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Historic Place Category 1
Corner of Dyers Pass Road and Hackthorne Road.
Lot 16 DP 6163 (CT CB374/164), Lot 63 DP 4030 (CT CB293/34), Canterbury Land District
This building was constructed between 1918 and 1946, with the first section opening to the public in 1920. It was part of Harry (Henry George) Ell's (1862-1934) scheme for a road along the summit of the Port Hills, which border Christchurch to the south. Ell planned to construct a road that would run from Godley Head to Akaroa via Gebbies Pass and would have resthouses along the way. He was dedicated to preserving the last remnants of native bush on the hills and persuaded local landowners to sell or donate land. The Sign of the Takahe was the largest and most ambitious of Ell's resthouses. (The other rest houses include the Sign of the Bellbird (1914), the Sign of the Kiwi (1915) and the Sign of the Packhorse (1916).)
The Sign of the Takahe is a stone building designed in the Gothic style. Ell had originally intended it to be a replica of a Dickensian inn, but by 1923 he was looking at Gothic architecture of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for inspiration. The resulting building is two-storeyed with an asymmetrical plan and a crenellated three-storeyed tower on the southeast corner. The northwest facade, which overlooks the Canterbury Plains, features two oriel windows. Although conceived by Ell, J.G. Collins, a local architect, became involved with the Sign of the Takahe project. The date of his first involvement is uncertain. The earliest known drawing of the Takahe by Collins dates from 1934 but it is unclear how much involvement he had prior to this date. The construction of the Takahe had started before plans were drawn for the building, though Collins' influence on the final design of the building is marked.
Ell struggled financially with his Summit Road project and the boards he established to help with the scheme often publicly refused to pay the debts Ell had incurred in the building of his scheme. The Sign of the Takahe was saved by the Depression work schemes, which enabled Ell to use government-funded unemployed workers, many of whom were skilled artisans. These men produced the fine detailed carving in both wood and stone that typify the Sign of the Takahe both inside and out. Elll died in 1934 but many of the men working for him continued to labour on the Sign of the Takahe until the outbreak of the Second World War. The Summit Road Trust was established after Ell's death to continue his work and the Takahe officially opened in 1949.
This building is significant as the most elaborate of the four rest houses constructed as part of Ell's Summit Road project. It is a wonderful blend of various Gothic architectural periods. An impressive collection of heraldry hung inside includes the coats of arms for many of the early Canterbury settler families, governors- general and prime ministers. The Sign of the Takahe is open to the public as a restaurant and is a popular place for sightseers.
- Original Construction: 1918 (circa) - 1946 (circa)
- Kirsty McMillan, 'The Sign of the Takahe', in Ian Lochhead (ed), A Century of Architectural Drawing : Works from the Armson-Collins Collection, Christchurch, 1994, pp.7-9,pp.7-9
- Gordon Ogilvie, The Port Hills of Christchurch, Auckland, 1991
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