Address: 17 Moray Place
Architects: Salmond & Vanes (James Louis Salmond)
Builder: Joseph Eli White
Few visitors to Dunedin would walk past the Kaiapoi Building without noticing it, and it is much loved by many of the city’s residents. Its bold street presence and finely executed design make it one of the architectural highlights of the central city.
The building replaced a structure that had been built in 1874 for the wine and spirit merchant Frederick Lewis, to the design of architect E.J. Sanders. That building became G.R. West & Co.’s organ showrooms and Academy of Music (teaching rooms) and later Dagmar College (a private girls’ school). It became the premises of the Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company in about 1899.
The Kaiapoi Company had been established in 1878 with a large woollen mill at Kaiapoi, Canterbury. It became one of the largest industrial concerns in New Zealand and the ‘Kaiapoi’ brand of wool products, ranging from blankets to underwear and suits, was known throughout Australasia. The Dunedin building was a branch office and the firm was in direct competition with the big Otago mills of Ross & Glendining (‘Roslyn’), Mosgiel, and Bruce (Milton). All of these mills used the best quality materials to produce very high quality goods, and a couple of Kaiapoi blankets are still in regular use in my own house. Kaiapoi slogans included ‘The Dominion’s best’ and ‘The best that grows into Kaiapoi goes’ (a reference to the high quality of the wool).
In 1915 Kaiapoi commissioned the architects Salmond & Vanes to design a new building on their Moray Place site. Diaries in the Hocken Collections show that James Louis Salmond (1868-1950) was responsible for the design and project management, although recently published sources incorrectly name W.H. Dunning as the architect.
The building was erected in two stages, with the contractor for both being Joseph Eli White. The first contract was signed on 21 July 1915 and involved the demolition of buildings at the back of the site and the construction of the back portion of the new building, which was temporarily connected to the 1874 structure. The contract price was £2,648. The second contract was signed on 19 May 1916 and involved the demolition of the 1874 building at the front of the site and the construction of the front portion of the new building. The contract price was £2,621. The building was completed in 1917 and officially opened on 19 March that year. The final cost for the second stage was £3,265.
The architecture is in the Edwardian baroque manner, a style that drew from the seventeenth century designs of Christopher Wren and eighteenth century French architecture. One of the grandest examples in New Zealand is the old Chief Post Office in Auckland. In Dunedin, the old National Bank in Princes Street is the largest and perhaps most impressive example. The Kaiapoi building incorporates large columns, characteristic of the style, and there is much visual interest in details such as the carved Ionic capitals and floral motifs. The cement work was stone-coloured, and warmer-looking than an ordinary cement finished. It has since been painted a number of times. Interior features included mosaic tiles in the stairwell, red pine woodwork finished with French polish, stained Oregon fittings, and a stamped zinc ceiling in a light cream colour. A large lantern light on the roof lit the interior.
Kaiapoi continued to occupy the building until about 1963, the year the company merged with the Wellington Woollen Company to form Kaiapoi Petone Group Textiles Ltd. The mill at Kaiapoi eventually closed in 1978. The Moray Place building was occupied by American Health Studios International for a few years from 1964. They ran one of Dunedin’s first modern gyms and their facilities included a gymnasium, massage rooms, and a sauna. The building became known as Wynyard House and Peter Dick optometrists have occupied it as tenants since about 1973. This is an old family concern of four generations, dating back to the business of Peter Dick, watchmaker and jeweller, who went into business in Dunedin in 1889. A few years ago the bulk of the building was redeveloped as Kaiapoi Apartments.
Image credits: Drawings from Salmond Anderson Architects records, Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena (MS-3821/2382); advertisement from Auckland Star, 25 March 1924, p.11 (courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand)
Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 30 September 1874 p.2 (Lewis’s building); 8 June 1889 p.2 (advertisement for Peter Dick); 3 May 1900 p.4 (sale of property), 20 March 1917 p.3 (opening and description)
Other references: Diaries, specification, and drawings from Salmond Anderson Architects records, Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena (MS-3821/2052, r.4628); Architecture Dunedin: A Guide to Dunedin Architecture (Dunedin: Parker Warburton Architects, [2010/R2011]); Dunedin Heritage Trails: Neoclassical Architecture (Dunedin: Southern Heritage Trust, ); Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory; telephone directories.