Christchurch

Christchurch 1907: A Tale of Two Towers

Last week I talked about the giant water chute that was a star attraction at the 1906/7 N.Z. Exhibition in Hagley Park, Christchurch.  This is a follow-up post of sorts, but mostly just an excuse to share some seriously awesome photos of one of the Exhibition towers being demolished:

Demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005020-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23027460

Demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005020-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23027460

There is something Hindenburg-esque about this scene, in fact I’m disappointed that none of the bystanders had the foresight to pretend to run for their lives, or at the very least pretend to cower in fright, as the tower collapsed.  Missed photo opportunity if ever there was one.  Poor form Edwardians, poor form indeed.

TopofTowerAs some of my more observant readers may have noticed in last week’s post, there was a circular purple cancellation on the corner of the postcard that I shared, with the intriguing phrase – ‘POSTED AT TOP OF TOWER’.  I was tempted to get my postal history nerd on and launch into an explanation of what tower the cancellation was referring to, but I didn’t want to detract from the excited Edwardians on the water chute.  That, and, to be honest, the Exhibition’s towers deserved to have their story told separately.  So without further delay, here is the back of the water chute postcard:

Postcard sent from N.Z. Exhibition 1907 Lemuel Lyes Collection

Postcard sent from N.Z. Exhibition 1907
Lemuel Lyes Collection

“Dear Lizzie,  Up on the top of tower. All well hope you are same.  Mrs. A. Brown.  New Brighton”.

The postmark on the far right confirms that this was sent from the N.Z. Exhibition grounds in March 1907, addressed to a Miss E. Smith in South Addington.  The message is short enough to Tweet, it was sent to a recipient within walking distance and the ‘Posted at Top of Tower’ cancellation is nothing short of a geo-tag.  In short, postcards like these were often used in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to how people communicate in the digital age.

The tower that the postcard was sent from was one of two that straddled the grand entrance to the N.Z. Exhibition.  Imagine this scene in Hagley Park today:

Entrance to the N.Z. Exhibition, Christchurch 1906-7. Lemuel Lyes Collection

Entrance to the N.Z. Exhibition, Christchurch 1906-7.
Lemuel Lyes Collection

The towers were erected specifically for the event and at forty nine metres in height they temporarily dominated the Christchurch skyline and offered visitors a unique view of the city.  Riding the electric elevator to the top was a thrill to rival that of the giant water chute.

“As exhilarating as a waft on the wings of the morning, is a trip in the Tower Elevator.  Yesterday crowds cheerfully waited ten and fifteen minutes for their turn for a TRIP TO THE CLOUDS”.

The Press, April 13th, 1907

Top of the No 1 south tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition, Hagley Park, Christchurch. Grossman, Beatrice: Album of Charles Seager. Ref: 1/2-022812-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22391869

Top of the No 1 south tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition, Hagley Park, Christchurch. Grossman, Beatrice: Album of Charles Seager. Ref: 1/2-022812-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22391869

While at the top of the tower, visitors were presented with the opportunity to purchase and send postcards to friends and family.  Each of these postcards was stamped with the ‘POSTED AT TOP OF TOWER’ cancellation.

Sadly for Christchurch’s Edwardians, their frivolous tower ascending days would soon be numbered – the structures were only temporary and were scheduled for demolition soon after the end of the Exhibition.  Their destruction was an attraction in its own right and was well documented by local photographers.

Demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1906-1907, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005019-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23094295

Demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1906-1907, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005019-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23094295

Demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005020-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23027460

Demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition in Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005020-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23027460

Spectators at the scene of the demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1906-1907, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005022-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22848601

Spectators at the scene of the demolition of the northern tower of the New Zealand International Exhibition of 1906-1907, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-005022-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22848601

This fantastic sequence of photographs was taken by Steffano Webb, one of the official photographers for the Exhibition.  His work was also used for many of the postcards that were sold there as souvineers.

It seems a shame that these grand towers had such a short life, but such was the nature of the big Exhibitions.  While extravagant, they were also ephemeral.  They often ran at a loss and the elaborate structures were almost always temporary, however they were also a chance for a city and country to shine; to show off prosperity, culture, technology and innovation.

Exhibition buildings in Hagley Park http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Exhibition_%281906%29

Exhibition buildings in Hagley Park, Christchurch
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Exhibition_(1906)

Today the site of the former Exhibition buildings and its towers can be visited in the northeast corner of Hagley Park.  It is an area frequented by joggers and picnickers, and is still occasionally used for large gatherings – including the memorial service held after the Christchurch earthquake.  Christchurch is a city that has tragically lost a lot of its heritage, but there is still plenty of history to be found there, even in the parks.

© Lemuel Lyes

7 replies »

    • Agreed – they would be quite the attraction if still there! Although one wonders if temporary structures would have survived 100 plus years, not to mention the recent quakes.

  1. Luckily the French took a different attitude with the Effel Tower, which I believe was similarly raised as a temporary exhibition only… 🙂 It’s sad in a way that New Zealand has lost this side of its heritage – and so soon after these events. Each of them encapsulated, in their own way, the very latest and best of current architectural thought, and if we had them today, we’d have snapshots of each era – as a deco fan, I lament the loss of the Wellington structures particularly! But as you say, earthquakes would likely have had their effects by now. Those buildings weren’t intended to last.

    • You are on the money! The Eiffel tower was meant to be temporary, and also might be in part responsible for the Exhibition tower building trend here in New Zealand. It wasn’t even a year old when a replica was built in Dunedin for the NZ and South Seas Exhibition.

      It sure is a shame that none of those impressive structures were kept here in NZ the way the Eiffel tower was in Paris.

      Incidentally there is some fantastic colour film of visitors enjoying he Centennial Exhibition in Wellington.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s