Fire raises heritage issues

A BLAZE at an historic homestead has left its owners and civic officials working out how the property, protected by two covenants, can still be classified as a heritage building.

The iconic Guy Homestead in Ti Rakau Drive in Botany was severely damaged by fire last Saturday night. Times photo Wayne Martin

Police are appealing to the public for information about who may have started a fire inside the 114-year-old Guy Homestead in Botany last Saturday evening.

South-East Auckland firefighters extinguished the blaze at the Ti Rakau Drive property, reported to emergency services at 7.35pm.

Counties Manukau fire risk management officer Phil Faidley is investigating the fire he believes was deliberately lit.

“The fire spread quickly through the building’s interior,” he told the Times. “The building’s southern half is totally damaged. The walls are still standing, but that’s testament to it being a good strong building.”

Mr Faidley says witnesses told police they saw people in a motor vehicle in the area before the fire broke out.

The Guy Homestead blaze follows a series of arsons started at schools and in public places in East Auckland since July.

Mr Faidley says it’s unlikely, but not impossible, the fire that gutted Guy Homestead is linked to the earlier arsons.

Known also as Saidia House, Guy Homestead was built in 1898. It was originally part of a 210-acre farm and over the years was subdivided into smaller properties.

The former Manukau City Council bought it and 0.9 hectares in the early 1980s to allow for the extension of Ti Rakau Drive.

The council sold the property in 1997 and it’s owned by Twin Oaks Ltd, which has directors based in Hong Kong.

Guy Homestead has been repeatedly vandalised in recent months with walls covered in graffiti and the front door kicked in.

It has an Historic Places Trust covenant protecting it from being removed from the site and requiring restoration projects to retain its architectural style.

Another covenant restricts the land, zoned residential, from being subdivided.

Real estate agent Lawrence Wong, of Century 21 (Colin Boyer Realty), has had the Guy Homestead property listed for sale for eight years, but says buyers drop out when they discover the covenants.

Its owners are now wondering what will happen to the building.

“The Historic Places Trust has a big hand in the whole thing,” says Mr Wong. “I’ve been asked whether it will be easier to sell. There are two covenants on the title, but who would want to protect it now?

“I also categorically deny the owners had anything to do with the fire. We are into preserving things, not wrecking them.”

Auckland Council heritage manager Noel Reardon says staff deemed Guy Homestead safe when inspecting it two weeks ago.

“That’s not the case anymore. We will assess the safety issues.”

A council team will work out whether the building can be restored.

“We were making plans to restore the building. We were going to approach the owner about purchasing the site,” says Mr Reardon.

“There were other private interests involved and it was our preference they undertook the work. A council purchase was a backstop.

“I was confident the issue would be resolved shortly after Christmas. We were making progress and the Howick Local Board was supportive.”

Howick builder Nick Neben has been campaigning to save Guy Homestead. He says it’s a tragedy one of the area’s last standing heritage buildings has been damaged.

“I feel gutted all our efforts over the past months to save Guy Homestead have gone up in smoke,” says Mr Neben.

“It was destined to happen, as the place was left unsecured and people were using it as a doss house.

“On November 29, I pleaded with Auckland Council to take urgent action to secure the homestead.”

Auckland architect Chris Tate talked with Mr Neben and the council about relocating the house to land he owns near Ngatea, on the Hauraki Plains.

Mr Tate says: “It’s unbelievable to have this happen to such a beautiful building. I’m devastated.

“I always thought what a cool place it was and I was horrified when we looked inside.

“We would have lovingly restored it. We were happy to work with the Historic Places Trust to open it up to the public.”

Mr Tate is seeking house-moving advice about whether the front part of the building is structurally sound enough to move.

WITNESSES SOUGHT

POLICE have released to the Times descriptions of a person and motor vehicle seen near Guy Homestead at the time it was damaged by fire.

Detective James Ralph, of Counties Manukau East Police’s criminal investigation branch, says witnesses reported seeing in Botany Downs a male Caucasian aged in his late teens, of medium build and about 170 centimetres tall.

The man was wearing a yellow and purple basketball-style singlet, and was seen in the area between 7-8pm on December 1.

Police also want to hear from anyone who saw an older model white or light grey motor vehicle, the back of which is described as being “square edge” in shape.

The vehicle’s registration number plate may have contained the letters T and Q and the number 9.

People who saw the Caucasian male or the motor vehicle can phone Mr Ralph on 250-3005, email james.ralph@police.govt.nz, or phone Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111.