The Sign of the Takahe

Built between 1918 and 1948 in the neo-Gothic style, the Sign of the Takahe is the largest of the rest houses constructed as part of Harry Ell's vision of a Summit Road.

The Sign of the Takahe
The Sign of the Takahe. © Christchurch Star

In 1909 the Summit Road Scenic Reserves Board was formed to promote Harry Ell’s vision of a road to provide public access to all parts of the Port Hills. Ell also advocated the provision of rest houses along the Summit Road.

Construction began in 1918 and the partially completed Tram Terminus Rest House, as it was then known, opened for business in 1920, with the lower section operating as the tram terminus and tearoom to try and offset building costs. However, arguments, financial difficulty, depression and war were to delay its completion for almost three decades. The building was eventually completed in 1948, more than a decade after Harry Ell’s death in 1934.

Ell was able to hire a number of skilled craftsmen thanks to government-funded work schemes during the Great Depression. These men produced the fine detailed carving in both wood and stone that typify both the interior and exterior of the Sign of the Takahe.

Working within a very tight budget, incredible ingenuity saw ornate friezes carved from packing cases, local Hillmorton stone quarried and hand-chiselled on site, tools made from scraps and huge kauri beams salvaged from an old bridge and used in the living area.

The interior of the Sign of the Takahe is full of heraldic symbols: coats of arms of Canterbury settler families, governors-general and prime ministers grace the walls alongside English shields, while the dining room contains a fireplace that is an exact replica of one in historic Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.

When Harry Ell died suddenly in 1934, his workers (known locally as Ell's Angels) continued construction, until the outbreak of the Second World War, under the direction of leading Christchurch architect J.G. Collins.

Following damage in the 2010-2011 Canterbury earthquakes, the Christchurch City Council, in 2013, approved permanently repairing and strengthening the Sign of the Takahe to 67 per cent of the New Building Standard.