History, Architecture… and Shopping: The Old Bank Arcade, Wellington

Old Bank Arcade, Wellington
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A note to my readers: The world is gradually easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but it will be a long time before we can travel freely again. For many of us that will mean staycations and more local travel, but I will continue posting new content for you to read at home and to inspire your future travels. Happy reading and stay safe!

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Banks were once grand city buildings, their splendid halls and ornate architecture attesting to their wealth. But today much banking is done online and these buildings are more likely to house bars or restaurants. Or occasionally shopping centres. Like the Old Bank Arcade in Wellington, New Zealand, a smart mall with an interesting history and an unusual animated clock.

Old Bank Arcade, Wellington
The Banking Chamber is now full of shops and restaurants

History of the Old Bank Arcade

Going in to the Old Bank Arcade is like walking into history. Built as the headquarters of the Bank of New Zealand in 1901, it must have been one of the most important buildings in the city. For many years the bank’s chairman was Harold Beauchamp, an influential Wellington man now better known as the father of Katherine Mansfield, one of New Zealand’s most famous authors.

Old Bank Arcade, Wellington
The imposing exterior of the Old Bank Arcade

The bank later fell into disuse and lay empty for some time. It was during its redevelopment as a shopping centre in the 1990s that an earlier piece of history came to light. The bank had been built on Lambton Quay, once a beach area but now reclaimed land. Beneath its foundations the builders found the remains of a three-masted sailing ship, Plimmers Ark. This had belonged to John Plimmer, an early settler who arrived with his family in 1841, and later became known as the “Father of Wellington”. Today you can see the remains of his ship in the vaults of the Old Bank Arcade.

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Mosaic floor
Many of the original architectural details have been retained

The Old Bank Arcade Today

Today the Old Bank Arcade is a modern arcade with stylish shops and cafés. The basic structure of the bank has been retained, so that you can marvel at the Banking Chamber, once described as “one of the largest of its kind in the colonies”. As you walk around look out for original architectural details including mosaic floors, intricate plasterwork ceilings and old timberwork.

Old Bank Arcade, Wellington
Pinnable image of the Old Bank Arcade

A highlight of any visit to the Old Bank Arcade is the ornate animated clock on the upper level. As it strikes the hour music begins to play and panels on the side of the clock open up, revealing four different tableaux. The clock rotates slowly and the scenes come to life as a voice narrates the history of the site, from the arrival of Plimmers Ark to the building of the bank, and to the present day.

Animated clock, Old Bank Arcade, Wellington
The clock tells the story of the site in words and moving scenes

The Old Bank Arcade seems to have come a long way from its origins. Yet among the boutiques and coffee shops I spotted the Gold Exchange, where customers can buy and sell gold. A tenuous link to the past perhaps, but a reminder of the proud institution that once stood here.

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1 thought on “History, Architecture… and Shopping: The Old Bank Arcade, Wellington”

  1. Good to hear they restored the Old Bank Arcade and repurposed it into a beautiful destination. In Canada, so many of those beautiful old banks have been stripped and make into pawnshops or payday loan shops – their history lost forever.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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