I’ve had an obsessive fascination with a property at the north end of Elizabeth Street in Freemans Bay ever since I viewed it some years ago when it came up for sale.
At the time it was a dilapidated shell which for the previous 70 years had been a 19 bedroom boarding house for the elderly and mentally ill (I’m told that one resident – an old lady – lived beneath the stairs for 30 years.) The wiring was original, the walls were scrim and there were holes in the weatherboards wide enough to drive a bus through but the view across the Costley Reserve gully and back to the city was to die for. The property was clearly beyond my financial limits but for weeks afterwards I dreamed that it was mine and still to this day I take regular detours past it to say hello.
By indulging my fascination, it transpired that I was also following in the footsteps of my predecessors as the property was built by a local real estate agent called Michael Woods in the late 1800s. Woods was a landowner (Wood Street is named after him) who had purchased a three hectare estate called Brookville in 1858 which stretched from College Hill to Elizabeth Street and which he subsequently divided into 121 allotments and sold in 1864.
Woods kept the largest section for himself and using some of the first Kauri harvested from the Waitakeres, built a substantial house on it for himself which burnt down in 1882 and which he replaced with another even grander property, this one built in the style of a Thames goldfield hotel. The new house boasted the double return verandas and epic square symmetry of its era and being sited at the highest part of the estate, would have dominated the new sites around it, a constant reminder to the new neighbours that it had been there long before them.
The property is now owned by the Mahon family who have spent the past 3 years painstakingly restoring it, weatherboard by weatherboard. Their story is both hair raising and eye watering; they took to wearing balaclavas in bed in winter when the wind gusted through the walls, they had to decamp for 2 weeks when the living room floor caved in, they have existed with a makeshift bathroom purchased from TradeMe since they moved in and the cost of renovation continues to confound and amaze the project team.
‘The house has resisted its restoration,’ Warwick cheerfully told me, but the next era of this incredible property is starting to emerge and it’s a testament not just to the Mahon’s dedication and tenacity but also to the ability of this incredible house to elicit adoration from even the sternest heart. The remodelled house includes a cinema, a gym, 3 car garaging, a library, a music room, gardens designed in a neo-classical style and a floating deck with steps down to a heated pool. Warwick and Alison are also restoring the fireplaces and reinstating the ceiling mouldings to ensure that this fabulous and enduring property is returned to its prime.
The result will be a spectacular and truly individual home that is a fitting return to its heritage and with the average sale price in Freemans Bay increasing by 24% in the past 3 months alone*, the Mahon’s efforts will one day be handsomely rewarded. Hats off to you, Warwick and Alison, Michael Woods would be proud.