Topic: The History of 300 Manchester Street

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The National Library building in Christchurch was demolished as a result of earthquake damage sustained on 22 February. This building didn't start life as a library, however.

Aerial photo, Blackwell Motors, 1970

Blackwell Motors, Manchester St, 1970 (©Blackwell Motors)

The building that eventually housed the National Library in Christchurch stood at 300 Manchester St for over 40 years.

It was commissioned in 1969 by Blackwell Motors as a purpose built automotive sales, repair and showroom and was officially opened in 1970*, at which time it took the place of the Blackwell premises on the Kilmore/Durham St corner (where the Copthorne Durham now stands - though it's due to be demolished).

The new building included a secondhand sales yard, BP pumps, fuel lines and pits, and was designed by architect Maurice Mahoney of Christchurch architecture firm, Warren and Mahoney.

Blackwell Motors operated from the building for 12 years, later moving to premises in Sockburn.

After that the building was used as a furniture showroom before being taken over by Dingwall and Paulger, a Christchurch grocery wholesale company that owned the Foodland, Keystore and Price Cutter group of stores.

The company unfortunately went into liquidation in 1991 which left the lease available to be taken up by National Library which initially tenanted the whole building. Surplus space not used by School Services was utilised for storage for some Wellington material including the National Fiction Collection, as well as the National Film Library which had merged with National Library in 1989 and occupied the "rear", eastern part of the building.

By the 1990s the north "used car sales" portion of the building had been torn down, replaced with a driveway and a new building which would house the Christchurch showroom and warehouse of Jacobsens Commercial flooring (314 Manchester St).

Eventually National Library no longer had use for the all the space afforded by the large building and so the eastern half was taken up by the Asian Food Warehouse. This made for some spicy aromas in certain parts of the library.

In later years 300 Manchester had become home to a flock of seagulls (actual ones  - not eighties popstars) who had been known to injure workmen or anyone who came too close to their roosts. The hydraulic lift in the building which was used to transport book stock between the two floors was also well-known to staff as "the slowest lift in the world". Even the most sluggish of stair climbers could ascend the central staircase, stroll leisurely along the south end of the building, and arrive before the lift did.

Perfection Ice Cream tub, copyright Dennis Taylor
Perfection Ice Cream tub (©Dennis Taylor)
Prior to construction of the Blackwells building, the Manchester/Salisbury corner had been home to an ice cream factory for many years. The Perfection Ice Cream Company Ltd had premises at 300 Manchester St and the factory included a 50 person capacity air raid trench which was put in during WWII by Christchurch architecture firm Trengrove and Blunt.

After the 6.3 magnitude quake of 22 February the building was "red stickered" and deemed too dangerous to enter and was eventually added to the list of quake-damaged buildings to be demolished. On 18 May 2011 National Library and Mainfreight staff were able to return to the building to retrieve equipment, documents and book stock.

Book stock being rescued, 18 May 2011
National Library and Mainfreight staff work to "rescue" book stock in wheelbarrows, 18 May 2011

Deconstruction of 300 Manchester St began on 29 August 2011 and has so far taken 6 weeks with all non-concrete internal and external fittings, insulation and cladding being removed before diggers set about pulling down the concrete "skeleton" of the building in the final stages. On Friday 7 October National Library staff gathered to wish the building farewell and witness the removal of the National Library sign that had stood for over 20 years.

National Library Staff farewell building, 7 October 2011
National Library staff farewell 300 Manchester St, 7 October 2011.

*One of the workmen demolishing the building said that when flooring was pulled up, the date "30 September 1970" was found written in concrete.

About the images in this topic

Blackwell Motors - This image was supplied by Andrew Mills of Blackwell Motors. Copyright of this image resides with Blackwell Motors Ltd and is used here by permission.

Perfection Ice Cream - This image was supplied by copyright holder Dennis Taylor. It is used here by permission.

National Library images - These have a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 license. More of images may be viewed at the Aotearoa People's Network Kaharoa Flickr set

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