Building work in Dunedin continued through World War I, despite the wide-ranging ramifications of the conflict. Labour and materials were more difficult and expensive to source, but the government did not impose restrictions and, at the end of 1916, one Dunedin architect estimated costs for house construction had increased only 7 or 8 per cent. This figure was thought too conservative by one local builder, who claimed that the price of timber alone added more than 30 per cent. He said the cost of bricks had increased by about 20 per cent, while steel had risen between 200 and 300 per cent.
One of the more imposing new structures built during the war was for Rutherfords Ltd, on the corner of Manse and High streets. The manufacture and importation of clothing and textiles was big business at this time. Companies based in Dunedin included Ross & Glendining, Hallenstein’s, Sargood Son & Ewen, and Butterworth Bros. These firms all had large factories and warehouses, each a hive of activity in the heart of city.
In 1914 one of Butterworths’ former departmental managers, Alfred James Rutherford, led the formation of Rutherfords Ltd, a company set up to carry on the business of ‘wholesale and retail drapers and furnishers and general warehousemen in all its branches’. The founding shareholders were all from the Rutherford, Walker, and Ritchie families.
By 1915 Rutherfords was operating from Manse Street. Old wooden buildings on the site dated back to 1860-1861, when they had been built for the Dunedin Athenaeum and Mechanics’ Institution to the designs of William Langlands. They were used as the City Council Chambers in the 1870s, and later as offices by the Railways Department, before being put to commercial use. Additions were made to the original structure.
Architects Mason & Wales called for tenders for a new Rutherfords warehouse in January 1918. What is now New Zealand’s oldest architectural firm was then under the control of Patrick Young Wales, the son of co-founder N.Y.A. Wales. P.Y. Wales was described a man ‘who did not countenance any suspicion of shoddy work and, as many a builder knew, he would use a knife to check on the mortar between brickwork. If it did not measure up then he was known, on occasions, to kick a wall down’. The firm designed a wide variety of buildings, its biggest contracts in the first half of the twentieth century being for hospital buildings in Dunedin and wider Otago.
Fletcher Bros (forerunner of the Fletcher Construction Co.) was the building company for Rutherfords. Demolition work was carried out in February 1918 and the estimated completion date was June. The building cost nearly £5,000, at a time when modest but well-constructed houses could be built for less than £400.
The First World War was in its final year and the writer of an Otago Daily Times report hoped the new building signalled better times ahead and the end of Dunedin’s longer-term commercial decline:
‘The spirit of enterprise that has marked the career of many present day firms of long standing in Dunedin is also manifest in firms of recent formation. It was largely owing to that spirit that Dunedin was placed in the commercial forefront in New Zealand years ago, and its manifestation in more than one direction at present, even during war conditions, is an evidence that the position the city held in that respect in former times may yet return to it.’
Rutherfords’ building was described as an up-to-date warehouse of imposing appearance and commanding position. It has three levels (a basement and two storeys above) and was designed to carry an additional two storeys if required. The foundations are concrete and the outer walls are constructed of steel-reinforced concrete and brick. Most of the internal construction is timber. The ground floor originally housed a large warehouse space, public and private offices, a strong-room, and a lift-well. The upper storey was divided into a millinery showroom, workroom, dining room, and cloakroom.
The facade architecture is of the transitional type favoured at the time. Elements of Renaissance Revival, Queen Anne, Stripped Classical and industrial influences are all discernible. Exposed brickwork uses varied patterns and shows a high standard of execution. Other features include rustication at the basement level, pilasters rising to a height of two storeys, and mullioned steel-framed windows with shallow-arched heads. The glazing was generously proportioned to let in plenty of natural light, and it was reported that the quantity of glass needed made very serious inroads into the short supplies available in wartime conditions.
Rutherfords did not get much use out of their building as the company was wound up in 1920. A sale notice described the building as a ‘modern up-to-date warehouse substantially built in brick, with two storeys and lofty concrete basement; well lighted and ventilated, and dry as a board. The warehouse is of stylish design, and the provision made for lighting makes it perfect in this respect’.
In 1921 the building was sold to the Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Co., owners of the well-known ‘Petone’ brand and northern rivals to Dunedin’s Ross & Glendining (‘Roslyn’) and Mosgiel woollen mills.
Few changes were made to the building over the next forty years, although a new entrance from High Street was added in 1934 and some modest internal alterations made. In 1962 the Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Co. merged with the Kaiapoi Woollen Co. to become Kaiapoi Petone Group Textiles Ltd (KPG) and the Dunedin branch office consolidated on the Manse Street site. This company was in turn taken over by the Mosgiel Woollen Co. in 1972, and KPG finally vacated the building in 1975.
The building had always been larger than the textile business required, with early tenants including John McDonald Ltd (furriers, costumiers, tailors) and W.J. Watson (tailor). Through the 1960s part of the building was leased to the signwriters Tyrrell & Holmes, and from 1972 to 1986 the principal occupant was Rank Xerox. The canvas department of J. McGrath & Co. also occupied part of the premises in the 1970s and 80s.
In 1986, Craigie House Ltd was established as the company owning the building, taking its new name from one of the directors. Office and other spaces have been let to various commercial tenants since this time, and within the building’s walls might still be found the ‘spirit of enterprise’ with which it was first associated.
Otago Daily Times 4 May 1914 p.4 (registration of Rutherfords), 18 October 1916 p.5 (Mandeno on cost increases), 26 January 1918 p.1 (call for tenders), 9 February 1918 p.6 (new building), 25 August 1921 p.4 (purchase by Wellington Woollen Manufacturing Co.), 19 March 1986 p.31 (Rank Xerox move); Evening Star 25 October 1916 p.6 (dispute of Mandeno’s figures), 8 February 1918 p.6 (demolition and new building), 12 Jun 1920 p.9 (for sale, description)
Directories (Harnett’s, Stone’s, Wises, and telephone)
Dunedin City Council building records
Secker, T.M. Riding Upon the Sheep’s Back: A Business and Social History of the Kaiapoi Woollen Manufacturing Company Limited 1878-1978 (MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 2001).
Sullivan, Jim. Reading Matters: A History of the Dunedin Athenaeum and Mechanics’ Institute (Dunedin: the Dunedin Athenaeum and Mechanics’ Institute, 2013).
Special thanks to Mason & Wales Architects for access to their historic records.