington City councillor Nicola Young hailed the project as a significant victory for housing, emphasizing the need for more initiatives like this.
Heritage New Zealand’s Jamie Jacobs underscored the chapel’s immense cultural and historical significance, stating, “This chapel is one of the most important interiors in New Zealand, certainly Wellington. It’s one of the finest French gothic buildings probably anywhere.”
The beautifully restored chapel is now available as a venue for weddings and events, and an open day for the public is scheduled for this Sunday.