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Caption: Photographer unknown. PAColl-7081-11, Alexander Turnbull LibraryHere is Wellington’s archi­tec­tur­al won­der of the 1930s: the new cent­ral rail­way sta­tion, a source of much civic pride. It was a “temple of trans­port” pro­claimed a pub­li­city bro­chure of the time. This pho­to­graph was taken a few months before the 1937 grand open­ing, when the sta­tion was not quite finished.

Before then, Wel­ling­to­ni­ans had had to put up with the very shabby Lamb­ton Sta­tion. You can see its age­ing facade at the bot­tom left, facing Thorndon Quay. Just as unpre­pos­sess­ing was the old Thorndon Sta­tion, set amongst the ware­houses a kilo­metre north. Togeth­er, they provided a dingy wel­come to the cap­it­al city. Politi­cians had been talk­ing about a new cent­ral sta­tion for at least 30 years. For Wel­ling­to­ni­ans it had been a long wait.

The best view is from the front, of course. This rear/side view, though, would have seemed almost as impress­ive, with its nine rail­way lines com­ing into the new con­course, and the five storeys of offices, nearly all of which were occu­pied by the huge and newly cent­ral­ised Depart­ment of Rail­ways. It was all part of a major over­haul of loc­al and nation­al rail ser­vices, with bet­ter access to the port, a quick­er main trunk route through the Tawa tun­nel, and new sub­urb­an lines.

Some see the sta­tion as a high­light in our archi­tec­tur­al his­tory. Altern­at­ively, it can seem a bit of a mish­mash, with its enorm­ous neo-clas­sic­al entrance pil­lars, and Span­ish mis­sion-style roof. But it cer­tainly is an impos­ing sight, with its expans­ive entrance plaza, richly col­oured extern­al brick­work, and the high vaul­ted ceil­ings and ornate detail of the ground floor foyers.

Some of that glory has faded now. The sta­tion is no longer so cent­ral to the city. Apart from a few tour­ists, no one uses rail for long-dis­tance travel any­more, which means the old lug­gage stores, form­al din­ing room and shower facil­it­ies have all gone. But the new sports bar and super­mar­ket do a good trade, uni­ver­sity stu­dents now throng through the old Rail­way Depart­ment offices, and thou­sands of com­muters surge through every day, com­ing and going from the north­ern suburbs.

This pho­to­graph is fea­tured in a new exhib­i­tion at the Nation­al Lib­rary, about the pion­eer­ing com­mer­cial art of the Rail­ways Pub­li­city Depart­ment. Examples of its work can be seen on the street-side hoard­ings beside the new sta­tion. Such posters look much bet­ter in col­our and the exhib­i­tion is worth a visit.

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