Local Heart, Global Soul

October 10, 2012

Cramner Courts: The Wrecking Ball Becomes a Hot Potato…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Wow, it seems that a series of posts I had lined up for this week are being posted by chance amid ongoing turmoil concerning them almost as we speak (or is that as I wrote, no  as you read? ).

I didn’t know too much about the Cramner Courts buildings  except it used to be called the “Normal School” (and I always wondered if that meant somehow that all other schools were abnormal) until I checked out the web pages of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust  (link below) and found the following explanation.

I’ve edited it a little for brevity so if you’d like to read the full account  please just click on the link provided.

“Today’s Cranmer Court was originally built to house Christchurch Normal School, which opened in 1876.

‘Normal’ or ‘model’ schools are schools that provide teacher trainees with the opportunity to observe teachers and classes in action in a normal school environment. Christchurch Normal School was the first of this type in Canterbury, opening just after one in Otago.

The Canterbury Board of Education held an architectural competition in 1873 for designs for Christchurch Normal School. Twelve entries were received and the one submitted by the architect Samuel C. Farr (1827-1918), was selected.  

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Farr’s Christchurch Normal School was built in stone from the Halswell quarry with Oamaru stone dressings. It was designed with two wings forming an ‘L’ shape, one for boys and one for girls, and a distinctive octagonal room at the corner of the ‘L’ with an intricate wooden vaulted ceiling.

The octagonal room was originally intended to house a book depot, but by the time the building was completed this idea had been abandoned.

When the normal school function was transferred to Elmwood School in 1954, this building became the centre for the Post-Primary Department of the Christchurch Teachers’ College.

In 1970 the teachers’ college moved to the suburb of Ilam and the building remained vacant until a developer bought it in 1981 and turned it into a group of luxury apartments and a restaurant. 

This building is significant as one of the earliest normal schools in New Zealand, and as a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture, which is a distinctive feature of Christchurch. Debates in 1969-1970 over the building’s fate show that it is held in high public esteem. It forms an important part of the townscape of Cranmer Square. 

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

1970-1981 – The building lay vacant and neglected.

A group of Christchurch citizens (lead by the Civic Trust) lobbied for the retention of the building and for its adaptive reuse arguing that it was more economically feasible to convert the existing building than to demolish and rebuild.

 1981- The building was purchased by a development company for conversion into 22 residential apartments with 15 new town houses to be built on vacant land to the north. Street facades and the roofline were preserved and the ventilators and one tower reinstated.

Interiors were stripped out and dormer windows added to the roof. The octagonal room, which formerly served as the headmaster’s office on the southwest corner, was converted to a restaurant. The complex was renamed Cranmer Courts.”

This building appears to have become a political football… or hot potato depending on how you look at it.

Although it’s privately owned everyone from almost A-Z appears to have their fingers in the decision making pie  on what should be done with it, how it can be saved (or not) but in true political style the issue of exactly where the cash is coming from in order to carry out these dreams and ideals is hazy, dare I say it, even so far non-existent in sums large enough to be serious. (although this situation could change yet again)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

The saga so far: Australian investors were prepared to inject cash and save it,  they signed up to the contract of due diligence that would se the facade of the building saved.  Then they pulled then pulled out at the 11th hour, almost immediately, with no cash lined up on the doorstep it was deemed unsafe by CERA , or possibly the owners (depending on which of the many articles you read) and the bulldozers moved in almost before the  doomed contract hit the bottom of the rubbish bin. The contractors were then halted by emergency injunction as a local city counciler stepped whipping up a storm of debate bigger than the rubble dust that was being generated on site.

In yet another instance of opaque ” transparency” in the  life of a historic Christchurch building it’s hard to see what’s really going on here.

By all means, try and halt demolition whilst another investor is found to redeem it at great cost.

But haven’t the owners tried that already ? and didn’t they fail? Have all options already been exhausted ?

It’s a really tough one, and I really don’t know all the facts so I’ll play devil’s advocate a little: On one hand the building has been standing with substantial damage for over two years now, so just how long should the owners be expected to wait ?… the building is like a patient on life support, either operate to fix it or let it die, but this catatonic limbo can’t be expected to go on forever.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

But are the owners really trying hard enough to find investors will are prepared to undertake the extensive surgery the building needs?  or is CERA perhaps guilty of using their steamroller tactics again?

As for the City councillor  Is this really a serious 11th hour reprieve or just political point harvesting  to be used at the next election? can you really have a say when you don’t have the funds to put your money where your mouth is?

Making demands when other people are picking up the bill is easy… putting your hand into your own pocket is not… if the building is so important, the question that begs asking is “has the Council been busy fundraising for the last two years so that they can step in?”

The answer is probably a mixture of all of this… a pinch of every argument that now makes a rather explosive mix that’s hit the headlines in a dramatic fashion. Of course I’d like to see this building saved,  but hey reality is that my piggy-bank isn’t even coming within light-years of  covering this account so who am I to judge?

Whilst I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a favourably outcome for Cramner Courts I’ll readily admit it’s a sticky situation, apparently getting messier by the minute… the bulldozer engines are still warm and the very real dust hasn’t settled by a long shot… it will be interesting to see which way the wrecking ball ends up swinging on this one.

…and a post script: I think this white building opposite Cramner Courts is called Chateau Blanc from the Clarion Collection Hotel chain and it took some damage too… which I think is being repaired.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)




(photograph © Thanks to Google Street View)

(photograph © Thanks to Google Street View)

(photograph © Thanks to Google Street View)

(photograph © Thanks to Google Street View)

(photograph © Thanks to Google Street View)

(photograph © Thanks to Google Street View)


  1. […] Cramner Courts buildings on the northern end of Cranmer Square. I wrote a post about it here: https://kiwidutch.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/new-848/ Cramner Courts: The Wrecking Ball Becomes a Hot Potato… Sadly the inevitable happened and when I […]

    Pingback by Cramner Courts; The Inevitable… | Local Heart, Global Soul — September 19, 2018 @ 1:00 am | Reply

  2. […] As soon as you turn out of Cranmer Square on the Cranmer Street One Way system,  you can see the historic building of the “normal School” one block further up. As I explained in a previous post: https://kiwidutch.wordpress.com/?s=cramner   Cramner Courts: The Wrecking Ball Becomes a Hot Potato… […]

    Pingback by Christchurch Normal School Survives… | Local Heart, Global Soul — September 20, 2018 @ 1:00 am | Reply

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