The Sign of the Takahe on Hackthorne Road is a well-known landmark in Christchurch and is highly significant both architecturally and aesthetically as an example of 20th century Neo-Gothic romanticism.
One of four historic rest houses constructed for those walking the scenic reserves of the Port Hills, the Sign of the Takahe is a part of Harry Ell's legacy to Christchurch.
Designed to be the entrance to the Summit Road, this rest building was envisioned as a great Gothic-style teahouse.
Construction began in 1918 and the partially completed Tram Terminus Rest House, as it was then known, opened for business in 1920, with the lower section operating as the tram terminus and tearoom to try and offset building costs.
Argument, financial difficulty, depression and war were to delay its completion for almost three decades.
Ell was able to hire a number of skilled craftsmen thanks to government-funded work schemes during the Great Depression. These men produced the fine detailed carving in both wood and stone that typify both the interior and exterior of the Sign of the Takahe.
Working within a very tight budget, incredible ingenuity saw ornate friezes carved from packing cases, local Hillmorton stone quarried and hand-chiselled on site, tools made from scraps and huge kauri beams salvaged from an old bridge and used in the living area.
The interior of the Sign of the Takahe is full of heraldic symbols: coats of arms of Canterbury settler families, governors-general and prime ministers grace the walls alongside English shields, while the dining room contains a fireplace that is an exact replica of one in historic Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.
When Harry Ell died suddenly in 1934, his workers (known locally as Ell's Angels) continued construction, until the outbreak of the Second World War, under the direction of leading Christchurch architect J.G. Collins.
In 1942 the Christchurch City Council purchased the building and it was finally completed in 1948, some 14 years after Ell's death. Collins was instrumental in shaping the final design and created an outstanding example of a neo-Gothic style building. Christchurch City Libraries website provides further information on Sign of the Takahe.(external link)
The building suffered moderate damage in the form of cracking to stone masonry walls and the loss of several parapet stones.
The treasured facility at 200 Hackthorne Road, a restaurant and function centre, closed following the February 2011 earthquake and has now been repaired and strengthened to 67 per cent of New Building Standard.
There is more information about the Sign of the Takahe's heritage significance in the Statement of Significance for the Christchurch District Plan(external link) and the Heritage New Zealand listing(external link).