Francis Bernard Niall Fox was born in Kenya in 1936 and died at his home in 2017.
Frank Fox is a retired lawyer and has lived in the elegant, Art Deco, Owd Trafford block for 52 years. “the building was built by Jenkins and Mack, which was a well-regarded and old-established firm of plumbers in 1941 or 2.”
Frank describes how he and his mother found the flat: “We were very lucky to get it because in those days – in the fifties – it was very hard, whether you were in Mt Victoria or anywhere else in Wellington, to get a flat. . . . A fellow-nursing sister of my mother’s, Kay Mack, who was a niece of one of the owners of Jenkins and Mack – I’m forever grateful to her (she was the previous tenant) for allowing us to come here when they bought a house.”
He does not recall he and his mother mixing a great deal with the other tenants in the building, but remembers that they were nice people, if a mixed bunch. “There was a Mr and Mrs Bolt, who were in one of the flats in the back half of the building, and he was Commissioner of Works. So that was a pretty high public service position. . . . And there was a delightful couple of sisters in one of the ground floor flats, who came from Ekatahuna. And they called that Eka – I always remember that. And they were real characters; especially when they’d had a few drinks in them. Zena and Nola – Zena McPhee and Nola Remnant. I regretted it when they moved.”
About 1963 Jenkins and Mack sold the building to General Finance Limited, who set up a company-shares arrangement. Frank describes how he came to buy his flat a few years later: “About 1971 the situation had arisen whereby there was only this flat and one other that were still tenanted and they obviously wanted to be quit of them. And so I got a letter one day asking me to meet with them on the subject of buying and selling. And fortuitously I had recently come into some money from my father’s estate. So the Secretary of General Finance came along – there was no land agent involved – and he started off at $15,000, I started off at $12,000 and we finished in the middle at $13,500.”
According to Frank, there are advantages and disadvantages to company-share owned flats. One of the advantages is that “the chances of getting ratbag tenants are – not extinguished, because we did have an owner who was a former All Black and a drunkard (an alcoholic; that’s a better word) – but on the whole you get an older ownership. Because there is a disadvantage of company shares in that only two banks will lend on company shares as a security and their maximum lending is, I think, 70% rather than the higher percentages that you can get on a unit title or an ordinary house. So that stabilizes the population if you like and doesn’t have boy racers or druggies or whatever.”
When Frank and his mother moved into Owd Trafford in 1955, Mt Victoria “was generally thought of as one of the lesser suburbs of Wellington, on a par with Newtown. They were the two worst suburbs, really. But any port in a storm, so to speak.”
Things have changed, however. “I think that since, for whatever reason, people have regarded Mt Victoria as a ‘better’ suburb – and I guess, really, the reasons are they’ve come to appreciate its central location in relation to all the restaurants and theatres and so on in central Wellington and its sun – that it was underestimated and is now fully appreciated . . . And I think the fact that people have put a lot of work into painting their houses, and so on, has contributed to the attitude towards the suburb as a whole.”
Historic photographs courtesy of Frank Fox.