Address: 149-165 George Street
Designer: William Grasby
Builders: Finck & Grasby
From the 1870s to the 1950s, the enterprising Dreaver family made George Street their place of business. Elizabeth Creilman McHoul was born in Glasgow, and worked as a domestic servant before migrating to Otago in 1870. In 1873 she married James Dreaver, who opened a toy and fancy goods store. Mrs Dreaver opened a second family business, the Red Flag Drapery, in June 1877.
In November 1878, a fire destroyed eight wooden buildings in George Street, including the Dreavers’ property. No time was wasted in erecting new premises, which opened for business on 22 February 1879. They were built by Finck & Grasby and designed by William Grasby of that firm. Constructed of brick, they comprised a block of three shops with living apartments above. All were owned by the Dreavers, who occupied the southernmost portion. Their first tenants were Miss Vaile, who ran a ‘Young Ladies’ Seminary’, and Hans Pauli, who purchased James Dreaver’s fancy goods business.
The Otago Daily Times reported that ‘seldom, indeed, are blocks of buildings turned out in such a complete manner’. The flats each had coal ranges in the kitchens, fireplaces in the bedrooms, and gas and water connections. Workrooms for the drapery were built behind the shop, and there were brick washhouses and other outbuildings. The shops had tongue-and-groove linings and were fronted with large plate-glass windows. The cemented facade above was in the simple Revived Renaissance style favoured for commercial buildings at the time. After 137 years the first floor still outwardly looks much the same, though missing are a string course below the dentil cornice, and a modest arched pediment at the centre of the parapet.
Elizabeth Dreaver’s early advertisements offered costumes to fit at a few hours’ notice and described the firm as the cheapest house in the city. The Red Flag name was not used after the rebuilding, and the business became popularly known as Mrs Dreaver’s. Stock included dresses, jackets, skirts, mackintoshes, children’s wear, and feather boas. Dreaver’s had its own dressmaking department and became well-known for a parcel post service (with money back guarantee) offered to country customers.
Mrs Dreaver was an expert milliner and at a carnival at the Columbia Rink she won first prize from about 100 entries for the most original hat, with a design representing a pair of roller skates. She also won the prize for the smallest hat. Other milliners who worked for her included Miss Graham, formerly head milliner to Mrs W.A. Jenkins, and Mrs Mitchell, who had worked at Madame Louise’s in London’s Regent Street.
In 1885 Elizabeth left Dunedin for Scotland, she said due to bad health, and after five months returned with a stock of purchases made in London and Paris. In the following years she vigorously promoted the ‘scientific’ method of pattern cutting that was revolutionising sewing around the world. She was one of the first in New Zealand to import the pattern books of the Butterick Publishing Company, which then had over 1,000 agencies throughout the United States and Canada. She became Otago’s sole agent for American Scientific System of Dresscutting, gave lessons at Otago Girls’ High School, and offered board to out-of-town pupils. By 1893 she had taught the system to 700 people.
Hans Pauli remained in the northern shop until 1892. His name became familiar to the public through his outspoken opposition to the organised movement for early shop closing. From 1883 to 1903 ‘Professor and Madame’ McQueen ran one of Dunedin’s leading hairdressing establishments from the middle shop, to which they added the Bon Marche children’s clothing shop in 1898.
The drapery expanded to take over all three shops in 1904, not long before the death of James Dreaver on New Year’s Day 1905. In the first decades of the twentieth century Elizabeth Dreaver continued to manage the business, which some advertisements described as the ‘Shrine of Fashion’. A hairdressing and beauty salon became part of the operation.
In 1920 a new company was formed, Dreavers Ltd, with Elizabeth Dreaver holding 73% the shares and her children Hugh, James, and Catherine, each holding 9%. Additions were made at the back of the property in 1909, and in 1925 Mandeno & Fraser designed stylish new shop fronts, with arches over recessed entrances, and decorative tiles and glass. Fletcher Construction were the builders. A section of this work survives in altered form as the front of the northern shop, where the name ‘Dreavers Ltd’ can still be seen in the mosaic floor.
Further rearward additions were carried out in 1944, leading to the saddest event found in researching this story. A shopper named Alice McMillan (58) was killed when a beam fell through a skylight into the mantle department.
Elizabeth Creilman Dreaver died at her home in Clyde Street on 30 November 1934, aged 86. Dreavers continued to trade until 1952, its old premises afterwards becoming the Bruce Shop, a retail store for Bruce Woollens. This closed in the mid-1960s, when the name of the block was changed from Bruce Buildings to Perth Buildings.
Other businesses to occupy the buildings have included the Otago Sports Depot, a Queen Anne Chocolate (Ernest Adams) shop, Ace Alterations, Martins Art Furnishers, and Don Kindley Real Estate. One shop is currently vacant, while another is taken by Brent Weatherall Jewellers. The third contains the $ n’ Sense bargain shop, which harks back nicely to the toys and fancy goods shop at the beginning of the Dreaver’s story in George Street.
Evening Star, 16 June 1877 p.3 (Red Flag Drapery), 29 November 1878 p2 (fire), 27 December 1920 p.3 (registration of company); Otago Witness, 10 August 1878 p.21 (advertisement), 6 September 1879, p.3 (advertisement), 29 April 1887 p.9 (sole rights), 4 January 1905 p.47 (death of James Dreaver); Otago Daily Times, 22 December 1874 p1 (toy shop advertisement), 15 January 1879 p.1 (description of buildings), 4 June 1879 p.3 (description following completion), 29 December 1884 p.3 (advertisement), 26 March 1887 p.3 (advertisement), 29 August 1944, p.6 (inquest into the death of Alice McMillan), 19 March 2011 p.46 (‘Stories in Stone’); North Otago Times 3 May 1890 p.4 (lessons at Otago Girls’ High School).
Stone’s, Wise’s and telephone directories
Baré, Robert, City of Dunedin Block Plans Dunedin: Caxton Steam Printing Company, .
Jones, F. Oliver, Structural Plans of the City of Dunedin NZ, ‘Ignis et Aqua’ series, .
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans
Dunedin City Council cemeteries database
Shipping list for Robert Henderson, 1870 (Otago Gazette)
Register of Otago and Southland Marriages 1848 to 1920 (St Andrew’s Parish)
Death registration for Elizabeth Dreaver (1934/10770)