Breaking up is hard to do, but not when it leads to a new use for old bricks.
“I got into this game by accident, wanting a few bricks for a path” is how Winston Jacob describes his introduction to the demolition business. Forty-seven years on Jacob Demolition and Building Supplies is Auckland’s biggest repository for pre-loved building materials, with premises in New Lynn and Drury.
The boom in bricks was sparked by the creation of Parnell Village, the brainchild of Les Harvey. In the 1970s he bought a number of old shops along Parnell Rise and restored them using recycled materials. The distinctive courtyards and paving, with their cottagey ambience and nostalgic appeal, became the envy of every homeowner. Suddenly everyone wanted to transform their gardens and backyards with wishing wells and winding walkways, all made of bricks. Old bricks, full of character - not brash new ones.
Fortunately, there was a ready supply of them. With Auckland in the throes of urban renewal and with a heady disregard for heritage, old buildings were there to be knocked down – and Winston was there to do it.
“Originally I was picking the bricks up by hand. I had an English guy helping me and we’d pick up 4000 a day. It was hard physical labour, not so bad for me as an ex-farmer, but a tough introduction for the poor fellow fresh off the boat. The weight just fell off him.
“We didn’t clean the bricks – that was the customer’s responsibility.”
Buying the bricks for 20c and selling them for 60c, the business was lucrative enough to expand. Soon Winston had extra staff, a digger and several trucks.
In the days before traffic management plans, resource consents and health and safety restrictions, it was all go in the inner city.
“We’d get there at 4am and work like hell to pull down the building and clear the road and footpath before the traffic built up. Getting the trucks up High Street with cars parked on the side of the road could be interesting – sometimes we’d have to get a couple of burly blokes to ‘bounce’ parked cars out of the way.”
As well as bricks, Winston acquired a myriad of other articles from the old buildings – native timber flooring and fittings, windows, doors, lights, ceiling roses and many other bits and pieces. There was plenty of demand from renovators for the precious old items, but they all needed storage. Outgrowing his original city premises, he moved into a building in Creek Street, Drury, gradually taking over other tenants’ space as his stock expanded. It remained the home of the business in south Auckland until early 2018.
Still in Creek Street, Jacob Demolition is now housed in a brand new building at number 28, just across the road from the old site. A far cry from the previous dark and labyrinthine premises, the new building is light and airy with everything displayed in neat and orderly fashion. Wooden and aluminium framed doors and windows, ranch sliders, bathroom fittings, corrugated iron, tongue and groove flooring and much more – it’s a treasure trove for the builder or DIY enthusiast doing up a house, bach or rental property. Villa or vintage renovators can find replacement timbers in imperial measurements, and there are those hard to find heavy weights for sash windows. In the yard are used railway sleepers, beloved of landscapers and currently replacing bricks in popularity, an irony that doesn’t escape Winston.
“We’re now buying them back from the people we originally sold them to – they’re an inflation proof investment.” Winston has long given up personal involvement in demolition, nowadays sourcing his stock from builders and developers, but he’s always on the lookout for anything recyclable. “I see a lot of waste on building sites. Salvage takes time and people who know what they’re doing. With so much development going on builders are in a hurry and find it easier to just bin stuff without thinking if it can be used elsewhere.” Jacob Demolition has always dealt with the general public, but the advent of Trade Me raised the spectre of people dealing direct amongst themselves. “I didn’t have a clue about it at the time,” says Winston, calling on the digital knowledge of his son, Toby, to link the business to the online trader and initiate the creation of the www.jacobdemo. co.nz website. Their stock is now all listed on the company website as well as on Trade Me, which are both vital outlets for them. Toby is still involved with the business, buying stock for the New Lynn branch - “and doing a fine job,” says his father.
Winston says he can understand why people prefer to ‘shop with their fingers’ rather than battle through traffic to browse physical stock, “but I like to think a stroll through the warehouse could be entertaining even if you’re not buying.” Certainly there are unexpected delights to be found, like beautiful leadlight or stained glass windows, rimu staircases (really!) or genuine used native timber, complete with nail holes and scratches for added character. Those doing faithful period renovations of old houses will be well aware that some things just can’t be bought new, and the only place to find them is a demolition yard with years of experience and a great reputation – like Jacob’s. Recycling in all its forms is always in vogue, whether in homage to history or simply as an economical option. Giving new life to old building materials simply makes sense, and Jacob Demolition is the best place to find them.