Monthly Archives: November 2013

City Boot Palace

Built: 1885-1886
Address: 202-206 George Street
Architect: James Hislop (1859-1904)
Builder: Arthur White

Advertisement from supplement of the ‘Evening Star’, 10 April 1893. Ref: Eph-E-BUILDINGS-Dunedin-1893-01. Alexander Turnbull Library

The City Boot Palace! The name conjures up images of a vast array of footwear in a setting of Victorian opulence, perhaps presided over by some magnificently moustachioed manager. It may not have been quite like that, but Dunedin’s Boot Palace did have an air of grandeur which set it apart from most George Street buildings of the 1880s.

The building was erected for Benjamin Throp (1845-1933), a dentist who occupied the upstairs rooms and leased out the lower level. Born in Halifax, Yorkshire, Throp arrived in Dunedin with his mother in 1861 and qualified as a dentist in 1868. In the early days he used only hand instruments, and his equipment and supplies had to be imported from England and the United States, often taking over a year to arrive. Up to 1900 the only anaesthetic he used was cocaine, and he later produced his own nitrous oxide (laughing gas). He also made his own gold plate, having worked as a goldsmith during his youth in Australia. Throp’s meticulous notes held in the Hocken Collections record that he made 37,162 extractions over 37 years.

One day, when fitting the gold mining entrepreneur Alex McGeorge with some false teeth, Throp was offered a partnership in the Electric Gold Dredging Company. This proved to be a lucrative venture that ultimately netted him between £20,000 and £30,000. He retired in 1905 to take up farming at Moa Flat Estate, but his son Frank Throp continued the dental practice at the same address until 1942. Two other sons were killed in action during the First World War. Another dentist, Andrew Aitken, kept the rooms up to 1958, and during this period the building remained in the ownership of the Throp family.

Architect James Hislop designed the building, which was erected on the site of the old Dornwell & Rennie butchery. Tenders were called in June 1885. The contractor was Arthur White and the cost approximately £2,800, but White went bankrupt during the course of the contract because his tender had been too low and he found he couldn’t afford to pay all of the creditors connected with the work.

The building has a foundation of Port Chalmers stone that rises above the footpath, and the two storeys over this are constructed of brick rendered with cement plaster. An abundance of ornamentation includes pairs of Corinthian pilasters, arched and triangular hoods, rustication, and more mouldings than you can shake a stick at. Originally, there was a bold and elaborate parapet with balustrades and pediments that balanced the composition. A pillared verandah for the George Street shop front featured decorative cast ironwork. The overall effect was more ostentatious than elegant, but the building made a confident statement on the busy corner site. It is a good example of the later phase of Victorian Renaissance Revival architecture, which in its more florid forms drew from increasingly eclectic influences combined in unconventional ways. Hislop provided a further example of this movement a few years later when he designed the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition buildings of 1889 in a flamboyant quasi-Moorish style.

The Evening Star published a description in January 1886:

Among the new buildings which are being erected in the City, that designed by Mr James Hislop for Mr Throp, and situated at the corner of George und St Andrew streets, is deserving of description. It has two storeys, and is of Italian design. Constructed of Port Chalmers stone and brick, with cement, it presents a very fine appearance. The exterior of the building is, however, more than equalled by its internal disposition and finish, and its novel and chaste fittings do credit to all concerned. In the lower portion of the building a boot business is to be carried on, the apartments in the upper storey being utilised by Mr Throp in his profession as a dentist. The building has a frontage of 75ft to St Andrew street, and of 23ft 6in to George street, and its height from footpath to parapet is 38ft. The shop fronting George street is 40ft x 23ft 6in by 14ft 6in high, and a show-room behind this is 36ft x 22ft. The latter has a tiled floor and hand-painted windows, and, with the shop, is fitted up in a most picturesque style. Over the footpath in front of the shop there is a cast-iron verandah, roofed almost entirely with glass, and on the corner of the two streets stands a novel pediment containing the name of the premises, ‘The City Boot Palace.’ Three plate-class windows, 7ft6in x 12ft, which give light to the shop, are probably the largest containing one piece of glass in the City. The exterior of the shop is in picked red pine and American walnut. The first floor is approached from St Andrew street, and the entrance vestibule belonging to it is neatly tiled. At the top of the stairs there is a lantern light of especially neat design, and the different apartments are lighted with hand-painted windows. The nine rooms which are contained in the floor are all cemented and decorated with stencillings and paintings, which reflect infinite credit on Mr Scott, who had charge of this department of work. The rooms are all 12ft 6in high, and, with their tiled hearths, over-mantles, dadoes, etc., are most luxurious looking. Special attention has been paid to the ventilating of the building, and the system which Mr Hislop has worked upon cannot fail to be attended with beneficial results. An ingenious piece of mechanism in connection with the building is an electric bell, which rings as anyone ascends the stairs leading to Mr Throp’s apartment. It is worked by two steps as they are trod upon, and the mechanism is so arranged as to be temporarily thrown out of gear by anyone descending the stairs. If Mr Throp is to be visited by burglars, this little device may come in useful in more ways than one. This building has been in course of erection since July, and will be finished in a week or two.

Advertisement from the Otago Witness, 20 February 1907 p.84. Image from Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

Otago Witness, 10 June 1908 p.92. Image from Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

Throp took occupation of his rooms around the beginning of March 1886 , and the Boot Palace opened soon after. The City Boot Palace had been established in 1883, when it succeeded the business of the boot maker John Elliott. The same name was used elsewhere in Australasia: John Hunter’s City Boot Palace in Sydney opened in 1877, and both branches and separate businesses with the name operated in centres that included Adelaide (opened 1882), Brisbane (1888), Perth (1893), and Hobart (1906). In New Zealand there were boot palaces in cities and towns that included Timaru (opened 1885), Invercargill (1885), Oamaru (1886), Napier (1893), New Plymouth (1903), and Christchurch (1906). The name became almost generic and although there may have been some sort of licence or franchise agreement, the New Zealand boot palaces appear to have been independent businesses. The Dunedin manager from 1885 to 1908 was Joseph McLoy McKay, who in the Edwardian period ran humorous advertisements such as the one above, which emphasises the bargain prices and good value of the merchandise. Some featured the character ‘Parsimonious Sam’, whose penny pinching ways were satisfied by the deals to be had at the City Boot Palace, suggesting that they should be good enough for anyone.

The building in 1949, during its days as ‘Fashion Corner’. Perpetual Trustees records, Hocken Collections, S13-583b.

An evocative depiction of the intersection: ‘Street corner’ by Ralph Miller, conté and wash c.1945-1955. Reproduced by kind permission of Brian Miller.

A wartime advertisement for Fashion Corner from Otago Daily Times, 4 July 1944 p.3.

The boot palace ran for over 40 years and eventually vacated the building in 1929. It was then fitted with new shop fronts with mahogany facings and granite, and a new steel hanging verandah. The alterations were designed by the architects Mandeno & Fraser, and the contractors were the Love Construction Company. The women’s clothing store Fashion Corner opened for business in December 1929. It operated until 1958, when the ANZ Bank took the building as a branch office. It was around this time that the parapet ornamentation was destroyed and the St Andrew Street entrance moved. Old interior features have also disappeared through numerous renovations.

In 1983 the architects Salmond & Burt drew up plans for a new bank building on the site, but the scheme was abandoned. After nearly 40 years the ANZ consolidated on a new site in 1997. The ground floor is now occupied by the clothing retailers Jay Jays, making it once again a ‘fashion corner’. Most of the external character remains intact, and with some restoration perhaps the building will one day reiterate the vivacious statement it once made on this busy retail corner.

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 21 July 1883 p.29 (J. Elliott at 75 George St), 6 March 1886 p.16 (Throp’s new premises); Otago Daily Times, 30 May 1885 p.3 (Boot Palace business sold by Hislop), 1 April 1886 p.2 (Boot Palace in ‘new premises’), 21 April 1886 p.4 (Arthur White insolvency), 26 November 1889 p.6 (Hislop named as architect); Evening Star 5 June 1885 p.1 (call for tenders for removal of old buildings), 11 June 1885 p.1 (call for tenders for construction);30 January 1886 p.2 (description), 10 December 1929 p.5 (description of alterations).

Other references:
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans (Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889])
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, [1892]
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
New Zealand Dental Journal, vol. 58 (1962) pp.88-89; vol. 76 (1980) pp.137-188
Sinclair, R.S.M. Kawarau Gold (Dunedin: Whitcombe & Tombs printers, 1962), pp.44-45.
Throp, Benjamin: Dental practice records book. Hocken Collections Misc-MS-0871.
Entwisle, Peter. Draft report DDPL110-35, Dunedin City Council Heritage Schedule Review (and further discussion with the writer).

Otago Harbour Board offices

Built: 1884 (remodelled 1936)
Address: 43 Jetty Street
Architect: F.W. Petre (1847-1918)
Builder: James Small

The Otago Harbour Board probably spent more money on construction and development than any other body in 1880s Otago, but they were quite frugal when it came to their office buildings. The Victoria Channel in the Otago Harbour cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to develop, but when the Board commissioned architect F.W. Petre to design new offices in March 1884, it was with the brief that the cost should be no more than £2,000.

The Board had been constituted in 1874, succeeding the Harbour Department of the Provincial Government. Its first purpose-built offices were erected in Cumberland Street in 1877 and demolished in 1885 because they impeded the completion of street realignment. The land selected for replacement offices at the corner of Jetty and Vogel streets was owned by the Board and had been reclaimed in works carried out in the late 1870s.

Francis William Petre (1847-1948) may have been the first New Zealand-born architect, and he earned the nickname ‘Lord Concrete’ for his innovations and many designs in that material. His best-known works included the Catholic cathedrals of Dunedin and Christchurch, and the Dominican Priory in Smith Street. His surviving commercial buildings are scarce, but include the Guardian Royal Exchange Buildings and Mansfield Apartments (both in Liverpool Street). Petre was at home working in both Classical and Gothic styles, but for the Harbour Board he used the Renaissance Revival (Italian) style generally favoured for commercial designs. The proportions and rhythm of the building (including arched windows to both floors) foreshadow his later design for the Equitable Insurance Building (Phoenix House). This more elaborate stone and brick building was erected between 1886 and 1887 on the corner of Rattray and Vogel streets, and shared with the Harbour Board offices the same builder and clerk of works.

Francis William Petre, architect.

Tenders for construction were called in May 1884 and James Small’s tender for £2,239 was accepted subject to ‘reduced cornices’. By December the building was close enough to completion for the Board to hold its first meeting in the new boardroom, and the final cost was recorded in their hefty ledger (now held in the Hocken Collections) as £2,590. The demand for reduced cornices is the likely reason that the proportions of the building were not entirely convincing, with the parapet looking a little mean in relation to the rest of the elevations. A small parapet pediment highlighted the main entrance on Vogel Street, but this entrance was later moved to Jetty Street, reorientating the building. The depth of the building was narrow, with the footprint being a U shape (almost an L shape) that left space for a small yard behind. This allowed valuable natural light to penetrate through windows in the rear wall, but the yard was progressively built over by later owners from about 1923 onwards.

The Harbour Board occupied the building from 1884 to 1899, when it considered such weighty issues as a proposed harbour bridge (a hot topic for some years), the strike of 1890, the construction of large new wharves, and the retrenchment that came with the long depression. In 1899 the Board’s offices moved to modest new premises and these were in turn replaced in 1912. Occupants of the Jetty Street buildings after 1899 included the Government Shipping Office, and the grain and seed merchants Ronaldson & Farquharson.

The building c.1935. The principal entrance is no longer in its original location, having been removed from the central bay facing Vogel Street to one of the bays in Jetty Street. (Toitū/Otago Settlers Museum 80-30-1)

The building after its 1936 remodelling. The old slate roof and chimneys remained in place. The entrance was again moved, this time to the far end of the Jetty Street frontage. It has a striking leadlight window. (Toitū/Otago Settlers Museum 80-27-1)

From 1923 to 1974 the building was the head office of Donald Reid & Co., one of Otago’s largest stock and station agencies.  The company’s offices had previously been in their nearby wool and grain store in Vogel Street.  Extensive interior and exterior remodelling in the Art Deco style was designed by the architects Stone & Sturmer in 1936. The following year the same architects designed a large new wool store for Reid’s in Parry Street. Architect Gorton R. Stone had travelled with a firm representative in Australia investigating store design, and appears to have been the partner that Reid’s principally dealt with.

The remodelling of Victorian buildings in Art Deco and emerging modernist styles was popular in Dunedin from the early 1930s onwards. Stone & Sturmer were also responsible for redesigns of the Masonic Hotel (Angus Motors), Royal Albert Hotel, and Bell Hill House. Mandeno & Fraser’s revamp of the Manchester Unity Chambers was another early example. 43 Jetty Street building still reads as a Victorian design due to the retention of most of the original fenestration and glazing. The rhythm of the longer facade with its bays and arches is a pared back version of what existed previously,  although new decorative elements were introduced through stepped mouldings and horizontal grooves. A new ground floor entrance across two bays incorporated large leadlight windows, and leadlights were also a prominent feature of the interior. The name ‘Donald Reid & Company Limited’  was added at parapet level in Art Deco lettering (this survives beneath hoardings).  Two bays on Vogel Street were replaced with utilitarian plastering and glazing (lavatories and services were moved to this location). The Love Construction Company was awarded the contract for the work (after submitting the low tender of £2,555) and exterior plastering was carried out by W. Ashton & Sons (£250).

In 1974 the offices of Donald Reid & Co. moved to 1 Vogel Street. Later occupants of their old premises included the photographer Ross Coombes. The Vogel street facade was again altered in 1976 when the former central bay was extensively altered with a large roller door put in at ground floor level and ‘Brownbuilt’ cladding installed above. Large hoardings at parapet level advertised Woodstock Furniture for many years, gradually losing letters like the Sunshine Foods sign in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (for those who know their seventies sitcoms).

In recent years the building has looked tired and rundown, but In October 2012 its owners received a $10,000 grant from the Dunedin Heritage Fund towards earthquake strengthening and adaptive re-use. It looks as though its next chapter will be a brighter one, and it will be interesting how the unusual layout is reworked, and if the exterior is closely returned to its 1880s or 1930s appearance. It is one of the earliest Vogel Street buildings, on a key corner site, and could become one of the gems of the Warehouse Precinct rejuvenation.

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 16 May 1884 p.4 (plans accepted), 3 December 1884 p.4 (meeting in new offices), 12 May 1886 p.4 (Equitable Insurance).

Other references:
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans (Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889])
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, [1892]
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
Minute book, Otago Harbour Board records, Hocken Collections (AG-200-11/02/06)
Ledger, Otago Harbour Board records, Hocken Collections (AG-200-11/13/02)
Minutes. Reid Farmers records, Hocken Collections (00-121)
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)
Angus, John H. Donald Reid Otago Farmers Ltd : a history of service to the farming community of Otago (Dunedin, 1978).