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Patriarch of Parnell Village honoured with statue

Patriarch of Parnell Village honoured with statue

The Harvey family will recognise their late father’s vision and legacy as the creator of Parnell Village, with the unveiling of a statue in his honour.

Three years ago, Kevin Harvey and his siblings Tom Harvey and Nancy King came up with the idea of commissioning a statue in memory of their father.

“We wanted to provide a physical place for people to remember him by and where he can keep working his magic through us all,” says King.

The statue will have its celebratory unveiling with invited family and friends on Friday 16 May 2014, the date of Les Harvey’s birthday. He was 78 when he passed away in 1994. The bronze statue, by Otago sculptor Minhal Al Halabi, will sit on a brick path beside Antoine's Restaurant as a nod to long-time tenant Tony Astle.

Astle has many fond memories of his former landlord.

“I remember laying bricks and planting the kowhai and weeping cherry trees with Les in the restaurant courtyard after I signed the lease some forty years ago. He was a very caring person. I think he was before his time really. He liked things the way they were in Parnell, although he added his own wacky elements. As long as it looked pretty he was happy. Harvey was a keen patron of the restaurant but never seemed to have a wallet with him. He used to turn up in his silly gardening gear and his funny old hat and he'd just forget to pay. We wouldn't charge him obviously. It was just one of those things,” he laughs.

The statue portrays a kneeling Les Harvey wearing his trademark turtleneck jumper and cap. The OBE recipient turned down a knighthood and the family wanted to make sure the statue reflected his humble attitude.

"It shows him as he was, a gentle soul who loved to be busy working. Everyday you would see him walking the cobbled pavements of his beloved village with a fresh flower poking out of a battered 40-year-old panama, wearing a grey suit wth pants and jacket that don’t quite match. His striped shirt open at the neck and bulging at the waist. He was always kneeling when he was laying bricks or planting little flowers. Most people thought he was the gardener or caretaker but he didn't care,” says eldest son Kevin.

Parnell Village was the brainchild of one man, Thomas Leslie Harvey, known to all as simply Les Harvey. In the 1970’s Parnell was unloved and consequently became run down and dilapidated, however Harvey saw something in Parnell nobody else could.

Harvey bought and restored a large area of dilapidated old houses and shops in Parnell that he converted into restaurants, cafes, craft shops and boutiques during the 1970s.

“His dream involved Parnell re-inventing itself as ‘Parnell Village’, the result being a community of old world shops, sunny courtyards and most importantly with a heart. He did more than just return buildings to their former glory. He added bits of magic to them. He used to love making things on a human scale. The garden and the steps he created, nothing was designed to denigrate people or make them feel small,” says Kevin.

Following the war, bulldozers began ripping the heart out of old Auckland, smashing down the brick and timber buildings of the 19th century to make way for towers of glass, concrete and steel.

“He made it his mission making sure that the ruins of buildings being torn down all over Auckland city could be used and preserved in creating something unique and magical. He hated all the development that blocked out the sun and which was unkind to people basically," says Kevin.

As many other Victorian buildings underwent demolition in Auckland at the time, period materials became available cheaply, and the buildings of Parnell Village emerged altered, extended and ‘tarted up’ in a somewhat fanciful but fun Victorian style.

“He created the Village by using bits and pieces salvaged from these demolished buildings and much of the work he did himself. Les planted many of the trees up and down Parnell Road, laid bricks, helped convert old houses and back yards into one of Auckland’s iconic streets. The rest was done by craftsmen working to his design. A bow window from Dunedin, a carved door from Oamaru, somewhere else is a slab of kauri that was in the bar of an old country pub. Every fragment has been restored and recreated into what he thought a suburb should be like,” says Kevin

Les became a public figure for many public battles with bureaucracy to save old buildings.

“Les scorned councils, planning boards, government departments, procedures, town planners and architects alike. Not adverse to controversy or letting any red tape stand in the way of his dreams, he ignored council regulations when it suited him,” says Kevin.

The remarkable part of how Les operated is that he never sold anything.

“He believed he owned nothing, he was simply a custodian looking after beautiful things so they would be preserved for people to enjoy them. He was proud to call himself a patriot,” says Kevin.

Les’ vision continues with his family today. His son Tom continues to tend to the beautiful village gardens.

“The majority of the gardens were originally planted by dad himself and it gives me great pleasure to continue on his great work,” says Tom.

The ongoing ownership of the Harvey family's company, City Construction is under the helm of son Kevin. City Construction has more than 100 tenants with a company portfolio estimated to be worth more than $150 million.

"Parnell Village wouldn't be the same without the Harvey family. I think it's wonderful that they keep the integrity of the street," says Astle.

ENDS

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