Sunday, January 22, 2017

More on "Methodist" Property

An outstanding renovation has been completed on the former Trinity College buildings in Grafton. The “Ideal Org” of Auckland Scientology has joined around forty similar institutions around the world—mostly in the USA, of course.

The Methodist Church apparently wasn’t invited to be formally represented at the January opening but a few of us found each other there on the day—over refreshments in the quad.

It was a grand occasion with black-suited men and women from New Zealand and overseas as well as local guests. Probably seven or eight hundred were squeezed into the large quad between what was the Common Room block and the original staff houses. They gave a huge vote of (culturally insensitive!) thanks to the ritual welcome by Tangatawhenua of Tamakimakaurau.

The audience also gave every speaker a standing ovation when introduced—and then again after their half-dozen testimonies to the effectiveness of Scientology and Dianetics in the Auckland setting. The address of the guest leader of the international organisation was peppered with obscure references that brought wild applause from the insiders and total mystification to the visitors.

Your correspondent got reprimanded for shooting some video of the proceedings (although dozens of camera phones were doing the same thing) but the professionals were well represented high on a cherry picker and around the grounds. The internal network put excellent pictures of the two proceedings on two big screens either side of the impressively detailed dais and decorations.

After half a dozen speeches red and white balloons went skywards and “all the doors” were declared “open”. It was true—every door was open. Every space (with the exception of the laundry) has been comprehensively renovated. Rimu panelling has been restored in Dining Room and Library. Information Centres are everywhere, but so also are small rooms for “auditing” (counselling), many of these in the original bedrooms.

One clearly identifable auditing room was where John Mabon’s bedroom floor was double bricked to the fire escape window in 1957.  The toilets which were electrified to the inconvenience of some students about the same time are restored with new plumbing and beautiful finishing work on the original panelled doors. The Janus staircase down which many a water fountain flowed free in serious waterfights has had its iron balusters completely stripped, sealed and re-painted. There should be a plaque. Less wisely, the concrete walking surface has been painted off-white.

The stone fireplaces in Dining Room, Common Room and Library have been cleaned up and retained. Even the College motto Spiritus Ubi Est Ardet high on the library wall has been left as it was, cast in the wall. Library shelves remain and have been resurfaced—although at this stage it appears that the organisation has no particular use for them. The main circular stairway has been meticulously restored and all the floors and steps overlaid with ply and carpeted with smart nosings. All the steel window frames have been retained, stripped and repainted—they won’t last for ever but they look pretty smart right now.

The newer classroom block adjacent to the Chapel now houses a fully equipped cafeteria. The Chapel itself is gloriously redesigned and refurnished for Sunday Services, Naming events and other congregational gatherings. Indeed, every space in the original buildings has been utilised and formally identified for a specific purpose. The standard of new furnishings in all these internal areas is impressive. It is obvious that the $6m quoted just for the renovation is not a wildly inaccurate estimate.

One may not have any sympathy for the theology behind Scientology—indeed, it’s been widely discredited and criticised internationally —but one cannot but be impressed by the deliberate investment to restore and retain a landmark building. This is a big commitment.

Methodists may take some pride in the fact that their original 1929 building was permitted to express a much more ambitious format than some would have wished in Depression time. Maintenance would always represent an ongoing financial commitment which our church was never able to fulfil. The stress laid on staff and College Council was always a massive burden - indeed, it was largely with relief that the decision was finally made to join the Anglicans on the Meadowbank site. For the next three decades the property was something of an embarrassment to the Church as deterioration continued while it was tenanted. 

But with the $10m sale to Scientology in 2002(?) and the renovation that has taken place, the strenuous efforts of 1927-29 actually made possible a project which has now become a huge contribution to the heritage of Auckland and New Zealand. 

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