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The original building, the residence of Nathan Levin, was constructed in the early days of the New Zealand colony in 1843 for Wellington's first Mayor, George Hunter. This house, or at least a portion of it, is still located at the southern end of the current building, which has been greatly expanded over the years. The house was bought for use by the country's Premier in 1865. A Wellington newspaper, elated by the city’s new status, thought the £2900 price "cheap". An Auckland paper called it a "monstrous waste of public money".
The house changed little until Julius Vogel and his wife, Mary, arrived in 1872. Within a year they had turned it into an eight-bedroom mansion complete with conservatory and ballroom. The grounds featured what is thought to have been the country's first tennis court. The Vogels were noted for their lavish entertaining resulting in the house acquiring the nickname of "The Casino".
- 1879 : Hon Dr Daniel Pollen, Colonial Secretary and member of the Legislative Council
- 1883 : Hon Frederick Whitaker, Premier
- 1887 : Hon Sir Julius Vogel, Premier
During Vogel's second term in the mid 1880s more extensions were made to the house due to Vogel's poor health. His recurring gout resulted in an additional office being added on for Cabinet meetings and in 1886 the construction of New Zealand's first lift.
The country entered a Depression in the late 1880s and after the Vogels moved out, the new government tried to sell the property. MPs’ salaries had been cut, and the Liberal ministers of the 1890s had to live cheaply. But the press and public fought back. Wellington people valued its spacious grounds as a public amenity. Only the furniture was sold. Some suggested turning the site into an old men’s home or a university, but it stayed empty. Premier Richard John Seddon lived in a modest ministerial residence at 47 Molesworth Street.
- 1887–1891 : Sir H A Atkinson
- 1891–1893 : John Ballance
The Tinakori Street residence, vacant since 1893, was leased out from 1896 to 1900, when it became a ministerial residence again.
- 1896–1988 : Sir Walter L Buller, Ornithologist.
- 1899 : S Percy-Smith, Surveyor-General & Ethnologist.
From 1901 the house was occupied by Joseph Ward and his family. Now called "Awarua" the house again became one of the capital's main social places, hosting many formal and informal parties, especially after Ward became Prime Minister following Seddon's death in 1906. One party of particular note was the farewell party given by Miss Eileen Ward, daughter of Sir Joseph Ward, to farewell Katherine Mansfield a few days before she left New Zealand for the last time in 1908.
William Massey, the house’s next lengthy occupant, renamed it Ariki Toa, ‘home of the chief’. During the First World War the Masseys used it for patriotic activities. Further extensions were made to the building in 1926 when Gordon Coates lived there including rebuilding the conservatory and adding an enclosed veranda above it.
- 1901–1912 : Sir Joseph Ward, Prime Minister (from 1906)
- 1914–1925 : Hon William F Massey, Prime Minister.
- 1927–1929 : Hon Joseph G Coates, Prime Minister.
- 1928 : Hon George W Forbes, Prime Minister.
In 1935 Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage faced with rebuilding the Country's economy in the midst of the Great Depression decided that an Official Residence and lavish entertaining were inappropriate. Although the building was surplus to requirements, it wasn't sold but put to numerous uses, including being used as a children's dental clinic.
By the 1980s after many years of institutional use the building was in a battered state. It was rescued from this decline by Dr Michael Bassett, Minister of Internal Affairs, who initiated moves for the restoration of the building to its early grandeur.
The restoration was undertaken by Grant Group Architects and L.T. McGuinness Construction between December 1989 and 1991. Considerable slumping had occurred over the years so the building had to be brought into square and levelled. Walls were stripped, straightened and re-lined, and old fire-damaged and rotten timbers were cut out and replaced. Old finishing timbers were replaced with timber cut to an identical profile. A new fire sprinkler system, heating and air conditioning systems were installed along with a new hydraulic lift.
Since restoration in 1990 it has again been the Prime Minister's official residence when in the capital. The new decor includes a considerable collection of New Zealand art both old and new. The interior decoration, while carefully reproducing many missing original features, does not resemble or evoke a 19th-century house in any way. The pale colour scheme, for example, is perhaps best described as inoffensive.
The conservation of Premier House, as it was renamed, was a 1990 Sesquicentennial project. That year Geoffrey Palmer and his wife, Margaret, became its first official residents.
The property has a land area of 1.5 hectares (14,569 square metres) and a rateable value (in 2012) of NZ$13,800,000.
Other official residences
From 1950 Sidney Holland lived at No 41 Pipitea Street, Thorndon. The house was subsequently used by Walter Nash, Keith Holyoake and Geoffrey Palmer, and by ministers Jim Sutton and Nick Smith. The house was also used for the Pacific Island Affairs Ministry.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Premier House.|
- "Prime Minister's Residence". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- Dominion Post (Wellington), 2012: 1 December pE1 & 26 December pA14
- Dominion Post (Wellington), 2013: 19 February, pA6
- Information about Premier House at Te Ara