By Henry Mystery 3 September, 2019
Armanasco House – its family history
One part of our heritage which has been saved is the historic Armanasco homestead, across the other side of the Green. It was built in 1890 by Stefano Armanasco, an Italian who came to New Zealand in 1885 and bought several parcels of land in Blockhouse Bay.
The site he chose for his home was on six acres bounded by Heaphy Street and Blockhouse Bay Road. When building was completed, Stefano sent back to his home village of St Agata for a bride, Maria, and she came out to join him in 1890. They were married in St Patrick’s Cathedral in the same year and settled to life in the new home at Blockhouse Bay.
The house was a four roomed colonial cottage, set well back from the unsealed road and reached by a track initially. The plan was very simple, with a front door set in the front centre, opening on to a passageway. A door on the left led to a bedroom and the one on the right led into the parlour which had a fireplace. At the end of the passage a door opened into the kitchen/dining room with a range on which to cook. This backed onto the fireplace in the parlour. The second bedroom opened from the kitchen, as did the back door. Across the yard was a washhouse holding a copper and tubs, and beside it was a small room where butter was made.
They lived for some years in their home named “Windy Heights”, but about 1895 they moved to a new home built on 10 acres of land on the corner of Marine (now Taunton) terrace. The family grew to include two sons, William, born 1894 and Vittorio (Victor) born in 1900.
After a few years they moved back to the original homestead, remaining there right through. Both boys were pupils at the Avondale Side School.
About 1917, the elder son, William, enlisted in the N.Z.E.F. and was wounded while in France. He was invalided home suffering from shell shock.
In 1920, Stefano went for one of the walks he enjoyed, in the Waitakeres. He did not return and in spite of extensive searching, his remains have never been found.
Maria and her sons continued to live in “Windy Heights.” William had a large glasshouse and grew tomatoes for the market, and Victor was a carpenter, known for the quality of his work. The road frontage sections facing Blockhouse Bay Road were eventually sold by Maria, including the one down near the start of Taylor Street where the gasometer stood.
Maria Armanasco died in 1947 aged 80 years. William or Bill Arman as he was known locally, died in 1978 aged 84. He never married, devoting his life to the care and comfort of his mother, and after her death, he spent a lot of time fishing and sailing.
Victor married Edith O’Brien, a neighbour, in 1950, and they lived in the original home to which he made extensive alterations for his bride. He added a separate kitchen, bathroom, toilet and laundry, the carpentry being of the highest standard. The kitchen is very much 1950’s vintage with a formica benchtop and lots of cupboards, many being, as was the custom, too high to reach easily.
Victor died in 1987 aged 87. Edith went into a rest home when he died and the house was let. On her death the house and land was left to the Catholic Church. They in turn sold it to developers and the house was to be demolished as, although it was soundly built, it was in very poor condition requiring a great deal of maintenance.
However, the developers, Brent and Maisie Lincoln offered it to the community if they could find the money to pay for shifting the house and find somewhere to re-site it. The Progressive Association and the community swung into action. Fundraising events were held, money was given and pledged, and the City council were approached for permission to re-site the house on the corner of the Village Green next to the carpark. And so, in 1990, just 100 years after it was built, the Armanasco home was moved to its new site on the Green.
It was a sorry sight needing lots of tlc to restore it, but teams of volunteers came forward, tradesmen gave their time and donations of material and after several years, the house was restored to its former glory. The intention was to make it a place where small clubs and groups could meet and small functions be held. Inside the house the wall between the original kitchen/dining room and the second bedroom was removed to make a bigger room for meetings. The chimney was also taken down. A deck was built outside the back door and covered over so there was an outdoor meeting area as well. A garden at the front and side of the house was planted and the land beside it was fenced off.
The Blockhouse Bay Historical Society was formed in 1998, using it as their base, and have a large collection of photographs of early Blockhouse Bay on display. There are also cases of memorabilia and artefacts and in the yard outside are several items of interest including an outdoor toilet, (or dunny), a bullock yoke and a Whau tree.
The house is administered from the Community Centre and funds for its maintenance are raised at the Antique and collectables fairs.