Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree

Ref: T8003, Concept plan of redeveloped Hurstmere Green, North Auckland Research Centre

Hurstmere Green in the heart of Takapuna has been re-developed by Sills van Bohemen Architects. On Saturday 8 December 2012, the green was officially re-opened by Mayor Len Brown along with representatives from  local businesses and the Local Area Board and an appreciative crowd of locals looking on. The official ceremony in the afternoon began with a karakia, and followed a dawn ceremony earlier the same day.
Ref: Takapuna Primary School haka , 8 December 2012, Photographer: C. Webb, North Auckland Research Centre
For much of 2012, Hurstmere has been closed off behind wire mesh to allow the landscaping work to be done. The new layout opens up the original space, creating larger areas for relaxing and a better linkage between the main street to the west, the shops that border three sides of the green, and the beach to the east. At the same time, some of the original features have been retained, including a large chestnut tree that still dominates the green.

Rf: T6573, Chestnut tree, Castanea sativa, early 1990s, Photographer: Dennis Hamblin, North Auckland Research Centre
The redevelopment isn’t the first such change for the green. Past plans included the modest Takapuna Free Kindergarten’s novel landscaping idea in the 1950s, which involved asking parents for the donation of a tree or shrub. The green-fingered North Shore Horticultural Society’s planting of two hundred trees was a significant addition in the 1970s. The largest landscaping project prior to the current one happened in the 1980s, and the intention of that plan was captured in the North Shore Times Advertiser’s December 1984 headline: ‘Reserve could be Takapuna’s Aotea’.

Ref: 1959 aerial of Hurstmere Green (centre), GIS Viewer, Auckland Council
In the 1920s, Bill Conning’s blacksmith shop stood on the site of the present green, and when earthworks began for the nearby ASB Bank in the late 1980s, old horseshoes, bottles and blacksmith tools were uncovered. The plaque commemorating the smithy notes that horses were tethered to the chestnut tree while they waited to be re-shoed, but as aerial photographs of the green taken in 1963 shows the present tree to be small at that time, the plaque may have taken a certain amount of poetic license in implying that the present tree is the original one.

Ref: T7434, Southwest view of green (including the chestnut tree on far right) during construction of the ASB, 1988, North Auckland Research Centre
Although the chestnut tree remains a local Takapuna icon, not everyone is a fan if some of the submissions (109-7, p.46) to Council’s Appendix 8C Schedule of Notable Trees  (p.38) are anything to go by. A number of the submissions commented that the Spanish chestnut has an unpleasant smell when it flowers, which it does for about a month in early summer each year.

But hey! The new vista from the broad pathway alongside the tree leads the eye (if not the nose) to Takapuna beach beyond, and the familiar view of Rangitoto’s crown, poking above the red and green heads of the pohutukawas on the beachfront reserve – happy bathing!

Ref: T0213, postcard of Takapun Wharf, c.1901, Attributed to William Price, North Auckland Research Centre
You can find out about other reserves in the North Shore by browsing through the indexed articles in Local History Online and about looking up Auckland Council premier parks (including reserves).

Author: Kate Reid, North Auckland Research Centre