Heritage Christchurch home destroyed in Friday night fire

A two-storey listed house in the Christchurch suburb of Riccarton has been destroyed by fire.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand received multiple calls about the fire on Kirkwood Ave around 9 p.m. Friday. The building was well on fire when emergency services arrived and six crew members, an antenna unit and a command unit were sent to the scene.

Owner Hak Hung Wong said he bought the grand 15-bedroom landmark villa about a year ago.

“I bought it last year and I tried to fix it up to become my family home, but there were also” [many] problems,” he said.

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Wong said initial estimates were $2.5 million to renovate the 7,823 sq. ft. property, but it rose to $3.5 million when an extensive mold problem came to light.

“The inside was very beautiful. It wasn’t just about the cost to fix it. The building has been abandoned for about 20 years so it has a lot of mold in the property. I wouldn’t want my childhood home to be full of mold. The council wanted me to treat the wood to remove the fungus, which is even more difficult,” he said.

Firefighters continue to muffle the smoldering remains of the Kirkwood Avenue property

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Firefighters continue to muffle the smoldering remains of the Kirkwood Avenue property

Wong had approached the council about demolishing the property, but the council was “not thrilled,” he said.

He didn’t know what started the fire, but said he had recently installed a gate to keep out vandals who had come in and scribbled graffiti around the property.

He wasn’t sure what his next steps would be, but he still hoped to create a family home for himself on the property.

“I haven’t been there yet. I got a lot of phone calls. I’m just finding out. I was told it was quite damaged,” he said.

He hoped that some original features could still be found.

He said the property was uninsured and had not been repaired since it was damaged by the earthquakes.

Firefighters fight a large fire at a building next to the University of Canterbury on Kirkwood Avenue in Christchurch.

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Firefighters fight a large fire at a building next to the University of Canterbury on Kirkwood Avenue in Christchurch.

A FENZ spokesperson said a fire crew was still on site Saturday morning to plug any hot spots, and a specialist fire investigator would investigate the scene to determine the cause.

A Christchurch City Council heritage assessment says the house was built around 1903 by department store manager Thomas Coverdale and later owned by great farmers George Bullen and George Rhodes, and landlord Mary Clifford from 1938.

Clifford was a landlord known for dividing large houses into condos and once had 550 tenants in 47 houses.

The old heritage home on Kirkwood Avenue photographed by Christchurch City Council in 2014.

Delivered

The old heritage home on Kirkwood Avenue photographed by Christchurch City Council in 2014.

Christchurch husband Reg, who did not want his last name used, said he lived in the property as a student in the 1970s and was saddened when it burned down.

“It was beautiful, but even then it wasn’t in great shape. Mrs. Clifford was a little old woman who lived next door to her, and she had a small office with all her books keeping track of all the rent. She only rented out to postgraduates because she didn’t want young people throwing parties,” he said.

According to the 2015 assessment, the property was divided into 26 flats and rented mainly to students from the adjacent University of Canterbury.

The original house had a conventional rectangular villa plan with double-height bay windows and two large wings were added in 1913.

There are five Grade II listed trees on the site and many original features remain such as fireplaces, ceilings and hall arches.

“Few villas of this scale remain in Christchurch… The property has historical and social significance as a large suburban home from the early 1900s,” says the review.

It had architectural and aesthetic significance as a large and decorative bay villa and technological and craft significance for the construction methods and use of materials from the early 20th century.

“This property is a prime example of the extravagant decorative detail used in Edwardian villas, including elaborate woodwork and main lighting.”

A firefighter uses a heat-seeking gauge to target hot spots to dampen the smoldering remains

Peter Meecham / Stuff

A firefighter uses a heat-seeking gauge to target hot spots to dampen the smoldering remains

It also has archaeological significance as it has the potential to provide archaeological evidence related to past construction methods and materials, and to human activity at the site, including that prior to 1900.

Anne-Marie Robinson, who lives nearby, said firefighters were evacuating some nearby homes Friday night, but many college students had come to the cordon to check.

“It’s a very, very big old house… It’s a huge fire, the whole house is in flames.”

All that remained were a pair of brick chimneys.

“It’s the biggest thing that’s happened on Clyde Rd in ages.”

Bystanders, including many students, watch as firefighters fight to bring a major blaze under control near the University of Canterbury.

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Bystanders, including many students, watch as firefighters fight to bring a major blaze under control near the University of Canterbury.

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