Memories of a James Smiths Message Boy

I have been sent a collection of memories by Cathie Ellis the daughter of Don Ratcliffe who worked as a message boy for James Smiths department store Cuba St in 1920.

His thoughts about some of the people who managed the various departments are interesting as are the description of the separate departments. Don worked part-time for a mere 50 cents a week when he first started in 1920.

The story can be found on Cuba St Project website on the page titled Stories Contributed by Others.

1922 James Smiths

1922 James Smiths 

Leave a comment

Filed under The People

Evans Drapery Family Store. Share Some Stories.

Evans 1950s

I have been sent a collection of memories from Michael Pringle ( great grandson of the founder)  written by his uncle Richard Byrne about his grandfathers Llew Evans and the family store Evans Drapery in Cuba St.

The stories are very interesting and evocative of another time in Cuba St.

Read the stories on this blog site on the page headed ‘Cuba St Stories Contributed by Others’

Photo credit. Evans store Cuba St 1950′s Turnbull Library


Filed under The People

50 Years of Dining at the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn Café was established in 1963 by a Swiss man called Tony  , whom nine years later sold it to George Stucki and his wife Ursula they ran the business during the 1970′s and 1980′s. George was an amateur cameraman and he commissioned this clip where he talks passionately about his café and feeding his customers.

The full clip is available at the film archive and is very interesting viewing, with images of the Matterhorn garden area, customers and some great images of people in the mall; unfortunately due to copy right laws around the music track, I can only share this part of the film with you.

George was a fabulous baker his Black Forest Cake was an exotic afternoon tea and his cheese scones light and legendry. In the clip George refers to making sure they have enough grub for their customers no matter what time of day it is. George and his wife were hard workers from Switzerland and like Suzie’s in Willis St they bought sophisticated European food to Wellington and established our now legendary café scene.  Other European immigrants living in the city were very thankful for the tastes of home and locals were educated on a more varied diet.

Of course there were the usual suspects to be found in their pie warmer and toasted sandwich fillings. But rather than just the boring white bread sandwiches served in local milk bars George served  filled rolls with generous portions  of interesting European cured meats tucked in with fresh lettuce mayonnaise and sliced egg. For the time their food was considered to be …..

Also popular were the crepes served with home stewed fruit and fresh cream. The Stucki’s were a hard working family. Each morning George his wife and two daughters would come to the café and work together preparing the food then eat breakfast together before the girls headed off to school.

I have a number of memories of the Matterhorn; I worked for the Stucki’s as a Friday night waitress and in the school holidays as the dish washer. George was a very particular man and meticulous in the kitchen, which was always spotlessly clean. I loved to sit around the back of their secret city garden and slurp on an iced chocolate on a hot summer’s afternoon, a great break from the busy hot kitchen sink. Or on a Friday night break, I would sit on one of those heavy wooden Swiss style adze chairs, under that massive BW photo of the Matterhorn. The moody lighting was a relaxing place for a break and to enjoy a really good toasted sandwich.


Leave a comment

Filed under The People

Heritage earthquake prone buildings verse brand new buildings

I was pleased to be able to walk down Cuba St today and find the place intact. With my favorite earthquake prone buildings looking just fine.

Iko Iko web


I looked closely at the buildings with red, orange and yellow stickers that warn us of their potential danger in a quake. No sign of fallen masonry or cracks, not sure about inside though. I have had a chat to a couple of people in older buildings elsewhere in the area and nothing to dramatic happened, not to much ended up on the floor items wise and no structural or interior  damage.

However it seems that a number of the modern buildings in town particularly those sited on reclaimed land have had some dramatic interior damage. The image posted on the internet by a staff member at the recently completed  BNZ building, shows their office interior fittings would more than likely have injured someone, if the quake had struck during work hours.  This begs the question how reliable is the WCC’s  earthquake prone building list?

BNZ interior

Leave a comment

Filed under The People

Dining in Cuba Street

Today Cuba Street is a foodie’s Mecca – wherever you look, on corners, up lanes and upstairs – there’s a place to eat. But the street’s reputation as a gourmet’s Nirvana isn’t new; it’s been a popular place to eat since the early days. In the early years Te Aro residents knew they would find a decent meal and fresh food in Cuba Street, in the 1800s oyster bars were plentiful “on Cuba”. They were dining rooms that sold oysters in the shell, raw, tinned, bottled, cooked, in soup, stewed, escalloped and fried.  Oysters were cheap and plentiful and they came from the Marlborough Sounds, brought by boat straight to the Wellington fishmongers’ market. In the early 1900s before refrigerators where invented the owners of one Cuba Street oyster saloon kept their stock of fresh oysters in sacks in the harbour near Thorndon. Every day the sacks would be barrowed up from the water and the still live oysters would be shucked and sold.

The Greek community initially ran the oyster bars and early newspaper stories report that oyster bar operators had to contend with drunken male customers in for a feed before heading home. The Greek community also later set up  milk bars and until the 1960s Cuba Street produced its share of milkshakes and white bread sandwiches.

22857465 milk bar Cuba-55

Milk Bar Cuba St ref ATL 22857465

Dinning out of an evening in post war Wellington was not something many Wellingtonians did, preferring to entertain at home. There was Hotel dinning when formal and special occasions were celebrated – dinner was in the dining room between 6pm and 7pm and if you were any later, sorry but you would miss out, the kitchen was closed. The Royal Oak Hotel, on the corner of Cuba and Manners streets, boasted a formal dining room with white starched napery and listed politicians among the diners.

Royal Oak Dinning room

Royal Oak Dining room ref ATL 22705474

Established in 1958 by Mr and Mrs Littlejohn and later owned by Phillip Temple, Orsini’s at 201 Cuba Street was one of the first fine dining restaurants in the city. French immigrant Madame Louise established her restaurant, Le Normandie, in Cubacade in1961. Drago Kovac later owned Le Normandie.

Initially the licensing laws did not allow wine to be served in these restaurants but bottles would find their way to the tables after being smuggled in under coats and between the papers of the local newspaper. By 1962 the law changed and wine lists in these establishments included mostly fine French Boudreaux wines. These restaurants offered diners a cosmopolitan experience; they could arrive later in the evening to dine in an environment that was much more pleasant than stuffy hotels, they could dance, The food offered was different in both of these establishments. Le Normandie offered flambé meats and desserts, French onion soup, and pate de foie gras all fine European dishes. Orsini’s offered, soups, fish and meat dishes and their desserts where more of a NZ origin such as Pavlova cake and fruit salads, a three course meal would cost between $7 and $10

22334021 Orsinis -58

Orsinis 1958 ref ATL 22334021

By the late 1950s the coffee culture began, coffee bars offered office workers something special at lunch and after work with friends. In the 1960s A Swiss German couple opened the Matterhorn coffee lounge in Cuba Street. The menu was sophisticated and Friday night shoppers made the Matterhorn a popular place for a Friday meal – mince on white toast was popular followed by a cona coffee or iced chocolate served with lashings of cream.

Ali Barbas Photo by Barry Thomas

Ali Baba’s ref Photo by Barry Thomas

In the 1980s Ali Babas was set up by the Turkish Kavas brothers they offered the new exciting fast food of kebabs. From  exotic food to weekly stable in twenty years.

Leave a comment

Filed under The People, The Settlement of Cuba St

A call out for contributions

Kia ora followers of this Cuba St Blog. Its been a few months since I posted anything unfortunately the daily tasks of making a living and managing my domestic life have left me little spare time to concentrate on finding a sharing stories about Cuba St.

It is with great pleasure that I have received a contributing  story written by Joy Stephens an old acquaintance of mine. I have set up a page on the blog headed  Cuba St stories contributed by others. My understanding of this word press blog is a bit limited so unfortunately when I posted Joys story on the page it didn’t send out the email to all of you interested followers. So that’s the reason for this message.

If you would like to share any of your memories or comments about the street, even if they are just a couple of paragraphs long, please send them to me.

The new page on the blog is available under the header photo Cuba St stories contributed by others.

Leave a comment

Filed under The People

Film of the Festival Walk and Talk

This is the film of the Cuba St Project walk and talk that I delivered for the Fringe Festival 2013. Commissioned by the Wellington City Council Heritage Dept and Produced by Mark Westerby of Random Films. The film is approx 11 min long the walk and talk was approx. 45 min long, so the stories are heavily edited. I think they’ve  done a great job of cutting it all together considering I talked none stop as we walked up the street. They filmed me just the once.  During the 3 week festival I did this free walk and talk 12 times and was joined by over 60 people, exhausting!


Filed under The People