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Oamaru Historic Area

Harbour Street, Tyne Street, Wansbeck Street, Tees Street, Itchen Street, Thames Street, Meek Street, Medway Street, Steward Street, Wear Street, Coquet Street, Esplanade Road, OAMARU

Oamaru’s limestone buildings tell the story of a town built on the prosperity of the 1860s and 1870s, carving an identity in stone that was continued with the architectural styles of the twentieth century. From the Victorian Italianate glory of the warehousing and offices on Harbour and Tyne Streets, to the imposing Classical authority of the banks on Thames Street, to the Moderne design of the Centennial Memorial Restrooms, the streetscape within the Oamaru Historic Area is remarkably intact and distinctive, giving it special significance. Oamaru’s buildings illustrate the archaeology and technologies of working stone, the history of the Oamaru and the development of the town’s cultural identity as it is reflected in the variety of architectural styles and forms, and over time.

Oamaru, the place of Maru to Ngai Tahu, was built on the proceeds from North Otago’s rich bounty of grain and wool. In a single generation from the 1860s wealth, combined with the easy availability of limestone and the inspired designs of architects including Oamaru’s beloved Thomas Forrester, created a distinctive townscape, much of which still remains. Oamaru’s townscape reminds us of the European settlers’ dreams, of making their way in the world and creating their own future. Oamaru Historic Precinct represents that dream: the harbour, the warehousing and commercial precincts centred on Harbour, Tyne, Tees, Itchen and Thames streets – where sea captains, warehousemen, merchants, brokers and bankers bargained and traded – a prosperous town where a person could make good with hard work and a bit of luck.

The Oamaru Historic Area is made up of buildings and structures in Harbour, Tyne, Wansbeck, Tees, Itchen, Thames, Severn, Meek, Wear, Coquet and Medway Streets. These represent the range of functions that have shaped Oamaru and given it a distinct identity – the warehousing, stores and office, shops and hotels, banks, civic and government buildings, as well as memorials and churches. Architects such as Thomas Forrester (of Forrester and Lemon), his son John Megget Forrester and partner W.I.C (Ivan) Steenson, as well as James Johnston, Thomas Glass and others, have made use of the qualities of the stone to create a striking identity for Oamaru. While the Italianate and Classical styles of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are most evident, the sensitive use of stone continues into the mid-twentieth century with Ivan Steenson’s Centennial Memorial Restrooms, and Grenfell’s RSA Clubrooms. The styles combine to form a remarkable and coherent streetscape recognised as central to Oamaru’s identity.

In 2017, Thames Street remains Oamaru’s bustling retail and civic centre, watched over by the imposing former post office, the revitalised Town Hall and Municipal Chambers (now the Opera House), and the stern architecture of the courthouse. Harbour, Tyne and Tees Streets are the focus of small boutique retail spaces and galleries, while Itchen Street, dominated by St Luke’s Anglican Church, has a civic focus with the Volunteer Drill Hall and the RSA Clubrooms and Garden of Memories.