Hewitt’s Building

Built: 1929 (rebuilding)
Address: 45-51 Moray Place
Architect: Leslie D. Coombs (1885-1952)
Builder: Ian George Wallace

Many of Dunedin’s commercial buildings are older than they appear, and many others are younger. Sometimes new fronts were put on old buildings to give them a modern appearance, and sometimes new has been built behind old. This building in Moray Place was erected as a two-storey structure in the 1880s, given a third storey in the 1890s, and then extensively rebuilt and remodelled in the 1920s.

A photograph taken no earlier than 1876 shows a vacant site where the present building now stands. The back part of the section was occupied by the distinctive timber house that was moved by Dr G.M. Emery to Haywood Street, Mornington. By early 1882 a two-storey brick structure had been erected. This was owned by Dr Isaiah de Zouche and occupied by him as a private residence and surgery from 1882 to 1893. De Zouche, a Swiss graduate, was Lecturer in Diseases of Children at the University of Otago and served as President of the Otago Institute. He left Dunedin in 1893 and died in New York in 1895. W.E. Taylor, a prominent organist and music teacher, leased the residence from 1893 to 1900. In 1896 the building was purchased by Ambrose Chiaroni, an art dealer, and in September that year tenders were called for additions to the building. These additions probably included the third storey, which can be seen in a 1904 photograph. The architect of the work was Henton Davey, who occupied the house at the rear.

The building as it appeared in 1904

The building as it appeared in 1904

In the 1920s the building was owned by John George Lewis Hewitt, a lawyer and magistrate who had served as Resident Commissioner to the Cook Islands. Known as ‘Hewitt’s Building’, it was extensively remodelled in 1929 to the designs of Leslie D. Coombs, giving it the appearance of a new building. Floor plans show that internal walls/partitions were also greatly altered, with the second floor divided into two residential flats, the first floor used for offices, and the ground floor for shops. The builder was W.G. Wallace and the painter/decorator Allan Campbell.

The facade was given a restrained Stripped Classical style, with large but shallow pilasters and capitals, an understated cornice, and mullioned steel-framed windows. The last are central to the design, and without the slender profiles of the joinery the character of the building would be very different, and the spare decoration of masonry would not be as effective as it is. The tiled shop fronts and entrance porch are from the same date and are delightful examples of their type that rank among the best still surviving in the city. The interior features a terrazzo stairway and lead-lighted feature window. An unusual feature of the building is a central alleyway that gives access to a rear courtyard.

The completed building was described in the Evening Star:

To the plans for Mr Leslie D. Coombs, a plain yet attractive building has been added to Moray place, opposite the Y.M.C.A., for Mr J. G.L. Hewitt, S.M. The building shows a white plaster cement finish, and has been specially designed for the admittance of the maximum amount of light. In the main entrance way the floors and walls of the two shop fronts have been finished in a distinctly novel style. For the most part, tiles, of an unusual hue, have been used in the finishings, while Australian maple appears around the shop windows. The stairway to the first floor has been finished in terrazzo, with a wrought-iron handrail and balustrade, and at the head of the stair has been inserted a simply-designed leadlight showing a touch of blue amid white glasses. On this floor five rooms suitable for offices, with strong room accommodation and conveniences, have been constructed. On the top floor, a suite of two small flats have been constructed on modern lines. Each flat shows two nicely finished room[s], with a kitchenette and bathroom. All the modern conveniences have been installed and the rooms receive their full share of the morning sun while a good view adds to the charm of the premises as residential quarters. Admittance to the flats is gained by a separate entrance from the main building. The whole work was carried out under the supervision of Mr I.G. Wallace, with the assistance of the following sub-contractors: – Messrs H.S. Bingham and Co. (terrazzo work), Messrs Andrew Lees and Co. (glazing), Messrs Arnold and Raffils (leadlights), and Mr Allan Campbell (painting and decorating).

The southern shop was occupied by the manufacturing jeweller A.J. Holloway for twenty years from 1937, and by the real estate agents G.R. Henderson & Co (later Henderson-Hunter & Co.) from 1958 to 1973. In 1980 Mike Guthrie opened the pioneering Ma Cuisine, a ‘travel agency of food’ which offered local gourmet products, imported cheeses, French bread and patisseries sent from La Boulangerie Francaise in Christchurch , and a ‘wide range of processed delicacies from all over the world (chiefly European and Asian countries). At the rear was a sandwich and soup bar. Ma Cuisine remained in this shop until 1989. Twang Town, selling musical instruments, accessories, and sound equipment, has occupied it since 1994.

The northern shop was occupied by cake shops from 1939 to 1963 (for a time the High Class Cake Shop), hair salons from 1963 to 1988 (Golden Touch and later Cut-n-Curl), and has been Collectibles second-hand clothing since 1989.

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 25 February 1882 p.16 (Dr de Zouche’s removal to Moray Place); Otago Daily Times, 6 April 1895 p.8 (brief description), 25 February 1896 p.4 (sale of property), 2 September 1896 p.3 (additions – H.M. Davey), 11 June 1980 p.16 (Ma Cuisine); Otago Witness, 19 October 1904 p.43 (illustration); Evening Star, 27 August 1929 p.2 (rebuilding – L.D. Coombs), 19 November 1929 p.13 (description).

Other references:
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889].
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council rates books, permit records and deposited plans
Dunedin City Council rates books

Thanks to Chris Scott and Glen Hazelton for their help with Dunedin City Council records.

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