BGI to Third Eye...and the rest is history

Posted on Thursday 26/02/2015

Interest in The Third Eye hasn't solely been limited to anticipation of a new pilot brewery frequenting the neighbourhood.

The original Boys Institute Building at 30 Arthur St. into which we've shifted TTE and all its mechanisms, has previously sat vacant for 15 years. Recent activity and talk of new tenants piqued the curiosity of passers by and online lurkers (some of whom have worked/lived within its walls or had parents who did!).

Wellingtonians have a bit of a soft spot for the historic character building. Since its construction in 1906 it has enjoyed several reincarnations alternating between the practical (offices for NZ Post, govt. printing works), creative (music recording studios/venue) and colourful (brothel, Black Power headquarters).

In the early 2000s, when Transit New Zealand made noises re: wielding a wrecking ball in the immediate vicinity of 30 Arthur St. to make way for the Inner City Bypass, there were heated howls of protest from locals. This was a character building Wellingtonians wanted to preserve, not only for its bygone aesthetic but the stories it played host to over the years. (It was eventually moved 6 metres back from the pathway of the current motorway in a feat of engineering dexterity in 2005.)

Whilst prepping TTE, we did a bit of sleuthing and dusted off the civic history books with the help of Rod Baxter and Duncan Reid from the Wellington Boys and Girls Institute (BGI), the original tenants, so we could shed some light on the building’s provenance.

Rod and Duncan said the existence of 30 Arthur St. was thanks to the hard work and determination of a small group of young, turn-of-the-century Wellington chaps aged between 15-20.

They belonged to the Wellington Boys Institute (BGI’s former designation when gender segregation was still de rigueur), which was originally known as The Lad's Mission (with Sunday evening classes held at Mount Cook School). It was established to nurture the spiritual, mental and physical improvement of the under-privileged boys of Wellington, and funded entirely by voluntary subscription.

In the early 1880s, the Institute formalised and was bestowed with its own premises on leasehold land on Wakefield St. (the current site of the Michael Fowler Centre car park).

When this site was gifted to the Tramway Works by the Wellington City Council members of the Boys Institute unceremoniously found themselves without a place to convene. Deciding not to beat around the bush, the young men of the organisation took matters into their own hands by raising £600 (from their own pockets) between themselves to finance a new building.

At which point they probably proclaimed, "Huzzah!" and immediately formed a human pyramid like this to celebrate.


With the support of Wellington philanthropists, benefactors, the general public, and led by Boys Institute founder, architect and Wellington-mayor-to-be, Sir George Troup, the organisation smartly topped up its kitty and the site at 30 Arthur St. was granted to them to create their own clubrooms.

The building (modified since its original construction) was built in 1906 at the cost of £1,343, and designed by William Gray Young, one of New Zealand's most prominent architects (who also designed both the Wellington and Christchurch railway stations). Its original design comprised an Edwardian free style interpretation of the Queen Anne style with Gothic and Classical elements.

Rod, says the four-walled, square footprint of the building was built by the Institute to represent the four aspects of the Māori well-being philosophy, Te Whare Tapa Whā. The four walls of the wharenui (building) represent the four cornerstones of Māori holistic health: spiritual, mental, physical and social. Each wall is necessary to the strength and symmetry of the building, and this philosophy is still represented in the BGI logo today.

The compact two-story building housed a ground floor gymnasium and swimming pool (behind the back of the building and removed as part of its relocation prep in 2005), with a classroom and hall on the second floor.

The doors were officially opened by then Governor, Lord Plunket, triggering a long-held tradition of successive Governors and Governors General acting as patrons of the Institute. The original foundation stone – though well worn – can still be spotted on the street-front of the building.

However, within a year of the Institute moving to 30 Arthur St, activity and numbers developed at such a rate it rapidly outgrew the premises. One Mrs. Sarah Ann Rhodes came to the Institute’s aid, donating land and funds for a new building to be built in Tasman St.

Completed in 1914, the Institute moved to their new premises, leaving 30 Arthur St. to live out its succession of reincarnations.

So when Welly hopheads convene with their craft brews at the Third Eye, we hope they might take the time to charge their glasses and elicit a "Huzzah!" (human pyramids, optional) to the industrious young gents who worked against adversity to give themselves their very own place to convene.


True Brew Bar

Wanting to remain true to the building’s original history, aesthetic and materials, we didn’t tinker too much with what was already there.

  • The original native matai wood floors were refurbished, and supplemented with outsourced matai wood from the same era (that meant tracking down wood that dated back to 1906!).
  • Recycled oak church doors sourced from Newtown church.
  • An original light ceiling rose fixture was recovered from the site, cleaned up and is now affixed in its original position on the second floor.
  • The bar top and leaner is cut from hardwood rimu sourced from the floor in the original Whitcombe and Tombs (predecessor of Whitcoull’s) building on Lambton Quay, built in 1905.


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