Address: 2 Prince Albert Road
Architect: Robert Forrest (c.1832-1919)
Builder: Joseph Eli White
The original St Kilda Hotel on the corner of Prince Albert and Bay View roads was a single-storey wooden building erected about 1872. Its owner, John Pugh Jones, was refused a license that year but gained one in June 1873. Jones was a Welshman and a pre-gold rush settler who had worked in Dunedin as a bootmaker for many years. His wife was Elizabeth Harris Jones. Advertisements for the hotel described it as substantial with splendid views, and ‘being in close proximity to the ocean, it offers special inducements to those in ill health or desirous of inhaling the wholesome and invigorating breezes of the South Pacific’.
In 1875 ‘extensive alterations’ were made to the St Kilda Hotel, including additions that raised it from one to two storeys. Jones became the first mayor of St Kilda that year and the first borough council meeting was held in the building. The hotel had strong connections with local sport: rugby club meetings were held here, race horses were kept in the stables, and at least one live pigeon shoot took place. J.D. Hutton purchased the hotel from Jones around 1880.
A flood in 1877 saw two feet of water through the ground floor of the hotel, but a worse disaster took place on 24 June 1898 when a fire started on the second floor and most of the fourteen rooms in the building were gutted. The beer was saved! The damaged building was sold and in August architect Robert Forrest called for tenders to erect a replacement. Forrest (c.1832-1919) was by that time one of the oldest architects still practicing in Dunedin, and another example of a contractor who had made the transition to architect. In Forrest’s case, his health had prevented him from continuing as a builder. He designed two of Dunedin’s larger hotels, the Sussex in 1880 and the Excelsior in 1888. He had earlier been the contractor (but not architect as it’s sometimes said) for the Prince of Wales and City hotels. Forrest was the favourite architect of Speight’s Brewery, having designed an enormous malt house (destroyed by fire in 1940), the Shamrock Building at the Rattray/Maclaggan intersection, and private residences for company directors.
The new St Kilda Hotel was ready for occupation by January 1899. The exterior of the building was admired, the Otago Daily Times report making a typically exaggerated claim that ‘no expense [had been] spared to secure architectural beauty’. The design with red brick and cement facings nods to the Queen Anne style fashionable at the time, but the form is more Italianate than anything else. The balcony with its cast iron fretwork is a pretty feature, and from here there was a ‘splendid land and sea view’ where there is now a very different scene (!) due to reclamation and development. The report stated that ‘the domestic arrangements correspond to those in a well-appointed private mansion’ and included hot and cold water baths. A large dining room and a billiard room were among other features, and the hotel’s position on the tram line made it a convenient one.
There must have been many interesting events in the hotel over the years and I can only include a couple here. In 1907 William Luby was sentenced to two months hard labour for using obscene language (‘words of the filthiest possible kind’) to a woman behind the bar. The judge allowed the request of witnesses to write the words down rather than repeat them. In 1935 the wife of the licensee, along with a barman, was fined for running an illegal gambling den in the bar.
For a period from the late 1930s the Massetti family owned and operated the hotel. Saverio (Jack) Massetti was an Italian immigrant and three generations of the family were very well known in the hospitality industry in Dunedin, with Ray Massetti opening La Scala Restaurant in Alton Avenue, Musselburgh, in 1955.
In 1969 the hotel was given a tavern license and so it no longer offered accommodation, becoming the St Kilda Tavern rather than the St Kilda Hotel. One of the later licensees was Ray Pearson, who like Jones before him was a mayor of St Kilda. A large dining room was created in the upstairs portion in 1983. The St Kilda Borough Council held its final meeting at the hotel in October 1989, having held its first meeting in the previous building 114 years before. The same year the hotel underwent major renovations and on-site premises of the TAB opened. The TAB outlet is now self-service, and there are also ‘one-armed bandit’ pokie machines.
The exterior of the building has retained most of its 1899 features, although it has lost a few chimneys, some of the brick has been plastered over, many minor alterations have made their mark, and it now has one of those in-your-face corporate colour schemes (Speight’s). ‘Your friendly local pub’ looks likely to remain a popular bar and restaurant for many years to come.
Top image: Hocken Collections MS-3189/047. E.A. Phillips photographer.
Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 4 September 1872 p.2 (license refused), 4 June 1873 p.5 (license granted), 14 January 1875 p.3 (extensive alterations), 22 July 1876 p.3 (election campaigning), 17 September 1877 p.2 (pigeon shoot), 25 June 1898 p.4 (fire) 29 July 1898 p.4 (sale), 20 August 1898 p.5 (call for tenders), 19 January 1899 p.4 (ready for occupation), 17 June 1899 p.8 (description), 11 December 1989 p.18 (re-opening); New Zealand Tablet, 16 July 1875 p.19 (advertisement); Clutha Leader, 9 February 1877 p.5 (flood); Otago Witness, 10 August 1904 p.54 (obituary for John Pugh Jones), 20 February 1907 p.49 (obscene language case); Evening Post, 16 February 1935 p.15 and 29 March 1938 p.8 (illegal gambling)
Other references: Tod, Frank: Pubs Galore (Dunedin, 1984).
Hi there, I’ve enjoyed reading your well researched posts about some of Dunedin’s iconic architecture.
I’ve nominated you over on my site for the Reality Blog Award. Keep posting, I’m looking forward to more great local stories!
Thanks! Your postive feedback is really encouraging. I enjoyed taking a squiz at your blog, particularly as I like ephemera. That Nieuw Zeeland menu’s fantastic. Great reading 🙂
The three early images were added to this post on 3 April 2017. Opening paragraphs edited.
Hi David, I am a great great granddaughter of Joseph Eli White, born and raised in Ireland. I find this site absolutely wonderful. I am a fourth generation architect following in the footsteps of Joseph Eli’s son Henry Eli White. The information you have gathered is fantastic. I look forward to visiting Dunedin some day. Many thanks for your super work.
Thanks very much Clare. It’s great to hear of your family links and tradition. I have wondered if Henry Eli did much design work for his father’s projects as a young man in Dunedin, before his career took off, or if Joseph Eli both designed and built projects that don’t appear to be attached to architects.