A film of the Cuba St Project walk and talk which I delivered for the Fringe Festival 2013. Commissioned by the Wellington City Council Heritage Dept and Produced by Mark Westerby of Random Films. 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!
We had fish for diner last night which I bought at our local fish shop in Cuba St. This Catholic tradition has been upheld by many European immigrant family’s.
Fishmongers have always had a presence in Cuba Street, this fish market was on the waterfront end of the street in the late 1800′s.
In 1891 one of the first Greek immigrants to the city, Peter Garbes, arrived from the island of Corfu and opened a fish shop and Oyster saloon on the Oaks site at 63 Cuba St. Gallete Haralambos bought this shop in 1895 and sold fresh fish caught around the Wellington region. Crayfish, muttonbirds and rabbits were also sold intact with fur, feathers or carapace still attached.
Gallete used some truly memorable marketing techniques to promote his business. Blocks of ice were introduced to preserve food in the early 1900’s. Gallete used them in his window display attracting curious passer-by’s who had never seen ice used like this before.
Large whole fish were strung up in the shop window including a large, 20 foot shark with its huge, teeth encrusted jaw held wide open. One of his most popular attractions, especially for housewives with curious children in tow, was his tame penguin which he convinced to stay in the shops doorway by giving it regular feeds of spotties.
In the 1930’s fishermen of Italian, Greek and Shetland Island origin, most of whom lived and fished near Island Bay, formed a co-operative . Their market was located around the corner in Dixon Street. This cooperative allowed the fishermen to wholesale and distribute their catches, mostly groper, bass, blue cod and lots of crayfish, to local restaurateurs and shops and to get a fair market price.
In 1947 the Meo family of Island Bay set up the fish factory in upper Cuba St. they distributed wholesale fresh and frozen fish, shellfish and smoked fish to local and international customers. Bluff oysters would arrive in sacks and, in later years, would come shucked in 25 dozen tins. The factory had a large smoking area where fish was preserved.
Tony Basile was part of a group that bought this business in 1979 and soon took over the running of the whole opertion. Tony is a second generation Italian whose father Antonio and Uncle Mariano emigrated from Sorrento Italy in the 1920’s and worked as Island Bay fishermen.
Over the last 33 years the Wellington Trawling and Sea market has responded to changes in public taste and habits. It’s smokehouse closed because its emissions became unpopular in this built up area. The retail fish shop next to the fish factory in Cuba St was opened in 2000. The fish prepared and sold by Wellington Trawling and Sea Market is caught by contract fishermen who sell their quota to Tony. Some have been supplying fish to this business for 10 to 20 years. This fish is still landed fresh at Wellington port.
The Perry Brothers Circus offered new and amazing entertainment for the working class people of Te Aro during the depression in the 1920’s.
Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Circus-Perry-1928-02. Alexander Turnbull Library
This circus advertised as the greatest ring show on earth, held the Famous Five Lorenzo’s with their mid-air marvels, in pride of place. Vaudeville acts and tight rope walkers entertained the adults and the travelling zoo was a huge draw card for the children.
Captain Wizard the wild animal trainer kept the animals in line with his whip. Performing artists with fabulous names and entertainment options drew in the local crowds. The Flying Dunbars, the Jingling Jumpers, Miss La La Selbinie the Contortionist, Mulldoon Ramp, Freddie the Clown, the Henry Arco Troupe with their balancing act, Miss Doreen the trapeze artist, Alva Zalva the somersault artist and Ridiculous Gordon, the cycling comedian all entertained the crowds.
When the circus arrived in town they would parade up the street with their miniature elephant on the back of the flatbed truck. Captain Mozalo the ringmaster bought a tiger, a lion and a miniature elephant named Tommy all the way from Europe. Tommy performed the Charleston and Black bottom dances and played his own music.
Ref: 1/2-113980-F. Alexander Turnbull Library
I am inclined to think that poor little Tommy was a baby elephant. Thankfully today society no longer tolerates the incarceration and training of wild animals as a form entertainment.
Ref: 1/1-025894-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
The ‘Old Shebang’, a working mans cottage located on upper Cuba St near Tonks Ave. was tenanted in 1883 by three young gentlemen.
William Williams was a keen amateur photographer who has left us a number of interesting images of his life. Williams was adventurous and would go out into the surrounding hills and valleys of the Wellington region with his young friends, photographing the scenery with them in it.
Before his marriage his photographs appear to have been influenced by his friend Elsdon Best. Elsdon went on to write over twenty books and numerous papers about Maori and their way of life including Tuhoe; Children of the Mist. His papers and books written during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are still studied in our universities today.
Ref: 1/2-140204-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
These young men were very inquiring and experimental with their ideas. The image on the right showing a white man with a painting on moko and a blanket in imitation of the way local Maori dressed might be mis- interpreted in our time as being racist. But maybe the young men were attempting to understand the Maori world around them? Elsdon Best’s writing over his life time would make one suspect this scenario.
Ref: 1/2-140354-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
This small wooden unpainted cottage would have had a living room and kitchen downstairs with one bedroom upstairs. A number of similar cottages where built in Te Aro in the 1800’s. This included owner/occupied dwellings and others built by t wealthy land and business owners living in the more salubrious Thorndon or Karori. These workers cottages were often rented to people who worked for the owners. Cuba St had everything within walking distance a hard working person could want; the greengrocer, butcher, stables and hotels, just like a modern urban community.
The 1883 bachelor’s bedroom doesn’t look a lot different to a young men’s flat today. This one bedroom workingman’s cottage at the top of Cuba St would have been a cheap rental for men establishing themselves in the small township.
Ref: 1/2-140322-G. Alexander Turnbull Library
Espressoholic is located where there have always been eating houses. Records show that in 1905 there were two shops operating on the site, a confectioners and an oyster saloon.
In the early 1900’s, before refrigerators where invented, oysters were kept 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 to order for the customers.
In 1915 a Greek immigrant, Antonios Karantze, bought the oyster salon and renamed it The Karantze Brothers Restaurant. This family business survived for a number of generations changing its food focus from oyster bar to cafeteria and finally closed in the 1970’s.
Stories can be found in old newspapers of raucous behavior by the restaurants patrons and even some illegal activities of the business owners.
In 1920 Ippocrates Karantze was charged with buying and selling trout, which has always been illegal, and calling it a flounder. There are also numerous stories of drunk and disorderly customers fighting and smashing up the restaurant and not paying for their meals.
In 1901 it was common for the Greek owners of oyster saloons to bring their own countrymen in to work as non unionised labour. These workers were prepared to work 12 to 16 hours a day with little or no overtime and, because the saloons where often quite rough places open from 9am in the morning till as late as 4am, men were employed rather than woman. However, the wives and daughters of these Greek businessmen could to be found working the tills and managing staff.
image Wellington Hellenic Mile by Zisis Blades
Dorothy’s Cake Shop;
In the late 1800’s 136 Cuba St was already a confectioners shop and in 1927 it became a bakery.
In 1957 it became Dorothy’s Cake Shop, run by Henk and Mineke Rood and then their son Robert who renamed the business Dorothy’s Patisserie where, along with baked products, customers could buy handmade chocolates made with fine quality French chocolate.
In the 1990’s they extended the business and set up a number of French style booth tables and it became a favourite cafe for local workers to eat lunch. Wonderful lightly, baked French quiches were reasonably priced and a joy to eat.
The model figurine of a chef was a favourite with regular customers until the shop was remodelled into a cafe. The chef’s head would nod day in and day out. At Christmas the family would dress the chef as Father Christmas and fill the window and shelves with yummy festive season baking.
This popular family run cake shop closed in 2009 when the owners found the high rent made the business unviable.
Photo by Barry Thomas taken in 1991 for the 1992 Cuba St Calendar
Tucked away at the end of a short arcade and part of the Cubacade was Le Normandie restaurant established in 1961 by Renée Louise Charlton. Also known as Madame Louise, she arrived in Wellington in the 1950’s and first worked at the Montmartre Coffee House.
Madame Louise brought top quality French cooking and fine dining to the city. During the 1960’s and early 70’s Le Normandie was popular with politicians, diplomats and international entertainers such as the Rolling Stones and those members of the general public who could afford the high prices. People would book weeks in advance to taste her famous Chateau Briand for the costly sum of 17/6 . Many dishes on the menu involved flambéing carried out at the diners table, often by one of her imported European waiters.
In 1961 the liquor laws changed allowing wine to be served in restaurants and it is said the wine list was French, extensive and expensive, perfect for those customers wanting to impress guests not used to such fine dining. Madame Louise was a formidable woman, known to have fired waiters or chefs for mistakes that would not be considered admissible today. She is also known to have hit her staff with whatever was at hand .
Sir Des Britten worked for her very briefly before setting up his own fine dining establishment, the Coachman. Tony Astle of the famous Auckland restaurant Antoine’s started out here at the tender age of 15. Astle worked as a waiter and kitchen hand for Madame Louise. Tony remembers being fired for setting alight to a customer’s cloth napkin. He left and joined Des Britten at the Coachman. Madame Louise believed them to have copied some of her famous recipes and didn’t speak to either man ever again.
The Barber Building is a fine example of the Edwardian style of architecture and is a notable feature of the Cuba Street precinct .
Originally a five roomed home built of Totara was built at 125 Cuba Street. In 1863, W.P Barber, a soldier who fought in the Maori wars put up a single story wooden building which he used as a dye works. His company prospered so, in 1910, he replaced it, with the building that stands here today. There were large dye vats at the rear which used water from a nearby stream. By the late 1920’s the business had moved out of the central township possibly because of its toxic fumes and smells.
Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: 1/2-011651-G
The building was rented to a number of different tenants including a dance school on the second floor,which was established by Kathleen O’Brien. This dance school was later taken over by one of her students, Dorothy Daniels. Other tenants over the years including sewing machinist’s, a photographer and a branch of the Communist party ,which was there from the mid 1940’s to the late 1950’s. Unity Theater was established by the Communist Party members. When they left Dorothy Daniels took over the whole two floors and taught ballet students there for nearly 40 years. Daniels held an Advanced Teacher’s Certificate of the English Royal Academy of Dancing and was appointed an examiner for that society.
A legacy of her passion and lifelong dedication to the teaching of ballet was the establishment in 1982 of the Dorothy Daniels Dance Foundation to foster dance in New Zealand. In 1970 one of Dorothy’s tutors, Valerie Bayley, and a promising student, Anne Rowse, took over the school.
In 1976 the school was bought by Deirdre Tarrant who has tirelessly taught, danced, directed and supported dancers ever since. She is only now contemplating retirement. Deidre was a student of Dorothy Daniel’s and ,in the 1960’s worked as an actress with Nola Millar next door at 127 Cuba St.
The two beautiful dance studios on the first and second floors of the Barber building are accessed via a character wooden staircase, Each week 300 keen dancer’s climb these stairs to attend classes run by the Tarrant dance and theatrical school or others including salsa classes, folk dance and jazz ballet.
This staircase, was nearly destroyed when the building was earthquake strengthened in 1999.
Luckily the owners fought to retain it and won.
In 1992 Deirdre Tarrant established Footnote Dance on the 2nd floor. This small dance company of around six dancers has performed throughout the world and been an outlet for many talented dancers to express their creative energy and remains a testament to Deirdre’s skill, experience and passionate energy.