Tag Archives: Cumberland Street

Union Steam Ship Company offices

Built: 1882-1883
Address: 49 Water Street
Architect: David Ross (1828-1908)
Builders: Bateman & Stait

The office building as it appeared in the 1880s, with the store building adjoining it at the left rear. Image: Burton Brothers, Hocken Collections S10-221c.

The Union Steam Ship Company was a giant of colonial commerce. It became both the largest shipping company in the southern hemisphere and the largest private employer in New Zealand. Established by James Mills in Dunedin in 1875, it grew out of a shipping business started by John Jones and later managed by Mills. By 1882 it operated coastal and inter-colonial shipping routes, with a fleet of twenty-one steamers and a further four on order. At this time its head office was at the corner of Liverpool and Bond streets.

Flag of the Union Steam Ship Company. Image: Museum of Wellington City and Sea 2005.4970.90.

Flag of the Union Steam Ship Company. Image: Museum of Wellington City and Sea 2005.4970.90.

In September 1882 the company appointed prominent local architect David Ross to design a new office building and adjoining store, to be built on recently reclaimed Harbour Board land fronting Water Street. The following month the contract for construction was awarded to Bateman & Stait, who submitted the lowest tender of £6,526 (less £375 if minarets and parapets were left off). Although this was a large sum for a Dunedin building, it was modest compared with the cost of a ship. the company’s two largest new ships of 1883 (the Tarawera and the Hauroto) each cost over £60,000. The building project took approximately a year to complete and was finished around November 1883.

Detail cropped from Muir & Moodie photograph. Image: Te Papa C.012197.

Detail cropped from Muir & Moodie photograph. Image: Te Papa C.012197.

Detail cropped from Muir & Moodie photograph. Image: Te Papa C.012197.

The main building was brick, rendered in cement plaster, with concrete foundations and a half-sunk Port Chalmers stone basement that rose six feet above the footpath. The roof was slate. Elaborately decorated elevations were described in the Otago Daily Times as ‘tasteful, although anything but gaudy’, and it was reported that ‘in point of external appearance the structure will not be rivalled by any other of its kind in the city’. The style was essentially Renaissance Revival (‘modern Italian’), but the fanciful roofline featured an array of minarets that probably drew from English Tudor models, and a square-based dome was suggestive of the French Second Empire style. Some proposed decorative details, ‘an emblematic design (globe, anchor, cable &c.) enclosing a clock’, were not finished as intended.

Ross had spent time in both France and the United States a few years before, and what he saw there likely influenced the design, which was a departure from his earlier work. While the building was still under construction he won the competition for the design of the Auckland Harbour Board offices with a strikingly similar composition.

That looks familiar! David Ross also designed the Auckland Harbour Board offices in Quay Street, Auckland (1883). Its exterior decoration was removed in 1958 and the building was demolished in 1969. Image: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W890.

The Tarawera, one of the large new vessels which entered service for the Union Company in 1883. Image: John Dickie, Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-031815-G http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23208710

The Tarawera, one of the large new vessels which entered service for the Union Company in 1883. It cost £61,000 to build and was 2,003 gross tons. Image: John Dickie, Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-031815-G http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23208710

The neighbouring store building fronting Cumberland Street had a simpler but complementary design and the combined height of its four storeys were the same as the three storeys of the offices. The store included a hydraulic goods lift at one corner and the building reportedly contained ‘every convenience for the reception and despatch of the various materials needed on board the Company’s steamers’. The top storey of the office portion was also initially used as storage space. On the lower floors were counters, desks and other carved timber fittings of polished cedar and walnut. The large shipping hall on the ground floor (22 x 32 feet) featured parquet flooring and handsome cornices, and the vestibule was paved with Minton tiles and had iron gates. On the same level were also a smoking room for visiting ship captains, a reading room (with ‘all the principal Colonial journals’), a telephone room (for that relatively newfangled invention), the Engineer’s Office, and other staff offices. The first floor included the board room, James Mills’ own office, the deputy manager’s office, and the bookkeeping department. Heating was by F.H. Asbury’s low-pressure steam system, and there were also open fireplaces in some rooms.

The building remained the head office of the Union Steam Ship Company from 1883 to 1921. The company’s headquarters then transferred to Wellington and the Water Street building was used by the Dunedin branch office, which only needed the ground floor. Meanwhile, on the corner diagonally opposite, the National Mortgage and Agency Company had outgrown its premises, so in 1929 the Union Company and the NMA came to an arrangement to exchange buildings. The two firms had a long association, and had mutual directors for some years.

Established in 1864, the NMA was a stock and station company that became the second largest wool broker in New Zealand. The company’s historian, Gordon Parry, described its fortunes in the interwar years: ‘Bemused by topsy-turvy trading conditions and unpredictable price fluctuations, the National Mortgage bounced through the troublesome time of the late 20s and into the threatening 30s rather like one of its staff members following a narrow sheep trail in a poorly sprung runabout’.

The outward appearance of the building changed little in its first decade of NMA ownership, the few alterations including new signage and lettering (for example ‘USSCo’ was changed to ‘NMACo’’ on the basement grilles). In 1940, however, it underwent a major transformation. Most of the building’s original exterior decoration was destroyed in remodelling designed by architects Mandeno & Fraser (the specification is initialled by W.H. Mandeno). Such facelifts were common in Dunedin at the time, influenced by fashion and iconoclasm, and often triggered by maintenance issues such as crumbling masonry. Existing masonry was bolstered back or filled in, and surfaces replastered in a fashionable quasi-Art Deco style, with restrained decoration and contrasting colour effects. The end result didn’t look quite like a twentieth century building, as the overall proportions and most of the windows were unchanged. The stone basement was not altered and the grand entrance doors were also retained.

The building at the time of the NMA centennial celebrations in 1964. Image: Hocken Collections S10-221e.

The building in 2010, prior to redevelopment.

The building in 2013, after redevelopment.

NMA moved its head office to Wellington in 1970 and the Dunedin building became a branch office. The company merged with Wright Stephenson & Co. in 1972 and the new company (Wrightson NMA) vacated the Water Street premises in 1977. The building was renamed Vogel House and during the 1980s and 1990s it was used as a rehearsal venue for bands and other musicians. The Dunedin Sound group The Chills had a space on the south of the first floor and recorded their single Doledrums there in 1984. Other groups that rehearsed in the building included the Kaftans, the Moomins, and Jim’s Live Deer Recovery. The building was later the venue of a two-week squat installation by artist Georgiana Morrison (1995) and the show ‘Dereliction’ by Kim Pieters (1996).

Steve Macknight’s NMA Properties Ltd redeveloped the building between 2010 and 2012. The exterior was renovated to approximately its 1940 appearance, an exception from this being the addition of a modern cornice at parapet level. Paint was stripped from the stonework and plasterwork, and the latter was recoloured. Few of the original interior features had survived earlier alterations, however, remnants of plaster cornices and entrance features were retained. Brick walls and roof structures were exposed, making the most of surviving historic fabric. Major earthquake strengthening (to 67% of the new building standard) included new poured concrete floors and tying back of walls. The redevelopment was granted $20,000 from the Dunedin Heritage Fund in 2010 and won the 2013 Dunedin Heritage Re-Use Award. Current tenants include Wine Freedom and Psychology Associates.

It is a pity that the building is not the spectacular example of Victorian exuberance it once was, but this in no way diminishes its significance as a rich site of cultural and economic history. Historian Gavin McLean describes it as ‘New Zealand’s most important office building’. I nominated it as an historic place to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 2010 and it is yet to be assessed, but thanks to the work of enthusiastic local developers its future looks good, and it is once more an attractive and widely appreciated part of Dunedin’s Warehouse Precinct.

The main entrance, including original doors.

Original basement stonework and grille.

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 10 September 1883 p.4 (description), 28 July 1977 p.11-18 (removal of Wrightson NMA); Evening Post (Wellington), 6 March 1929 p.8 (building exchange).

Other references:
Baré, Robert. City of Dunedin Block Plans (Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, 1889).
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
‘A Citizen’ [John Bathgate]. An Illustrated Guide to Dunedin and its Industries (Dunedin: Fergusson & Mitchell, 1883), pp.140-142.
McLean, Gavin. 100 Historic Places in New Zealand (Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett, 2002), pp.122-123.
Parry, Gordon. NMA: The story of the first 100 years: The National Mortgage and Agency Company of New Zealand Ltd 1864-1964 (London and Dunedin: NMA. 1964).
Minutes. Union Steam Ship Company records, Hocken Collections AG-292-3/1/2
Tabulated abstracts of accounts. Union Steam Ship Company records, Hocken Collections AG-292-7/9/1
Mandeno & Fraser specification for 1940 remodelling (with thanks to Oakley Gray architects)
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)
Information about band rehearsals in the building supplied by James Dignan.

Facade detail.

View across the intersection of Water and Vogel streets.

Hogg, Howison, Nicol & Co. Building

Built: 1881
Address: 19 Vogel Street
Architect: Robert Forrest (c.1832-1919)
Builders: King & Co. (bricklaying), John Blackie (carpentry)

The building as it appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century, when it was occupied by Paterson & Barr

Vogel Street is home to some of Dunedin’s most substantial Victorian warehouses. This one, which has frontages to both Vogel and Cumberland streets, was built for the importing and general merchants Hogg, Howison, Nicol & Co. The firm had recently succeeded Hogg & Hutton, who traded as grocers in Dunedin from 1863, and the partners were James Hogg, Charles Macandrew Howison, and Lancelot Douglas Nicol. The building site was only formed after 1879, when a large-scale harbour reclamation project began. Being handy to the harbour, railway, and central business district, the newly formed Vogel Street was a logical location for large commercial warehouses. It extended an established precinct of similar warehouses centred around Crawford and Bond streets, the latter having been named after the bonded warehouses that sprang up there twenty years before.

Tenders for the construction work were called in May 1881, and the building was complete by the following January. It was a three-storey structure, not including the concrete cellar and an attic level. Because of the poor quality of the land, the foundation was laid on a system of planking, with ‘a wall of concrete three feet in depth, surmounted by Port Chalmers stone, laid right round in inverted arches, in order to equalise the weight on the foundations by throwing it on the piers’. Above the ground floor the walls were built from 250,000 bricks, and arched throughout. Strong kauri storey posts ran right through from the cellar, carrying cross-beams fourteen inches by ten inches which took the floor joists.

Stores were spread over three levels with an entrance on Cumberland Street and a lift capable of raising loads of up to 1,500kg at a time. They housed the firm’s imported goods, which included tea, tobacco, sauces, hardware, guano fertiliser, and many other things. The office entrance was on Vogel Street, and the first floor included separate rooms for each partner of the firm, a general office for about eight clerks, and a room for commercial travellers connected with the firm. The office partitions were kauri and cedar, with glass on the upper part. An impressive counter was framed in cedar with sunk panels of plain kauri, raised panels of mottled kauri, and fitted with mouldings in rewarewa (New Zealand honeysuckle).

Robert Forrest designed the building, which was one of his earlier works after he gave up being a building contractor to become a full-time architect. King and Co. were the contractors for the bricklaying, and John Blackie for the carpentry work. The Vogel Street and Cumberland Street facades were essentially identical. Renaissance Revival was the style used for their design, which included pilasters, quoining, a bold cornice, and a high parapet and pediment (with volutes and acroteria) which masked the gable ends of the roof structure. Each facade was cemented and tuck-pointed, ‘to give it a lighter appearance’.

Detail from an 1885 view, showing the Vogel Street frontage before the erection of buildings on the south side. The Union Steam Ship Company head office is the prominent building at the centre, and the large Donald Reid stores can be seen at the right. (Toitu / Otago Settlers Museum 57-121-1)

Guano advertisement from the Bruce Herald, 24 October 1893 p.3 (Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand)

James Hogg (c.1839-1903), senior partner of Hogg, Howison, Nicol & Co.

A second building, immediately to the south, was erected for Hogg Howison between 1887 and 1888, and let to the Mutual Agency Company of New Zealand. Its design closely resembled the first building, the most obvious difference being that the outer bays of the first and second floor facades were given pairs of windows rather than single ones. It was later occupied by Remshardt & Co. (wool, skin, and hide merchants), and later still by Milne Bremner Ltd (wholesale wine, spirit, and grocery merchants). It survives, but its facades were stripped of decoration in the 1940s and it is no longer the close match with its neighbour that it once was. Between 2006 and 2008 the Milne Bremner Building was redeveloped and strengthened to a high standard by Adrian Thompson and his company Hyperstella.

View from Cumberland Street showing the Milne Bremner Building when it was occupied by Remshardt & Co. The facades of the two buildings were very similar but not identical.

Hogg, Howison, Nicol & Co. wound up in 1895, and their building was taken by Scoular Bros & Co. (importers) from 1896 to 1900. From 1903 to 1938 it was owned and occupied by Paterson & Barr Ltd, ironmongers and hardware merchants. They soon built an iron yard and store for heavy goods on the half section immediately to the north, and in 1929 they commissioned the architect W.H. Dunning to design a second three-storey warehouse for that site, to work as an extension. Tenders were called in December 1929 and Thomas Ferguson was awarded the contract. The brickwork and mouldings of Dunning’s design suggest something transitioning from the so-called ‘Queen Anne’ style, which was really eclectic rather than characterised by the architecture of Anne’s reign. The glazing has a more modern aesthetic.

Paterson & Barr moved to High Street in 1938, where they continued to trade into the 1980s. The tyre and rubber merchants E.W. Pidgeon & Co. occupied a portion of the Vogel Street building from 1938 to 1962. A large fire in 1942 gutted the upper part, which included the softgoods factory of J.W. Bradley and its fifty workers. It may have been after the fire that the prominent cornices, gable ends, and elaborate parapet ornamentation were removed, and the tuck-pointed brickwork to the facades rendered. These features are not present in an aerial photograph dated September 1946.

From 1952 to 1989 the buildings were home to the Dunedin Working Men’s Club. Established in 1938, this was a social club which had a bar and provided facilities for darts, snooker, pool, indoor bowls, and table tennis. In 1976 the club boasted a membership of over 1,800. It admitted women from 1980 and in 1989 it changed its name to the Dunedin Metropolitan Club and moved to Melville Street.

The building is looking rather scruffy these days, but hopefully it will play an important part in the revitalisation of Vogel Street that has included the recent sympathetic redevelopment of the nearby NMA and Donald Reid buildings.

Detail on Vogel Street

Vogel Street frontage, with the 1929 building on the left

Cumberland Street frontage

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 18 April 1881 p.4 (tenders for bricks), 6 May 1881 p.4 (tenders for foundations and construction), 10 January 1882 p.2 (description on completion), 3 February 1887 p.3 (fire), 25 August 1942 p.2 (fire), 28 August 1942 p.4 (fire), 22 December 1976 p.16 (history and description of Dunedin Working Men’s Club), 10 March 1989 p.3 (admission of women), 28 February 1989 p.5 (name change and removal of club to new premises); Evening Star, 3 December 1929 p.2 (call for tenders), 7 January 1930 p.2 (contract to Ferguson)

Other references:
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4 (Otago and Southland Provincial Districts), 1905.
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, [1889].
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, [1892].
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit and rates records

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.