Old Bank Arcade in Wellington, New Zealand, is actually neither an arcade nor a bank. It’s a shopping center housed in, as the name suggests, the old Bank of New Zealand. And the centerpiece of the center is a unique animated mechanical musical clock which opens each hour to reveal scenes of Wellington harbor’s past and present.
The Bank of New Zealand, an architectural gem in the town, opened its headquarters in 1901. It eventually fell into disuse, and when it was renovated in the 1990s something quite unusual was found: Plimmer’s Ark, a three-masted sailing vessel, was unearthed from beneath the ground floor.
In 1851, an earthquake ran the ship aground, and her wreckage had lain there ever since. It had been used as a pier, an auction house, and a ship’s equipment store in the later half of the 19th century, but was covered up when the bank was built on top of it.
The remains of Plimmer’s Ark are on display in the Old Bank Arcade today, but for a more animated approach to the history, one need only look up to the musical clock. Every hour on the hour the timepiece unfolds to reveal tiny vignettes depicting important moments in this site’s past.
In one, little soldiers raise a British flag. In another, a cooper with barrels on a pier rocks back and forth along with a ship on the water, presumably mid-quake. The third shows Edwardian townspeople walking in front of the bank, while in the fourth construction workers dig in front of the same building. Throughout all of these, french horn music and a recorded narration score the show. The clock commemorates the history of the building, the ship, and the land surrounding, encouraging shoppers to stop for a moment to think about all that has happened in the place they stand.