by Chris Tobin
The former owners of the Seven Oaks reception centre say they saw an opportunity and took it.
Debbie and Gavin Craig had been in the early stages of a plan to subdivide their 3000sq m property when, late last year, further down Wai-iti Rd, St John’s hopes of acquiring the former South Canterbury RSA land foundered.
St John lost to an offer made by a company run by former Timaru mayor Damon Odey and his father.
“When they lost out at the RSA I thought it was a good opportunity for them here, so I approached them,” Mr Craig (69) said.
“It’s in an area they’ve been looking at for their operation. I knew they had been very disappointed to miss out on the other site.”
Mr Craig’s approach was successful. The property has been sold to St John and the Craigs marked their farewell with a private function last weekend.
“We took over here in 2006 and it has been very busy but, generally speaking, with an ageing population, some of the functions we were doing will quietly disappear,” Mr Craig said.
The original plan to subdivide was because of the expense of earthquake-strengthening the building.
“It became clear the requirement to strengthen the building was going to be very expensive and it was not worth doing to get a return.
“You don’t know the cost and generally the final cost is more than you think.
“We tried to sell it as a business but it was obvious it [earthquake regulations] would be a handbrake on trying to sell, because there were too many unknowns.”
The building was sound and in Mr Craig’s opinion could stand for “several hundred years”.
If it had not been for the Canterbury earthquakes, Mrs Craig (65) believed it would have sold.
In the first stage of their subdivision hopes, the Craigs bulldozed a front section of the property and the famous seven oaks were reduced to two, which did not go down well with some people.
“When we chopped them down people were disappointed but they were too big for the site and it’s why we could take them out. One was rotten and the two left are still good trees; by the time they fill out it won’t look any different,” Mr Craig said.
A farming family from Albury, the Adams, built the original house in 1928. Like others along Wai-iti Rd, it was in the grand style with servants’ quarters. A hall was added in 1964 and a front room in 2000.
The property reverted to a reception centre in the 1960s and has hosted probably thousands of wedding receptions, functions, meetings, business seminars and anniversary parties since then.
Photographs on a wall showed monocled Governor-General Sir Bernard Fergusson in full dress uniform with guests including then Timaru mayor Durham Dowell.
“Weddings were great very long hours, mixing with people. We’ve loved that,” Mrs Craig said.
One cook was employed through the Craigs’ stay who was “excellent,” as well as casual staff.
“We’ve had good staff all the way through,” Mr Craig said.
Mrs Craig’s sister, Judy Dodwell, also ran a modelling school, Visual Image Academy of Modelling, at Seven Oaks.
The Craigs have mixed feelings about leaving.
“There will be sadness but things move on and if you don’t move on, you get moved on. We’ve got other things to do now,” Mr Craig said.
Mrs Craig was sad that the building would be demolished.
“You think of all the memories of functions, excitement and dancing.”