The Dilworth Centre the Centenarian

One of New Zealand’s famous characters.

MIT’s Centenarian just keeps on serving

No, it is not a person but it’s life has had many roles, served many uses and has acquired status as one of New Zealand’s famous characters.

You will have guessed, I am referring to the Dilworth Centre.

It started life as an agricultural education school back in 1917 back in the days when “Ōtara Farm” was a fine area of fertile and productive farmland. Originally part of the expansivee Fairburn Purchase, Dilworth, one of Auckland leading citizens, set out to establish a Boarding School to train boys in farm and livestock management. Boys who had completed primary education were taught up-to-date scientific farming methods. What is now the the Dilworth Centre was built as an accommodation centre for the boys but it wasn’t long before the school closed – the Government of the day had withdrawn funding of private schools!

This fine building was designed by a famous architect, Robert Atkinson Abbot, who had about the same time had designed the Auckland Grammar School main building – complete with the dome, a design he repeated on both buildings. The Spanish Mission inspired tower was based on ideas he had seen in California. But it is most noted for its reflection of the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is in fact one of only two buildings in New Zealand that exemplify this style – it is considered an architectural gem, hence its listing as an historic building which is considered to be an important building in early agricultural education.

After the school closed the Dilworth Centre as a stud for horses, called “Mardella” owned and operated by Nancy and Marjory Edwards up until 1950 living in the Accommodation building. The Dilworth Trust sold the building in 1950 to the Depatment of Scientific abd Industrial Research (DSIR) who set it up as the Ōtara Research Station to be followed by the Fertiliser Manufacturers’ Research Assn. Finally, in 1987, MIT took over the lease prior to owning the site which was known as the MIT North Campus.

The Dilworth Centre has been remodelled to retail the wonderful historic features – original panes pf glass (see the wavy ripples), the arches in the corridors the glazed bricks (brought to New Zealand as ballast in the ships), the narrow windows and the quirky fire escape (a vertical ladder!). There are two other buidings that were built to supplement the Dilworth Centre – a beekeeper’s house in Clyde Road (spot the house with the tallest trees) and a wonderful set of stables in Alexander Cres.

When I spent time at the Cal Poly at Pomona all of the student services were housed in the wonderful Mexican style stables once owned by Joe Kellog of breakfast cereal fame. I felt it a great pity that MIT was not doing likewise.

Would you believe that MIT also has a famous listed tree?

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¹ Future Golden Jubilee Snippets will relate the story of MIT Manukau., and of the Secondary Tertiary Developments.