Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Shops we love: Parsons

Parsons Books and MusicIt's often said that there are few independent shops left on Lambton Quay, with the chain stores having driven them all out. Parsons Books and Music is an exception, a family business that maintains its own identity.

It's a great little bookshop, and the first port of call for anyone who's serious about classical music, but it's much more than that. It's also a vital part of our architectural and intellectual history, bringing together the stories of three immigrants who helped Wellington start on its slow and painful journey from drab introspective conformity to cosmpolitan vitality.

Roy Parsons, an Englishman with a commitment to progressive politics and intellectual debate, began selling books in Lambton Quay in 1947. Since 1958, the shop has been housed on the ground floor of Massey House, often considered Ernst Plischke's most important New Zealand building. While its original proportions have been distorted by a later addition towards the south (above the Dog and Bone), and it's hard to imagine now what an impact this glass skyscraper had when it was first built, Massey House retains a cool elegance and an urbane street presence. For more on Plischke, see Douglas Lloyd Jenkins' article for the Listener or Greg O'Brien's article for the Historic Places Trust.

At the top of the staircase (part of Plischke's original design) there is a small café that has also changed little from its original 1957 appearance). This café was started by Harry Seresin, a pioneering restaurateur and co-founder of Downstage Theatre. At 2pm next Saturday (the 8th of October), as part of Wellington Architecture Week, there will be a discussion here to explore the contribution that Seresin made towards Wellington's intellectual, cultural and political life.


At 5:41 pm, September 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parsons really is a great book and music shop, probably the best in Wellington, in my opinion. But a dangerous place to walk into with any kind of payment mechanism on you! The picture of the building in the late 50s is great - talk about the shock of the new!


At 10:04 am, September 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parsons has really been a bit of a saving grace for me, mainly for the DVDs, but the books as well.

Looking forward to finding out more about Wellington and architecture. Still doing some catching up here.

At 10:34 am, September 27, 2005, Blogger Tom said...

Andrew: Yes, these days it takes a practised eye to see what marks it out from all the later curtain-walled office blocks, but back then it must have looked like the future had touched down among us. Hardly "contextual", but stunning. In fact, the southwards addition shows the danger of being overly contextual: it's hard to distinguish from the original and spoils the proportions. A completely different look (like Manchester Unity just to the north) would atcully have better preserved the integrity of Massey House.

Iso G: next week's Wellington Architecture Week would be a good place to start. I've got a post in the works about it.


At 11:22 am, October 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Parsons!

My suggestion to Parsons would be the caffee!

I would have had a cup of coffee if I found those tables looked more attractive.

I'd love to have cup of coffee while listing to the Parsons music!



Post a Comment

<< Home