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Olympia (Wentworth building)

The Wentworth building, built in 1910, was originally a roller skating rink accessed via the Olympia building at 86 Hereford Street.

View along Hereford Street
View along Hereford Street. Creator (cre): Christchurch Star. © Christchurch Star

The Wentworth building with the address of 88 Hereford Street (accessed via 86 Hereford Street) was originally erected on Lot 7 which had been formed by parts of Christchurch town sections 851, 853, 855, 857, 859, 860.

Lot 7 was situated to the south of the wooden office building (Shand’s Emporium) erected circa 1859 on Town Section 857 and the New Zealand Trust and Loan building, which had been built on part of Town Section 859 in 1866. Both of these buildings were situated on Hereford Street and a photograph by Dr Alfred Charles Barker dated to 1871 shows that a right of way was situated between the two buildings. However, another photograph of Hereford Street, dated to 1884, shows that a single storey brick addition with two windows had been erected in the right of way between the two buildings.

At a meeting held on 5 April 1910, a syndicate planned to establish a roller skating rink on Lot 7 which they had already secured. Initially the rink was designed to be built from brick, accessed by two right of way entrances from Hereford Street, and to be two storeys in height. The manager of the rink was to be H. R. Wade.

On 18 April 1910, at a meeting of the Christchurch City Council, the architectural firm, Luttrell Brothers, applied to the bylaws committee to erect a skating rink at the rear of the building occupied by James Shand and Co. Although the rink in the design could be entered by two right of ways, the application was refused on the grounds that it would not offer adequate means of escape in the event of a fire. In May 1910, the plans were amended and granted. 

The building was constructed through the use of day labour, rather than contractual labour. The rink, known as Olympia Skating Rink, was due to open on 1 August 1910. But due to wet weather, which delayed the preparation of the floor, it opened on 5 August.

The main entrance to the rink was through a building constructed in the right of way on Hereford Street set between the New Zealand Trust and Loan building and Shand’s office building. Designed in sympathy with the architecture of the New Zealand Trust and Loan building, the building consisted of an upper floor which partially covered the right of way leading to the skating rink building. With the address of 86 Hereford Street, the ground floor of this façade featured doors and a portico which extended over the footpath. The façade of the upper floor featured two arched windows, while set in the parapet was the name Olympia.

Beyond this entrance, the right of way continued as a passage before reaching the skating rink building which consisted of two floors. The ground floor of the rink could hold up to 1000 patrons and featured a fama floor which made for easier skating. The upper floor featured balconies, a tea room, a committee room, and a hall. With access to electricity, Turnbull and Jones, the agents of Excello Flame Arc Flame Arc Lamp, secured a contract to install the lamps at the rink in June.

To oversee the daily operation of the rink, the Olympia Skating Rink Company joined with Hayward’s Picture Enterprise Limited. In March 1911, the lease of the rink was given over completely to Hayward’s Picture Enterprise Limited.  Under the management of Hayward’s, the rink was served by a succession of managers. In 1912, the manager of the rink was A. Gonard. By 1915, the manager of the rink was Ben W. Brittain who was followed in 1916 by Arthur L. Power.

In December 1916, the parcels department, after closing its rooms in the Hereford Street post office and the Chief Post Office in Cathedral Square, acquired the lease of the Olympia Rink building to use as the parcels post branch. Upon entering the former rink via the right of way at 86 Hereford Street, a desk for use by the public was situated to the left, while a counter for the clerks ran across the room. There was also a curtained section for customs. The building, however, was inadequately heated, and often resulted in complaints.

In 1920, Lot 7 was transferred to William Henry Grantley Norton, Cecil George McKellar, and James Cecil Palmer.  Although the excavation for the new parcels post office building, also in Hereford Street, started in August 1920, the construction was delayed and did not resume until March 1921. The building was completed by May 1923. However, it was later opened as the automatic telephone exchange. The former skating rink building was still operating as the parcels post office in 1929.

In 1933, the upper floor of the 86 Hereford Street entrance building was linked to its eastern neighbour, the wooden office building at 88 Hereford Street (Shand’s Emporium). The access between the two buildings remained in place until 2011.

In July 1937, the property was sold. In 1941, the property was transferred to Gough, Gough, and Hamer who used the former rink building as a machine storage facility. Following this it was known as Gough’s Building and in 1944 the Canterbury Horticultural Society held a rose show there. By 1945, the building became an entertainment venue known as The Wentworth.

In April 1950, the council leased the building for a term of five years. The building was used by the Canterbury men’s and women’s indoor basketball associations for practice and matches. By September 1951, the council was considering turning the site into a car parking building. However, in March 1952, the lease was taken by the Post and Telegraph Department. The motor registration section, the received parcels branch, and the parcels customs section were relocated to the building from the Chief Post Office. The motor registration section moved out in October 1955.

At some point the ground floor of the 86 Hereford Street entrance building was converted into a separate building and no longer provided access to the original rink building.

In 1974, the property was transferred to Hereford Holdings Limited.

On 1 May 1997, a café, Vivace Espresso, opened in the building at 86 Hereford Street under owner Bernard Smith and manager, Merrin McAuley. The conversion of the building’s interior was carried out by Phil Tindall of “That” Design Company. The café was designed to be Italian in style, and therefore Roman inspired archways were used to strengthen the building.

The Wentworth building, situated to the south of the café, was eventually destroyed by fire in October 2003. The building at 86 Hereford Street continued to operate as a café until the Canterbury earthquakes. Although it had been earthquake strengthened and was not structurally unsound, the Olympia façade was demolished in March 2011, possibly due to it being painted the same colour as the adjacent former New Zealand Trust and Loan building.