Homestead was once grand establishment, court told
Oruawharo homestead was a grand New Zealand mansion and the woodwork inside was that of a grand establishment, the High Court was told yesterday.
The president of the New Zealand Lodge Association, Rainsford Grubb, was giving evidence at a hearing in the High Court at Napier, before Justice Goddard.
The trustees of the 120-year-old homestead near Takapau have brought the action against the lessee Denis Hall, alleging he has not maintained the huge kauri and matai homestead near Takapau to the standard required by the terms of his lease.
The terms of the lease require the lessee to maintain the house to a reasonable standard in return for no rent.
Mr Hall is defending the action, saying the Takapau freezing works built near the house in 1981 had prevented him earning a living from the homestead.
The court began sitting in the billiard room of the homestead on Monday morning with the plaintiffs opening their case and Justice Goddard being given a tour of the house and its outbuildings.
On Monday afternoon back in Napier trustee Kevin McKay admitted that demolition of the homestead, which was finished in 1879, had been among the possibilities considered if the trustees succeeded in removing Mr Hall.
Selling the house for removal was their preferred option, he said.
Yesterday Mr Grubb, who owns Lake Brunner Lodge, said the building needed repiling, especially in the front.
He said in its present state it was suitable only for the lowest level of backpackers’ accommodation.
“It is a grand mansion which deserves better.”
Mr Grubb said the homestead needed a complete makeover to bring it up to the standard required for a country lodge.
He said it was a “grand establishment” similar in style to Longwood, the former Riddiford family home in the Wairarapa which was now a high-class country lodge.
Colin Baxter, the former lessee of the homestead, also gave evidence at yesterday’s hearing.
He said he ran the house from 1973 to early 1977 as a restaurant and country retreat.
He said the house had been in reasonable condition and had met all the standards needed for liquor and food licences when he sold the lease to Mr Hall in 1977.
He told Mr Hall’s lawyer Richard Pidgeon that he would have welcomed the freezing works, which opened in 1981, as an adjunct to his business.
He saw the possibility of small conferences and management luncheons.
He admitted, however, he had no direct experience of the works as a neighbour.
Among the dozens of people he employed at the house was a former housekeeper of Government House in Wellington.
Chefs from Plimmer House, Wellington, came up to cater for special occasions at Oruawharo, he said.
It had been a highly profitable business which attracted overseas clients to the “unique, inherent magnificence” of the house and gardens.
Lower Hutt engineer and property manager Ian Smith said that he estimated the owners of the house had forgone $734,800 in rent in the 22 years Mr Hall had been living in it.
He said the house had been repiled in the 1950s.
The piles had been replaced one at a time, but no attempt had been made to level the floors, which had sunk as the original wooden piles rotted.
He considered the one-by-one method of repiling a well-thought-out job which avoided damage which raising the floor to level it could have caused.
He said the piling structure was in mint condition, which would sustain the homestead through earthquake and storm.
If a floor needed levelling it was best done with a false floor, he said.
He said Mr Hall had raised one area at the front of the house using temporary jacks. This had damaged the wall’s superstructure, causing the plaster on the walls above it and upstairs to separate from the lathe beneath.
He had also not applied for the required building permits, Mr Smith said.
When he asked Mr Hall why he had done it he said it was because Mr Smith had told him on an earlier inspection that it needed doing to level the floors.
Mr Smith said he had meant to level the floors by fitting a false floor.
He estimated it would cost $624,000 to bring the house up to minimum country-lodge standard.
He told Justice Goddard that jacking up the front of the building had affected its structural integrity because the plaster on the walls braced the building and when the plaster separated from the lathe that bracing had been lost.