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Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a former warehouse and ballet school that was badly damaged by fire six years ago is getting a new lease on life, writes Kim Dungey.
The historic Stavely Building on the corner of Bond and Jetty Sts is being refurbished as an apartment complex after a suspicious early morning fire engulfed the premises in March 2008.
The property is one of the latest and most prominent buildings in Dunedin's warehouse precinct to be adapted to a new use.
Three years ago, the city council agreed to spend $500,000 to help improve the look of the area, with the aim of encouraging more private investors and those already working in the area to continue repairing and reusing historic buildings.
In October, thousands of people attended a street party and got to view the transformed interiors.
''Everybody's interested in this area at the moment,'' says Bruce Purvis, as he stands inside the 135-year-old Stavely Building he bought with son Tony in 2010.
''There's a lot going on here and it's like Dunedin is reinventing itself from here out.''
Art and architectural historian Peter Entwisle says among Dunedin's warehouses, Stavely's Bond St building is ''pretty elaborate''.
''People perceived it at the time to be a really grand one. Usually they weren't so substantial and ornately built.''
Standing out for the fine quality of its masonry and unusual use of heraldic ornament and lettering, it was also a very expensive private commercial building costing 9000 to build in 1879.
The neo-classical building had windows set between pilasters with Corinthian capitals, and large shell-like pediments originally supported by heraldic dolphins.
The shell ornaments, that are still intact on the Jetty St frontage but incomplete on the Bond St facade, were apparently a reference to merchant William Stavely's naval background.
Other occupants over the years have included clothing manufacturers, insurance agents and a tyre company.
From 1895 into the early 20th century, the building housed grain, seed and produce agents A.
Moritzon and Co (originally Moritzon and Hopkin), who installed a grain elevator to connect the basement with the third floor, a cart dock in the cellar and a seed cleaning machine.
More recently, it was home to the Curtain Maker and the Dunedin School of Ballet.
The building is registered as a category 2 historic place and its facades protected under the district plan.
But Bruce Purvis says if ''someone hadn't come along'' and restored it, it could have gone the same way as the neighbouring Century Theatre which was demolished in 1994.
A fulltime landlord since 1987, Purvis liked the building's external features and says despite the damage, its restoration ''didn't seem an insurmountable challenge''.
''It would have been a shame to see it go to rack and ruin. It was an opportunity to save a bit of Dunedin and to make a dollar at the same time ... The success of these ventures [depends on] finding an economic use for them and that's the difference between them being restored and not being restored.''
Structural engineer Stephen Macknight says half the roof and one section of the building (where an atrium has since been constructed) were badly damaged by the fire but in general, the main structural beams and trusses could be reused.
The new owners, with help from two other people, initially replaced the roof and carried out earthquake strengthening.
New concrete floors tie the walls together, also providing fire rating and sound proofing.
Balustrades around the top have been reinforced and tied into the structure, chimneys have been reinforced by pouring concrete into them and the full-height atrium with covered walkways acts as a diaphragm.
However, the most challenging part of the project was creating the basement car park, which involved removing some of the wooden columns that supported the building, boring 5m into the ground and putting in new columns, piles and beams, Purvis says.
The building was originally on Dunedin's foreshore and they found a variety of material from boulders to old books, shoes and coconut husks that had been dumped in the area.
A former boilermaker, Purvis sen did all the decorative steel work in the building, including the stairs and the railings around the atrium.
An original window guard was used as a pattern for new grilles and steel from an old goods elevator was reused on internal bridges that link the different levels inside.
Tony Purvis, a project engineer, made Victorian-style doors for the main entrance on Jetty St, using wood from the roof structure and copying the circular floral detail from a door inside the building.
Kauri from the original floor joists became stair treads while slates from the roof were reused in the kitchens and original windows were double-glazed with soundproof glass. Where possible, old brickwork and timber joists were left exposed.
Numbers painted over the door to each apartment are in the same font as those that were used on the pillars in Moritzon and Hopkin's warehouse so that clerks could find where parcels of grain or seed were stacked.