Monthly Archives: July 2013

Acetylene Buildings

Built: 1909-1910
Address: 126-132 Stuart Street
Architect: John Arthur Burnside (1857-1920)
Builders: George France

The building as it appeared in 1910. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum 63-45-1.

The curious name of the Acetylene Buildings is painted above the door in the historic photograph above. On the parapet and shop fronts is the name of the original building owners, the New Zealand Acetylene Gas Lighting Co. Ltd.

Acetylene lighting became popular in the Edwardian era, particularly for towns or particular properties that were not easily connected to an electricity network. Calcium carbine pellets combined with dripping water to produce the acetylene gas, which was then burned to produce the light. The New Zealand Acetylene Gas Lighting Company was established in Dunedin in 1902, and within a short time branches were operating in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. In 1906 the company was responsible for setting up the street lighting in Picton, the first town in New Zealand to use the system. Kaiapoi and Geraldine followed in 1908, and Opunake in 1909. The company also supplied lighting for private houses such as ‘Aorangi’ at St Leonards, institutions such as Waitaki Boys’ High School, various dredges, and Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica in 1909. Acetylene cooking stoves and heaters were also sold. A problem with the gas was that it was prone to causing explosions. Eight people were killed in an explosion at a general store at Upper Hutt in 1914. Following a long inquest and vigorous argument, the coroner eventually concluded that gelignite on the premises was to blame rather than acetylene, but the bad press may have hastened the decline of the acetylene lighting in New Zealand, while at the same time electrification was becoming more widely available.

The Acetylene Buildings were erected during the boom in construction that came to Stuart Street after the re-siting of the Dunedin railway station. John Arthur Burnside was architect and he called for tenders for construction in September 1909. George France was the contractor and the buildings, which cost £2400 were finished by April 1910. There were three storeys to Stuart Street, with two shops on the ground floor and generously proportioned offices above. An adjoining workshop building faced Bath Street and acetylene lighting was used throughout. The exuberant Queen Anne styling included prominent window pediments and volutes that echoed those on the nearby Roberts Building, which Burnside had designed six years earlier. Most of the architectural features remain today, but the parapet detail and cornice have been removed and as a result the composition has lost its balance. The brickwork on the street facades has been painted and a hanging verandah and fire escape added.

The Acetylene Gas Lighting Company took the corner shop and workshop. The business was renamed New Zealand Acetylene and Hardware Ltd in 1919, and after downsizing it was reorganised as Electric and Plumbing Supplies Ltd in 1929 and closed in 1956. The corner shop was afterwards taken by the Otago Missionary Association, which ran a book room, and then by the Lullaby Fashion House (children’s wear), between 1961 and 1979. Later tenants included Fiesta Fashions and Toy Traders.

William James Bell, a hairdresser, had the other shop from 1913. He died in 1955 but Bell’s Hairdressers continued at the address until 1985. Its 72 years came close to matching the record of Hendy’s Hairdressing Room in Princes Street. The former hairdresser’s became a Middle Eastern café/restaurant for a few years and is now combined with the other shop as Minami Sushi Bar and Restaurant (opened in 2002).

A view of the building from Stuart Street

Up the charming timber staircase, its handrail worn to a fine finish after a century of use, is Lure Jewellery Workshop, established by Ann Culy in 1995. There is a great link here with one of the first tenants in the building, Thomas Long. A manufacturing jeweller, he ran his Zealandia Jewellery Manufacturing Company at the address from 1913. Within five years he dropped the company name, but he continued to work in the building to 1929. Lure has workspace for up to four jewellers and its retail gallery represents up to thirty New Zealand jewellers. On the top floor, jeweller and painter John Z. Robinson has had a studio since 1999.

Other tenants in the upstairs rooms have included August De Beer (indenting agent, 1913-1932), Chrissie Hall (dressmaker, 1913-1925), Robert Bennet (tailor, 1925-1953), and Bertrand Quelch (barrister and solicitor, 1954-1967). The Otago Chess Club (established in 1884) had its club rooms on the top floor from 1941 to 1955. In those days tournaments were typically carried out in a haze of cigarette smoke. I wonder if the concentration of the players was disrupted by the Dunedin Ladies Brass Band, which had its band rooms in the building for a few years after 1946. Watson Studio, photographers, had rooms on the upper floors from 1962 to 1993, and then became the Gary van der Mark studio.

Tull’s Chocolate Annihilation, from the creators fo the Chocolate Massacre. The silhouette of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull featured on restaurant signage and menus.

Geoff Simpson of Tull.

Geoff Simpson of Tull.

The old workshop fronting Bath Street became a restaurant around 1987. Smorgy’s and Just Desserts were there for a few years before Geoff and Lois SImpson opened Tull in 1993. Named after the rock band Jethro Tull, it was particularly known for its desserts, and had almost a cult following. Diners were awarded a certificate (‘The Blodwyn’) if they were able to finish the Chocolate Massacre, and other dishes paid homage to the band with names such as Aqualung (a seafood salad) and Bungle in the Jungle (a green salad). The Simpsons were folk musicians and the New Edinburgh Folk Club (established c.1977) met at the restaurant on Sunday nights from 1999 onwards. Tull closed following Geoff’s death in 2006, and since 2007 the space has been a Japanese restaurant, Yuki Izakaya.

View from Bath Street showing the former workshop and Tull restaurant on the left (now Yuki Izakaya)

Facade detail

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 1 September 1909 p.1 (call for tenders), 16 September 1909 p.12 (Shackleton expedition), 1 April 1910 p.1 (rooms to let), 5 December 1995 p.17 (Lure), 2 September 2006 p.34 (Geoff Simpson obituary)
The Dominion, 29 April 1914 p.4 (Upper Hutt tragedy)

Other references:
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Tonkin, Keith. The Tull Years 1999-2006. New Edinburgh Folk Club (Dunedin, 2007).
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans
New Zealand Acetylene Gas Company brochure, Hocken Collections AG-352/053
Otago Chess Club minute books, Hocken Collections MS-0962/006

Acknowledgment:
Thanks to Lois Simpson for supplying information about the Tull restaurant.

Lost Dunedin #4: Gillies & Street Building

Built: 1864-1865
Address: Cr Princes and Dowling streets
Architects: Mason & Clayton
Builders: Not identified
Demolished 1968

A view from 1865 or 1866, looking north along Princes Street and showing the Gillies & Street Building on the corner. The two-storey building adjoining it was the Glasgow Pie House. Image: Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum 26-6-1.

This building, originally owned by land agents Gillies & Street, made a bold and vivacious addition to Dunedin’s architecture on its completion in 1865. It was built two years after the discovery of gold at Gabriels Gully, when new-found wealth from the gold rush was rapidly changing the face of Dunedin. Modest timber structures were making way for brick ones of more substance and pretention, including this, the city’s first corner office block, with its vigorous Florentine styling and rich ornamentation.

Still in his twenties, Robert Gillies had arrived in Otago as a teenager in 1852. His father had been Town Clerk of Rothesay in Scotland, and in Otago became a prominent landowner and member of the first Provincial Council. In 1861 Gillies went into partnership with Charles Henry Street, who had come to Dunedin from England in 1853.

Tenders for construction of the brick and stone building were called in September 1864, and it was complete by March 1865. In addition to the owners’ offices were upstairs rooms taken by the law firm Howorth, Barton, and Howorth.

An 1865 view showing the roof of the uncompleted building in the foreground. Behind it is the Oriental Hotel, with Maclaggan Street running into the distance. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library PAColl-3824-04.

Mason & Clayton were the architects. I can’t be sure which partner was primarily responsible, but the building appears to be more in the style of William Mason, who had designed another richly decorated edifice for Gillies a few years before. The Revived Renaissance design had some delightfully imaginative decorative elements: a statue of a rather humanesque lion sat over the corner doorway, and there may have been another above the Princes Street entrance. Herbert Webb, a staff member in the law firm, said that the partner George Barton was teased because of his likeness to the lion, and so had the statue removed!

Even more remarkable was the cornice, on which dogs’ heads (about 60 in total) looked out above each of the brackets. I like to think that Charles Street may have had some hand in these quirky features. Street was the ‘dear good nephew’ of Edward Lear, the famous author of The Owl and the Pussycat and other nonsense verse. It’s also possible Gillies requested them, or that the architect was bold enough to suggest them himself. Other decoration included barley twist pillars, Corinthian capitals, rusticated arched lintels, and impressive chimneys which echoed those of the Oriental Hotel on the street corner diagonally opposite. Most of the decorative columns on the building were curiously punctuated with rectangular blocks.

A photograph from 1885 or 1886 showing the building after the additions were made. Lettering on the lamp at the hotel entrance reads ‘Donaldson’s Shades’. Above a separate door to the left are the words ‘Glasgow Pie House’. Image: Burton Bros. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa C.011730.

Detail of cornice and chimney. Image: Burton Bros. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa C.011730.

Detail of corner entrance, including the humanesque lion. Pointing hands have been added to the lamp post. Image: Burton Bros. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa C.011730.

It was likely from this building that Herbert Webb observed a lawyer’s client being lowered into the back yard with a rope, in order to escape a bailiff waiting in the outer office. Barton owed large damages following a court case in 1866, and the legend in his office (probably apocryphal) was that he avoided arrest by hiding in a beer barrel that was taken on board a departing ship. In 1868 Henry Howorth went into partnership with W.M. Hodgkins (best remembered today as a painter and the father of Frances Hodgkins), an arrangement which continued to 1884.

Gillies & Street flourished, and in 1875 they moved to new premises in Bond Street. In 1880 a large building was built for them at the corner of Vogel and Rattray streets, adjoining the Terminus Hotel. By that time they were Gillies, Street & Hislop, and in 1884 the firm expanded to form Perpetual Trustees, which is still in operation today.

In 1875 John Donaldson, who owned the adjoining Glasgow Pie House in Princes Street, bought the Gillies & Street building. Additions in 1875 and 1877 (the latter designed by R.A. Lawson) doubled the length of street facades along both Princes and Dowling streets, and replicated the original ornamentation. The new Glasgow Hotel offered thirteen bedrooms, a restaurant and bar, and specialised in catering for large banquets (including some held by William Larnach in the Bank of New Zealand building). Donaldson loved making wedding cakes and one of his daughters recalled one so large it took three men to carry it. In 1877 the first English cricket team to tour Australia and New Zealand stayed in the hotel.

Advertisement from Otago Daily Times, 30 December 1884 p.3. Image: Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

In 1884 Donaldson sold the buildings to the Mutual Life Association of Australasia for £13,500. They opened offices at the corner and prominently displayed their name on the facades. Donaldson continued to run the hotel business in the Dowling Street portion and by the end of the year had opened new dining and supper rooms for the Pie House and what he named ‘The Shades’ (this shared its entrance with the hotel, while the Pie House had its own entrance). The names Glasgow Hotel and The Shades were used (seemingly interchangeably) for some time after that date, but the Pie House closed not long afterwards. From 1896 the pub was known only as the Shades Hotel.

In 1887 Donaldson left to build the Excelsior Hotel on the site of the old Oriental. The Shades continued to operate until it lost its licence in 1903. It then reopened as a dry establishment, known as the Carlton Private Hotel and Dining Rooms up to 1913, and then as Jackson’s Private Hotel. The hotel closed in 1922 but restaurants operated in the second floor space until about 1950, when Lake’s Restaurant closed.

Someone (identified only as ‘D.M.R.’) who recalled the restaurant in its Edwardian days said that for sixpence there were three-course meals of soup, several meats, and trimmings, sweets, and as much tea as one wanted. Upstairs, for an extra threepence, the tables were decorated with flowers, and there were cruets and tomato sauce. The fare was enhanced by a ‘dollop of cream on the pud’, and the addition of an ample supply of fruit cake, scones, and jam.

Advertisement from New Zealand Tablet, 27 August 1886 p.12. Image: Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

The Mutual Life Association left in 1912, after 28 years in the building. Verandahs and new shop fronts were built along the Princes Street frontage in the early twentieth century. The hairdresser Edward Iles took the old Pie House shop in Princes Street as his salon and tobacconists from 1886 to 1912. The tailors T. Young & Co. had rooms on the first floor for forty years from 1915 to 1955. Two sisters, Annie and Mary McIntyre, ran a cake shop at the corner between 1915 and 1938. This became a hardware shop in the 1940s, and was named Hardware Corner Ltd in 1953. The Commercial Bank of Australia was a ground floor tenant on Dowling Street from 1922 onwards, and stayed there until the demolition of the building, afterwards taking space in its replacement. Clubs, lawyers, real estate agents, commission agents, dressmakers, engineers, architects, and an elocution teacher, were among the many others who had upstairs rooms, and after the hotel closed there was a live-in caretaker.

A view looking south down Princes Street, not taken before 1913. By this time verandahs have been added. Image courtesy of Dave McLaren.

A view looking south down Princes Street, taken some time between 1913 and 1919. By this time verandahs and new shop fronts have been added. Image courtesy of Dave McLaren.

The building as it appeared in the early 1940s. Shops are occupied by Ferguson’s Opticians and Electrolux Ltd. On Dowling Street is signage for Lake’s Restaurant and T. Young & Co. tailors. The photography studio on the top floor has generous glazing with the name ‘Esquilant’ prominently displayed. The Commercial Bank of Australia has signage in relief lettering. The small building at the right included Ye Olde English Cake and Tea Shoppe and the office of the architect E.W. Walden. Image: Hocken Collections S08-035b.

William Esquilant’s photography studio opened on the top floor in 1913, and new glazing was put in for him. Esquilant was a keen pigeon fancier, but I don’t know if he made use of his professional rooms for his homing pigeons. In 1945 the studio was taken over by Franz Barta, a Hungarian émigré who had left Europe in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. He remained there to 1968.

In 1940 architects Miller & White designed a revised facade for owner Kate Thompson. The original decoration was removed but the familiar fenestration patterns remained. The contractors Knox Bros carried out the work, which when finished gave the exterior a simple plastered finish with understated decoration that was fashionable at the time. It gave the building something of a Spanish look.

The Otago Foundation Trust Board had the building demolished in 1968 to make way for their Cargill House office block, which was designed by Ian Dunn of the architecture firm Miller, White & Dunn. That building was completed in 1970 and housed the Inland Revenue Department for many years. In 2004 it became the Scenic Circle Hotel (now Scenic Hotel Dunedin City), which gives some sense of continuity with the days of the Shades.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 20 September 1864 p.6 (call for tenders), 13 March 1865 p.3 (Howorth, Barton & Howorth), 18 April 1865 p.9 (fully occupied, architects named); 13 October 1875 p.2 (additions and sale of building), 15 October 1875 p.2 (sale of building), 27 October 1875 p.2 (additions), 3 March 1877 p.2 (English cricketers in residence), 9 August 1877 p.4 (additions designed by R.A. Lawson), 11 October 1884 p.2 (purchased by Mutual Life Association), 1 December 1884 p.4 (sale of furniture etc.), 2 October 1893 p.3 (advertisement for The Shades Hotel), 12 November 1896 p.5 (Glasgow Hotel, also known as Shades); Illustrated New Zealand Herald, 1 July 1868 p.6 and supp. (description and illustration); Evening Star, 22 June 1968 (‘Do you remember the Shades Hotel?’), 29 June 1968 (letter to editor), 1 July 1968 (letter to editor), 13 August 1968 (‘They remember Shades Hotel in this city’).

Other references: Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory; telephone directories; Herbert Webb, ‘The legal profession in Dunedin in “the sixties” of last century and somewhat later’ (Hocken Collections, Misc-MS-1283); Dalziel Architects records (Hocken Collections, ARC-0520).