Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Rio Grande

Built: 1927-1928
Address: 73 Princes Street
Architects: David Gourlay Mowat
Builders: G. Lawrence & Sons

This wee gem often catches my eye. The Rio Grande was the restaurant of Dimitrios Pagonis (1893-1976), a Greek immigrant from the island of Evvia. Pagonis had arrived in Dunedin in 1915, when he went into business as a confectioner and opened the Anglo American Candy Kitchen. He sold the business in 1927, when he commissioned architect D.G. Mowat to replace the 1860s building at 73 Princes Street (part of a larger block of shops) with a new structure. Plans dated 24 August 1927 show a building with three levels (two above the street and one below) on a concrete foundation that would allow the height to be increased to a total of five levels if required. The restaurant occupied the ground floor and basement, and the first floor was used as office space. The builders were Lawrence & Sons.

The building was completed by April 1928, when an Evening Star report described it:

‘Only last week the proprietor of the Rio Grande restaurant served the first meal to the public, and if internal decoration has anything to do with a cafe’s popularity then the Rio Grande should find a warm spot in the heart of patrons. The fibrous plastering has been very well done by Messrs Forman and Nicol, and Messrs Arnold, Brock, and Raffils have put their best work into the lead-lighting arrangements. The kitchen is fitted out with the usual culinary equipment of modern times. From the street the building has a remarkably fine appearance, the marble floor running in from the pavement being quite a feature.’

David Gourlay Mowat (1880-1952) was most active in Dunedin in the 1920s and 1930s. His designs included the St Andrew Street Church of Christ, the Maori Hill Presbyterian Church, Mann’s Buildings at the corner of Manse and High streets, and the building at 232 George Street which is now a McDonald’s restaurant. The last of these was built in 1929 and shares with the Rio Grande a distinctive first-floor window design with arched lintels and leadlight windows described as ‘sashed in the antique style’.  Both buildings have similar decorative mouldings that frame their facades. In the Rio Grande, the international vogue for Egyptian decoration comes through in an understated way through the pilasters and curved entablature. Mowat’s front elevation drawing shows the faint lettering ‘The Rio Grand’ [sic] in the recessed panel that runs across the upper part of the facade. The spelling in later sources varies.

Restaurants operated from the building under various managers for ten years. During the Great Depression street riot of 1932, Pagonis opened the restaurant to rioters for the whole day, feeding them without charge. Not long after this he sold the building and left Dunedin, but he later returned and established the Beau Monde Milk Bar, further south and on the opposite side of Princes Street.

A wartime advertisement. Otago Daily Times, 27 April 1943 p.5.

A wartime advertisement. Otago Daily Times, 27 April 1943 p.5.

View showing the building as it appeared in the mid 1970s with the clock in place. Detail from photograph by Hardwicke Knight.

The jewellers G. & T. Young took the premises in 1938, when new shop fronts and other alterations were designed by architects Salmond & Salmond. The large Birmingham clock that had been a feature outside their previous two premises since 1871 was moved and attached to the facade. G. & T. Young moved to George Street premises in 1988 and the clock was removed in 1990. When the firm went into liquidation in 2009 it was believed to be the oldest jewellery business in New Zealand. It had been established by George Young in 1862, with his brother Thomas admitted as a partner in 1876.

Most recently the Rio Grande building housed Rocda Gallery, and its plaster ceilings are still largely intact. For a small, domestically-scaled commercial building it attracts a lot of admiring comments, perhaps because its modest take on 1920s architectural fashion has more than a little sparkle to it, like a ring in a little jeweller’s box.

Do any readers have historical photographs of this building? I’d love to see a good view of it with the clock still in place.

Newspaper references: Evening Star, 10 January 1928 p.2 (construction progress), 2 April 1928 p.2 (description); 18 December 1928 p.2 (building at 232 George Street); Otago Witness, 18 May 1867 p.11 (earlier buildings), 15 April 1871 p.14 (G. & T. Young clock); Otago Daily Times, 17 April 1867 p.1 (earlier buildings), 14 May 1990 p.3 (clock removed), 27 January 2009 p.4 (liquidation of G. & T. Young).

Other references: Directories (Stone’s, Wise’s, telephone); Jane Thomson,‘Papers relating to Southern People’ (Hocken Archives MS-1926/1347); Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans.

Royal Albert Hotel

Built: 1880 / 1939
Address: 387 George Street
Architects: Louis Boldini / Stone & Sturmer
Builders: Norman Wood / D.P. Murphy

A Labour Day procession makes its way south along George Street, some time between 1892 and 1896. The Royal Albert Hotel can be seen on the right. The bay with the shop front at the left-hand end was added in 1882. (Hocken Collections S09-219e)

There has been a pub on the site of The Bog Irish Bar for nearly 150 years. In April 1864, James Ramage Hood was granted a license for a new public house named the Black Bull Hotel. An early photograph shows it was a single-storey wooden structure. Hood was succeeded as licensee by William and Margaret Carveth (from 1866 to 1877), and Johann Luks (1877-1879).

Luks was a German immigrant who had previously worked as a fruiterer in George Street. In late 1878 he commissioned the architect Louis Boldini to design a new hotel building, but was declared bankrupt in August 1879 before the project could go ahead. Daniel White purchased the fourteen-year lease on the property the same month, and in December was granted a license for the establishment which he gave a new name: the Royal Albert Hotel. The replacement building was erected in 1880 by contractor Norman Wood to Boldini’s plans, and completed by October. It was built of brick, with ornate cemented facades in the revived Italian Renaissance style, and made the most of a tricky triangular site. The ground floor had a bar, three sitting rooms, a dining room, and a kitchen. There were nine bedrooms and a sitting room on the first floor.

Louis Boldini was the only Italian or Continental European architect who worked in Dunedin in the late nineteenth century, and as most of his work has been destroyed this building is a significant survivor. Boldini’s most impressive designs included the second Dunedin Synagogue, the AMP Building, Butterworth Brothers’ warehouse, and the Grand Hotel. Of these only the Grand remains (as the Dunedin Casino within the Southern Cross Hotel).

Daniel White, first licensee of the Royal Albert Hotel (Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum, A566-1)

Daniel White (c.1834-1907), known to some as ‘Black Dan’, was born on the Caribbean Island of St Thomas. He arrived in Dunedin in 1859 and initially worked as a barman at the Provincial Hotel. After running a restaurant called the Epicurean, he opened the Crown Hotel at the intersection of Rattray and Maclaggan streets in 1862. He was later the founding proprietor of Royal Hotel in Great King Street, the Queen’s Hotel in Castle Street, and the Ravensbourne Hotel. He was also a West Harbour Borough councillor.

Given his surname, his nickname, and his ethnicity, it’s not surprising that White got rid of the Black Bull name! For many years he was one of the most respected publicans in Dunedin, but in 1882 he was refused a renewal of his license for the Royal Albert Hotel on grounds of ‘immorality’. Separated from his wife of twenty years, he had fathered children by two of his servants, one of whom he had been found guilty of beating (for which he was fined one pound). He was forced to give up the Albert, but eventually returned to the Queen’s Hotel in 1888 and remained there for ten years. His last pub was the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel in Russell Street. White died in December 1907 at the age of 73.

The Albert passed to Francis O’Kane in 1882, and to Joseph Strong before the year was out. Building additions, again designed by Boldini, extended the hotel in a southwards direction. The next licensees were Robert Allen (1883-1889), Alfred Low (1889-1890), Mary Campbell (1890-1892), and Michael Moloney (1892-1896). The hotel was refurbished during Moloney’s time and alterations designed by architects Mason & Wales were carried out. Moloney was succeeded by John McLeod (1896-1900), Margaret Braun (1900-1904), Thomas Laurenson (1904-1907), Robert McClintock (1907), George McGavin (1907-1911), Michael Cahill (1911-1912), Eliza Cahill (1912-1918), and Sarah Laurenson (1918-1928).

Advertisement from the New Zealand Tablet, 4 November 1892 p.24 (Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand)

The longest serving publican of the Royal Albert Hotel was Henry Mathie Allan, who ran the business from 1928 to 1961 together with his wife, Frances Annie Allan. Above the corner entrance can still be seen the words: ‘H.M. Allan, Licensed to Sell Fermented & Spirituous Liquors’. This wording was uncovered when layers of paint were stripped from the fanlight in 2007. Harry Allan was the son of Eliza Cahill, one of the earlier licensees. He had a keen interest in trotting and owned a number of horses, the most successful of which were Blue Horizon and Will Cary. In Allan’s time the hotel underwent its most radical transformation. The architects Stone & Sturmer (Gorton R. Stone and Frank Sturmer) were commissioned to design extensive internal alterations, a large extension facing London Street, and an art deco makeover of the old exterior. The work was carried out in 1939 by D.P. Murphy and cost £5,443. Stone & Sturmer reworked a number of other nineteenth-century facades in Dunedin during the 1930s, including the Victoria Hotel in St Andrew Street (since demolished) and the Victoria Chambers in Crawford Street. As with Mandeno & Fraser’s remodelling of the Manchester Unity Chambers, previously discussed in this blog, the final result is a marriage of two styles and periods.

Perspective drawing by Stone & Sturmer, architects (Evening Star, 21 March 1939 p.3, with thanks to Dunedin Public Libraries)

Perspective drawing by Stone & Sturmer, architects (Evening Star, 21 March 1939 p.3, with thanks to Dunedin Public Libraries)

An Evening Star newspaper report stated: ‘The exterior of the building will be changed to suit present-day tastes with coloured plaster ornaments rising from a brown-tiled base’. Boldini’s ornamentation was removed and plastered over, but the first floor window openings remained and the building retained much of its original rhythm and some of its Victorian character. The new decoration included fluting, floral motifs, and string courses with scroll patterns. Leadlight windows were installed in the first floor and for the fanlights. The ground floor windows were enlarged but mostly filled with glass bricks, the idea being to let light in but keep noise out and the temperature stable. The new private bar was ‘modern to the extreme with colours of black, red, cream, and chromium predominating in a design of sweeping curves and horizontal lines’. It featured a 100-foot continuous counter. The London Street additions were likewise modern in style, with a flat-roofed building erected over the old yard space.

RoyalAlbert_GaryBlackman

View from George Street, August 1963. Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer, Gary Blackman.

The building in 1983, photographed by Frank Tod (Hocken Collections S13-531a)

The building in 1983, photographed by Frank Tod (Hocken Collections S13-531b)

Edward and Lindsay Young bought the hotel 1963 and remained the licensees to 1977. They gave up the accommodation side of the business and in 1971 the London Lounge bistro opened on the first floor, taking space previously used for bedrooms. A New Zealand Breweries publication reported: ‘The decor shows foresight and courage: a challenging psychedelic (cloth) wallpaper, brightly-hued lampshades, vari-coloured seats, [and] contrasting drapes’.  A tavern license was issued in 1978 when the Royal Albert Hotel became the Royal Albert Tavern.

The next big makeover came after Michael Bankier bought the tavern in 1988. The Royal Albert was renamed the Albert Arms and given a Scottish theme, complete with Royal Stuart tartan carpet. The menu included ‘Kildonald Fried Chicken’, ‘Loch Lomond Salmon Salad’ and ‘Isle of Orkney Pork Chops’. Loch Lomond is not known for its salmon, nor Orkney for its pigs, but the names were only intended to be fun. The ground floor windows were reglazed to allow patrons to watch what is one of Dunedin’s most buzzing street corners, and the exterior was repainted in a distinctive green and red colour scheme selected by Peter Johnstone and Sue Medary of the Design Consultancy. The refurbished bar and restaurant opened in June 1989.

The green and red colour scheme of 1989-2007, photographed  by Axel Magard in 2000.

The green and red colour scheme of 1989-2007, photographed by Axel Magard in 2000 (Creative Commons license)

For a short period from 2004 the Albert Arms returned to the ‘Royal Albert’ name and the bar was branded as Albie’s, but the large Albert Arms sign remained on the parapet. The most recent refurbishment came in 2007, when the Royal Albert became The Bog Irish Bar, one of a chain of four bars in Auckland, Christchurch, and Dunedin. The exterior was repainted blue, with gold and grey detailing. The London Lounge closed but a new restaurant was later opened in the space. Steel grilles were added in front of four first floor windows and a variety of textured and coloured glass panes installed in the existing ground floor windows. There are many appealing features,  but to me it’s a pity that the old name has gone and there is no celebration of the site’s own 149-year history amidst the large amount of generic Irish history that decorates the interior.

There is a curiosity in the exterior plasterwork in that two dates, 1859 and 1939, are engraved on the parapet. The second commemorates the rebuilding, but the first is something of a mystery. The original 1880 decoration also featured the 1859 date. The site was first licensed in 1864, so is the reference to 1859 a mistake? Was Dan White referring to the year he first arrived in Dunedin? Or was there some other business on the site from this date? It’s something to ponder – perhaps over a beer!

The building in 2013

View from London Street, showing the 1939 additions on the right

Detail featuring the ‘Royal Albert Hotel’ name and the dates 1859 and 1939

Leadlight window with the name of Harry Allan, licensee from 1928 to 1961

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 20 April 1864 p.4 (Black Bull Hotel), 15 June 1864 p.4 (Black Bull Hotel), 12 August 1879 p.1 (bankruptcy of Luks), 23 August 1879 p.4 (sale of hotel), 3 December 1879 p.3 (transfer of license), 13 May 1880 p.2 (White in City Police Court), 5 October 1880 p.2 (description of new building), 19 June 1882 p.2 (White’s license), 25 July 1882 p.2 (additions),  3 April 1894 p.3 (alterations by Mason & Wales), 23 March 1911 p.12 (‘Black Dan’), 25 March 1961 p.2 (hotel sold), 19 June 1961 p.3 (retirement of Harry Allan), 14 June 1989 p.21 (refurbished as Albert Arms), 24 May 2007 p.10 (refurbished as The Bog Irish Bar), 18 October 2007 p.22 (The Bog); Evening Star, 31 December 1878 p.1 (call for tenders), 31 July 1882 p.2 (additions), 21 March 1939 p.3 (description of rebuilding); Otago Witness, 6 September 1879 p.15 (sale of hotel).

Other references: Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans; Frank Tod, Pubs Galore (Dunedin, 1984); Frank Tod papers, Hocken Collections (MS-3290/049).