A hundred years ago, every big city had a ‘bank corner’ where major banks built landmark premises. The Wellington branch of the BNZ, had a pride position on its site shaped like a ship’s prow negotiating the intersection of Lambton and Customhouse Quays.
The building went up in 1900 – a confidence-inspiring confection of cement ornamentation on the outside with a huge banking chamber inside rich with woodwork and polychrome tiles. Thousands of people transacted business inside this chamber each day, so it was worth putting on a show. Yet such finery hadn’t always distinguished this piece of real estate. In the 1840s it was little more than a finger of gravel jutting into the harbour: the settlers called it Clay Point.
Then the hull of a wrecked ship – the Inconstant which had been on its way to Peru – was towed into the harbour and set onto this gravel. Stabilized with beams of wood, the hull became the basis for an eccentric emporium known as Noah’s Ark, full of imported necessities like china, glassware, clothes and ironmongery.
Then came huge land reclamations in the 1860s which pushed the harbour’s edge blocks away from Lambton Quay. Noah’s Ark was levelled to make a building site for the newly-established Bank of New Zealand. The bank’s first building here was wooden, but thirty years on the bank built its landmark which we know today as the Old Bank Arcade.
Old Bank Arcade is home to boutiques and eateries, all accessible from promenades and flights of stairs fitting into the original volumes of the banking chamber. It is a walk through quality, surprise and engagement.