Tag Archives: D.G. Mowat

Mosgiel Cenotaph / Taieri Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial

Built: 1923
Address: Anzac Park, Gordon Road, Mosgiel
Architect: David Gourlay Mowat
Contractors: H.S. Bingham & Co.

Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena. Foster Series No. 4, Box 136.

Over 500 community war memorials honour the more than 18,000 New Zealand soldiers who died in World War I. They are expressions of remembrance for the loss of family, friends, citizens, and brothers in arms. This month they are focal points as the country marks the centenary of the end of the war.

Memorials built before the armistice include one at Kaitaia unveiled as early as 1916, but most date from the years after the war. In Otago, the busiest years for construction were 1921 to 1923. The Dunedin Cenotaph was not completed until 1926, and Andersons Bay unveiled its memorial arch in 1928.

Monuments took a variety of forms, including obelisks, statues, arches, and gates. Practical memorials were more common after the Second World War, but examples following the Great War included hospitals and libraries. The description ‘War Memorial’ was most prevalent, but ‘Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial’ was also common and placed emphasis on the dead rather than the conflict itself. Commentary from the time shows an awareness of this.

In April 1920, the Taieri RSA sought progress towards a memorial for the Taieri Plain. In response, the Mosgiel Borough Council organised a public meeting, held in May. RSA President Ivan Spedding suggested ‘something in the shape of a rough-cast monument’ with marble tablets. Little was settled, but there was enough momentum to get the project underway. A further meeting in July elected a committee chaired by Mosgiel mayor William Allan. Other members represented the RSA, the church, patriotic organisations, and the borough and county councils.

Fundraising efforts began with a concert in the Coronation Hall. Performers included singers, instrumentalists, a dancer, a ventriloquist, and comedy jugglers. In March 1921 the committee called for submissions for the design, and the site was debated at a public meeting in May. The leading suggestions were Gordon Road itself, and Mosgiel (now Anzac) Park. The park won out in a close vote.

Mosgiel Park was the gift of the Taieri Amateur Turf Club, which on closing had left funds for the purchase of a reserve. Opened in April 1919, it featured paths and lawn, ornamental entrance gates, and a band rotunda. In July 1919, peace oaks were planted on either side of the entrance, one by the mayoress Mrs Allan, and another by Dr Spedding on behalf of the RSA.

HyperFocal: 0

Mosgiel Park as it appeared when it opened in 1919. Otago Witness 21 May 1919 p.33  (Hocken Collections).

A proposal to dismantle the centrally-placed rotunda to make way for the memorial offended park donors, who threatened legal action. The monument was instead built inside the gates, close to Gordon Road. The rotunda and gates survived another 50 or more years before they were removed.

Referred to in reports of the time as the Taieri Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial, the monument named soldiers from Mosgiel and the wider plain but excluded West Taieri as a separate memorial had been built at Outram in 1921. The committee placed an advertisement inviting parents and families to provide names, and in July 1923 published a list and invited corrections or additions.

The successful submitting architect was David Mowat (1880-1952). Born in Dunedin, he had worked as an assistant to Edmund Anscombe before studying at the Architectural Association School in London. He established his own practice in Dunedin in 1914. His works included the Donald Reid Wing for the Otago Early Settlers’ Association, Constance Hall for Columba College, Maori Hill Presbyterian Church, and various commercial and residential buildings. He also designed the war memorials at Port Chalmers (since demolished) and High Street School.

MosgielMemorial4

Architect David Mowat’s elevation drawing. Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o Hākena MS-3500/094.

Dunedin monumental masons H.S. Bingham & Co. built the Mosgiel memorial. Established by George Munro about 1870, and taken over by Henry Bingham in 1911, the company continued in business until 2008. Its name can be found throughout Dunedin cemeteries, and other war memorials it built included those at North East Valley and Kaikorai, and the cenotaph at Queens Gardens. The cost of the Mosgiel memorial was a little over £600, about the same as a modest two or three bedroom house. Some proposed features, not specified, were left out to keep the cost down.

The concrete base was complete by the time Major General Edward Chaytor laid the foundation stone on 26 August 1923. Sung items were ‘God Save the King’, and the hymns ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’, ‘Land of Our Fathers’, and ‘O God of Bethel’. The Rev. David Calder offered a dedicatory prayer and David Hannah of the RSA read the roll of honour. Chaytor, presented with a greenstone-handled silver trowel, remarked that ‘The amount of good that these memorials would do in the future would depend on how the young were brought up to regard them. Those who lived at present knew what the war had meant in every way.’ He emphasised the ongoing struggles of soldiers returning to peacetime lives.

The memorial under construction in 1923. Image courtesy of the Mowat family.

One of four sheets of blueprint plans for the monument held by the Hocken Collections (MS-0688/290) together with a specification.

The monument, 9.1 metres high, is an obelisk rising from a square base with three concrete steps. The main shaft is steel-reinforced concrete, with a central cavity. Most of the facings are bluestone, but the top portion is Oamaru stone over solid concrete. A cross in white Italian marble, representing sacrifice, faces Gordon Road. The monument is surmounted by a bronze stand and bowl or urn, representing the sacrifice of non-Christian peoples and nations. Panels at the base name 60 fallen World War I soldiers, including John Blair Couper,  who died as a result of his injuries in 1923. A biblical quotation comes from John’s gospel: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.

Mosgiel mayor J.C. Browne died two weeks before he was due to dedicate the memorial, and his widow Margaret performed the unveiling on Armistice Day, 11 November 1923. The Mosgiel Brass Band and Taieri Pipe Band played. Charles Statham, independent MP for Dunedin Central and Speaker of the House, gave a speech emphasising the scale of the loss of life, and expressing hope for a time without wars.  He said he ‘need hardly remind them of the response of every portion of the far-flung Empire to the Motherland’s call for assistance’, and offered condolences to those who had lost loved ones.

‘Soldiers’ monument at Mosgiel’. Ref: APG-1566-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

The War Trophies Committee had initially allotted Mosgiel four machine guns, but the RSA argued it should have a big gun, and in 1921 the town was allocated a 77mm Howitzer field gun captured by the New Zealand Division on 5 November 1918. It stood in front of the memorial for many years and was probably scrapped around 1956, when it was seen lying in a corner of the tennis court grounds with a collapsed wheel.

After World War 2, tablets with a further 31 servicemen’s names were added to the shaft, and ‘Great War’ was given an ‘S’ to become ‘Great Wars’. The monument was extensively renovated in 2007 at a cost of $10,000, with stonework repointed and replacement marble name tablets installed. These are not replicas of the originals, which had lead lettering. The monument has been referred to as the Mosgiel Cenotaph since at least the late 1930s. Strictly speaking it does not meet the definition of a cenotaph as an ’empty tomb’, but there are other examples of the broader usage (including at Queen’s Gardens in Dunedin).

The Mosgiel Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists has compiled two booklets of soldier biographies: Our Stories of the World War One Soldiers on the Mosgiel War Memorial Cenotaph (2016) and For the Fallen: The Story of the Thirty-one Men of WW2 whose names appear on the Mosgiel War Memorial Cenotaph (2007).

My own grandfather’s first cousin, William Ernest McLeod, was killed in action at Jean Bart Trench near Colincamps, the Somme on 5 April 1918. He had worked in Mosgiel as a bricklayer for my great-grandfather, George McLeod, who was a borough councillor and member of the memorial committee. William was the only child of Isabella and William McLeod. The story in the family (precisely how accurate it is I don’t know), was that the post office boy came to deliver the telegram with the bad news on a lovely sunny day, and saw Auntie Belle working happily in the garden. He didn’t have the heart to deliver the telegram and came back later. Years after William’s death his parents placed a memorial notice that read: ‘Too dearly loved to be forgotten’.

The memorial helps us to remember.



 

Below is a list of the names on the memorial. If you click on a name it links to the serviceman’s record on the ‘Cenotaph’ database, which for World War I soldiers includes further links to digitised military personnel records.

World War I

Eric Oliver ALLAN
James Alexander BEGG
William BYRNE
John CALDWELL
Lyndsay Lyall CHRISTIE 
John Blair COUPER
Stewart George DEWAR
John Pearce EDE
Thomas ELLIS
John FINDLAY
Walter FINDLAY
James Alexander FITZPATRICK
John Samson FLEMING
Norman Douglas FRASER 
Andrew FREW
David FREW
John James GARRETT
George James Wilson GIBSON 
Peter Murray GILLIGAN 
George GOSSAGE
James HAIGH
John HARRIS
Richard George HARRIS
George Huntley HAY 
John Currie HENDRY
Ernest JAFFRAY
Stanley Cecil KEATING
John Dudley KEATING
Donald Stewart KENNEDY 
James KIRK 
Charles Robert KNUDSON
William John MAULSEED 
James McDONALD 
Neil McDONALD
Duncan McLEAN 
Hector Malcolm McLEOD
John Thomas McLEOD 
William Ernest McLEOD 
Murdoch McQUILKAN 
John MORRISON
Albert Robert MOYLE
George Alexander MOYLE
William Hendry NAISMITH 
John O’BRIEN
Thomas OBRIEN 
William O’BRIEN 
Alexander OWENS
Joseph Jenkins RANKIN
John Allan ROBERTSON
William Dunlop ROWAN 
William Mclean SMELLIE 
George Daniel SNELL 
Charles George SPARROW 
James Walter STEELE 
David SUTHERLAND
George WALTON
Kenneth Grigor WILIAMSON 
Thomas Sanderson WINGFIELD 

World War II

William Lewis ALCOCK 
William Maxwell ALLAN 
Donald Duncan BAIN
Frederic Thomas BEALE
Walter John BLACKIE
George Royatt BREMNER 
James Robertson BROWN
Harold Henry BRUHNS
Gordon McLaren CAMPBELL
Allan Henderson FAIRMAID
Murray Alexander GILLON
Frederick Hall GORDON
William HOSEIT
Thomas Leonard KENNEDY
Vincent Xavier KIRBY
William Winder MacKINTOSH
James Seaton McCARTNEY
John Grierson McLELLAN
Charles Graham McLEOD 
George Bertram McLEOD
Peter Robert Shaw MILLER
Albert James MILNER
Archibald John Charles MUIR
Jack Leonard PARTRIDGE 
Frederick James PASCOE
Ernest John PICKERING
Eric Robert SCOTT
George Morton SHERWOOD
William Robert SMEATON
John Ivan THOMSON
Errol James WEDDELL

Newspaper references: Evening Star 28 April 1919 p.4 (handover of Mosgiel Park), 5 April 1920 p.4 (W.E. McLeod), 16 Apr 1920 p.3 (Taieri RSA), 4 May 1920 p.7 (machine guns allotted), 21 May 1920 p.2 (public meeting), 15 September 1920 p.6 (fundraising concert), 26 March 1921 p.7 (call for design submissions), 19 December 1922 p.7 (site and moving of rotunda), 30 December 1922 p.1 (call for tenders), 26 May 1923 p.4 (rotunda to stay in same position), 14 July 1923 p.4 (contract awarded to Bingham & Co.); Otago Daily Times 16 November 1917 p.2 (proposed memorial building), 17 January 1918 p.4 (gift of park), 28 April 1919 p.8 (handover of park), 15 May 1919 p.4 (peace celebrations), 14 July 1919 p/5 (peace celebrations), 24 July 1920 p.10 (memorial for whole plain, committee appointed), 5 April 1921 p.4 (W.E. McLeod), 18 May 1921 p.4 (meeting, vote on location), 7 Jun 1921 p.7 (trophy guns), 30 September 1921 p.7 (Taieri Male Choir concert), 7 November 1922 p.9 (approval by Mosgiel Borough Council), 6 February 1923 p.9 (proposal to dismantle rotunda), 25 July 1923 p.9 (list of soldiers’ names); 27 August 1923 p.10 (foundation stone), 27 October 1923 p.14 (J.C. Browne obituary), 12 November 1923 p.8 (unveiling). Otago Witness 18 December 1918 p.26 (club house opened), 16 July 1919 p.19 (peace celebrations), 14 September 1920 p.23 (West Taieri memorial); Taieri Herald 10 September 1985 p.3 (‘Anzac Park work ready to start), 13 February 2007 p.1 (‘Memorial restoration underway’).

Other references:
Our stories of the World War One soldiers on the Mosgiel War Memorial Cenotaph.
(Mosgiel: New Zealand Society of Genealogists, Mosgiel Branch, 2016).
For the fallen : the story of the thirty-one men of WW2 whose names appear on the
        Mosgiel War Memorial Cenotaph (Mosgiel: New Zealand Society of Genealogists,                  Mosgiel Branch, and Mosgiel Memorial RSA Inc., 2007).
‘First World War Memorials’, from New Zealand History website,
https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/interpreting-first-world-war-memorials
‘Mosgiel war memorial’, from New Zealand History website
https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/photo/mosgiel-war-memorial
‘Mosgiel’s Missing WW1 War Memorial Trophy Gun’ from The Hangfire: Newsletter of the           New Zealand Antique Arms Association (Otago Branch), March 2015.
Phillips, Jock. To the Memory: New Zealand’s War Memorials (Nelson: Potton & Burton,               2016).
William McLellan Ltd records, Hocken Collections / Uare Taoka o o Hākena, ref: MS-                   0688/290 (blueprint plans and specifications), MS-3500/094 (elevation drawing).

Special thanks to David and Miriam Mowat, Bill Lang, and Chris Scott (DCC Archives).

A version of this post was published in the Otago Daily Times on 10 November 2018.

Filleul Street

Filleul Street appears (unnamed) on Charles Kettle’s original street plan, but its development was slow, partly due to the swampy nature of the land. Its name is not one of the many Dunedin took from Edinburgh, and the earliest reference to it in the Otago Witness dates from March 1859. Canon Edmund Nevill (1862-1933) was an historian of place names (a toponymist!), and the following extract is taken from one of his manuscripts held in the Hocken Collections. He refers to James Fulton, the prosperous Taieri farmer and parliamentarian, whose residence Lisburn House still stands at Caversham.

Here follow some place names embodying old stories. The late Dr Robert Fulton told me the first. He said ‘As the story of how Filleul St got its name has not so far appeared in print I detail it here, for I had it from my father James Fulton. In the fifties he and his brother Robert, who lived at Ravensbourne [sic] West Taieri used to walk into town at election times, record their votes, and return home – often with 50lb bags of flour on their backs. On one occasion they came to the Town Board office for some special reason and James Macandrew said “hullo, Jim, you are the very man we want” (Everyone was Jim and Bob and Harry in those days.) “We are naming some of the streets, you have chosen sections in this flag swamp, we’ll call them Fulton St.” “No you don’t Mac” said my father, laughing “here’s Dickey Filleul, call it after him”. The two Filleuls, William and Richard, were great friends of my father, nephews of the Valpys. They went to Oamaru and settled there but were very little in Dunedin. However, the name was given and has remained. The Filleuls were French Hugenots who came to England at the time of the massacre of St Bartholemew (1572).’

The FIlleul brothers , Richard Anthony Filleul and William Gabriel Filleul, were born in Jersey in the Channel Islands and came to Otago in 1849 when still in their teens. They went to the Victorian goldfields in 1852 and after their return were sheep farmers at Papakaio. They both went to England for a time, and Richard drowned when the Lord Raglan sank en route to New Zealand in 1863. William Gabriel Filleul gave up farming later in the 1860s and became Clerk of the Resident Magistrate’s Court in Oamaru. He retired to Nelson where he died in 1902. His wife, Louisa, was fond of riding and it was told in her obituary that she:

…covered great stretches of country on horseback. As a protection against bushrangers, who were haunting the country about Dunedin at the time, she and her cousin carried pots of pepper in their saddle-bags, and it was characteristic of Mrs Filleul that she expressed disappointment that the pepper never had to be used.

The Fulton story has a good provenance, but stories of origin are seldom straightforward and there is a bit more to this one too. Dr Hocken stated that William Filleul told him that he purchased a section at the corner of Moray Place and Filleul Street. Mr Abbott, the surveyor superintending the purchase, said ‘I see this street has got no name, we’ll call it Filleul Street’. Hocken’s information suggests that while the circumstances may have been approximately as Fulton described, the naming was not quite as haphazard as his story suggested. Further complicating things, Robin Mitchell (1954) wrote that the first landowner in the street was Philip Filleul. This would likely be Philip Valpy Mourant Filleul, the older brother of Richard and William, who settled in Tasmania but apparently spent very little time here. A search of land records held by Archives New Zealand would likely clarify which of the Filleuls bought the section.

Filleul Street looking north, c.1880. The intersection with St Andrew Street and York Place is in the foreground. Detail from Burton Bros photograph, Te Papa C.012114.

In the 1860s, numerous small houses and modest commercial and buildings were built. The occupations of the residents named in Stone’s directory for 1884 included labourer, plasterer, clerk, storekeeper, artist, waiter, cook, baker, charwoman, photographer, music teacher, stocking knitter, signwriter, sailmaker, accountant, auctioneer, ironworker, butcher, draper, fruiterer, jobmaster, expressman, dealer, carter, glass engraver, plasterer, crockery merchant, and brewer. Not all of the homes were on the streetfront, with many of the humbler dwellings down little lanes and alleys.

The Liverpool Arms Hotel opened on the upper side of the street, between Moray Place and York Place, in 1869. It was kept by Edmund O’Keeffe, and later by his son Alfred Henry O’Keefe, who went on to became one of New Zealand’s most celebrated early painters and art teachers. The Liverpool Arms lost its license in 1894 and in 1909 became the Anglican Men’s Mission House, run by the Rev. V.G. Bryan King. A newspaper feature published in the Otago Witness gives insight into the lives of some of Dunedin’s most disadvantaged people, though it leaves many questions as to how it was from their own perspective. King told a reporter:

‘Well, yes I am somewhat busy at times, but the work never becomes monotonous. On Thursday afternoon, for instance, I had a man in the “D.T.’s” in here, a destitute woman and her child in the hall, a mad woman creating a disturbance at the front door, and a young man, with something in his eye, asking attention. I simply did not know what to do first, so I commenced operations by evicting the mad woman, and while I was attending to her the “D.T.” patient escaped, and caused me a lot of trouble…’

Mr King had long advocated such a place, and when „it was finally decided to establish the mission he was at some pains to discover a suitable site for it. Eventually he decided on Filleul street, near a quarter where there were houses of a bad reputation. The house he took, indeed, had been one of the most unsavoury in the neighbourhood. It had been tenanted by rogues, vagabonds, gamblers, and half-caste Chinese girls. It was filthily dirty; when it was being cleaned the accumulations of years had to be scraped off the floor with a spade. In an upstairs room some 12 or 14 ferrets had been kept, and long after their removal there remained in the vicinity an odour that very forcibly reminded one of the polecat tribe. But soap, water, paint and paper presently rendered the half-dozen rooms clean and habitable…

Now, Mr King is tall and pale and slightly built. The reporter was curious to know how he fared in […] unwished-for encounters, and he put the question. Mr King smiled, and pointed to a couple of books lying handily. ‘Ju-jitsu?’ said the reporter. ‘Precisely,’ said the clergyman. ‘My best friend. I learned it long since, and have used it frequently’ […] ‘I have had some of the biggest wharf labourers in Dunedin tackle me at different times,’ he said, complacently; ‘but I survived. No – no damage.’

The building reverted to residential use in the 1920s and was eventually demolished around 1970.

Detail from the above image showing the Liverpool Arms Hotel.

Four churches were built on corner sites. The old Brethren Hall (later the Beneficiaries Hall) on the Hanover Street corner was designed by J.L. Salmond in 1894. It was Maude’s Fabric Barn for a time and is now the restaurant Miga. The Evangelical Church of Christ stood near the Moray Place intersection from 1910 to 1976. This is not to be confused with the St Andrew Street Church of Christ, designed by David Mowat and opened in 1926. It replaced the Tabernacle in Great King Street, and remains a landmark building  with its Wrenesque tower and a classical styling unusual in Dunedin’s ecclesiastical architecture. On the diagonally opposite corner remains another church building, the former York Place Gospel Hall. It was much modified for re-use by Warwick Grimmer Ltd in 1990.

The Church of Christ, on the St Andrew Street corner.

The Dunedin Brewery was established at the northern end of the street in 1861. It was taken over by Charles Keast in 1870 and he went into partnership with John McCarthy in 1871 to form Keast & McCarthy. The old wooden buildings were removed and a new brewery in brick and bluestone erected between 1873 and 1874. Later buildings included brick offices fronting Filleul Street designed by Louis Boldini (1878), a new malthouse and other buildings designed by T.B. Cameron (1880), and extensive additions fronting London Street designed by Drew & Lloyd (1882). The brewery closed in 1895 and the buildings were taken over by Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co., which also had factory premises in St Andrew Street and Moray Place. This large company was known for its ranges of jams, soups, preserved meats, and other canned food products. It eventually operated factories throughout New Zealand and continued to be based on the Filleul Street site until it closed in 1977. The buildings were demolished, but a remnant wall can be seen from London Street. Smiths City later developed a store on the site fronting Filleul Street. This closed in 2008 and the building is now partly occupied by Lincraft.

Irvine and Stevenson’s St George Co., in buildings originally erected for Keast & McCarthy’s Dunedin Brewery.

Detail on the Irvine & Stevenson buildings. Photograph taken by Hardwicke Knight in the early 1960s.

An aerial photograph from March 1955 showing some of the housing still on the street at that time. George Street is in the foreground. Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-37713-F. Alexander Turnbull Library http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23527357

There were still many houses in the street in the 1960s but few remain today. The property became attractive to commercial developers and various new two-storey buildings were built in the 1970s. Three two-storey houses from around the turn of the century remain on the slope immediately below London Street, and a single-storey 1890s villa there was demolished only recently to make way for apartments.

The eastern side of Filleul Street is now dominated by multi-storey carparks. The first was built for Gardner Motors in 1969, together with a car sales yard on the corner of Moray Place. It was the first carpark of its type in Dunedin and the architects were Mason & Wales. The Golden Centre followed in 1979 and the Meridian mall in 1997. The mall carparks usefully service nearby shops and businesses, but their appearance and function dehumanise a large part of street. The Wall Street complex, opened in 2009, has a glass frontage at ground level.

The Gardner Motors building became Health Board House in 1989, when it was rebuilt with additional floors of office accommodation. It was transformed from a bland utilitarian structure into a striking example of postmodernism (‘pomo’), an architectural movement that peaked in Dunedin between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s (later than in some other cities). The architect was Ashley Muir of Mason & Wales, and the Otago Daily Times reported that he:

…believes buildings should not be fashionable and says the buildings people like in Dunedin have been there for 100 years […] He uses Greek and Roman influences because he believes they form part of people’s perceptions of what a public building should be. Public buildings must also have visual texture, like the Dunedin Railway Station, which is ‘full of visual texture’.

The continued role of revivalism in Dunedin architecture might be something good to follow up here another time. I had intended this post to be about a street name but have ended up writing about modern carparks! If nothing else, this shows how much one busy central city street can evolve in a relatively short space of time. No doubt Filleul Street will be further transformed in the future.

The intersection of Moray Place and Filleul Street. A photograph taken by Hardwicke Knight around 1960.

StGeorgeDec1979Blackman

A view up Hanover Street to Filleul Street taken in December 1979, with demolition underway on Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. factory. Image courtesy of and copyright Gary Blackman.

A recent view of the intersection of Moray Place and Filleul Street. The large structure is the rebuilt Gardner Motors carpark building.

A view down Filleul Street from near the London Street intersection.

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 19 March 1859 p.2 (early reference to Filleul Street), 17 March 1898 p.35 (biography of W.G. Filleul), 10 November 1909 p.89 (mission house); Otago Daily Times, 1 October 1878 p.1 (Boldini additions to brewery), 3 February 1880 p.4 (T.B. Cameron additions to brewery), 18 July 1882 p.4 (Drew & Lloyd additions to brewery); 2 August 1989 p.24 (rebuilding of Gardner Motors) North Otago Times, 7 August 1902 p.3 (obituary for W.G. Filleul); New Zealand Herald, 7 September 1927 p.12 (obituary for Louisa Filleul).

Other references:
Croot, Charles. Dunedin Churches: Past and Present (Dunedin: Otago Settlers Association, 1999).
Griffiths, George. Dunedin Street Names (Dunedin: the author, 1999).
Hocken, Thomas Morland: NZ Notes. Hocken Collections MS-0037.
Leckie, Frank G. Otago Breweries: Past and Present. (Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, 1997).
Nevill, Edmund Robert : Papers relating to European placenames in New Zealand. Hocken Collections MS-0160A.
Stevenson, Geoffrey W., The House of St George: A Centennial History 1864-1964 (Dunedin: Irvine & Stevenson’s St George Co. Ltd, [1964]).

The Rio Grande

Built: 1927-1928
Address: 73 Princes Street
Architects: David Gourlay Mowat
Builders: G. Lawrence & Sons

This wee gem often catches my eye. The Rio Grande was the restaurant of Dimitrios Pagonis (1893-1976), a Greek immigrant from the island of Evvia. Pagonis had arrived in Dunedin in 1915, when he went into business as a confectioner and opened the Anglo American Candy Kitchen. He sold the business in 1927, when he commissioned architect D.G. Mowat to replace the 1860s building at 73 Princes Street (part of a larger block of shops) with a new structure. Plans dated 24 August 1927 show a building with three levels (two above the street and one below) on a concrete foundation that would allow the height to be increased to a total of five levels if required. The restaurant occupied the ground floor and basement, and the first floor was used as office space. The builders were Lawrence & Sons.

The building was completed by April 1928, when an Evening Star report described it:

‘Only last week the proprietor of the Rio Grande restaurant served the first meal to the public, and if internal decoration has anything to do with a cafe’s popularity then the Rio Grande should find a warm spot in the heart of patrons. The fibrous plastering has been very well done by Messrs Forman and Nicol, and Messrs Arnold, Brock, and Raffils have put their best work into the lead-lighting arrangements. The kitchen is fitted out with the usual culinary equipment of modern times. From the street the building has a remarkably fine appearance, the marble floor running in from the pavement being quite a feature.’

David Gourlay Mowat (1880-1952) was most active in Dunedin in the 1920s and 1930s. His designs included the St Andrew Street Church of Christ, the Maori Hill Presbyterian Church, Mann’s Buildings at the corner of Manse and High streets, and the building at 232 George Street which is now a McDonald’s restaurant. The last of these was built in 1929 and shares with the Rio Grande a distinctive first-floor window design with arched lintels and leadlight windows described as ‘sashed in the antique style’.  Both buildings have similar decorative mouldings that frame their facades. In the Rio Grande, the international vogue for Egyptian decoration comes through in an understated way through the pilasters and curved entablature. Mowat’s front elevation drawing shows the faint lettering ‘The Rio Grand’ [sic] in the recessed panel that runs across the upper part of the facade. The spelling in later sources varies.

Restaurants operated from the building under various managers for ten years. During the Great Depression street riot of 1932, Pagonis opened the restaurant to rioters for the whole day, feeding them without charge. Not long after this he sold the building and left Dunedin, but he later returned and established the Beau Monde Milk Bar, further south and on the opposite side of Princes Street.

A wartime advertisement. Otago Daily Times, 27 April 1943 p.5.

A wartime advertisement. Otago Daily Times, 27 April 1943 p.5.

View showing the building as it appeared in the mid 1970s with the clock in place. Detail from photograph by Hardwicke Knight.

The jewellers G. & T. Young took the premises in 1938, when new shop fronts and other alterations were designed by architects Salmond & Salmond. The large Birmingham clock that had been a feature outside their previous two premises since 1871 was moved and attached to the facade. G. & T. Young moved to George Street premises in 1988 and the clock was removed in 1990. When the firm went into liquidation in 2009 it was believed to be the oldest jewellery business in New Zealand. It had been established by George Young in 1862, with his brother Thomas admitted as a partner in 1876.

Most recently the Rio Grande building housed Rocda Gallery, and its plaster ceilings are still largely intact. For a small, domestically-scaled commercial building it attracts a lot of admiring comments, perhaps because its modest take on 1920s architectural fashion has more than a little sparkle to it, like a ring in a little jeweller’s box.

Do any readers have historical photographs of this building? I’d love to see a good view of it with the clock still in place.

Newspaper references: Evening Star, 10 January 1928 p.2 (construction progress), 2 April 1928 p.2 (description); 18 December 1928 p.2 (building at 232 George Street); Otago Witness, 18 May 1867 p.11 (earlier buildings), 15 April 1871 p.14 (G. & T. Young clock); Otago Daily Times, 17 April 1867 p.1 (earlier buildings), 14 May 1990 p.3 (clock removed), 27 January 2009 p.4 (liquidation of G. & T. Young).

Other references: Directories (Stone’s, Wise’s, telephone); Jane Thomson,‘Papers relating to Southern People’ (Hocken Archives MS-1926/1347); Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans.