Dresden Building (Capitol Building)

Built: 1912-1913
Address: 67-69 Princes Street
Architects: Salmond & Vanes
Builder: G. Lawrence & Sons

At the end of the nineteenth century there were two big music firms in New Zealand: Charles Begg & Co. and ‘The Dresden’. The head offices and showrooms of these businesses were right next door to each other in Princes Street.

The Dresden Pianoforte Manufacturing & Agency Company had been established by David Theomin and Frederick Michaelis in 1883, in part of an older block of buildings designed by David Ross and built in 1867. These premises, between the Octagon and Moray Place in Princes Street, included a music warehouse (for sale of instruments, sheet music etc.), piano and organ showrooms, piano manufacturing workshops, a concert room, and rooms for professional music teachers. The company claimed that its Dunedin premises alone never held fewer than 200 to 250 large instruments, such as pianos, organs, and harmoniums. An innovative hire purchase scheme was hugely successful, and by 1907 the Dresden had 258 employees, and branches or agencies in 60 towns throughout New Zealand.

A contract for the erection of a new seven-storey building designed by Salmond & Vanes was signed on 17 February 1912. The site was immediately to the south of the old one, where two other buildings from Ross’s 1867 block were demolished. The old Dresden premises (facelifted in the 1940s) survive today and are occupied by Moray Gallery and Toast Bar. Salmond & Vanes’ records in the Hocken Collections include two sketch drawings which show some of the evolution of the design. They are for buildings one storey lower than the final design, apparently on the original site, and one features striking half-timbered gables in Tudor style. Because of the fall of the land, two of the levels would be built below the street.

Hocken Collections MS-3821

The total cost of the building was £18,504, putting it among the most expensive erected in Dunedin in the first two decades of the twentieth century. £1,000 was spent on tiling alone, with the exterior decorated with yellow and black Faience tiles manufactured by the Leeds Fireclay Company (Burmantofts Pottery). Yellow and black were the Dresden company colours. The overall style was a mixture Tudor Revival and Art Nouveau styles with three three-storeyed oriel window bays, and arched window openings on the top floor. The building is one of the city’s earliest examples of reinforced concrete construction; and steel framing for the frontage included a 10-tonne girder manufactured by A. & T. Burt, reported to be the largest girder put into a Dunedin building up to that time. It was also among the tallest buildings in the city, with the hill it was built on giving it a higher total elevation than the larger New Zealand Express Company building in Bond Street. The builders were G. Lawrence & Sons, with Turnbull & Jones contracted for the electrical work and George Davies & Co. for the heating. Completion of the work was recorded by Salmond & Vanes on 20 June 1913. Theomin must have been pleased with it, as the following year his company commissioned the same architects to design a branch building in Cashel Street, Christchurch, which though smaller was very similar in style.

Sheet music department

Organ showroom

Christchurch branch building

In 1912 the piano was at the peak of its popularity in New Zealand, with more pianos imported that year than in any other before or since. Annual imports had increased gradually from 1,200 in 1878 to 5,700 in 1912. Most were German, but the First World War soon changed that. In 1915 the Dresden Piano Company changed its name to the Bristol Piano Company ‘for reasons which will be obvious to patriotic citizens’. There is evidence of real prejudice against the firm and its owners. A correspondent from Gisborne wrote to the sensationalist Truth newspaper complaining that Theomin was German, favoured German products, and employed Germans in influential positions. The paper defended the company’s founder, explaining that he was born in England and was the son of a Prussian Jew. The firm’s new name was taken from Theomin’s birthplace: Bristol. Other German or German-sounding names were changed during the war or shortly afterwards: the Dunedin Liedertafel became the Royal Dunedin Male Choir, Brunswick Street in South Dunedin became Loyalty Street, and members of the Hallenstein family altered their name to Halsted.

Advertisement from the Evening Star, 2 January 1915, explaining the name change

Examples of sheet music written by Dunedin musicians and published by the Bristol Piano Company: ‘British Boys’ (1915) and ‘Tropical Moon’ (1930)

The Bristol Piano Company building was a hub of musical activity in the 1920s and even had its own concert chamber, but the depression, new forms of entertainment, and declining sales of pianos, were hard on the company. In 1933 the Dunedin building was sold to a syndicate of Dunedin businessmen and rebuilt as shops and professional offices. It was noted at this time that a stone wall constructed by convict labour in 1862 could still be seen in the basement. The building was renamed the Capitol Building and is still known by that name. The Bristol Piano Company moved to Dowling Street and ceased trading in Dunedin in 1936. The national company went into liquidation in 1938. A later music firm in Dunedin called the Bristol Piano Company was a separate entity.

Occupants of offices in the building have included lawyers, doctors, and dentists. In the early years many of the rooms were taken by music teachers and the Barth School of Music (1921-1972) were long-standing tenants. This school was run by three sisters: Beatrice, Irene, and Ruby. They had a room each on the fourth floor for individual lessons, and there was a classroom where they taught theory to the younger pupils and hosted meetings. They were leading members of the Society of Women Musicians of Otago, and Beatrice administered the Dunedin Centre of Trinity College of Music.

A photography studio designed by the architects Miller & White was added above the existing top storey of the building in 1933. This was originally occupied by the photographer J.J. Webster, and in 1954 was taken over by Campbell Photography, which continued there to 1986. The lawyers Albert Alloo and Sons are now the longest-standing occupants of the building.

Much of the façade detail has been destroyed or covered over, including decorative tilework, parapet railings and detailing, and capitals. The arched window openings on the fourth floor have been replaced with square ones. The essential form of the building remains unchanged, however, and the original window joinery of the oriel windows is also mostly intact. Maybe it will return to the yellow and black Dresden colours one day. For nearly 60 years the building was much higher than its neighbours, until Evan Parry House was built on the site of the Bristol’s old rivals, Begg’s. It still makes a strong statement today, being tall and imposing among a collection of mostly lower buildings, and bringing variety to the streetscape.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 17 April 1867 p.1 (erection of old building), 23 April 1900 p.4 (about the company), 1 September 1909 p.3 (about the company), 22 August 1912 p.6 (new building); Otago Witness 18 May 1867 p.11 (old building); Grey River Argus, 7 January 1915 p.5 (name change); N.Z. Truth, 10 April 1915 p.7 (Theomin and Germany); Evening Star, 31 May 1933 p.3 (image and reference to wall). All references except the Evening Star sourced from Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

Other references: Dalziel Architects records, Hocken Collections (MS-2758/0727); Salmond Anderson Architects records, Hocken Collections (MS-3821); Stone’s and Wise’s directories; Suzanne Court, ‘Barth, Beatrice Mary’ from Dictionary of New Zealand Biography; W.H. Morton Cameron, Ports and Cities of the World (London: Globe Encyclopedia Co., [1924]).

Temperance Hall (The Choral Hall)

Built: 1873-1874
Address: 21-27 Moray Place
Architect: Robert Forrest
Builder: James Gore

An early lithograph of the Temperance Hall (Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum)

This post continues the theme of public halls with the Oxford Buildings, known originally as the Temperance Hall and later as the Choral Hall. Completed in 1874, this venue was erected for the Dunedin Temperance Hall Company, a group formed chiefly by members of the Pioneer Lodge of the Temperance Order of Good Templars. The building was intended for the use of various local temperance groups, which were then part of a large, vigorous, and influential movement. They aimed to fight what one local clergyman described as ‘great evils arising from intoxicating drinks’. The hall was also available for general hire.

On the ground floor were offices and the ‘lower hall’ or meeting room, which measured 25 x 41 feet. On the first floor was the larger ‘upper hall’, which measured 72 x 43 feet and contained sitting room for 750 people. This hall had a stage and gallery and an ‘elliptical cove’ ceiling of varnished kauri with sunlights of stained glass. Kauri timber was used throughout the building. The facade was designed in a simple Renaissance Revival style, with rustication and round-headed windows on the ground floor, and curved and triangular pediments above the windows on the first floor. The building was described in the Otago Daily Times as being of a ‘plain but substantial character’.

The architect was Robert Forrest and the hall was one of his early works in his transition from the role of building contractor to the role of architect. The building has been mistaken for a William Mason design due to confusion with an unrealised theatre project that G.R. West put forward for a nearby site around the same time. The builder was James Gore, who submitted a tender of £2,778. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor, Andrew Mercer, on 26 December 1873, following a procession in which 1,200 people took part. A bottle placed in the stone contained a scroll signed by officers of various lodges, newspapers, coins, and a company prospectus. The building officially opened with a soiree, concert, and dance, on 14 August 1874.

Otago Daily Times, 11 March 1878 p.1 (from Papers Past)

For decades, balls were held (the floors were designed with this in mind), dancing lessons given, and many concerts and other entertainments put on. The Kennedy Family were among the first to appear in the hall with their performances of popular Scottish ballads in 1874. The world billiards champion John Roberts played here in 1876, and the tight-rope walker Henry Morris (‘The New Zealand Blondin’) performed in 1878. A waxwork exhibition featured likenesses of the Kelly Gang and other famous people. One series of chamber music concerts was organised by Raphael Squarise and Arthur Barmeyer through their Otago Conservatorio of Music. A four-day Maori Carnival was held 1902.

Religious meetings were held in the building for nearly 40 years. The Salvation Army’s first New Zealand meetings were held at the hall on 1 April 1883, both preceding and following the better-known outdoor gathering commemorated by a brass plaque on Cargill’s Monument. The Army continued to use the hall for three years. From 1886 the Open Brethren hired it, and it was at this time that the name of the building was changed from the Temperance Hall to the Choral Hall. The Brethren were led by the evangelist Alfred Brunton, who had earlier preached at Farley’s Hall. He led Brunton’s Choir, a group of up to 100 singers that was known throughout Otago, favouring the new style of emotional (and sometimes sentimental) Moody and Sankey songs. This ministry through music may explain the adoption of the Choral Hall name. Brunton died in 1900 and the Brethren continued to hold their meetings in the hall until 1920, when they moved to a new building.

Many clubs and societies met in the Choral Hall. The Dunedin Burns Club held meetings and gave concerts, and from 1891 to 1906 the Otago Art Society held its annual exhibitions in the building. Frances Hodgkins, then just beginning her career, was among those who exhibited. There were also many political meetings and lectures, the latter including such topics as ‘Reincarnation as a Factor in Evolution’ (by a theosophist) and ‘Eighteen Months in the Canadian Far North’ (for the Otago Institute).

11 July 1889 was a significant day in the history of New Zealand. The inaugural meeting of the country’s first women’s union, the Tailoresses’ Union, was held at the Choral Hall and Rev. Rutherford Waddell gave a speech denouncing working conditions and ‘sweated labour’ in factories. This contributed to the breaking ‘sweating scandal’ that led to the Sweating Commission of 1890, which was in turn instrumental in the passing of the Factories Act and other legislation by a new Liberal Government.

Otago Daily Times, 14 July 1890 p.1 (from Papers Past)

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) met in the hall and the Women’s Franchise League of New Zealand grew out of this, holding its inaugural meeting at the Choral Hall on 28 April 1892. This group played a pivotal role in promoting women’s suffrage and widely circulated the petition that was so influential in the successful campaign for women to be given the vote.

In the early 1920s the first-floor hall was converted to a clothing factory for Butterworth Brothers, who employed about 40 staff on the premises, putting their robe department in the gallery and machinists on the main floor. A fire broke out on 16 March 1927, the same day that thousands of people gathered in the streets for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. The blaze extensively damaged the first floor and roof, but the ground floor (where the auctioneer Spedding used the old lower hall) escaped with little more than water damage. The building was rebuilt, but the panelling that can be seen in the hall today suggests that the polished kauri ceiling was lost. The space was later used by Sharland & Co. (wholesale druggists) and the Dunedin Frock Manufacturing Company.

ChoralHall

The Temperance Hall Company sold the building as early as 1882, due to debt and the difficulty of competing with newer halls. In the late nineteenth century it was owned by D.C. Cameron and in the early twentieth century it passed to the Taylor Trustees. In 1932 they employed the architects Miller & White to design extensive alterations to the building which were carried out by the Glue Construction Company at a cost of £2,500. This saw the removal of the lower hall and the building of three shops on the ground floor. A new verandah used Wunderlich pressed metal, while shop fronts featured Australian rose mahogany woodwork, decorative leadlights, and orange and black terrazzo slabs. This work was described in the Evening Star as being in ‘ultra-modern style’. The main staircase was rebuilt in a new location and a lift installed by Turnbull & Jones, for which a small penthouse was added to the roof. The first floor facade decoration seems to have been left unaltered at this time, but in 1944 it was stripped of its ornamentation and given a plainer style that was then fashionable. A new name, ‘Oxford Buildings’, was added to the parapet in relief lettering.

The auctioneers Spedding’s (succeeded by Scandrett’s) took one of the shops. Eliza Squire (a milliner and seamstress) occupied the middle one from 1939 and remained there for twenty years. The other shop, at 25 Moray Place, was occupied by Modern Books from 1943 to 1954. This was run by the Dunedin Co-Operative Book Society (one of just a few bookshop co-operatives in New Zealand), which had socialist ideals and aimed ‘to foster the reading and writing and production of books, pamphlets, circulars and other publications of a nature that will promote an active and intelligent interest in progressive ideas and activities’. The shop specialised in New Zealand books, history, music,and philosophy, as well as general literature. Landfall editor Charles Brasch was involved with the management and day-to-day running of the shop, which was frequented by the local literati. Janet Frame sometimes browsed there in its last year or so, hoping to ‘glimpse one of the literary figures of Dunedin or one visiting from up north’. From roughly 1956 to 1976 the same shop was occupied by Catholic Supplies.

The old upper hall became the Manhattan Lounge in 1960. The space remained essentially unchanged but the old gallery became a bar (originally a coffee bar) with a dance area on the floor below. The Lounge was a popular venue up to the 1980s, and later became the Manhattan Theatre. At the time of writing it is used by the Vertical Aerial Dance studio, which offers specialist pole dancing classes. The shops are now occupied by Modern Miss (vintage clothing), and Whiteroom (sellers of designware, furniture, lighting, and contemporary art). The building looks well kept but the grey exterior colour scheme is a little at odds with the warm colours of the terrazzo.

A lot more could be included in the story of this building. In pulling together various strands I’ve been impressed by the national significance of its social and cultural history. It’s a frequently overlooked treasure, easily worthy of registration as a category I historic place.

OxfordBuildings_shops

ChoralDetail1

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 25 March 1873 p.2 (meeting for proposed hall), 14 April 1873 p.2 (meeting – site put forward), 17 May 1873 p.2 (formation of company), 14 August 1873 p.3 (West’s proposed hall), 27 November 1873 p.4 (tender accepted), 17 January 1874 p.2 (Rev. James Clark on alcohol), 21 January 1874 p.6 (laying of foundation stone), 26 June 1874 p.2 (progress), 7 August 1874 p.3 (description – nearing completion), 15 August 1874 p.2 (opening and description), 21 August 1874 p.2 (finishing touches), 29 August 1874 p.8 (description), 18 September 1876 p.3 (John Roberts, billiards champion), 25 August 1882 p.3 (buildings to be sold), 28 September 1882 p.2 (sale), 27 June 1883 p.3 (lease to Salvation Army), 8 June 1889 p.2 (Sweating Scandal meeting), 29 April 1892 p.3 (Women’s Franchise League meeting), 5 July 1920 p.4 (Open Brethren move out), 17 March 1927 p.10 (fire), 18 March 1927 p.13 (fire); Evening Star, 17 March 1927 p.6 (fire), 20 September 1932 p.2 (alterations), 24 January 1933 p.1 (alterations).

Other references: Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory; telephone directories; Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans; Barrowman, Rachel, A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand (Wellington, 1991) pp.125-127; Frame, Janet, An Angel at My Table (New York, 1985) pp.126-129; Stacpoole, John, William Mason: The First New Zealand Architect (Auckland, 1971); Hocken Collections MS-2758/0288 (Miller & White plans)

Farley’s Buildings

Built: 1863
Address: 118-146 Princes Street
Architect: Charles G. Smith
Builder: Not identified

These buildings may be scruffy and disfigured, but they’re among the richest sites of social and cultural history in Dunedin, which makes them more exciting than many structures with grand porticos or pretty turrets. They are also among the very oldest commercial buildings in the city.

Farley’s Buildings were erected for Henry Farley (c.1824-1880), a colourful entrepreneur whose business ventures in Dunedin included the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and Farley’s Arcade (later redeveloped as Broadway). The brick buildings with stone foundations were erected between July and November 1863, and a report in the Daily Telegraph told readers: ‘Mr C.G. Smith is the architect of this very comprehensive pile of buildings, and its design, as a specimen of architecture, is extremely creditable to him’. Not much is known about Charles Smith, but he designed Dunedin’s Theatre Royal (1862), and claimed to have designed theatres in Sydney and San Francisco. He later worked on the West Coast.

Most of the buildings in Princes Street at this time were timber constructions, so Farley’s Buildings represented striking progress at a time when fires were frequent and gold rush money was still only beginning to make an impact. The buildings originally had unrendered brick facades but photographs show that the upper brickwork deteriorated quickly. By 1874 it had been plastered over, although decorative details (including cornices and window surrounds) were preserved in rendered form, and the name ‘Farley’s Buildings’ was added to the parapet in relief lettering. Small additions with windows to Dowling Street were made around the late 1880s, when the street was reformed.

A Daniel Mundy photograph of the buildings taken in 1864, just a few months after they were built (Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum, Album 54)

A photograph taken around 1870 (Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum 57-98-1)

Part of a Burton Brothers panorama from 1874, showing the plastering of the brickwork.

The original block of buildings was the present 126-146 Princes Street. It included five ground-floor shops, upstairs offices, a music/assembly hall, and a photography studio. The studio was in the portion that rises above the Dowling street corner. It was taken by Tait Brothers (Royal Caledonian Photographic Rooms) in late 1863 or early 1864. Later photographers here included Henry Frith, John McGregor (Edinburgh Portrait Rooms), John Gittins Wills (American Photo Company), and Charles Clarke Armstrong. The artist Max Walker had a studio and flat here from 1940 to 1942. He was one of Dunedin’s most out-of-the-closet gay men (at a time when homosexuality was illegal) and was known for his riotous parties. His lease ended after a visit from a particularly rowdy group of Norwegian sailors.

The assembly or concert room originally housed the Dunedin Music Hall, soon better known as Farley’s Hall, under the high roof structure that can still be seen at the northern end of the buildings. It measured 65 feet by 26 feet and was 16 feet high. Events held in the 1860s included balls, dance classes, bazaars, banquets, Nicholas Chevalier’s art exhibition, a wax works display from Madame Sohier’s in Melbourne,  and Mr Hamilton’s practical phrenology demonstrations which included the examination of ‘Living heads of noted men of Dunedin’.  The hall could only hold about 300, so larger new venues were soon favoured for popular entertainments.

An advertisement for one of the lectures of Mrs Charles Fanshawe Evereste (Alice Marryat). Otago Daily Times 5 December 1864 p.6 (Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand)

There were many political meetings: Julius Vogel spoke here as did supporters of James MacAndrew prior to his re-election as Superintendent in 1867. The Otago Provincial Council used the hall as its chambers from 1864 to 1866 (prior to completion of the Provincial Government Buildings), making the buildings a significant site of government in the heady gold rush years. The many other gatherings in the hall took in meetings of company directors, lodges, interest groups, and societies, including the Acclimatisation Society, Caledonian Society, Horticultural Society, Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, and the Benevolent Institution (which also had offices in the buildings).

The hall was regularly used for religious meetings, notably the Brethren services led by evangelist Alfred Brunton, who was said to have been the first to introduce the colourful Moody and Sankey choruses to Dunedin. One of Brunton’s famous converts was the bush ranger Henry Garrett, who in 1868 became a member of the congregation but brought much embarrassment on them by burgling the chemist shop below. Brunton’s group moved to the Garrison Hall in 1879 but another group continued to meet in Farley’s Hall up to 1900.

Upstairs rooms were set up as offices with the first tenant being the barrister and solicitor G.E. Barton. Thomas Bracken of the Saturday Advertiser had rooms in the building in 1878, but so far I haven’t been able to confirm if he was there in 1876, when he ran a competition to set to music his verses ‘God Defend New Zealand’. It’s possible the words were written here. Other tenants in the nineteenth century included John Irvine (Dunedin’s first professional portrait painter), David Henderson (lithographer), Alfred Boot (dentist), John Hewitt (dentist), Alexander Hunter (surgeon), Edmund Quick (consular agent), and Abraham Solomon (pawnbroker). Solomon, who was a leading member of the local Jewish community, purchased Farley’s Buildings around 1880 and permit records suggest at least part of the block remained in the ownership of the Solomon Estate in the 1930s.

The ground floor shops were originally let to Walsh Brothers (boot and shoe sellers), Thomas Collins (fruiterer and confectioner), McLeod & Gibson (grocers), and Ure & Co. (tea dealers and warehousemen). The remaining shop was subdivided for Thomas Bray (hatter and outfitter) and M. Jones. There have been so many businesses in these buildings since then that I won’t attempt to name them all, but some have had particularly long occupancies.

Stewart Dawson & Co., an Australian-based chain of jewellers still in Dunedin, occupied the corner premises from 1902 to 1979. They carried out major alterations before moving in, combining two shops into one, installing new shop fronts, and putting in compressed-steel wall and ceiling decoration made by the Wunderlich Company of Sydney. The colourful and brightly-lit interior was described in the Cylopedia of New Zealand as having the appearance of a fairy palace. The contractor was James Annand.

The shop of Stewart Dawson & Co. (Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum, 57-64-1)

A Muir & Moodie postcard, c.1905

A Muir & Moodie postcard, c.1905

Cookham House, a footwear store, occupied 132 Princes Street from 1904 and later moved to no. 122 before moving to George Street in 1984. It had been established by John Switzer on another Princes Street site in 1857, although it is unclear if the nineteenth-century history of the firm was continuous (Joseph McKay may have revived the name). Cookham House was associated with the tailors Hamel & McKenzie for many years and continues today in association with Bob Shepherd Menswear.

J.C. Gore Ltd, jewellers, went into business at 131 Princes Street in 1949 and moved across the road to Farley’s Buildings (no. 132) in 1962. The firm closed in 2005 but at the time of writing their old neon sign can still be seen above the verandah.

In October 1906 a fire destroyed the buildings of the New Zealand Bible, Tract, and Book Society, which stood to the north of Farley’s 1863 buildings. These buildings were also owned by Solomon, who replaced them with new additions to Farley’s Buildings that repeated the old facade decoration. James Annand was again the contractor. The Bible Depot remained there into the 1930s and the buildings are now the home of Disk Den, a music shop that was established by Russell and Alma Oaten in Rattray Street in 1958, and which has been on its present site since 1987. Some original decorative plaster ceilings can still be seen inside.

The buildings have seen many physical changes: bullnose verandahs running the length of the buildings were added in 1904 and replaced with hanging verandahs in the 1930s; the facades were re-plastered in the 1940s, when decorative detailing was removed and window openings altered; a large skylight above the hall was removed at some date, and more recently the photography studio has been entirely reclad. Despite these alterations the essential form of the buildings remains intact, and can be more readily seen and appreciated here than in any of Princes Street’s other surviving buildings of the 1860s (most of which are behind later facades). Farley’s Buildings are a rare link with the city’s early history and should be among its most prized heritage.

A photograph showing the roofs, with the former photographic studio at the far left and Farley’s Hall under the rusty roof at the centre.

Newspaper references:

Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1863 p.5 (description); Otago Daily Times, 28 May 1862 p.4 (Theatre Royal), 24 July 1863 p.3 (call for tenders for foundation), 1 August 1863 p.2 (call for tenders), 11 August 1863 p.6 (call for tenders – carpenters and joiners), 16 November 1863 p.10 (Thomas Collins advertisement), 21 November 1863 p.8 (Walsh Bros advertisement), 24 November 1863 p.3 (to let notice – offices), 7 December 1863 p.2 (advertisement for Dunedin Music Hall), 28 August 1865 p.5 (Provincial Council), 27 June 1867 p.1 (phrenology), 4 July 1867 p.1 (accommodation for 300 in hall), 4 March 1873 p.3 (Edinburgh Portrait Rooms), 12 December 1902 p.8 (Stewart Dawson alterations), 26 November 1906 p.3 (Bible Depot fire), 23 February 1907 p.12 (rebuilding), 26 November 1984 p.20 (Cookham House history), 31 July 2010 p.42 (Alfred Brunton); Otago Witness, 20 February 1863 p.4 (Tait Brothers advertisement).

Other references: 

Block plans (1889, 1892, 1927); Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4 (Otago and Southland Provincial Districts) 1905; Stone’s, Wise’s and telephone directories; Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans; information supplied by Peter Entwisle (re Max Walker); Tonkin, Lance, The Real Henry Garrett.

McCarthy’s Buildings

Built: 1907
Address: Cr Stuart and Castle streets
Architect: Walden & Barton
Builders: G. Simpson & Co.

I’ve posted about a few Lower Stuart Street buildings now and there’s a reason why many of them are from the Edwardian period. The development of Lower Stuart Street progressed apace after the site of the new railway station was finally settled in 1902. It was obvious that a lot of foot traffic would soon be using the street, and it wasn’t long before modest wooden buildings disappeared and vacant sites were built on. Within about ten years a dozen substantial new buildings went up. This one was built for A. &. W. McCarthy Ltd, an old firm of gunsmiths, locksmiths, and fishing equipment specialists. Samuel McCarthy had set up business in Dunedin in 1861, originally as a gunsmith, locksmith, and bellhanger. Sam’s sons Arthur and Walter took over in 1890 and the firm then took on its familiar ‘A. & W.’ name.

An advertisement from the Otago Witness, 18 January 1894, p.44.

An advertisement from the Otago Witness, 18 January 1894, p.44.

McCarthy’s new building went up in 1907. Tenders were called in February and the building was completed before the year was out, with the firm moving from their old premises at 65 Princes Street. The architects were Walden & Barton and the building pairs nicely with the Sweeting’s fish shop on the other side of Stuart Street, which they also designed in 1907. The architecture is a composite Edwardian style that draws from various periods, sometimes loosely called ‘Queen Anne’, and transitioning towards more modern styles. The building is large and handsome and on a prominent corner, yet somehow it manages to be unassuming. It’s sympathetic in scale and design with its grandiose neighbours, the Law Courts and the Railway Station. The gentle curves to the first-floor window surrounds are a nice touch, and pilasters, cornices, and recessed panels give interest to the facades. The pediment above the stairway entrance would have been more prominent before the hanging verandah was added. The building contractors were G. Simpson & Co.

McCarthy’s remained in the building for some 90 years but in its later years the shop itself was moved to the old dairy co-operative premises next door in Castle Street. Five generations of the family ran the business. They became the leading importer of English guns and increasingly specialised in fishing equipment. They were famous for their catalogue service (which even drew in overseas customers) and for a time they had branches in Invercargill and Palmerston North. They had shops and offices in the Stuart Street building, as well as workshops for their own manufacturing department. Children were paid to collect bags of cocoon bodies, which were used to make fishing lures. McCarthy’s fishing reels are now collectors items.

The shop kept a modest appearance and Cormac McCarthy recalled: ‘There were a lot of customers over on the West Coast who used to buy the mail order catalogues. They were often terribly disappointed when they got to Dunedin for the first time. They expected a place about three times as big as Arthur Barnett, with rows and rows of guns and fishing rods, and here was this little shop with an old bloke with a beard running around.’

Perhaps unusually for a gunsmith, Arthur McCarthy was a pacifist. He studied socialism and Marxism and opposed conscription during World War I. He was a labour movement activist and became national secretary of the United Labour Party in 1912, and later became involved in the Social Credit movement.  According to his grandson he had a reputation for having a fiery temper and giving firm advice. Caroline Martin recorded that ‘one of the more colourful stories about A.P. McCarthy involved prostitutes from the Railway Hotel next door who were in the habit of throwing their used unmentionables into the shared courtyard below’.

A. & W. McCarthy went into liquidation in 1999, by which time they claimed to be the oldest family-run business in Australasia. The firm’s stock and name were bought by Centrefire, which currently trades as Centrefire McCarthy’s in Moray Place. An immense accumulation of antique stock and memorabilia was sold by auction.

Lower Stuart Street around the 1970s. Photograph by Hardwicke Knight.

Many others have leased premises in McCarthy’s Buildings, which originally included six ground floor shops. The fruiterers, Steel’s, occupied the shop at 10 Stuart for 77 years from 1921 to 1988. Upstairs, an unarmed combat training school has occupied the building for the last 75 years.

Wrestling teacher and unarmed combat instructor Harry Baldock (1905-1991) moved to Dunedin in 1929 and opened a new gymnasium upstairs in the building in 1938. His school became known as the Baldock Institute. During the Second World War, Baldock was the New Zealand chief unarmed combat instructor and physical training instructor at Burnham camp as well as Forbury and Wingatui camps. He taught national wrestling champions and hosted many visiting international wrestlers. His wife, Iris, was a masseuse and physiotherapist who had worked as a nurse at convalescent hospitals for returned soldiers during the war.

McCarthyDetail2

In 1973 Geoff (‘Tank’) Todd began training at the Baldock Institute, initially in weight training, physical culture, wrestling, boxing, and Jiu Jitsu, and later unarmed combat. Todd took over the school in 1986 and it became Todd Group, which refocused towards unarmed combat. As of 2013, the group has an instructing team of over 100 instructors and 30 depots worldwide. It also operates a 280 acre 100-man accommodation training camp. Todd Group still runs a gymnasium at 6 Stuart Street. You can read more about their history on their website.

In 2005 the Stuart Street Potters Co-operative opened a gallery and shop at no.12. Koru Gallery arts co-operative occupies the corner shop.

The exterior of building has changed little apart from the addition of hanging verandahs in 1938. Even the original shop fronts remain; and inside, tongue-and-groove wall linings can still be seen. The building is currently owned by Allied Press.

McCarthyDetail

Newspaper references:

Otago Daily Times, 8 August 1906 p.8 (removal of old buildings), 18 February 1907 p.6 (call for tenders), 11 May 1907 p.12 (description), 24 December 1993 p.13 (‘In the family for 132 years’ by Caroline Martin), 18 May 1999 p.2 (McCarthy’s in liquidation), 18 June 1999 p.4 (Centrefire purchase), 24 June 1999 p.3 (McCarthy’s auction). Accessed from Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand).

Other references:

Colbert, Roy. ‘Generation Game’ in North and South, no.126 (September 1996), p.16; McCarthy, A.C. ‘McCarthy, Arthur Peter (1862-1947)’ in Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago-Southland Biography (Dunedin: Longacre Press, 1998), pp.293-294; 80 Years of Combative Excellence [DVD]. Dunedin: Todd Group, [2007]; Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory; telephone directories; Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans.

Lost Dunedin #3: Oriental Hotel

Built: 1863
Address: 152 Princes Street
Architect: [?] William Henry Clayton (1823-1877)
Builder: Not identified
Demolished 1887

Photo: D.L. Mundy, [1864]. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

The Oriental Hotel was the most exuberant building of gold rush Dunedin. Dominating its neighbours, it magnificently thumbed its nose at any stodginess or dourness that might, fairly or unfairly, have been associated with the established settler society. The eccentric four-storeyed timber structure was built for John Sibbald in 1863, with construction reported as nearly complete by December that year. The following month Harriet Cooper was given a license to run the hotel.

The design of the Oriental was so eclectic that it has been variously described as Gothic, Continental, Renaissance, Old English, American and, yes, Oriental. It even had ironwork with shamrock motifs. The Otago Daily Times struggled to describe the building in 1864, but referred to it is as ‘very pretty’ and an example of what might be termed  ‘Continental Gothic’, a departure from the ordinary Gothic style.  The great variety of detail included barley twist columns, grotesque heads, a representation of Bacchus, balcony stick work, Tudoresque chimneys, oriel windows, gablets, an elaborate and unusual cornice, and a platform with iron railings on the top of the building. No Asian influence was mentioned in the report and I haven’t found any evidence explaining whether or not the hotel name was chosen before or after the building was designed. Stacpoole and Beaven (1972) noted that the oriel windows with connecting balconies, along with the cornice, were ‘as far East as Gothic could go’.

A contextual view. Note the Dowling Street steps where the land was excavated in the 1880s allowing the extension of the street. Photo: 1865. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PAColl-3824-04.

A contextual view. Note the Dowling Street steps where the land was excavated in the 1880s allowing the extension of the street. Photo: 1865. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PAColl-3824-04.

The question of who designed the building has long been one of the puzzles of Dunedin’s architectural history. Some sources name Edward Rumsey as the architect, an attribution that seems to have originated with Stacpoole and Beaven (1972), based on stylistic grounds. Rumsey probably arrived in Dunedin aboard the Aldinga in June 1862, although he did not start advertising in local newspapers until August 1864. It is possible that he was the designer.

I have a new theory, which is that W.H. Clayton designed the building. Clayton worked in Dunedin from May 1863, and of all the architects working in Dunedin at the time he is the only one I know of whose style appears at all consistent with the Oriental. Clayton later became Colonial Architect and he designed many public buildings throughout the country, including the Old Government Buildings in Wellington. There are particularly striking similarities between the Oriental and his unrealised concept drawing for Government House in Wellington (c.1869). After searching newspapers online, on microfilm, and in print, I found only one piece of documentary evidence to support this: in August 1863 Clayton called for tenders for ‘Lowering an Hotel to the permanent level’. It was at this time that the section of Princes Street known as the Cutting, in which the Oriental was built, was lowered to the line of the rest of the street. Was the Oriental the hotel referred to in the tender notice?

W.H. Clayton’s unrealised design for Government House, Wellington. Image: c.1869, Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: PA1-q-158-42.

The Oriental was one of Dunedin’s larger hotels. It had a bar and a restaurant, and was the venue of lodge meetings, coroner’s inquests, the organisation of walking races, and its fair share of disorderly behaviour. It was a mostly respectable establishment, however, and its accommodation included ‘private rooms for families’. In 1883, an English artist who had toured New Zealand described the hotel as ‘rather of an American type, and, I must say, the most elegant building of the kind I have seen since leaving San Francisco’.

The first licensee, Harriet Cooper, went broke within a few months. While she was there she lost a cockatoo that must have lent even more colour to the establishment. Below is a full list of the licensees checked and revised from the lists of Willett (1937) and Tod (1984):

1864. Harriet Cooper
1864-1865. Horace Bastings
1866-1868. Edgar Bastings
1868-1871. John McCubbin
1871-1872. James Mackay
1872-1876. John Scott
1876. Henry Nankervis
1876. Joseph Braithwaite
1876-1878. William Gawne
1878. Angelo Davis
1878-1880. Reuben Isaacs
1880-1881. Francis O’Kane
1881. Maurice Tondut
1881-1883. Donald Macrae
1883. Henry Newey
1883-1886. George Stanbrook
1886-1887. Joseph Wilson
1887-1888. John Donaldson

Advertisement from the New Zealand Tablet, 4 August 1876 p.17. National Library of New Zealand.

Advertisement from the Otago Witness, 18 September 1880 p.4. National Library of New Zealand.

In its early years Princes Street was plagued by fires, which sometimes swept through entire city blocks. Deaths and great loss of property were experienced, and it’s unsurprising that wooden buildings came to be seen as a liability, and that more fireproof brick construction was promoted on safety grounds. Earthquakes were not experienced, and so they were not factored in. The Oriental nearly burned down on no fewer than four occasions (1865, 1880, 1883, and 1885) and at the time of its demolition in 1887 it was described as a ‘standing menace’. The land was very valuable, and in 1874 the freehold had been purchased by Joseph Braithwaite (the well-known bookseller and later mayor) for the princely sum of £1,850.

After much blasting and excavation, Dowling Street was extended and the Excelsior Hotel was built on the site of the old hotel (taking its license). That building still stands today, but its story will have to wait for another post.

Newspaper references:

Otago Daily Times, 20 August 1863 p.3 (Clayton tender notice – reducing hotel to permanent level); 18 December 1863 p.3 (description), 10 February 1864 p.7 (lost cockatoo), 30 May 1864 p.3 (Cooper insolvent ), 1 June 1864 p.3 (Sibbald), 12 May 1874 p.2 (sale of freehold), 15 May 1880 p.2 (fire), 23 March 1883 p.4 (impression of architecture on visitor), 28 November 1883 p.2 (fire), 2 June 1884 p.1 (Stanbrook advertisement), 10 June 1885 p.2 (fire), 9 March 1887 p.2 (demolition), also various Licensing Committee reports; The Mercury (Hobart), 11 February 1865 p.3 (fire – walls blistered); Otago Witness, 18 September 1880 p.4 (O’Kane advertisement).

Other references:

Knight, Hardwicke and Niel Wales. Buildings of Victorian Dunedin: An Illustrated Guide to New Zealand’s Victorian City  (Dunedin: McIndoe, 1988).
Stacpoole, John and Peter Beaven. New Zealand Art; Architecture 1820-1970 (Wellington: Reed, [1972]).
Tod, Frank: Pub’s Galore (Dunedin: Historical Publications, 1984).
Willett, R.W. Hotels of Dunedin; Historical Record  (Dunedin, 1937).

Photo (detail): D.L. Mundy, [1864]. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

Gleeson’s Terrace

Built: 1903-1904
Address: 618-626 Great King Street
Architect: Percy William Laing (1859-1915)
Builders: Peter Campbell and/or Henry Charles Foster

This terrace is one of the most unusual and distinctive in Dunedin. Its balconies with bullnose verandahs and lashings of decorative cast iron fretwork would look quite at home in Melbourne but are almost exotic here. Terraces featured significantly in Dunedin’s early housing and more than twenty rows still stand from their heyday period of 1876-1912, not including terrace-like pairs of semi-detached houses. There were once many more. The simplest ones were working-class tenements but the fancier ones were marketed to white collar workers and professionals. They were a good investment option for early landlords, particularly before electric tram services opened up the suburbs, and with land in the industrialised central city at a premium.

I’ve titled this post ‘Gleeson’s Terrace’ because these houses were built for William Gleeson, but as far as I know this was not a name used historically. Gleeson (1841-1917) was the proprietor of the Rainbow Hotel in George Street and in 1902 he also owned the Annandale Arms, a two-storeyed wooden hotel which stood on the site of the terrace. The Annandale Arms was refused a license in June that year and the old building was soon torn down. In October tenders were called for the erection of the terrace. In addition to the three two-storeyed ‘villas’ at the front of the property, a row of four single-storey dwellings was built at the rear. These survive but cannot be seen from the street and are only accessible via a private right-of-way (so I haven’t included photographs of them).

After the terrace was built the next-door neighbour on the southern side sued Gleeson, as the building encroached onto her land and it was claimed that water swept from its roof onto hers. She was awarded some damages and it was ordered that decorative features at the top of the building that projected over her property be removed.

Detail from an early photograph, showing the parapet as it appeared c.1910, with balustrading and finials. Te Papa Co.025249.

The builders were Peter Campbell and/or Henry Foster. The architect was Percy Laing, whose signature can be seen on the deposited plans on file at the Dunedin City Council. Laing was a Dunedin boy who went to Otago Boys’ High School and was trained by that pre-eminent Dunedin architect, R.A. Lawson. He afterwards went to Melbourne where he was employed by N. Billing & Son. After returning to Dunedin he worked with Robert Forrest before establishing his own practice in 1903, the year this terrace was built. Laing died in a climbing accident near Ben Lomond saddle in 1915, at the age of 56. His other designs include Ramsay Lodge at 60 Stafford Street and the Kensington Hotel (later remodelled in art deco style).

This terrace is a little old-fashioned looking for 1903 and could easily be mistaken for an earlier building, although the front walls and fire walls perhaps give it away as later. It is derived from a style popular in Australia in the 1880s and the architect’s time working in Melbourne largely explains the connection, although it would be interesting to know what his client’s instructions were. The deposited plans differ from the finished building in that they show a balustraded parapet with finials. They also show a cornice that was probably built and later removed.  The plans don’t show the iron lacework as it appears. This was produced very nearby at Barningham & Co.’s Victoria Foundry in George Street (opposite Knox Church), and possibly chosen straight from their catalogue. The company’s name can be seen at the base of the verandah posts. Barningham’s were well-known for manufacturing the ‘Zealandia’ brand of coal ranges and their 1903 advertisements referred to ‘verandah castings of all kinds’.

The first resident of the southernmost house (then number 308) was Frances Grant, who taught singing and piano. The other two houses were occupied by painter/decorators. Two of the three houses were soon converted to flats (upstairs and downstairs), and for this reason new front doors were installed. Few tenants stayed long and occupants included a butcher, a draper, engineers, a brewer, a grocer, a police sergeant, a railway guard, and a barman. Special mention should be made of the Lindsay family. Robert and Sara Lindsay’s family moved into the southernmost house around 1928. Robert was a blacksmith. Annie Lindsay remained there until her death at the age of 97 in 2007, when the house was still in very original condition, retaining its kauri fireplace surrounds with tile insets. The houses now appear to be used as student accommodation, being handy to the university.

Otago Daily Times, 4 February 1907 p.6. The street numbers were changed in 1910 and 308 corresponds with the present 618.

The terrace looked pretty rough in 2009 but by 2010 a lot of love, money, and expertise had obviously gone into renovations and restoration. The balcony no longer slumps and mismatching timber railings put in over the years have been removed and replaced with replicas of the original ironwork. The result is impressive.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 2 June 1903 p.4 (license refused to Annandale Arms), 27 October 1903 p.6 (call for tenders), 4 December 1903 p.7 (Gleeson fined re drainage), 5 August 1905 p.3 (legal dispute re land), 4 February 1907 p.6 (advertisement for Frances Grant); 6 April 1915 p.3 (death of Percy Laing), 28 April 2007 (advertisement in property supplement); New Zealand Tablet, 1 October 1903 p.32 (Barningham advertisement).

Other references: Dunedin City Council deposited plans, Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory, Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory.

May’s confectionery works

Built: 1900
Address: 249 Cumberland Street
Architect: George William Gough (1863-1936)
Builder: Not known

This building dates from the last year of the nineteenth century. It has one particularly striking feature: a sculpture of the Royal Standard in relief on its pediment.  Why is it there? The answer to that question proved harder to pin down than I thought it would be…

In the late 1800s the site of the building was a vacant one next door to the Dunedin and Suburban Tramway Company (which had buildings on both sides of the street). Harry May, of the confectionery firm H. May & Co., erected it as a factory in 1900. It was completed around October that year at a cost of £4,000 to £5,000 for both the building and machinery. It was well appointed for its time and had electric lighting throughout.

At the age of 30, Harry May had confectionery shops in both Rattray and Princes streets, as well as his new factory. Sadly, his enterprise ended in tragedy. May quickly found himself in a financial quagmire and took to forging other men’s names to endorse his bills, to the extent that he was later described as a ‘wholesale forger’. On 4 June 1901 he was found drowned at the St Clair baths. He left a wife and three children.

Why the Royal Standard? Its presence is puzzling and it does appear to be an original feature of the building (it can be seen in a 1906 photograph). A likely explanation is that May used it in his branding, and that he chose the symbol for its patriotic appeal at the height of the Second Boer War. I haven’t been able to link May directly to the ‘Standard’ name, however, Dunedin architect G.W. Gough is named as the architect of the ‘Standard Confectionery Works’ in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand  (1905) and it seems probable that this refers to May’s factory. I haven’t found any other Dunedin businesses from around this time named ‘Standard Confectionery’.

George William Gough (1863-1936) was both a civil and a naval architect, meaning he was often designing boats and ships rather than buildings. According to the Cyclopedia  he was born at Manchester and educated at Rothesay in Scotland. He studied naval architecture under the shipbuilders Napier & Sons and Henderson & Co. in Glasgow, and civil architecture with George Melrose in Rothesay. After working in Canada and the United States Gough took charge of an architect and surveyor’s office in Falkirk. He arrived at Dunedin in 1886 where he worked for the engineers and ironfounders Begg & Wilkinson before establishing his own business. Among his ship designs was the steamer ‘Tarawera’, which catered to tourist traffic on Lake Te Anau. His buildings in Dunedin included the Denton Hat Mills, the superintendent’s house in the Botanical Gardens, the North End Boating Club pavilion, and brickworks at Andersons Bay. Some of his drawings survive in the Hocken Collections.

The Cumberland Street building is a nicely proportioned if fairly basic example of Renaissance revival design. The use of unrendered brick with contrasting cement facings on the façade is characteristic of the period, although this effect is currently lost as the facade is painted a single shade of blue. Decoration includes a simple cornice, and the pediment with its sculpture is flanked by volute consoles, while two finials have been removed.

When I took a look into the alley next to the building (where the factory once had an enormous chimney stack), I noticed a faded sign on the wall: ‘Stand….Ware…’. My first thought was ‘ah-ha!’, this is a reference to the elusive ‘Standard’ brand and its ‘Warehouse’. This seemed to be confirmed when I found an early photograph that tantalisingly showed part of the sign. The plot, however, thickened.

R. Wilson & Co. took occupancy of the building (under lease) from 1901, as an extension to their Moray Place factory which was used as a ‘complete grinding, sifting, cleaning and mixing plant for treating coffees, spices, teas, etc’. The name of their leading brand of tea? ‘Stand Out’!

Here’s an advertisement from 1906:

So the sign is for tea rather than lollies, and for ‘Stand Out’ rather than ‘Standard’. Wilson’s emphasised that their tea was ‘hill grown’ in Ceylon, and that their factory processing was a great advance, as ‘no germs or dirt can get into air-tight tins’. They also ran a coupon competition for many years.

Many other firms have occupied the building since then. From about 1919 to 1930 it was owned and occupied by the timber merchants G. Howes & Co. and named Howes’ Buildings. They let part of it to the motor and electrical engineers James J. Niven & Co. A hanging verandah was added in the 1920s, along with new shop fronts. Later occupiers included the Otago Electricity Board and the engineering suppliers Myles Walker Ltd (c.1935-1976). Sun & Snow, adventure equipment specialists, have been in the building since about 1985. Perhaps readers will share memories from these more recent years in the building’s colourful history.

The building as it appeared in the 1920s. Note the chimney stack at the right rear. Photo (detail): S.C. Smith. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/2-046491-G.

Newspaper references: Otago Witness, 12 June 1901 p.40 (‘Sad Death of Mr H. May’); 6 June 1906 p.39 (illustration); Evening Post (Wellington), 26 July 1901 p.8 (sale of buildings); Taranaki Herald, 26 March 1906 p.6 (advertisement); Poverty Bay Herald, 5 September 1906 p.4 (advertisement).

Other references: Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4 (Otago and Southland Provincial Districts), 1905; Telephone directories; Stone’s  Otago and Southland Directory ; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory ; Dunedin City Council rates, permit, and cemetery records.

David Ross FRIBA, architect

Baptised: Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 11 July 1828
Died: Auckland, New Zealand, 6 October 1908

David Ross is probably the architect I’ve spent the most time researching.  This partly comes from an appreciation of his work, and partly from a feeling that his legacy has been neglected, and that he’s not nearly as well known as he should be. He is recognised by writers such as Knight and Wales as one of the most significant architects to have worked in Dunedin, but very little has been written about him and there are no published articles (let alone books) devoted to him. As with a few of our Victorian architects, his Australian work is seen in isolation by Australians and his New Zealand work is seen in isolation by New Zealanders. I’ve made a list of over 450 building projects he worked on, so this post is very much the selected highlights.

Early life

Ross was born in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, where he was baptised on 11 July 1828. His father, William Ross, was a jeweller and watchmaker, and although I don’t know what sort of child young David was it’s easy to imagine him finding an interest in his father’s work that translated well into architectural studies. Ross began his career articled to the firm McKenzie & Matthews, of Elgin and Aberdeen, at about the time they designed such buildings as the Free Church College at Aberdeen and the Drumtochty Castle stables. Ross afterwards spent about three years working for Lewis Hornblower of Liverpool and John Hornblower of Birmingham, becoming ‘chief assistant’. Lewis Hornblower’s designs in Liverpool included the grand entrance and other buildings at Birkenhead Park (as part of a collaboration with Sir Joseph Paxton), and a commercial building at 25 Church Street (dating from a little after Ross’s time). He was best known for his later work on Sefton Park.

Victoria, Australia

Ross migrated to Victoria in 1853 and later that year went into partnership with R.A. Dowden in Melbourne. Their firm, Dowden & Ross, won the competition to design St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church, Geelong. It is not known with any certainty which architect was primarily responsible for the competition entry, but following a fire in the 1868 Ross lost what he referred to as ‘my drawing of Geelong Cathedral’, and following his death an obituary credited him with the building’s design. Ross never saw the church in its completed state, as it took over 80 years to realise the original plans and the building was not finished until 1937.

St Mary of the Angels, Geelong. Photo (2007): Marcus Wong,

St Mary of the Angels, Geelong. Rear view. Photo (2007): Marcus Wong.

Wesleyan Church, Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Melbourne. Photo (1933): J.A. Sears. State Library of Victoria. Ref: H20784.

Colonial Bank of Australasia, Kilmore. Photo (1861): Vanheems & Co. State Library of Victoria. Ref: H1819.

The Dowden & Ross partnership was dissolved in 1854 and Ross continued to practise on his own. His designs of the mid to late 1850s included Glass Terrace in Melbourne, the Chalmers Church at Eastern Hill, the Presbyterian manse at Williamstown, the tower and spire of the Scots Church in Melbourne, the Wesleyan Church at St Kilda, the Colonial Bank at Kilmore, the sea baths at St Kilda, and numerous houses and shops.

Ross married Agnes Buttery Marshall, the daughter of a prominent solicitor, in 1856. They had four daughters and one son. Tragically, the eldest daughter, Pameljeanie, died in 1860 at the age of three years.

Move to Dunedin

The family moved to Dunedin in May 1862, with Ross taking an office in Manse Street. Presumably, he was attracted by the building boom that accompanied the Otago Gold Rush. One of his first commissions was the Moray Place Congregational Church, which survives as the oldest church building in Dunedin (although it has been converted into residential apartments). Ross was for about five months in partnership with William Mason, who arrived a little later in 1862, but was soon working on his own again. He was a member of the first Dunedin City Council, from 1864 to 1865, and a glimpse of him in a cartoon shows a dark, bearded man, but frustratingly I’ve never found a photograph of him.

Ross received some notice as an artist. He showed nine watercolours at the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition, and more at a small Industrial Exhibition in Dunedin in 1862. Some of his watercolours of Otago scenery were described in the Bruce Herald  in 1874, with Ross reported to have ‘powers of landscape delineation… far beyond anything we had conceived in the way of local talent to exist in Otago’.

Early Dunedin works  included the Bank of Otago in Princes Street (where the National Bank now stands) and the old Empire Hotel (on a different site from the current one). In the Mason & Ross partnership he may have designed the house Highlawn in collaboration with its owner, C.W. Richmond. He was also responsible for Colinswood, a more modest residence built at Macandrew Bay for James Macandrew. In some of these buildings a row-of-circles decorative motif can be seen, and although others used this, it is a distinctive Ross signature. Also typical of Ross is a particular style of paired round-headed windows.

Congregational Church, Moray Place. Later changes include the side vestry, the front steps and entrance (moved from the side), the pinnacles, and rendering of the brick.

Congregational Church, Moray Place, Dunedin. The later changes to Ross’s original building include the side vestry, the front steps and entrance (moved from the side), the pinnacles, and the rendering of the exterior brickwork.

The Imperial Hotel, Princes and Hope streets. Photo: D.L. Mundy, [1864]. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

Shops for James Brown the (three-storeyed building), Princes Street. Photo: D.L. Mundy, [1864]. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum.

Fernhill, Dunedin, built for John Jones. Photo (n.d.): Unknown. Hocken Collections. Ref: S12-282b.

Colinswood, Macandrew Bay. Photo (n.d.): James R. Cameron. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/2-024931-G.

Public buildings

In 1869 and 1874  Ross won significant commissions for public buildings. His Atheneaum in the Octagon survives, though stripped of its facade detailing. The statuary was the only feature in the engraving shown here that was never realised. His original portion for the Otago Museum also remains but the northern and southern wings were never completed to his design and suggested statuary and friezes were never added. As planned, it would have completed an exuberant design combining Greek revival and ‘Second Empire’ architecture. When it was finally decided to add the Hocken Wing to the museum in 1907, an elderly Ross wrote: ‘it was understood that for any future additions required to complete the design that I would be the Architect and paid as usual according to the cost. This being the case no other person should be allowed to interfere with my work without my permission’. He did not get the work but architect J.A. Burnside based his facade designs on Ross’s concept. The later Fels wing is different in scale and style, with a decision made to reorient the complex towards the Museum Reserve.

The Otago Education Board was the source of much work in the 1870s and Ross designed schools at Mosgiel, Allanton, Popotunoa, Port Molyneux, Sawyers Bay, Forbury, and Port Chalmers. He also designed large additions for Otago Girls’ High School (after they took over the boys’ building), the Otago Boys’ High School rectory, and the large Normal School and Art School building in Moray Place. He also found government work designing immigration barracks at Dunedin, Oamaru, Stewart Island, Bluff, Riverton, and Milton.

Athenaeum, Octagon, Dunedin. Samuel Calvert engraving (1870) from Illustrated Australian News. State Library of Victoria. Ref: IAN16/07/70/132.

Otago Museum, Great King Street, Dunedin. Engraving (1875) from Illustrated Australian News. State Library of Victoria. Ref: IAN24/03/75/44.

Gallery inside the Otago Museum. Photo (1890): William Williams. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/1-025834-G.

Normal School and Art School, Moray Place, Dunedin. Private collection.

Port Chalmers Grammar School. Photo (n.d.): Unknown. Hocken Collections. Ref: S12-658g.

Commercial work and patronage

Among his private clients, Ross enjoyed the patronage of some of Dunedin’s leading businessmen. One of these men was Maurice Joel, for whom Ross designed a private residence (Eden Bank House), a shop in Princes Street, various additions to the Red Lion Brewery, the Captain Cook Hotel, and possibly the Caledonian (later Rugby) Hotel. For Bendix Hallenstein he designed two large clothing factory buildings in Dunedin and stores in Queenstown. He was also the architect of one New Zealand’s largest industrial complexes, Guthrie and Larnach’s New Zealand Hardware Factory buildings in Princes and Bond Streets, which was destroyed by fires in 1887 and 1896. Private houses included ‘The Willows’ (the house of Sir William Barron at Kew) and two North Otago homesteads: Elderslie and Windsor Park. His largest hotel was the Prince of Wales in Princes Street. In some projects he collaborated with his nephew, F.W. Burwell, who established himself in Queenstown and Invercargill and became one of the leading architects of southern New Zealand.

Elderslie, North Otago, built for John Reid. Photo (1905): Otago Witness. Hocken Collections. Ref: S12-282d.

MurphyTerrace

Terrace, York Place, Dunedin, built for Dr Michael Murphy. DCC Archives ref: Photo 264/11

Guthrie & Larnach premises, Princes Street, Dunedin. Photo (n.d.): J.W. Allen. Hocken Collections. Ref: S06-152d.

Guthrie & Larnach premises, Bond Street, Dunedin. Engraving (1877) from Australasian Sketcher. State Library of Victoria. Ref: A/S12/05/77/28.

Hallenstein’s New Zealand Clothing Factory (seen here as the National Insurance building). The Exchange, Dunedin. Photo (c.1930): Tourist and Publicity. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/1-006149-F.

Hallenstein’s New Zealand Clothing Company offices and factory, Dowling Street, Dunedin. Photo (1880s): Burton Bros. Hocken Collections. Ref: AG-295-036/003.

Churches

Ross designed fewer churches in Otago than he did in Victoria, which probably owed something to R.A. Lawson’s monopoly on Presbyterian Church work and F.W. Petre’s on Catholic commissions . One of Ross’s buildings was the Presbyterian Church at Palmerston, with its distinctive rust-coloured Waihemo stone and very Scots-looking design, with a spire remiscent of both St Nicholas’ Kirk, Aberdeen, and his own Scots’ Church tower in Melbourne. Ross also designed Presbyterian churches at Balclutha and Clinton (both timber) and a Primitive Methodist Church at Bluff. His biggest commission was for Dunedin’s Knox Church. The foundation stone for this building was laid on 25 November 1872 but Ross was dismissed for misconduct on 16 January 1873 and his design was abandoned. He sued the church for wrongful dismissal and won on some points, but the verdict was mostly in favour of the defendants.  Ross had purchased Bacon’s quarry, which it had been previously agreed would supply stone for the project, and the jury found that Ross’s actions in connection with this had been improper, but were not sufficient grounds for dismissal. The more significant issue was that he had selected a Clerk of Works, John Hotson, who was widely thought to be a drunkard and was found to be unfit for his job. Ross’s insistence on retaining Hotson and his refusal to acknowledge the replacement selected by the church was found by the jury to be reasonable grounds for dismissal.  Ross was awarded a mere two pounds in compensation when he had claimed over £200. He was replaced by R.A. Lawson, who used his own more expensive design for the church.

This was not the only event that suggested Ross could be difficult to work with. In 1872 he unsuccessfully sued Vincent Pyke for fees he claimed were due for calling tenders for a house that was not proceeded with. One witness, a contractor, claimed that ‘Some contractors refused to tender for any work under Mr Ross, and said they would rather do it for anyone else in the country. Witness did not know their reason for it, but he supposed it was over-vigilance on the part of Mr Ross.’

Palmerston Presbyterian Church.

Clinton Presbyterian Church. Photo (n.d.): Unknown. Hocken Collections. Ref: S12-282c.

Concrete

The first mass concrete buildings in Dunedin were built in the early to mid 1870s and Ross was at the forefront of this new technology, being slightly ahead of other local concrete pioneers such as N.Y.A. Wales, Lawson, and Petre (the last of whom was famously nicknamed ‘Lord Concrete’). In 1870 Ross and Burwell applied for a patent for sole use of ‘certain inventions and improvements in the construction of frames or apparatus’ for concrete construction. Another curious invention of Ross’s was a ‘self acting’ toilet seat, that lifted without being touched!

Ross was designing buildings in concrete from at least 1872 and in 1874 it was reported in the Otago Daily Times   that ‘Mr Ross claims no originality in the matter, but credit must be given him for the persevering way in which he has hitherto quietly advocated the introduction of the new mode of building into the Province, and his efforts appear to be now beginning to be crowned with success, he having orders in hand for designing about 40 concrete buildings.’ These buildings included numerous workers’ cottages, a two-storey house, shop buildings, and a grain store. The largest was the Otago Museum, in which Ross experimented by using old rails from railway lines as girders, a technique he further developed when rebuilding his Octagon building. An experimental concrete roof on the colonnade on the Lawrence court house was spectacularly unsuccessful when the builder (who had been dubious about the design) removed his props and the whole thing collapsed. A replacement built to a revised plan remains in place today. In 1907, when technology for reinforced concrete construction was rapidly developing, Ross was proud that his concrete buildings had lasted well and claimed that no reinforcing was required in ordinary concrete structures, suggesting that he had fallen behind modern thinking.

The Inspector of Works for the museum was Edmund M. Roach, a fellow architect who supervised the construction of many of Ross’s designs and eventually became his associate. When Ross left Dunedin Roach took over his practice and for many years continued to manage his interests in the city, also acting as the executor of his estate.

Court house (Warden’s Court), Lawrence. The top storey is a later addition.

Crescent (now Careys Bay) Hotel.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Princes Street, Dunedin.

Prince of Wales Hotel, Princes Street, Dunedin.

Ross’s own house in Heriot Row, Dunedin.

Chapman’s Terrace, Stuart Street, where I lived for two years. The building, which is currently getting a makeover, originally had a balustraded parapet.

Travels and family

Ross left New Zealand for an extended trip overseas in 1879, visiting the United States and Europe. In London he was admitted a Fellow of the Royaly Institute of British Architects (FRIBA), a high honour that no other Dunedin architect received. He was nominated by John Norton, Robert Edis, and William Audsley. These were distinguished architects (Norton particularly) and Audsley would have known Ross from the years they both worked in Elgin and Liverpool. Burwell also became  fellow in 1880, and in 1884 Ross and Burwell were the only architects in New Zealand to hold this distinction. Ross always used the letters ‘FRIBA’ in his later advertising.

A tragedy took place during Ross’s absence from Dunedin, when on 8 September 1879 a severe fire gutted his building in the Octagon, resulting in the loss of twelve lives. The ‘Octagon Buildings’ had been erected by Ross in 1876 and included shops, his own and other offices, and a warren of small residential apartments. Following the fire the design of the structure (including it layout and the inadequacy of its partitions) was quickly criticised. Ross had returned to Dunedin by February 1880 and he subsequently rebuilt the building, with the top mansard floor replaced with another masonry storey added to the facade.

A great personal sadness for Ross in 1880 was the death of his eight month old son, William, at Courbevoie near Paris, on 3 June. Ross had separated from his wife, and she later lived with her daugther in Yokohama, Japan, where she died in 1894. The couple’s elder surviving daughter, Flora, married Marc Lucas in Yokohama in 1894. The other daughter, Agnes, married Professor W.E.L.  Sweet at Kumamoto in 1904. The presence of the family in Japan explains why some sources mistakenly state that Ross spent his later life in that country. Another interesting family connection was that Ross’s brother, Rev. Dr William Ross, was a Presbyterian minister in the West Indies and Lancefield, Australia.

Jobs in Dunedin in the early 1880s included Chapman’s Terrace in Stuart Street, Ross’s own house in Heriot Row, and the second Hallenstein factory. One of Ross’s last Dunedin projects was the head office building for the Union Steam Ship Company in Water Street, completed in 1883. Its richly decorated renaissance revival facade was made particularly distinctive by its dome (an observation post) and a collection of small minarets along the parapet. This decoration was removed in 1940 as part of remodelling carried out for the National Mortgage and Agency Company.

Auckland

In 1883 Ross won the competition for the Auckland Harbour Board Offices in Quay Street, Auckland, with a design that at first glance looks like a cheeky replica of the USSCo. building. The main differences were variations to the ornamentation and fenestration (including round-headed windows instead of square-headed ones on the first floor). Like its sister, this building suffered drastic twentieth century remodelling before its eventual demolition.  The Harbour Board commission took Ross to Auckland where he was based from 1883 to 1886. It is perhaps unsurprising that he did not return to Dunedin, as there was little building work going on here in a depressed economy. Other architects who left during the 1880s included Maxwell Bury, Louis Boldini, and R.A. Lawson.

Among Ross’s more remarkable Auckland works there were additions for Alfred Isaacs which transformed his house Charleville into a fantastic but quite ungainly mansion with an enormous castellated tower that commanded superb views. He also designed substantial additions to the Star Hotel in Onehunga, and a large warehouse for Bell Brothers in Wyndham Street.

Octagon Buildings, Dunedin, as they were rebuilt following the fire in 1879. Photo (1880s): Burton Bros. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: Ref: 1/1-006149-F.

Union Steam Ship Company offices, Water Street, Dunedin. Photo (1880s): Burton Bros. Hocken Collections. Ref: S10-221c.

Spot the difference! Auckland Harbour Board Offices, Quay Street, Auckland. Photo (n.d.): Henry Winkelmann. George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. Ref: 1-W890.

Charleville, residence of Alfred Isaacs, Remuera, Auckland. Photo (c.1910): William Archer Price. Alexander Turnbull Library. Ref: 1/2-001180-G.

Australia again

In 1886 Ross left for Australia, setting up an office at Temple Court, Queen Street, Sydney. His best known work there is the St George’s Hall, Newtown, of 1887, which was one of his more grand and florid renaissance revival designs. Also from this period were the mansion Iona at Darlinghurst, and the masonry towers and other work for the Long Gully suspension bridge, which cost over £100,000 to build and was one of the largest bridges of its kind in existence.

Ross briefly practised in Wellington from 1893 before moving to Perth in 1895, where he went into partnership with Burwell.  The partnership didn’t last long as Burwell soon set up on his own at Fremantle, but Ross remained in Perth for over seven years, getting some substantial residential commissions but probably less work than he would have liked. The most ambitious project he was involved with there was a proposed 1,160-seat theatre for Perth Theatre Company, but this never came to fruition. Other projects included villas for John Shadwick,  F. Cairns Hill, and Stanley Sutton, and buildings for the Silver Pan Confectionery Company.

Ross’s most surprising move came in 1903, when he left Perth for Johannesburg, South Africa, where rebuilding had started following the Boer War. It was surprising not only because of the distance, but because Ross was approaching 75 years of age. A farewell event was held at the West Australian Club, where it was said that by his genial disposition Ross had made a large circle of friends, and was looked upon with much affection and goodwill: ‘Mr. Ross was not a young man, but had plenty of “go” and true grit and, would have ample scope for his capabilities in a new land with such possibilities as South Africa’. Ross feelingly replied, commenting that ‘he had always helped younger professional men without jealousy, and no thing pleased him better than when he saw any of the improvements which he had made adopted in general use. His ideas were not due to inspiration, but were the result of hard study.’

St George’s Hall, Newtown, Sydney. Photo: Hall & Co. State Library of New South Wales. Ref: 35195.

Long Gully bridge, Sydney. Photo (n.d.): Henry King. Powerhouse Museum Collection. Ref: 85/1285-1131.

Final years and conclusion

I have so far been unable to trace any of Ross’s work in South Africa, but he remained there until 1906, when he moved back to Auckland. It was there that he died on 6 October 1908, at the age of 80. Fellow freemasons from Lodge St Andrew arranged a funeral procession to the Waikumete Cemetery, where he was buried. The grave is unmarked. Ross had continued to work until the month before his death, with one of his last works being additions to St Barnabas Church, Mount Eden. Two daughters outlived him.

Ross would probably be more celebrated if he hadn’t moved around so much. He was soon almost forgotten in Dunedin, and in his own lifetime the Cyclopedia of New Zealand  stated that he had been dead for several years. His New Zealand Historic Places Trust biography still states that he probably spent his later life in the USA and Japan, and some Australian sources give his place of death as South Africa. The fact that he is not identified as the author of many of his surviving buildings has prevented full recognition of his achievements.

Despite a lack of knowledge or writing about him, Ross has long been recognized as a key figure. His importance has been acknowledged by writers from the 1960s onwards (perhaps beginning with McCoy and Blackman’s Victorian City of New Zealand), and Knight and Wales describe him as ‘undoubtedly one of the most important architects who have worked in Dunedin’. Seven of his buildings are listed as Historic Places, partly due to their association with him.

Stacpoole (1971) wrote that ‘Quite clearly, [William] Mason was the architectural superior’ of Ross, and that where ‘Ross’s buildings are essentially Victorian, Mason’s display earlier influences and, to that extent, please us more today’. I agree that the two men often use the stylistic language of different generations, but disagree with the overall assessment. Mason designed two superb Dunedin buildings (the Post Office/Stock Exchange and Bank of New South Wales) but his other work (even including the 1865 exhibition buildings and St Matthew’s Church) doesn’t appear to give him any great claim to be ‘superior’.

In my opinion Ross was also of similar ability to his slightly younger contemporary, R.A. Lawson, who is recognised as Dunedin’s pre-eminent Victorian architect for designing the city’s grandest landmarks of the period (First and Knox churches, the Municipal Chambers, Otago Boys’ High School, Larnach Castle). In some particular aspects, such as commercial architecture, Ross’s legacy is no less significant than Lawson’s. His role as an innovator also give him a key place. What I most like about Ross though, is his knack for strong yet elegant, and rich yet unfussy design. I think his reputation will continue to grow.

Selected works:

  • 1854-1856. Glass Terrace, Melbourne*
  • 1854-1937. St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church, Geelong*
  • 1855. Chalmers Church, Eastern Hill*
  • 1856-1857. Presbyterian manse, Williamstown, Melbourne*
  • 1856-1857. St Kilda Sea Bathing Establishment, Melbourne
  • 1857. Tower and spire, Scots Church, Melbourne
  • 1857. Flint, Ramsay & Co. warehouse, Collins Street, Melbourne
  • 1857-1858. Wesleyan Church, Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, Melbourne*
  • 1859. Colonial Bank, Kilmore*
  • 1862-1863. Imperial Hotel, Princes Street, Dunedin* (much altered)
  • 1862-1863. Shops for James Brown, Princes Street, Dunedin* (incorporated into a larger building in the 1870s)
  • 1863. Provincial Hotel, Port Chalmers
  • 1864. Congregational Church, Moray Place, Dunedin*
  • 1864. Empire Hotel, Princes Street, Dunedin (extensive additions)
  • 1865. Bank of Otago, Princes Street, Dunedin
  • 1867. Fernhill (Jones residence), Dunedin*
  • 1867. Colinswood (Macandrew residence), Macandrew Bay*
  • 1869-1870. Athenaeum and Mechanic’s Institute, Octagon, Dunedin*
  • 1870. Rectory, Otago Boys’ High School, Dunedin
  • 1872-1873. Windsor Park homestead, North Otago*
  • 1873-1874. Elderslie homestead (Reid residence), North Otago
  • 1874. Port Chalmers Grammar School
  • 1874-1875. Court house, Lawrence*
  • 1874-1876. Normal School, Moray Place, Dunedin
  • 1874. Crescent Hotel (later Careys Bay Hotel), Careys Bay*
  • 1874. Eden Bank (Joel residence), Dunedin
  • 1874-1877. Otago Museum, Great King Street, Dunedin*
  • 1875. Colonial Bank (later BNZ), Outram*
  • 1875. NZ Clothing Company warehouse, Rattray Street, Dunedin*
  • 1875-1876. A. & T. Inglis, George Street, Dunedin* (mostly demolished)
  • 1875-1878. Guthrie & Larnach, Bond and Princes streets, Dunedin
  • 1876. Presbyterian Church, Palmerston*
  • 1876-1877. Gridiron Hotel, Princes Street, Dunedin
  • 1876-1877. Terrace for Dr Michael Murphy, York Place, Dunedin*
  • 1876. Prince of Wales Hotel, Princes Street, Dunedin*
  • 1876. R.P. Bagley’s building, 284 George Street, Dunedin*
  • 1876-1880. Octagon Buildings, Dunedin*
  • 1877. Charles Begg & Co., Princes Street, Dunedin
  • 1877. The Willows (Barron residence), Kew, Dunedin
  • 1881. Villa for David Ross, Heriot Row, Dunedin*
  • 1881-1882. Chapman’s Terrace, Stuart Street, Dunedin*
  • 1882-1883. Presbyterian Church, Clinton
  • 1882-1883. NZ Clothing Factory, Dowling Street, Dunedin*
  • 1882-1883. Union Steam Ship Co. offices, Water Street, Dunedin*
  • 1883-1885. Auckland Harbour Board offices, Quay Street, Auckland
  • c.1883-1885. Additions to Star Hotel, Onehunga*
  • 1885. Bell Bros warehouse, Wyndham Street, Auckland*
  • c.1885. Charleville (Isaacs residence), Remuera
  • 1887. St George’s Hall, Newtown, Sydney*
  • 1889. Iona, Darlinghurst, Sydney*
  • 1892. Towers, Long Gully Bridge, Cammeray, Sydney*
  • 1899. Villa for John Shadwick, Colin Street, Perth*
  • 1902. Villa for F. Cairns Hill, Subiaco, Perth
  • 1903-1906. Various unknown works, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 1908. St Barnabas Church, Mt Eden, Auckland (additions)*

*indicates buildings still standing

Primary references:

Too many to list here, many from newspaper sources available on PapersPast and Trove. Feel free to ask if you’re interested in anything in particular.

Secondary references:

Knight, Hardwicke and Niel Wales. Buildings of Victorian Dunedin: An Illustrated Guide to New Zealand’s Victorian City  (Dunedin: McIndoe, 1988).
Mane-Wheoke, Jonathan. ‘City of Magnificent Edifices’ in New Zealand Historic Places, no. 54 (July 1995), pp.5-7. [article re F.W. Burwell]
McCoy, E.J. and J.G. Blackman. Victorian City of New Zealand  (Dunedin: McIndoe, [1968]).
McCraw, John. Dunedin Holocaust (Dunedin: Square One Press, 1998).
Stacpoole, John. Colonial Architecture in New Zealand (Wellington: Reed, 1976).
Stacpoole, John. William Mason: The First New Zealand Architect  (Auckland: AUP, 1971).
Dictionary of Scottish Architects online
New Zealand Historic Places Trust online register
Victorian Heritage Database online

Kaiapoi Building

Built: 1915-1917
Address: 17 Moray Place
Architects: Salmond & Vanes (James Louis Salmond)
Builder: Joseph Eli White

Few visitors to Dunedin would walk past the Kaiapoi Building without noticing it, and it is much loved by many of the city’s residents. Its bold street presence and finely executed design make it one of the architectural highlights of the central city.

The building replaced a structure that had been built in 1874 for the wine and spirit merchant Frederick Lewis, to the design of architect E.J. Sanders. That building became G.R. West & Co.’s organ showrooms and Academy of Music (teaching rooms) and later Dagmar College (a private girls’ school). It became the premises of the Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company in about 1899.

The Kaiapoi Company had been established in 1878 with a large woollen mill at Kaiapoi, Canterbury.  It became one of the largest industrial concerns in New Zealand and the ‘Kaiapoi’ brand of wool products, ranging from blankets to underwear and suits, was known throughout Australasia. The Dunedin building was a branch office and the firm was in direct competition with the big Otago mills of Ross & Glendining (‘Roslyn’), Mosgiel, and Bruce (Milton).   All of these mills used the best quality materials to produce very high quality goods, and a couple of Kaiapoi blankets are still in regular use in my own house. Kaiapoi slogans included ‘The Dominion’s best’ and ‘The best that grows into Kaiapoi goes’ (a reference to the high quality of the wool).

In 1915 Kaiapoi commissioned the architects Salmond & Vanes to design a new building on their Moray Place site. Diaries in the Hocken Collections show that James Louis Salmond (1868-1950) was responsible for the design and project management, although recently published sources incorrectly name W.H. Dunning as the architect.

The building was erected in two stages, with the contractor for both being Joseph Eli White. The first contract was signed on 21 July 1915 and involved the demolition of buildings at the back of the site and the construction of the back portion of the new building, which was temporarily connected to the 1874 structure.  The contract price was £2,648. The second contract was signed on 19 May 1916 and involved the demolition of the 1874 building at the front of the site and the construction of the front portion of the new building. The contract price was £2,621. The building was completed in 1917 and officially opened on 19 March that year. The final cost for the second stage was £3,265.

Side elevation drawing from 1915 showing the first stage of the building erected at the back of the property, temporarily connected to the old 1874 building at the front (Hocken Collections MS-3821/2052)

The architecture is in the Edwardian baroque manner, a style that drew from the seventeenth century designs of Christopher Wren and eighteenth century French architecture. One of the grandest examples in New Zealand is the old Chief Post Office in Auckland. In Dunedin, the old National Bank in Princes Street is the largest and perhaps most impressive example. The Kaiapoi building incorporates large columns, characteristic of the style, and there is much visual interest in details such as the carved Ionic capitals and floral motifs. The cement work was stone-coloured, and warmer-looking than an ordinary cement finished. It has since been painted a number of times. Interior features included mosaic tiles in the stairwell, red pine woodwork finished with French polish, stained Oregon fittings, and a stamped zinc ceiling in a light cream colour. A large lantern light on the roof lit the interior.

Kaiapoi continued to occupy the building until about 1963, the year the company merged with the Wellington Woollen Company to form Kaiapoi Petone Group Textiles Ltd. The mill at Kaiapoi eventually closed in 1978. The Moray Place building was occupied by American Health Studios International for a few years from 1964. They ran one of Dunedin’s first modern gyms and their facilities included a gymnasium, massage rooms, and a sauna. The building became known as Wynyard House and Peter Dick optometrists have occupied it as tenants since about 1973. This is an old family concern of four generations, dating back to the business of Peter Dick, watchmaker and jeweller, who went into business in Dunedin in 1889. A few years ago the bulk of the building was redeveloped as Kaiapoi Apartments.

Image credits: Drawings from Salmond Anderson Architects records, Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena (MS-3821/2382); advertisement from Auckland Star, 25 March 1924, p.11 (courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand)

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 30 September 1874 p.2 (Lewis’s building); 8 June 1889 p.2 (advertisement for Peter Dick); 3 May 1900 p.4 (sale of property), 20 March 1917 p.3 (opening and description)

Other references: Diaries, specification, and drawings from Salmond Anderson Architects records, Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena (MS-3821/2052, r.4628); Architecture Dunedin: A Guide to Dunedin Architecture (Dunedin: Parker Warburton Architects, [2010/R2011]); Dunedin Heritage Trails: Neoclassical Architecture (Dunedin: Southern Heritage Trust, [2011]); Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory; telephone directories.

Manchester Unity Chambers

Built: 1882-1883 / 1932-1933
Address: 134-142 Stuart Street
Architects Edmund Roach / Mandeno & Fraser
Builders: Francis Wilkinson / Alfred Edward Silver

The story of this building begins in the nineteenth century with the people who built it: the Oddfellows.

The Hand-and-Heart Lodge, Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, was founded in 1848 and was the first of the ‘friendly society’ lodges in Otago. By 1882 there were 127 Manchester Unity lodges throughout New Zealand. They provided financial benefits and social services to affiliated families and individuals, and filled an important role in their communities in the days before the welfare state and modern health and life insurance systems. They also organised social activities for their members. The origins of the Oddfellows can be traced to the English guild system, when members of trades without enough fellows to form their own guild joined together to form mixed guilds: the odd fellows. Manchester Unity was one of many manifestations of the movement and was formed when members seceded from the Patriotic Order of Oddfellows in 1813.

This building (in its original form) was built between September 1882 and January 1883, following the expiry of the lease on the lodge’s previous hall in George Street.  There was much ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone, with a procession headed by Krull’s brass band, speeches read from a specially erected platform, and children singing the New Zealand anthem. Newspaper reports referred to the architecture as ‘classic style’, however, it would be more accurate to describe the building as a palazzo in the Renaissance revival style. It was constructed in stone and brick with a cement-rendered façade and corrugated iron roof. The façade decoration included pilasters with Corinthian capitals, window pediments, a dentil cornice, a balustraded parapet, and finials. Francis Wilkinson (1834-1902) was the builder and the contract price was £2,825. Edmund Martin Roach (1835-1912) was the architect. Born in Islington, London, Roach began his career as a contractor and had been Inspector of Works to the Otago Provincial Government before joining the practice of architect David Ross. Roach’s most familiar designs are the Baptist halls in Hanover Street and Primitive Methodist Church buildings (built in two stages) in Dundas Street.

The building as it appeared around the turn of the twentieth century, with the shop of the Madras Tea Importing Co. Ltd on the left, and John Chambers & Son (engineers and importers) on the right (Cyclopedia of New Zealand).

As the ‘mother lodge’ the Hand-and-Heart Lodge provided facilities for the wider Oddfellows community, as well as to many other groups, including Masons, Druids, Foresters, the Gaelic Society, the Disciples of Christ, the Rationalist Church, and the Theosophical Society. Activities included meetings, socials, concerts, lectures, dancing classes, cooking classes, and election meetings. The building also contained shops fronting Stuart Street.

Between 1932 and 1933 the building was extended and remodelled to designs by architects Mandeno & Fraser at a cost of between £6,000 and £7,000. With rearward additions it may have as much as doubled in size. The building contractor was Alfred Edward Silver (1878-1960) and the decorator Edwin Longworth. Many features of the original façade decoration were retained, including four of the eight first-floor pilasters with Corinthian capitals, five of the seven window pediments, and part of the cornice. The finials and balustraded parapet were entirely removed. Art deco detailing was added, including the name of the building (‘Manchester Unity Chambers’) and the date of reconstruction (‘1933’). A hanging verandah was added and new shopfronts included brown and orange ceramic tiles and lead-lighted windows. The extensive additions included a new meeting hall on the second floor, the roof of which is the highest point of the structure. It was remarked that the reconstruction was a major building project in Dunedin during a time of economic depression.

The facade is an example of the widespread facelifting of Victorian and Edwardian  buildings in the art deco and stripped classical styles. In Dunedin, this particular brand of’ ‘remodelling’ began around 1929 (Allbell Chambers), and continued through the 1930s and 1940s, with  examples including the City Hotel (1936-1937), Harris Shoes (1939), NMA (1940), UFS (1940), and Paterson & Barr (1948). One of the last decorative examples was the Hotel Central (1953). From the 1940s onwards these facelifts tended to become more crude and simple, and by the 1950s-1970s they were usually a fairly brutal treatment involving the removal of any ornament and a flush cemented finish (e.g. the Standard Building and the Atheneum). When looking at these buildings the overall proportions and the retention of old sash windows are often a giveaway. Why do it? It was sometimes a solution to maintenance problems (e.g. crumbling stone balustrades) but it was also a reaction against unfashionable Victorian architecture, and a way to make a building appear more modern. I’ve seen one building report from the period which recommends one of these facelifts as an inexpensive way to significantly increase the building value.  My personal view is that it’s shame that so many of our Victorian buildings now look so disfigured and confused, but they do give a building an interesting layered history and some of the best examples work well and are quite delightful.  The Manchester Unity Chambers are particularly appealing, and unusual in the way they have retained some of the old decorative detail.

The Lodge relocated to the Glasgow Street Friendly Society Rooms in 2007, having sold the building some years earlier. It disbanded in 2012, by which time it was known as the Otago Friendly Society. The corner shop was occupied by Eclipse Radio from 1939 to 1993. Something of a local institution, over time it added televisions, model supplies, and computers to its business.  The upper shop has been home to The Perc (originally The Percolator) cafe since 1992 and another cafe, Sugar, now occupies the corner shop. With their unspoilt tile-work and leadlights they have two of the best preserved 1930s shopfronts in Dunedin. The many occupants of the offices have included insurance agents, accountants, solicitors, dressmakers, music teachers, incorporated societies, and currently the Zuma web and design studio. Hopefully, the future of the building will be as colourful as its past.

Eclipse Radio ephemera addressed to my grandfather.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 9 May 1882 p.2 (description), 12 May 1882 p.1 (call for tenders), 25 September 1882 pp.2-3 (description and laying of foundation stone), 24 January 1883 p.2 (hall used for first time), 21 July 1933 p.10 (opening ceremony for reconstructed building), 13 February 1993 p.3 (closure of Eclipse Radio and Computers), 30 April 2007 p.4 (relocation of Unity Otago Lodge), 21 July 2012 p.1 (Otago Friendly Society disbanded); The Star, 14 June 2007 p.19 (re-opening of The Perc).

Other references: Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4 (Otago and Southland Provincial Districts, pp.289-90); plans for alterations, Dunedin City Council records.