A Queenstown businesswoman is storming a male citadel.
Pauline Bianchi’s Artbay Gallery will lease the resort’s 152-year-old masonic lodge on Marine Parade from July 1.
Completed a year after Queenstown was founded in 1862, Lake Lodge of Ophir is the resort’s oldest surviving stone building and the oldest masonic lodge in New Zealand still used for its original purpose.
Bianchi, whose upmarket gallery’s been housed in the nearby Mountaineer Building since 2009, says she’d been
looking for a prime retail space for two years - “they’re as rare as gold dust”.
She says she’s absolutely thrilled to become the lodge’s first ever tenant.
“It will lift our profile to another level.”
The lodge is in the middle of what she believes is the new luxury end of town, with Eichardt’s Private Hotel and Skyline Enterprises’ pending high-end retail building across the road and nearby flash restaurants like Botswana Butchery.
Past lodge master Mark Jessop says the lakefront building’s outgoings like rates and insurance have doubled in recent years.
“The members aren’t able to afford the outgoings on the building and continue with charity work.”
There’s also been a recent trend for NZ masonic lodges to get on a more commercial footing, Jessop says.
Leasing the premises “secures the future of the lodge and our future ability to support [charitable] organisations”.
Jessop says masonic lodges are one of the very few male-only organisations in the world, and that won’t change.
However he doesn’t see any irony in leasing the lodge to a woman: “Not really, she’s a commercial tenant.”
Jessop says the lodge considered a number of uses but says a gallery is the most palatable and unobtrusive.
“The way she conducts her business was also a plus - she runs a first-class operation.”
The gallery’s only leasing the refectory area and not the temple room where members hold their monthly meetings, he confirms.
Bianchi says she’s been comfortable working with restrictions imposed by the building’s historic nature.
Signage can’t be attached to the exterior, while new interior walls will be created.
The new high-profile site also means she’ll open longer hours.
“We’ve had ladies’ hours for long enough.”