Tag Archives: Milburn Lime & Cement

Allan Grange

Guest post by Michael Findlay

Built: 1899-1900
Address: Glenelg Street, Bradford
Architects: Not identified
Builders: Jensen Patent Construction Co. Ltd

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‘Hiding in plain sight’ is a phrase often used in architectural heritage where the actual significance of a building or place is not revealed by its surface appearance. So it is with Allan Grange, a villa in the suburb of Bradford in Dunedin’s Kaikorai Valley. This two-storey house stands in Glenelg Street, still surrounded by a woodland garden. It is now thought to be the first house constructed of hollow cement block in New Zealand and a close contemporary of the first houses of their type in North America. How it happened is still a bit of a puzzle.

The owner of Allan Grange, Thomas Mackenzie (1853–1930) was an important national figure, representing Clutha in parliament from 1887. He was dispatched to London by the Government as trade commissioner in 1889 and played a major role in promoting local exports, particularly frozen lamb, wool and grain. He returned to Dunedin in 1899 and stood for election in the Waihemo electorate, becoming Minister of Agriculture in 1900 and also Minister of Tourism and Postmaster General. He was Prime Minister briefly in 1912 after the resignation of Sir Joseph Ward, when he returned to London to reprise his earlier role as New Zealand High Commissioner. Somehow Mackenzie also found time for the mayoralty of Roslyn between 1901 and 1905. The history presented to the recent purchasers of the house was that it was built in 1872 and made from Portland stone concrete blocks imported as ships’ ballast, showing how stories around houses often contain facts and speculation mixed together.

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Sir Thomas Mackenzie and Peter Henry Buck, in France, during World War I. Ref: Alexander Turnbull Library 1/2-037933-F.

Between his numerous commercial and political activities, Mackenzie developed his seven-acre estate in Kaikorai Valley. Council details are scant but in 1899 he likely engaged the Jensen Patent Construction Company to build a house on the property. The business was set up late in 1898 to exploit patents for Monier construction, a technology pioneered in France for wire reinforced concrete. Its founder was a Danish engineer named Vilhelm Alfred Langevad (or Langevod) who held the patents for ‘Improved Monier System of Construction by Emanuel Jansen’ covering cement products in his home country. Local patent applications were lodged in Wellington in 1899 for constructing floors and manufacturing concrete pipes under the title of ‘E. Jensen’. While in Wellington Langevad made contact with Milburn Lime and Cement Company manager Frank Oakden who had recently returned from a business trip to England and Northern Europe. While overseas, Oakden had purchased new equipment for the Dunedin plant and the patent rights to ‘Silica Portland Cement’ developed by Danish cement chemists and then coming into wide use in Europe and North America.

The manufacture of Portland cement was crucial to the New Zealand economy in the 1890s and a number of competing companies sought to dominate the local trade. During the 1890s, with a view to taking as much as it could of the Australasian market, Milburn invested heavily in new equipment. The company was the first in New Zealand to introduce modern rotary kilns and tube grinding mills to produce Portland cement it warranted was superior to all imported brands. Its products were widely promoted to architects and civil engineers keen to exploit the properties of steel reinforced concrete construction.

In the Milburn company minutes for 1898 it was reported that ‘After conferring with Mr Langevod (sic) we agreed to float a separate company, The Milburn Company taking in hand the formation and if our shareholders support it, subsequently retaining the control to that end the prospectus is prepared…I am well satisfied with Mr Langevod’s ability to manage the concern and have no doubt it will be successful if floated.’ Investors included J.M. Ritchie of the National Mortgage & Agency Co., Dr T.M. Hocken, Bendix Hallenstein and Frank Oakden himself. Oakden had earlier advised the Milburn board that ‘I think it advisable to prevent others so far as possible from becoming interested in the Cement trade. Monier Construction might be the first step to opposition’. The arrangement was beneficial to both parties. The Milburn company could promote its new silica portland cement through built projects while Langevad could operate a modern factory to produce his precast products. The hands off arrangement enabled Milburn to enhance its reputation if the ventures were successful or make a quick exit if not. The Jensen Patent Construction Company was granted a year-long lease on a piece of land next to the Milburn plant in 1899 and set up its new factory with funds from the share float. Backed up by £10,000 in shares, it began seeking construction projects. Few tenders for buildings specifically mentioned concrete and it appears that the Jensen company answered those for masonry structures and used their cast hollow blocks instead of more usual brick or poured solid concrete.

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The Milburn Lime and Cement works at the bottom of Frederick Street prior to reclamation of Pelichet Bay. Detail from W.J. Prictor plan. Ref: Alexander Turnbull Library MapColl 834.5292ap 1898.

The precise source of the block moulding system used by Langevad remains obscure but it is not likely to have been part of the raft of patents secured by Harmon S. Palmer of Chattanooga in 1899 and usually given as ‘the start of modern concrete blocks’. There was a boom in this manufacturing method after 1900 and numerous hollow concrete block makers flooded the international market after 1906. The block module used for Allan Grange measures 6 X 9 X 18 inches which suggests an American rather than European origin for the moulds, although Nigeria is one of the only places in the world where blocks of these dimensions are used today. It took until 1924 for the 8 X 8 X 16 block to become standardised and until then numerous variations were tried. A fellow Dane, Niels Nielson, sought to make hollow blocks in Wellington using a Palmer machine under the title Wellington Hollow Concrete Building Block Company. Nielson built a warehouse and a group of houses at Lyall Bay in 1904, reckoned by Nigel Isaacs to be the earliest in New Zealand. This places Allan Grange in an intriguing position, some way ahead of the boom that launched hundreds of competing patent systems in the first decade of the twentieth century.

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Hercules Concrete Block Machine catalogue, Rochester, New York, 1907. A typical promotional sheet for one of the great number of North American manufacturers that came into existence after 1900.

One of the main issues with new construction technology is confidence that the system will not fail in use. Local papers were full of bullish promotion of new cement systems including MIlburn with its Silica Portland Cement. Despite opening the plant up for viewing by local architects and engineers and undertaking comprehensive tests of the products, uptake of the new system was modest, at least in terms of the size of Milburn’s expenses on the patents and the re-equipping of their cement works. It was hard going for the Jensen Patent Construction Company as well. It was reported in 1899 that the company was working on a row of shops on the old Queen’s Theatre site in Princes Street and a studio for the artist James Elder Moultray on Frederick Street, near where the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital was later built. The description of the process is mirrored in the construction of Mackenzie’s house and it is likely that Allan Grange was built immediately after Lorie’s store and Moultray’s studio. Mackenzie took up residence at Allan Grange early in 1900, using the address on his voluminous correspondence from March that year.

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Allan Grange in 2017.Michael Findlay photo.

Allan Grange was a two-storey gentleman’s farmhouse. It was relatively conventional in appearance with a pair of symmetrical bay windows with a terrace and a recessed sun porch in the centre above. A single-storey wing extended to the rear and the style was simplified Italian. Recent close inspection of the walls showed an unconventional block shape with tuck pointed joints and free blocks used around the contemporary garden as edging clearly showed their hollow form. This did not tally with the supposed construction date of the house of 1872 when hollow block construction was hardly known in the wider world, much less New Zealand. Even so, a construction date of 1899 pushes the house to the front of international developments. The first concrete block houses in America were constructed using related technologies, possibly as early as 1885. Amongst the earliest uses of hollow cement block is a group of seven houses built in that year by the Union Stone and Building Company in Minneapolis. These, as well as an eleven-unit terrace, remain as examples of the very early use of concrete block in North America. Nigel Isaacs notes that a group of houses constructed in 1897 marked a turning point in the technology, observing that ‘It was not until Harmon S. Palmer had experimented for ten years, including building six houses in Chicago in 1897, that he brought together manufacturing and design concepts that led to the creation of the modern hollow concrete block’.

The designer of Allan Grange remains a mystery. Unlike Jensen’s other documented projects no similar newspaper coverage appeared for the construction. A single tender can be found for an architect-designed house in Kaikorai between 1899 and 1900, issued by James Hislop in January 1899. Mackenzie had not returned to Dunedin then so it is unlikely to be for Allan Grange. When James Burnside issued his tender notice for Moultray’s studio it was for a ‘studio in brick’ so it is still possible that a tender was issued for a ‘house in brick’ and it remains to be found. It is possible that an architect was not needed. Vilhelm Langevad was a qualified civil engineer and was clearly able to design and manage civil and industrial projects so a house is certainly within his powers. Mackenzie had previously been a surveyor and equally capable of drawing the house for the Jensen Patent Construction Company to build. The planning and aesthetics do not greatly reflect contemporary architectural thinking so either of these scenarios could explain both the idiosyncratic design and the lack of any tender information in the local newspapers.

This hiatus leaves a number of unanswered questions about how Allan Grange came to be built. It is an assumption that the Jensen Patent Construction Company supplied the blocks but all available evidence points to this conclusion. The lack of any documentation for the project can be put down to the voluntary liquidation of the Jensen Company in 1902 and the Milburn Lime and Cement Company quickly moving on to other forms of hollow block technology. A complex court action over a bridge construction tender possibly hastened their downfall but it is more likely that the company simply failed to make money and its investors wanted out. This was typical in the hard driving cement industry where commercial survival involved both intensive investment in plant and swift U-turns if things did not go well. The closure of the company did not end Langevad’s involvement with Dunedin. He joined the City Council as assistant engineer and later worked as a building inspector. He relocated to New South Wales and managed the design and construction of major cement works in Kandos under the supervision of Frank Oakden. Thomas Evans bought the Jensen equipment and production of Monier concrete pipes began again in Masterton in 1904 under the Cement Pipe Company. The long survival of Allan Grange, a few cracks notwithstanding, points towards the Jensen Patent Construction Company’s early efforts to pioneer hollow concrete block construction in New Zealand and operate at the very edge of this technology in the world.

Note: One of the jewels in the Hocken Pictures Collection is ‘Portrait of Vivien Oakden’ c.1898 by Grace Joel. Also noteworthy is Alfred Cook’s beautiful 1924 watercolour of Lake Logan showing the cement works, held at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum.

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times 14 February 1930 (obituary), 8 June 1899 (Otago Agricultural and Pastoral Society),18 September 1889, 25 September 1897 (Milburn Lime and Cement Company Ltd); Chronicle (Adelaide) 3 October 1940 (Mr V.A. Langevad); Evening Star 2 April 1898 (Otago Jubilee Industrial Exhibition); Otago Witness 21 February 1912 p.41 (advertisements), 28 December 1899 (City Improvements).

Other references:
Hall, James P. The Early Developmental History of Concrete Block in America. Masters Thesis, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, 2009.
Isaacs, Nigel. Making the New Zealand House 1792-1982. PhD, Victoria University, 2015
Notes on the Manufacture, Testing, Uses, etc. of Portland Cement. Milburn Lime and Cement Company 1895.
H-10 Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks. Tenth Annual Report of the Registrar. Untitled, 1 January 1899 (Hughes, W.E., Wellington NZ. Constructing Floors (E. Jensen) 11156 14 November 1898, Hughes, W.E., Wellington NZ. Manufacturing Concrete Pipes (E. Jensen) 1116315 November 1898.
Lesley, Robert Whitman, John Baptiste Lober and George S. Bartlett. History of the Portland Cement Industry in the United States. Chicago: International Trade Press, 1924.
Fleming, B.A. Kandos and Rylstone History part 1. Mudgee District History, www.mudgeehistory.com.au/rylstone_kandos/rylstone_kandos1.html
The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts
Jensen Patent Construction Company files, Archives New Zealand R1930690.
Milburn Lime and Cement Company Limited: Records. Hocken Collections AG-158.

Milburn Lime & Cement Co. head office

Built: 1937-1938
Address: 90 Crawford Street
Architects: Salmond & Salmond
Builders: W.H. Naylor Ltd

View from Crawford Street, 2015

The Dunedin building industry enjoyed a brief period of reinvigoration between the Great Depression and the Second World War. Many big businesses were keen to project an image of vitality and modernity, and the clean lines of the Milburn Lime and Cement Company’s new head office in Crawford Street certainly did that, while in its fabric the building was a showpiece for the company’s chief product.

Concrete construction revolutionised building methods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Milburn company was largely built on its rapid development. The firm was founded in 1888, when a syndicate of businessmen acquired the assets of James McDonald, including established lime works at Milburn and a small cement works at Walton Park. The new company’s principal cement works were at Pelichet Bay, from 1890 to 1929, and then at Burnside from 1929 to 1988. Milburn took over many smaller businesses and became one of Otago’s largest companies. In 1937, it commissioned the architects Salmond & Salmond to design a two-storey office head office building in Crawford Street.

The lime works at Milburn (Hocken 89-025)

The cement works at Burnside, opened in 1929 (Hocken 89-025)

Magazine advertisement, 1929

Crawford Street lies on land reclaimed in the 1860s and 1870s, and extrapolates the original street plan of Charles Kettle. As with Filleul Street, there is a story that it was named after someone who happened to be in the surveyor’s office on the day a name was needed, although at best that’s probably a simplistic tale. In this case the man was George Crawford, an early settler who arrived on the Philip Laing in 1848. From 1869 the site of the Milburn building was owned by Briscoe & Co., which established a yard there. In 1905 an open shed was erected on part of the site, and the following year a brick store building designed by James Louis Salmond was built. An adjoining, almost identical, store was constructed in 1907. This work coincided with the erection of a four-storey warehouse, designed by Walden & Barton, on the site immediately to the north. Briscoe’s kept stores on the western side of Bond Street until 1956, and retained the large warehouse until 1972, but sold the ones on the site we’re looking at to Milburn in 1935. The buildings there were all removed, including their foundations, but the specification for the new building allowed for the reuse of roof timbers and ironwork, as well as bricks (for internal partitions).

An 1865 view showing reclamation work. Crawford Street runs along the edge of the harbour and the arrow points to the approximate site of the Milburn building. (ref: Alexander Turnbull Library PAColl-3824)

2. Detail from 1874 photograph by Burton Bros, looking south and showing Crawford Street on the left (ref: Te Papa C.012064)

J.L. Salmond’s drawing for a store which stood on part of the site from 1907 to 1937

Council of Fire & Accident Underwriters’ Associations block plan, amended and updated to about 1940 (from the 1927 edition), showing the Milburn (formerly Briscoe) site in yellow, and the other Briscoe sites in green.

The partner in Salmond & Salmond responsible for the design was Arthur Louis Salmond (1906-1994), son of practice founder James Louis Salmond. He had been in the first intake of full-time students at the Auckland University School of Architecture in 1926, and after completing his thesis requirement from Dunedin undertook further study in London, before returning to Dunedin to join his father’s practice in 1933. He was quick to employ modernist methods and style, notably in a private house for T.K. Sidey in Tolcarne Avenue. His design for the Milburn building a few years later sits in striking contrast with the adjoining warehouse on the Police Street corner, designed by his father thirty years before. The Plunket Society’s Truby King Harris Hospital at Andersons Bay (1938) is a particularly good example of his work around this time, and for further reading I highly recommend report on that building prepared by Michael Findlay and Heather Bauchop for Heritage New Zealand.

Tenders for the construction of the Milburn building closed in April 1937, but the lowest received (£14,990) was considered too high, so plans were modified and in June W.H. Naylor Ltd were contracted to build more modest premises at a cost of £10,635. A separate central heating contract of £735 was fulfilled by George W. Davies & Co., and the building was ready for occupation by July 1938. There was warehouse storage on the ground floor with dual vehicle entrances to both Crawford and Bond streets, allowing large vehicles to drive right through. Administrative offices were on the first floor, where a further three suites of offices were let out.

In many ways the building was conventional – essentially a box with hipped roofs behind its parapets – but the Moderne facades were strikingly different from almost anything else in the city at the time, even if the nature of the site gave little scope for some of the streamlining effects and variations of form associated with this style.

Salmond & Salmond drawing dated June 1937

Salmond & Salmond floor plans dated June 1937

From Crawford Street, c.1938 (ref: Hocken Collections 89-025)

View from Crawford Street, c.1938 (Hocken 89-025)

Facade detail (Hocken 89-025)

View from Bond Street, c.1938 (Hocken 89-025)

Unusual features were glass bricks, which let filtered light into the stairwell facing Crawford Street, as well as adding visual interest to the exterior. The building was one of the first in New Zealand to use them. The Evening Star reported that they had previously been used in one private residence in Dunedin, and that they were also to be incorporated in the rebuilding of the Dunedin Savings Bank in Dowling Street (another Salmond & Salmond project). This slightly predated the first major use in Auckland: extensive additions to the Chief Post Office made in 1938.

Glass blocks were used in the nineteenth century, but their practicality as a building material was advanced markedly by Friedrich Keppler, who in 1907 patented a system for building walls of prismatic bricks within reinforced concrete frameworks. The architects Walter Gropius and Le Cobusier were among the early adopters of glass bricks, and they were famously used in the latter’s Maison de Verre of 1928-1932. Mass-manufacture only occurred after the Owen-Illinois Glass Company of Chicago introduced the first pressed-glass blocks in 1932, and promoted them at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. In 1935 the company brought out Insulux, the first widely-used hollow glass brick, and other American manufacturers soon followed with similar products.

A building reported as ‘Australia’s first glass brick building’ was erected for Thomas H. Webb & Co. in Adelaide in 1935 using imported bricks. From 1936 Insulux bricks were produced in Australia under the Agee brand by the Australian Window Glass Pty Ltd, and they found extensive use almost immediately. They were used to prominent effect in Alkira House in Melbourne, and by the end of 1936 were being incorporated into the design of residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings. The Milburn building used the Agee bricks, which were imported through local agents Paterson & Barr.

Advertisement from the New Zealand Herald, 23 February 1938 p.17

The Hecht Company’s Streamline Moderne warehouse in Washington DC was also built in 1937, when glass brick was at the height of its international fashion. Image courtesy of ‘Joseph’ on Flickr.

Facade detail, showing glass bricks

The building was constructed on a floating foundation with a concrete base, due to the reclaimed nature of the land. The concrete structure above was reinforced with steel rods, and the bluestone aggregate given a Snowcrete white cement finish, tinted to a cream colour. On the Crawford Street elevation the company name was set back into the plaster and flanked by a simple ornamental frieze, with additional touches of colour (red or green) used sparingly to suit the unfussy design. Mosaic and other tiles to the foyer were green and gold in colour, complementing the finish of the masonry. A simpler facade for Bond Street featured the company name prominently in relief lettering, and as on the other elevation the windows were steel framed with slender profiles. Skylights were installed in the roof, which was covered with Fibrolite corrugated asbestos sheets. The interior was simply fitted out, with rimu skirtings and internal doors, and a main reception counter of Oregon with a kauri top.

Early tenants in the building included Donaghy’s Rope & Twine Co., Otago Fruit & Produce, the Ewing Phosphate Co. (owned by Milburn), and the Otago-Southland Manufacturers’ Association. In 1963 Milburn merged with the New Zealand Cement Company to form New Zealand Cement Holdings Ltd. The head office remained in Dunedin until 1974, when it moved to Christchurch and the company vacated the Crawford Street building. New Zealand Cement Holdings became Milburn New Zealand in 1988 and now trades as Holcim New Zealand Limited (a division of a company headquartered in Switzerland).

In 1974 the building became the office of the large textile firm Mosgiel Limited, which remained until the company collapsed in 1980. The old vehicle entrances have now long been closed and those on Crawford Street converted to shop fronts. The one to the south had been enlarged in 1965, giving the east elevation a slightly lopsided look.

Occupants over the past three decades have included (dates approximate):

WEA Education 1984-1992
People’s Market 1988-1992
Timbercraft Furniture 1993-1997
Reidpaints Limited 1993-2003
Arthouse Dunedin Inc. 1994-1995
Dunedin Craft Centre 1996-2003
Central Lighting Warehouse (Bond Street) 2000-2011
Gordon Crichton Lighting 2000 to date
Elite Fitness 2003-2008
Jennian Homes 2009 to date
McRobie Studios (Bond Street) 2011 to date

The original exterior finishes have been painted over a number of times over the years and the last repainting (a project supported by the Central City Heritage Re-use Grants Scheme) happily reduced the impact of signage and decluttered the Crawford Street facade. The building looks well cared for, and has been kept productive. A still simpler colour scheme to Crawford Street would restore some of the horizontal emphasis and clean simplicity of the original design. The building remains evocative of the the style and spirit of its age, and in a way it stands as a monument of concrete, to concrete.

This post has some of my favourite images used on the blog so far – found trawling the uncatalogued depths of the massive collection of Milburn records held by the Hocken. I hope you enjoy them. I especially love the shot of the crisp new building with the smoky urban skyline behind!

View from Bond Street, 2015

Tiles in Crawford Street entrance

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 31 March 1898 p.9 (naming of Crawford Street); Otago Daily Times, 17 January 1863 p.5 (reclamation), 16 February 1864 p.9 (reclamation), 29 April 1864 p.5 (reclamation), 18 May 1864 p.11 (reclamation), 23 August 1865 p.4 (reclamation), 24 December 1873 p.3 (Dunedin and Clutha Railway line), 19 March 1906 p.1 (tenders), 30 November 1993 (Timbercraft); Evening Star, 29 June 1937, p.2 (description), 8 March 1938 p.3 (glass brick in Dunedin);The Mail (Adelaide), 18 January 1936 p.12 (Thomas H. Webb building in Adelaide); Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 1936 p.11 (manufacture of glass bricks); The Farmer and Settler (Sydney), 26 January 1938 p.16 (glass bricks in Australia)

Other sources:
Stone’s, Wise’s and telephone directories
Block plans
Salmond, Arthur L. ‘Ten Generations’ (Hocken Collections MS-3889)
Salmond Anderson Architects records (Hocken Collections MS-3821/148, MS-3821/1824, MS-3821/2287)
Milburn New Zealand Limited records (Hocken Collections 89-025, 89-085 box 6)
Briscoe & Company Ltd records (Hocken Collections MS-3300/071)
Permit records and deposited plans (with thanks to Glen Hazelton)
Findlay, Michael and Heather Bauchop. ‘Truby King Harris Hospital (Former), DUNEDIN (List No. 9659, Category 1)’ (Heritage New Zealand, ‘Report for a Historic Place’, 2014)
Morton, Harry, Carol Johnston, and Barbara Chinn. Spanning the Centuries: The Story of Milburn New Zealand Limited (Christchurch, Milburn New Zealand, 2002)
Neumann, Dietrich, Jerry G. Stockbridge, and Bruce S. Kaskel. ‘Glass Block’ in Thomas C. Jester (ed.) Twentieth-Century Building Materials: History and Conservation (Washington DC: McGraw-Hill, 1995)
Patterson, Elizabeth A. and Neal A. Vogel. ‘The Architecture of Glass Block’ in Old House Journal. Vol xxix no.1 (Jan-Feb 2001) pp.36-51.