History of buildings & grounds

Parliament House and the Beehive are landmarks. Here’s the story of Parliament’s places and spaces — from the first small building to the sprawling complex of today.

Early years in Wellington

Parliament moved from Auckland to Wellington in 1865. The original building in Wellington was soon overcrowded and ‘grew like topsy’ until the end of the century.

The grounds were landscaped in the 1890s. Over time, they became a popular place for public ceremonies, celebrations — and protests.

In 1899, a fireproof library was finally built. Several fires had already threatened Parliament, now a maze of tinder-dry wooden buildings.

Parliament Buildings from Molesworth Street, oil painting by F.C.H., 1906. Enlarge image

Parliament Buildings from Molesworth Street, oil painting by F.C.H., 1906.

Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, G416

Great fire of 1907

At 2 a.m. on 11 December 1907, Parliament’s nightwatchman thought he heard rain on the roof. It was, in fact, a fire. By sunrise, the fire had destroyed the buildings and many national treasures. Even Bellamy’s restaurant and the Lobby, Parliament’s social hub, were gone. Only the library remained.

Parliament House

The ballroom and conservatory of Government House, just across the road, provided ‘temporary’ accommodation while a new Parliament House was built. Half of the new premises were built but still unfinished in 1918 when Parliament moved in. Because of politics and cost, the planned second half was never built. The grounds, however, were completely redesigned.

Parliament continued to use Government House for Bellamy’s until the 1970s, despite the building’s deterioration. By the 1950s, it leaked like a sieve.

The Beehive

In 1964, a British architect recommended a solution to Parliament’s aging buildings and lack of space — the Beehive. Some called this proposed Executive Wing ‘a shocker’. Others described it as ‘a source of national pride’. By 1979, the Beehive was built — an eye-catching if controversial addition.

Renovation

In 1991, work began to renovate and strengthen Parliament House and the Parliamentary Library — classified as heritage buildings but threatened with demolition because of earthquake risk. The renovation project was the largest in New Zealand’s history. Parliament reoccupied the buildings in 1996.