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Historic site . . . Oamaru artist Kevin Murdoch has plans to restore a historic building in Wansbeck St. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

A 138-year-old Wansbeck St building is getting a new lease of life thanks to an Oamaru artist.

In November, Kevin Murdoch took possession of 13 Wansbeck St, listed as category two with Heritage New Zealand, formerly the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

The two-storey terraced Oamaru stone building, two doors up from the Northern Hotel building on the corner of Tyne and Wansbeck Sts, covers 700sq m and is essentially broken up into three sections.

Mr Murdoch had been hunting for a historic building for some time and said the spot was perfect for his project.

“I had been looking for an old building and this end of town definitely is a happening thing and I wanted to be part of it.

“I didn’t realise the level of interest in this building .. people are noticing and they’re saying they’re so pleased to see something happening to it.”

He is in the process of carrying out repairs and maintenance on the building, which was in a poor state before he took ownership.

One section has been repainted and carpeted, and has had modern lighting installed.

In May, it will be opened as an art gallery that will house Mr Murdoch’s works, as well as those created by fellow artists Al Bell and Sharon Murcott.

Directly next door is his “man cave” which houses several paintings, furniture, yachting and ship memorabilia and his land yacht.

“It’s that stuff you’re not allowed at home.”

Mr Murdoch has done renovation work on several staircases and has started to tidy and repair the building’s second-storey spaces, but has not decided how to use those when they are completed.

According to Heritage New Zealand, the building was designed by architects Forrester and Lemon for Oamaru saddler Thomas Morris.

In the 1870s, the area around Wansbeck St was close to the business hub of Oamaru – near the warehousing area, the harbour and the railway station.

Edward Milton Weedon owned a large block of land in the area and advertised the land and “the very extensive buildings and improvements” for sale in April 1878. The buildings were timber, and housed small businesses.

Mr Morris bought the land and property for three-thousand pounds in May 1878.

In June 1879, the premises were badly damaged by fire. The Star reported the fire led to the “total destruction of five shops” occupied by boot manufacturer Mair and Son, cabinet maker Tudhope and Hendry, and painter Mr Larkin.

They were later rebuilt, and Thomas Henry Townsend bought the property in 1882. He owned them until his death around 1901, and his estate owned the property until 1923, when it was sold to company manager John Amies.

Mr Amies owned the property as tenant in common with land agent Edgar Fox, and Wellington solicitor Frederick Ongley. The property was subdivided in 1955. Oamaru market gardener Ah Lee bought the property in 1967, and in 1976, the buildings were sold to Firth Industries.