Topic: The Sign of the Takahe

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The Sign of the Takahe is the largest of the rest houses constructed as part of Harry Ell's vision of a Summit Road which was intended to provide public access to all of the Port Hills.

The Sign of the Takahe is located  at 200 Hackthorne Road.

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. The two most substantial structures were the Sign of the Kiwi (1916) and the Sign of the Takahe (1918-48).

The foundation stone was laid in 1918 and the building eventually completed in 1948 - more than a decade after Harry Ell’s death in 1934.

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.

Argument, financial difficulty, depression and war were to delay its completion for almost three decades.

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.

In 1942 the Christchurch City Council purchased the building and it was finally completed in 1948, some 14 years after Ell's death. Collins was instrumental in shaping the final design and created an outstanding example of a neo-Gothic style building.

Following damage in the  201/2011 earthquakes, the city council in 2013 approved pemanently repairing and strenghtening the Sign of the Takahe to 67 per cent of the New Building Standard.

Related .

Harry Ell and the Summit Road 

The Summit Road Society.   Information on the history, geography, flora and fauna of the Port Hills of Christchurch and on Society activities in conserving and managing this area.

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