In the heart of Lower Hutt's historic industrial zone, our landmark 43 Seaview Road property has a fascinating story to tell.
Located just 20 minutes from Wellington CBD, this well-known, heritage-listed brick façade building is a landmark for locals of the 'coolest little capital'. The building has hosted some famous visitors over the years, including Governors General, the US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the late Queen Elizabeth II.
With its extensive footprint and excellent location, Pacific Property Fund Limited bought the Seaview Road property in September 2019. There were several reasons why Daniel Lem, PMG's General Manager Investments, wanted to acquire 43 Seaview Road for the Fund, including its great connectivity to motorway networks and its position in the well-established
"43 Seaview Road is an iconic building with a heritage-protected façade and a diversified and strong tenant mix," says Daniel.
"It has gone through major structural strengthening work in recent years and is now home to key PMG tenants including TIL Freight Ltd, United Steel, Allied Moving Services NZ, Zany Zeus and Formway.
“We were impressed with the size of the site and its future development potential as well, of course, with the historical significance of the building," added Daniel.
43 Seaview Road was built in 1936 for the Ford Motor Company of New Zealand, a subsidiary of Ford of Canada. The Canadian branch of Ford had been established in 1904 – just one year after the founding of the Detroit parent – to manufacture and sell vehicles to the British Empire markets, thereby avoiding the hefty tariffs American-sourced vehicles attracted.
Up to 1936, Ford had been well represented in New Zealand by The Colonial Motor Company, but that was not necessarily so in some other markets. Ford had pioneered local assembly of vehicles – which reduced shipping costs and provided local employment opportunities – so, for reasons of brand protection, in 1922 Ford took the decision that any market buying 5,000 or more cars annually would have a Ford-owned presence. In spite of New Zealand being Ford of Canada’s second-largest export market (behind Australia), it was another 14 years before they arrived in New Zealand.
The choice of Wellington for their original assembly factory and head office was an easy decision. Of course, Wellington was the capital and our national and international business hub. The central location, available flat land, excellent transport infrastructure including rail throughout the North Island and nearby shipping to the South, plus reliable sources of power and water, setting up here made sense.
The timing was also perfect – to reduce our reliance on agriculture and to create employment as New Zealand made its way out of the Great Depression, the government was encouraging industrial development.
Motor assembly would also foster ancillary businesses in the area to supply the assemblers with locally-made parts such as upholstery, tyres, batteries, glass and much more (General Motors, Todds and Austin Motors also set up in the vicinity). To accommodate the workers that would be needed, the government embarked on a massive state-house construction scheme in the Hutt Valley and, for transport, established the commuter train network that Wellingtonians still enjoy today.
The earliest Ford assembly plant consisted of high-rise buildings, where cars would gradually come together as they were lowered from floor to floor. However, Ford’s introduction of the moving assembly line called for assembly on a single level, hence the massive footprint of the Seaview property.
This was the standard Ford design by forward-thinking industrial architect Albert Kahn. Unlike traditional industrial buildings, Kahn’s designs promoted natural light, well-ventilated and open, airy workspaces with the roof supported by steel beams rather than vertical posts.
The official opening ceremony was in April 1937. Production was interrupted by war in 1939 – Ford immediately made the plant available for the war effort. From August 1940 for the remainder of World War Two only military vehicles and armaments were made. With most men away fighting, this ushered women in to the factory, building both vehicles and delicate explosive mechanisms such as bomb fuses. Men from the Blind Institute also joined in armaments production.
In 1953-54, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip toured New Zealand – the first by a reigning monarch. Our government was keen to show the Royals our primary industry and the innovations of successful companies manufacturing from primary produce. On their agenda were visits to Watties Cannery in Hawkes Bay, the Waitara Dairy Factory, Lane Walker Rudkin in Christchurch and, in Dunedin, the Roslyn Woollen Mills.
And of course, the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Lower Hutt, to acknowledge Ford’s wartime production efforts. Ford NZ made sure it was only British-sourced vehicles the Queen and Duke saw during their visit to the factory.
Fast forward to the 1960s, and Ford needed to expand. But land and labour had become scarce in the Lower Hutt industrial areas. Spare Parts was relocated to a new premises in Wiri, South Auckland and the former spare parts facility in Wellington was converted for production. This highlighted to Ford that, as production demands grew, new assembly facilities would need to be located elsewhere. Following the removal of import restrictions in the early 1970s, production demand soared and the company bought more land in Wiri, where their second assembly plant opened in 1973.
Later that decade, Ford purchased Mazda in Japan. One of the benefits of this for Ford was more modern Japanese methods of car construction, which included robotics. In New Zealand, the Seaview plant was deemed unsuitable for new construction practices – so that was the end of the line for motor production there. The last car produced there was a Ford Sierra in June 1988 and the building was sold.
As told to PMG by John Stokes, author of Ford in New Zealand.
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