Iconic building gets a makeover

She may be 118 years old, but Mt Roskill’s oldest dame has never looked better.

The iconic landmark on the crest of Hillsborough Road (known fondly by locals as ‘the house on the hill’) has just been given a facelift and is now sporting a fresh new colour scheme to take her through the next 118 years.

Margaret Lithgow, who has called the top story of the villa ‘home’ for the last two decades, says she is delighted the historic landmark has been given a new lease of life.

When my husband and I moved in she was pink, and since then she has also been white. Now she’s grey with blue and white trim, which were traditional colours from her era. It’s wonderful that such a significant piece of local history is being preserved,” says Margaret.

Now part of Metlifecare’s Hillsborough Heights Village, the homestead has enjoyed a rich and chequered past. Built as a family home in 1903 by brewer and wine and spirit merchant Daniel Arkell, it later became the Convent of the Good Shepherd and the beating heart of the Mount Saint Joseph Home for Girls. The grand villa has also been subject to emptiness and neglect – at one stage the property was allegedly occupied by squatters who built a boat inside her walls and had to remove the whole of the front door to carry the boat outside!

Iconic Building Hillsborough Heights

Part of Hillsborough Heights Retirement Village since 1985, the house on the hill has enabled Margaret to be an integral part of Auckland’s historical landscape.

“I have such strong memories of this villa, right from childhood when my parents would threaten to send me to the naughty girls’ home if I didn’t behave! I didn’t grow up in Mt Roskill, I grew up in Mt Eden, but even there the house on the hill was legendary.”

In 2001 Margaret and husband Hugh were considering retirement village living, and after receiving a few flyers advertising the sale of the top floor apartment, they decided to take a look. Two hours later it was theirs.

The day we came and looked at it the weather was terrible – we couldn’t even see Hillsborough Road. But it had everything we needed, it was big, had a shared lift and lots of storage. It ticked all the boxes and we knew it was a very special place.”

And, as the couple later discovered, it had unbeatable views.

“Our first evening in the house the sun was setting and the whole sky turned blood red. The view was incredible and I knew it would only get better. I can look out my windows and see both the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours without even having to move my head!”

This unique vantage point was never more greatly appreciated than during New Zealand’s first COVID-19 lockdown.

Every day I would do laps around my balcony and managed to spot mountains and volcanoes that I’d never even noticed before!”

Like Margaret, Hillsborough Heights Village Manager Penny Smith is thrilled that Mt Roskill’s oldest dame – the most historic building within the retirement village complex – finally has an elegant new look.

“She is the gracious old lady of the area and we believe she should be treated accordingly,” says Penny, whose team worked closely with Dulux and interior designer Rebecca Milne to select the traditional, yet timeless, colour scheme.

“I’m thrilled Metlifecare has been able to reinstate the presence and grandeur of the house on the hill – and in doing so, keep a much loved slice of local history alive.”

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