Our newest display peers inside a local icon and enigma – Price’s Folly. This local historic house with it’s ambitious architecture and fascinating history has intrigued generations of Petone-ites and tourists alike.
We are delighted to share the story of this icon with you online – and in person at our whare by the sea. Perhaps you have a special memory of the house; do come by and say hello. We’d love to hear your story of this fascinating building.
Thomas Price creates an icon
Built in 1901, the 16-room, 465 square metre mansion at 66 Sydney Street was an instant icon. The ornate wooden house towered above its bungalow neighbours. Amusingly, though Thomas Price christened the building ‘Sunnyside’ the locals quickly nicknamed it ‘Price’s Folly’. A Folly in architecture described a structure considered overly extravagant in its appearance compared to its functionality.
Thomas Price was a local timber merchant and philanthropist. Thanks to his successful business ventures with a timber yard in Petone and a sawmill business in the Wairarapa, he donated the materials and skills needed to build an impressive spire for St Augustine’s Church. The spire was the tallest in New Aotearoa New Zealand when it was built.
Price’s singular personality is evident in all his endeavours. We think he would have enjoyed seeing today’s Petone – a bustling heritage and boutique destination.
A very useful Folly
The Folly has served as school room for the Wellington Education Board from 1905 until 1922 when it was transformed by local Tailor Brent Goldberg into his workroom and home. In 1957 the Folly changed hands once more; this time it was converted into four individual apartments before being bought in 1985 by the Bitossi family who began renovations to turn the Folly back into a single family home.
During construction by the Bitossi family the house was used to film Open House, a 38-episode drama series centred on a community drop-in house. You can watch the first episode online here.
Sadly the house was gutted by fire in 1987. And, though the Bitossi family were not harmed they did lose all their possessions, and turned to the Petone community who rallied behind them in an effort to continue the restoration of the Folly.
In 1989 the house changed hands again, this time it was taken over by Con McKinney, a cameraman on Open House who had also worked on the house as an apprentice carpenter before the fire.
A very creative Folly
McKinney’s careful restoration of the Folly is on display for inhabitants and locals alike. If you are walking by you might notice the beautiful balustrade that McKinney recast in aluminium, or the brick fence reconstructed from the Folly’s original chimneys
Today, a community of creative Petone-ites call the Folly home. Resident artist Simon Hurley maintains his studio from the old Folly stables and Ange Holtslag runs her Silver Circus children’s-wear from her workshop on the second floor.
The tradition of making and living continues in this unique house, 117 years after ‘Sunnyside’ was first established.
You can learn more about the Folly through the combined work of the Petone Historical Society and the Jackson Street Programme through their ‘Discover Historic Petone’ downloadable app or by dropping by our museum by the sea.
We hope to see you soon.