The Clubhouse

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As the Club will be closed from today for the biggest refurbishment work since the 1980s, it seems fitting to post a potted history of our Club house.

Our Club was established in 1883, but had to wait forty years before actually having a clubhouse. Meetings were held in rented hotel rooms, generally the Empire on Willis Street or Clyde Quay Hotel, or after they were completed in 1904/5, a boatshed at Clyde Quay.

During this time there was another Yacht Club over near Pipitea called the Thorndon Yacht Club, which was run by the wealthier Yacht owners who kept their boats moored in the area, and used the building for gear storage and had a small wardroom with a library.

As this club had become landlocked by reclamation by 1903/4, it tried to sell the building to the Port Nicholson Yacht Club and have it moved to the newly-constructed Clyde Quay. However, the deal fell through.

After WWI there was a renewed effort to get some dedicated premises, with the result that a clubhouse was built adjacent to the Te Aro Baths, and completed in 1921 by the labour of Club members. The bones of this building still exist, and is now occupied by Wellington Ocean Sports.

Lord Mayor John Luke at the opening of our first Clubhouse in 1921

Interior of the Clubhouse in the mid 1930s

The building was a simple affair, and remained in use until the Club was forced to remove its presence at the Quay for the duration of WWII, when the US Navy took control and built a considerable amount of infrastructure. During the war years the Club operated out of the Clubhouse of the Evans Bay Yacht and Motor Boat Club, which also took in the Worser Bay Club when anti-submarine cables and mines made sailing impossible there.

By the outbreak of WWII, there were still vacant areas along Clyde Quay, where boat owners could haul up their vessels for maintenance. It appears from photographs that boat owners leased small plots on the site of the current Club house.

During WWII the US Navy built what was to become known as the Coene shed (named for the commander of the facility). Adjacently they constructed a slipway, in use until about 10 years ago, a set of gantrys, and cranes. A building was constructed above the sheds at the Eastern end of the marina, and finally a two-storey building on a central vacant area in the Marina. This building, though much altered, is still in use as our Clubhouse.

Clyde Quay January 1943 left to right The old single-storey Clubhouse; new building with covered slipway and workshop (to become the Coene sheds); extra floor built over a row of boatsheds; and a new building which was to become our current Clubhouse

During the war the old clubhouse was used as Officer’s quarters, the Coene shed as a workshop, and the rest to billet shore personnel and later as a recuperating hospital for US Marines fighting the Pacific campaign. At the close of hostilities, the buildings were handed over to the Wellington Harbour Board, which used them as a hostel for migrants. They were later used as a hostel for male Public Service workers.

A model poses on an Idle Along in front of the Coene shed with covered slipway and hostel behind in the 1950s (the boat looks like it may be Bill McQeen’s Christina)

During the mid-1950s it was decided to remove the buildings.  The upper level of the workshop and construction over the old boatsheds was removed. The RPNYC successfully negotiated the use of the remaining building to use as a clubhouse, and was opened in 1958 to much fanfare. The Club retained the lease on the site of the old Clubhouse, and converted the remains of the workshop to a dinghy storage area and kept a small area aside for maintenance. It became known as the Coene shed.

Putting the finishing touches to the facade of the Clubhouse in 1958

During the 1960s and 70s Club membership was at its height, and the Clubhouse was heavily used – an indoor bowls Club was even set up for play during the week!

By the 1980s it was felt that the premises needed a full re-vamp. Going through the preliminaries of this work, it was realised that there was no formal lease on the ground and the status of ownership of the building was uncertain. It was arranged that the Club would take over ownership of the Clubhouse, and lease the land from the Harbour Board. (Since the disestablishment of the Wellington Harbour Board in 1989, our lease is with the WCC).

The Clubhouse underwent extensive rebuild and was reopened in 1988. Aside from a few small additions like the deck, the Clubhouse remains unchanged since then.

A portion of a set of plans drawn for the 1988 rebuild

Following the Kaikoura earthquakes of 2016, which caused considerable damage to Wellington infrastructure, the Clubhouse was yellow-stickered. Planning began to get the building up to a high rating. With enough capital and funding in place, the Club was ready to go ahead with the earthquake strengthening programme in early 2020 – just when COVID struck.

After a very tricky year, the Club is now looking forward to reopening soon with a rejuvenated and safe environment for members, guests, and visitors to enjoy.

** A more complete history will appear in the July issue of the Journal of the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust**

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