RSA Building (Arrow House)

Built: 1920-1921 (additions completed 1938, 1946)
Address: 469 Moray Place
Architect: William Henry Dunning (additions by Miller & White)
Builders: Fletcher Construction Co.

Living in extended peacetime and the relative indulgence of the modern middle class, I find it difficult to imagine how the soldiers who returned from the First World War adjusted to life back in Dunedin, let alone what they had been through on active service. It was only natural that many, though not all, wanted to preserve social bonds they had formed and build new ones based on common experiences. The need for a soldiers’ club was recognised early in the war, and in 1915 a group from the Otago Boys’ High School Old Boys’ Association purchased Atahapara, the two-storeyed former residence of the historian and long-serving local coroner Dr Thomas Morland Hocken (1836-1910).  Here on the corner of Moray Place and Burlington (formerly Macandrew) Street, they began the Anzac Soldiers’ Club, and Hocken’s old residence became known as Anzac House.

The cover of the sheet music for ‘When the Boys Come Home’, a song written and composed in Dunedin about the return of soldiers from the First World War.

A larger national organisation, the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, formed in 1916 and quickly grew a large membership. In January 1918 a local committee was put together for the purpose of procuring a site and erecting a memorial club building. The architect W.H. Dunning prepared plans for a site on the corner of Moray Place and View Street, and a drive to raise funds was begun. The Anzac Club then bowed out, going into voluntary liquidation and offering its property to the RSA. Dunning’s plans for new buildings on the Anzac House site were approved in April 1919, and in March 1920 a description was published in the Otago Daily Times:

The club will be-a two-storeyed edifice in the modern renaissance style, and will be carried out in brick, finished with concrete. The frontage to Moray place will be 34ft,  to Burlington street 87ft. The entrance will be at the corner of these streets, and will give access to a wide vestibule, on the right of which will be the reading room, with the offices on the left. The hall leading from the vestibule will give access to the canteen and tea lounge on the ground floor, and to the billiard, board, and common rooms, by means of a wide staircase, on the upper floor. The canteen is to be lighted by a dome roof, and will have a cosy inglenook round the wide tiled fireplace. This may also be used later as a supper room in connection with the social hall, which will be built subsequently, or when funds permit. The spacious tea lounge will be 40ft by 24ft in area, and this will give access by French doors to a covered verandah, occupying nearly the whole length of the Burlington street frontage. A very complete kitchen and servery will be attached to the lounge, and also to the canteen. The billiard room upstairs will be sufficiently large to accommodate four full-sized tables. Hot and cold showers will also be provided upstairs; in fact, the sanitary arrangements throughout the building are to be of the most complete and up-to-date character. The hall, which it is intended to annex to the building at a later date, will be provided with a stage and eating accommodation, up and down stairs, for about 400 people. The exterior decoration of the building, without being of a very elaborate order, will be most imposing, and, with the advantage of a wide street frontage, the clubhouse will have a most imposing and monumental appearance, of which our soldiers and the city generally may well be proud.

General Sir William Riddell Birdwood laid the foundation stone on 12 June 1920, and J.H. Walker (chairman of the fundraising committee) officially opened the completed building on 24 June 1921. The Fletcher Construction Co. were the builders and the cost was £8,500.

The building covered a site essentially triangular in shape. The style of architecture was transitional, and reminiscent of other Dunning designs including Barton’s Buildings (Stafford House) and the Albany Street flats. Columns, pilasters, cornices, rustication, and decorative mouldings suggest a stylised take on the Renaissance Revival manner, and the term ‘Renaissance’ is found in reports about both this building and Barton’s Buildings.

The Burlington Street elevation as it originally appeared, prior to additions and alterations.

The original ground floor plan.

Additions were made 1938, when the ground floor social hall was extended down Burlington Street. The steepness of the street and the rock beneath the additions gave a striking effect to the enlarged structure. The architects were Miller & White, who effectively worked in the existing style, possibly based on drawings left by Dunning, who had died some years earlier. The same firm designed more extensive additions in 1944, but these were not completed for another two years. They extended the first floor to the same extent as the earlier addition, making space for another billiard room. At the same time a miniature rifle range and assembly room were built beneath a new roof structure, increasing the height to three storeys, though the top floor was set back and obscured from the street. Existing internal spaces were also rearranged making room for a lounge, women members’ room, committee room, and recreation and games room. The work was carried out by Mitchell Bros and the redeveloped building was opened by Sir Donald Cameron (Mayor of Dunedin) on 18 December 1946. The redevelopment cost a little over £20,000.

A large fire broke out in the early morning of 17 April 1962. The building was so extensively damaged that the Otago Daily Times initially described it as being destroyed. The following day it was reported that ‘apart from repair work, little structural rebuilding will be necessary on the first floor…but the second floor and roof will have to be rebuilt’. The cost of the damage was estimated at £60,000. Extensive reinstatement work was designed by N.Y.A. Wales (of Mason & Wales). A  small corner tower and other masonry and detail at parapet level were removed, and the reinstated rifle range or indoor bowling space on the second floor featured sloping glazed walls. The building was officially reopened on 6 April 1963. Around the same time the RSA acquired the freehold of the land (previously held leasehold from the Presbyterian Church Board of Property).

The next major renovations were carried out between 1971 and 1972 at a cost of approximately $70,000 to $80,000. It was reported that the work ‘will modernise the clubrooms, turning the second floor into an area for social activities and extending the charter activities throughout the first floor, except for the offices and reading room’.  A permit for glassing in the balcony was issued in 1978. After facing a financial crisis, the Dunedin RSA sold and vacated the building in 1996. In 2009 it was extensively refitted as commercial office space for owners Beach Road Limited (Grant McLauchlan). It was subsequently renamed Arrow House after its anchor tenant, Arrow International.

It is many years since the RSA occupied the building, but although it is not an official memorial like the nearby cenotaph in Queens Gardens, it remains a significant built connection to the soldiers who served in conflicts overseas.RSA_MorayPlaceRSA_MorayPlace3Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 23 October 1915 p.5 (Soldiers’ Club House), 14 January 1916 p.8 (Anzac Soldiers’ Club), 29 December 1917 p.8 (sketch plans by Dunning), 24 September 1917 p.4 (liquidation of Anzac Soldiers’ Club), 21 January 1918 p.2 (plans for Moray Place and View Street site), 24 April 1919 p.8 (plans approved), 27 March 1920 p.6 (description), 14 June 1920 p.6 (laying of foundation stone), 19 December 1946 p.8 (opening of new wing), 17 April 1962 p.1 (fire), 18 April 1962 p.1 (fire), 19 April 1962 p.5 (fire), 6 April 1963 p.10 (opening of reinstated and redeveloped buildings), 8 May 1963 p.1 (purchase of land), 28 March 1995 p.1 (future of building to be debated), 13 August 1996 p.4 (RSA vote to sell buildings), 18 February 2009 p.22 (Beach Road Ltd redevelopment); Evening Star, 24 May 1921 p.7 (opening)

Other references:
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)

 

4 thoughts on “RSA Building (Arrow House)

  1. Gloria Harris

    Really enjoyed reading the history of this beautiful building, keep up the wonderful job you are doing providing us with more information on our wonderful heritage buildings

    Reply
  2. Athol Parks

    That’s interesting: I didn’t realise the original building had been altered so much. I always thought the facade felt ‘right’, at least in its immediate pre-Arrow form.

    Reply
    1. David Murray Post author

      Yes, it’s a handsome building even with the changes. I like the additions down Burlington Street. The changes at parapet level were a pity, and the glassing in of the verandah detracts a little from the original design. The window frames were originally a dark colour as you can see in the top image.

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