Tag Archives: Music

Eldon Chambers

Built: 1866, remodelled 1939
Address: 192 Princes Street
Architects: R.A. Lawson (1866), Clere, Clere & Hill (1939)
Builders: Not identified (1866), W. McLellan Ltd (1939)

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A bright red facade in Princes Street invites the attention of passers-by, but few would guess that behind this 1930s front is a 150-year-old building.

Its story begins with John Switzer. Born in Winchester, Hampshire, in 1830, Switzer was the son of a bootmaker. He followed his father’s trade and after a period in Australia arrived in Dunedin with his wife and infant daughter in September 1857. Within two months he established a boot and shoe warehouse, later named Cookham House after the ‘Cookham’ hobnail boots imported from England. There was a similarly named business in Christchurch, owned by George Gould.  Switzer sold his business in 1863, not long before opening a new Cookham Store in Rattray Street.

M07456 - John William Switzer, 1890

John Switzer. Ref: City of Victoria Archives, Canada, M00235.

Switzer was a director of the Dunedin Gas Light & Coke Co. and his many other business ventures included Hyde Home Station in Southland. He only owned the property for a year, but the gold rush township afterwards established there was called Switzers after him. It later became known by its present name, Waikaia. John’s wife Harriet introduced European birds to Otago, including starlings, blackbirds, and thrushes. The Switzers owned a small farm, Grand View, in Opoho.

In 1864 Switzer was a shareholder of the new Dunedin Boot and Shoe Company. He became the manager of its outlet opened under the familiar Cookham House name, on what is now part of the Southern Cross Hotel site on Princes Street. At the end of 1865 the company decided to move a block north, to the address that has since become 192 Princes Street. The building then on the site was occupied by the auctioneers G.W. Moss & Co., with offices above known as Princes Street Chambers. It was only a few years old, but being wooden it belonged to a preceding era and was already out of date.

eldon_toitu_1864

An 1864 photograph of Princes Street. The building on the right of  the lower one with the dormers was on the site of the present 192 Princes Street. Ref: Collection of Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

Architect R.A. Lawson called for tenders for a new building in December 1865. This was early in Lawson’s career. The design for First Church that had brought him to Dunedin was yet to be built, but he was well-established after three years living and working here. His design for the Boot Company was brick, with a bluestone basement and an Oamaru stone front. The Otago Daily Times promised it would be a ‘handsome structure’. It was representative of a new class of building in Dunedin, as the wealth brought by the gold rush began to be reflected in the buildings of the new city.

Photographs show an elaborately ornamented Gothic Revival facade. First-floor decoration included clustered pilasters with Corinthian capitals, grapes and floral decoration, and a carved head in the keystone above the central window. A verandah was built, but despite being approved by the Building Surveyor it fell foul of building ordinances and the City Council would not allow it. It seems the verandah was removed, as it does not appear in a photograph taken in the 1870s.

eldon_hocken_1923

J. Wilkie & Co. and Eldon Chambers in 1923. At this time the building retained most of its original appearance, though the shop front had been rebuilt and included leadlight windows. Ref: Coulls Somerville Wilkie records, Hocken Collections MS-2248/031.

eldon_hocken_1923_detail

Facade detail. Ref: Coulls Somerville Wilkie records, Hocken Collections MS-2248/031.

The upper part of the building was named Eldon Chambers. This followed the original Eldon Chambers in London, which took their name from the English barrister and politician Lord Eldon (1751-1838). The name was repeated in many locations in Britain, Australasia, and elsewhere (there were at least seven Eldon Chambers in New Zealand alone), typically for buildings with rooms for lawyers and other professionals. The first occupants of the Dunedin chambers were Prendergast, Kenyon & Maddock (lawyers), George Brodie (inspector of bankruptcy), Dick & Fleming (land agents etc.), Dr Alfred Eccles, and H.F. Hardy (architect).

In 1867 Lawson designed two adjoining buildings for Matheson Bros and J.W. Robertson. These were given a much simpler facade treatment, but integrated with Eldon Chambers through the continuation the parapet cornice and other details in the same style.

In March 1867 a fire broke out in the cellar of Swizter’s building, but damage was confined to that space. Evidence at the inquest exposed the precarious state of Switzer’s finances. He had bought the stock and trade of the company a few months before, and suspicion was raised that he set the fire to get the insurance money. He was charged with arson. The trial took place over six weeks and ended with Switzer’s acquittal, but in the meantime he was bankrupted. Once his affairs were settled he left New Zealand for London, and a few years later emigrated with his family to Canada.

princesst_toitu_1864

Princes Street in the 1870s. Eldon Chambers is the fourth building from the left. Ref: Collection of Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. R. Clifford & Co. photograph.

After Switzer’s departure his old shop was occupied by a succession of tailors, before the printers J. Wilkie & Co. opened a warehouse and stationery factory. The firm made various additions at the back to cope with their expanding business, and in 1892 moved their manufacturing to another site, keeping a warehouse and retail shop in Princes Street.

A full list of those occupying Eldon Chambers would be too long to list here, but some had particularly long associations. A connection of over thirty-five years belonged to the Dick family:  the parliamentarian Thomas Dick and his son Thomas H. Dick were commission agents. An even longer record belonged to Herbert Webb, who had rooms for over fifty years. His succession of law firms in Eldon Chambers began with Dick & Webb in 1877. This was followed by Duncan, Macgregor & Webb, then Herbert Webb’s sole practice, and finally Webb & Allan. Herbert Webb died in 1928, after collapsing on the nearby Dowling Street corner. His old firm moved out in 1930 but its successor, Webb Farry, is still in existence.

achanlonportrait

A.C. Hanlon (1866-1944)

Alfred Hanlon, admitted to the bar on 20 December 1888, took an office in Eldon Chambers in New Year 1889. He furnished it with a plain deal kitchen table covered with oilcloth, three cane chairs, and a letter press. He waited three months for his first client. He later wrote:

‘I was now thoroughly daunted, and I think that at times I almost hated the office and all its associations. Little wonder then that I could not dissemble my eagerness whenever I heard a footstep outside the door. The months dragged hopelessly by, and still boy enough to be moved at their passing, I bade each a melancholy farewell. It came to this, that every time I heard a step I trembled. Would it reach my door? With feverish haste I would fling open my largest law book – “Benjamin on Sales” – on to the table, and when the knock came my too studiedly casual “Come in” arose from a head buried in the large tome. But it was all to no purpose. My carefully staged scene made no impression, because the caller was always another debt collector.’

Eventually Hanlon got a case defending a pedlar known as Dr Shannon from a charge of purchasing a bottle of Hood’s Corn Solvent under false pretences. He was successful and the case was dismissed. Hanlon was ten years in Eldon Chambers and in that time became one of New Zealand’s most celebrated criminal lawyers. In 1895 he famously but unsuccessfully defended the so-called ‘Winton baby farmer’, Minnie Dean, the only woman hanged by the State in New Zealand. It was probably in Eldon Chambers that he wrote his famous brief, now preserved in the Hocken Collections. During a fifty year career Hanlon was retained in twenty murder trials and he was made a K.C. in 1930.

Wilkie & Co. merged into Coulls Somerville Wilkie in 1922, but a shop specialising in stationery and gifts continued to trade under the name Wilkies until 1927. It was then rebranded under new ownership as Bells Limited, and remained on the site until 1939.

wilkiesadvertisement_1927

A 1927 advertisement for Wilkies from the Otago Daily Times. Ref: Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

In 1939 the building was extensively altered to the designs of Wellington architects Clere, Clere & Hill for new owners Boots the Chemist. This pharmacy chain had been established in England in 1849 and set up its New Zealand operation in 1935. The Oamaru stone facade was removed and an entirely new front in brick and concrete was built in the streamline Moderne style. Staircases and columns were removed from the interior and new beams were installed. W. McLellan Ltd were the builders. According to the Evening Star:

‘The external appearance of the building has been carefully thought out. Black terrazzo and bronze metal have been used to telling effect for the double window fronts. An innovation for Dunedin consists of the huge Neon signs which are recessed so that they appear to form an integral part of the building. The whole layout has been designed with an eye to a keynote of solidarity and permanence. Although appointments are modern, as is evidenced by the glassed-in dispensary, open to the public eye, simplicity has been the primary aim. There is a complete absence of such materials as chromium plate – anything, in fact, which may prove subject to the dictates of fashion. Instead, the furnishings are carried out in light-stained oak. The surgical section is finished in white enamel, and the surgical fitting room – particularly spacious for this purpose – is carried out in white and navy blue. Lighting is exceptionally good, and the floors are finished with ‘Rublino,’ a particularly durable covering. A completely new fibrous plaster ceiling was, of course, necessitated by the extent of the alterations. At the rear of the shop are store rooms and offices, tea rooms, and toilets for the assistants.’

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The building following alterations for Boots the Chemists completed in 1939. Ref: Coulls Somerville Wilkie records, Hocken Collections MS-2248/034.

In 1959 the Hob-Nob Coffee Garden was built in the basement for owner-operator Ted Paterson. The café was a good place for a toastie pie and coffee, and was known for its cheese rolls and corn rolls. The Hob Nob lasted until about 1970 when it briefly became the Van Dyke Expresso Bar [sic]. It was the Hibiscus Coffee Garden for approximately eight years, before its closure around 1979.

In its heyday Boots employed as many as seventeen staff in its Dunedin shop. After 50 years in Princes Street it closed its doors in September 1990. A company executive from Wellington said: ‘The city fathers have killed that part of town. Once it was the prime business area in the city. Now it is disgracefully tatty.’ He thought Boots should have pulled out years before, but ultimately the parent company had decided to close all of its retail outlets in New Zealand.

Rebel Warehouse was in the building for a year or two before the New Canton Restaurant moved there in 1993. The original Canton Café had operated from a building on the opposite side of the street since 1961, and from 1978 under the ownership and management of Kee and Sanny Young. Mrs Young, who grew up in Macau and Hong Kong, was the chief cook. She later recalled: ‘You couldn’t get Chinese food then. No bean sprouts, or pastry, or noodles … It was very difficult to buy our food, so we opened the restaurant. But it was too busy. We could only seat 50 and lost bookings, so … we moved across the road to here’.

The New Canton closed in February 2013 and the Punjab Restaurant has since taken its place – the latest chapter in a century and a half of business activity at 192 Princes Street.

Newspaper references:
Otago Witness, 5 September 1857 p.4 (shipping notice), 21 November 1857 p.4 (advertisement for John Switzer, boot maker), 22 October 1864 p.13 (blackbirds and starlings), 27 May 1865 p.4 (thrushes), 6 July 1867 p.3 (sale of Grand View Farm); Otago Daily Times, 26 May 1863 p.1 (advertisement for Cookham Store), 28 May 1863 p.6 (Dunedin Gas Light & Coke Co.), 6 August 1863 p.3 (sale of business to Trood), 8 March 1866 p.4 (verandah), 20 March 1867 p.4 (fire), 25 April 1867 p.5 (inquest into fire), 24 June 1867 p.5 (trial and verdict), 20 September 1867 p.5 (Matheson Bros and J.W. Robertson buildings), 3 October 1877 p.3 (Dick & Webb), 22 December 1888 p.2 (Hanlon admitted to bar), 5 March 1889 p.4 (Hanlon’s first client), 5 May 1927 p.3 (advertisement for Wilkies), 21 March 1928 p.7 (Herbert Webb obituary), 21 September 1990 p.5 (closure of Boots), 22 September 1990 p.8 (editorial re closure), 17 January 2013 p.1 (closure of New Canton); Dunstan Times, 27 July 1866 p.4 (advertisement for Dunedin Boot & Shoe Co.); Evening Star, 12 December 1939 p.3 (alterations for Boots).

Other references:
Blair, E.W. and E. Kerse. On the Slopes of Signal Hill (Dunedin: Otago Heritage Books, 1988).
Catran, Ken. Hanlon: A Casebook (Auckland: BCNZ Enterprises, 1985).
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4, Otago and Southland Provincial Districts (Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company, 1905), p.357.
Donaldson, Janine E. Seeking Gold and Second Chances: Early Pioneers of Waikaia and District (Waikaia: Waikaia Book Committee, c.2012).
Hanlon, A.C. Random Recollections: Notes on a Lifetime at the Bar (Dunedin: Otago Daily Times & Witness, 1939).
Dunedin City Council building records
Directories (Harnett’s, Stone’s, Wises, and telephone)

Acetylene Buildings

Built: 1909-1910
Address: 126-132 Stuart Street
Architect: John Arthur Burnside (1857-1920)
Builders: George France

The building as it appeared in 1910. Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum 63-45-1.

The curious name of the Acetylene Buildings is painted above the door in the historic photograph above. On the parapet and shop fronts is the name of the original building owners, the New Zealand Acetylene Gas Lighting Co. Ltd.

Acetylene lighting became popular in the Edwardian era, particularly for towns or particular properties that were not easily connected to an electricity network. Calcium carbine pellets combined with dripping water to produce the acetylene gas, which was then burned to produce the light. The New Zealand Acetylene Gas Lighting Company was established in Dunedin in 1902, and within a short time branches were operating in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. In 1906 the company was responsible for setting up the street lighting in Picton, the first town in New Zealand to use the system. Kaiapoi and Geraldine followed in 1908, and Opunake in 1909. The company also supplied lighting for private houses such as ‘Aorangi’ at St Leonards, institutions such as Waitaki Boys’ High School, various dredges, and Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica in 1909. Acetylene cooking stoves and heaters were also sold. A problem with the gas was that it was prone to causing explosions. Eight people were killed in an explosion at a general store at Upper Hutt in 1914. Following a long inquest and vigorous argument, the coroner eventually concluded that gelignite on the premises was to blame rather than acetylene, but the bad press may have hastened the decline of the acetylene lighting in New Zealand, while at the same time electrification was becoming more widely available.

The Acetylene Buildings were erected during the boom in construction that came to Stuart Street after the re-siting of the Dunedin railway station. John Arthur Burnside was architect and he called for tenders for construction in September 1909. George France was the contractor and the buildings, which cost £2400 were finished by April 1910. There were three storeys to Stuart Street, with two shops on the ground floor and generously proportioned offices above. An adjoining workshop building faced Bath Street and acetylene lighting was used throughout. The exuberant Queen Anne styling included prominent window pediments and volutes that echoed those on the nearby Roberts Building, which Burnside had designed six years earlier. Most of the architectural features remain today, but the parapet detail and cornice have been removed and as a result the composition has lost its balance. The brickwork on the street facades has been painted and a hanging verandah and fire escape added.

The Acetylene Gas Lighting Company took the corner shop and workshop. The business was renamed New Zealand Acetylene and Hardware Ltd in 1919, and after downsizing it was reorganised as Electric and Plumbing Supplies Ltd in 1929 and closed in 1956. The corner shop was afterwards taken by the Otago Missionary Association, which ran a book room, and then by the Lullaby Fashion House (children’s wear), between 1961 and 1979. Later tenants included Fiesta Fashions and Toy Traders.

William James Bell, a hairdresser, had the other shop from 1913. He died in 1955 but Bell’s Hairdressers continued at the address until 1985. Its 72 years came close to matching the record of Hendy’s Hairdressing Room in Princes Street. The former hairdresser’s became a Middle Eastern café/restaurant for a few years and is now combined with the other shop as Minami Sushi Bar and Restaurant (opened in 2002).

A view of the building from Stuart Street

Up the charming timber staircase, its handrail worn to a fine finish after a century of use, is Lure Jewellery Workshop, established by Ann Culy in 1995. There is a great link here with one of the first tenants in the building, Thomas Long. A manufacturing jeweller, he ran his Zealandia Jewellery Manufacturing Company at the address from 1913. Within five years he dropped the company name, but he continued to work in the building to 1929. Lure has workspace for up to four jewellers and its retail gallery represents up to thirty New Zealand jewellers. On the top floor, jeweller and painter John Z. Robinson has had a studio since 1999.

Other tenants in the upstairs rooms have included August De Beer (indenting agent, 1913-1932), Chrissie Hall (dressmaker, 1913-1925), Robert Bennet (tailor, 1925-1953), and Bertrand Quelch (barrister and solicitor, 1954-1967). The Otago Chess Club (established in 1884) had its club rooms on the top floor from 1941 to 1955. In those days tournaments were typically carried out in a haze of cigarette smoke. I wonder if the concentration of the players was disrupted by the Dunedin Ladies Brass Band, which had its band rooms in the building for a few years after 1946. Watson Studio, photographers, had rooms on the upper floors from 1962 to 1993, and then became the Gary van der Mark studio.

Tull’s Chocolate Annihilation, from the creators fo the Chocolate Massacre. The silhouette of Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull featured on restaurant signage and menus.

Geoff Simpson of Tull.

Geoff Simpson of Tull.

The old workshop fronting Bath Street became a restaurant around 1987. Smorgy’s and Just Desserts were there for a few years before Geoff and Lois SImpson opened Tull in 1993. Named after the rock band Jethro Tull, it was particularly known for its desserts, and had almost a cult following. Diners were awarded a certificate (‘The Blodwyn’) if they were able to finish the Chocolate Massacre, and other dishes paid homage to the band with names such as Aqualung (a seafood salad) and Bungle in the Jungle (a green salad). The Simpsons were folk musicians and the New Edinburgh Folk Club (established c.1977) met at the restaurant on Sunday nights from 1999 onwards. Tull closed following Geoff’s death in 2006, and since 2007 the space has been a Japanese restaurant, Yuki Izakaya.

View from Bath Street showing the former workshop and Tull restaurant on the left (now Yuki Izakaya)

Facade detail

Newspaper references:
Otago Daily Times, 1 September 1909 p.1 (call for tenders), 16 September 1909 p.12 (Shackleton expedition), 1 April 1910 p.1 (rooms to let), 5 December 1995 p.17 (Lure), 2 September 2006 p.34 (Geoff Simpson obituary)
The Dominion, 29 April 1914 p.4 (Upper Hutt tragedy)

Other references:
Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory
Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory
Tonkin, Keith. The Tull Years 1999-2006. New Edinburgh Folk Club (Dunedin, 2007).
Council of Fire and Accident Underwriters’ Associations of New Zealand, block plans, 1927
Telephone directories
Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans
New Zealand Acetylene Gas Company brochure, Hocken Collections AG-352/053
Otago Chess Club minute books, Hocken Collections MS-0962/006

Acknowledgment:
Thanks to Lois Simpson for supplying information about the Tull restaurant.

Dresden Building (Capitol Building)

Built: 1912-1913
Address: 67-69 Princes Street
Architects: Salmond & Vanes
Builder: G. Lawrence & Sons

At the end of the nineteenth century there were two big music firms in New Zealand: Charles Begg & Co. and ‘The Dresden’. The head offices and showrooms of these businesses were right next door to each other in Princes Street.

The Dresden Pianoforte Manufacturing & Agency Company had been established by David Theomin and Frederick Michaelis in 1883, in part of an older block of buildings designed by David Ross and built in 1867. These premises, between the Octagon and Moray Place in Princes Street, included a music warehouse (for sale of instruments, sheet music etc.), piano and organ showrooms, piano manufacturing workshops, a concert room, and rooms for professional music teachers. The company claimed that its Dunedin premises alone never held fewer than 200 to 250 large instruments, such as pianos, organs, and harmoniums. An innovative hire purchase scheme was hugely successful, and by 1907 the Dresden had 258 employees, and branches or agencies in 60 towns throughout New Zealand.

A contract for the erection of a new seven-storey building designed by Salmond & Vanes was signed on 17 February 1912. The site was immediately to the south of the old one, where two other buildings from Ross’s 1867 block were demolished. The old Dresden premises (facelifted in the 1940s) survive today and are occupied by Moray Gallery and Toast Bar. Salmond & Vanes’ records in the Hocken Collections include two sketch drawings which show some of the evolution of the design. They are for buildings one storey lower than the final design, apparently on the original site, and one features striking half-timbered gables in Tudor style. Because of the fall of the land, two of the levels would be built below the street.

Hocken Collections MS-3821

The total cost of the building was £18,504, putting it among the most expensive erected in Dunedin in the first two decades of the twentieth century. £1,000 was spent on tiling alone, with the exterior decorated with yellow and black Faience tiles manufactured by the Leeds Fireclay Company (Burmantofts Pottery). Yellow and black were the Dresden company colours. The overall style was a mixture Tudor Revival and Art Nouveau styles with three three-storeyed oriel window bays, and arched window openings on the top floor. The building is one of the city’s earliest examples of reinforced concrete construction; and steel framing for the frontage included a 10-tonne girder manufactured by A. & T. Burt, reported to be the largest girder put into a Dunedin building up to that time. It was also among the tallest buildings in the city, with the hill it was built on giving it a higher total elevation than the larger New Zealand Express Company building in Bond Street. The builders were G. Lawrence & Sons, with Turnbull & Jones contracted for the electrical work and George Davies & Co. for the heating. Completion of the work was recorded by Salmond & Vanes on 20 June 1913. Theomin must have been pleased with it, as the following year his company commissioned the same architects to design a branch building in Cashel Street, Christchurch, which though smaller was very similar in style.

Sheet music department

Organ showroom

Christchurch branch building

In 1912 the piano was at the peak of its popularity in New Zealand, with more pianos imported that year than in any other before or since. Annual imports had increased gradually from 1,200 in 1878 to 5,700 in 1912. Most were German, but the First World War soon changed that. In 1915 the Dresden Piano Company changed its name to the Bristol Piano Company ‘for reasons which will be obvious to patriotic citizens’. There is evidence of real prejudice against the firm and its owners. A correspondent from Gisborne wrote to the sensationalist Truth newspaper complaining that Theomin was German, favoured German products, and employed Germans in influential positions. The paper defended the company’s founder, explaining that he was born in England and was the son of a Prussian Jew. The firm’s new name was taken from Theomin’s birthplace: Bristol. Other German or German-sounding names were changed during the war or shortly afterwards: the Dunedin Liedertafel became the Royal Dunedin Male Choir, Brunswick Street in South Dunedin became Loyalty Street, and members of the Hallenstein family altered their name to Halsted.

Advertisement from the Evening Star, 2 January 1915, explaining the name change

Examples of sheet music written by Dunedin musicians and published by the Bristol Piano Company: ‘British Boys’ (1915) and ‘Tropical Moon’ (1930)

The Bristol Piano Company building was a hub of musical activity in the 1920s and even had its own concert chamber, but the depression, new forms of entertainment, and declining sales of pianos, were hard on the company. In 1933 the Dunedin building was sold to a syndicate of Dunedin businessmen and rebuilt as shops and professional offices. It was noted at this time that a stone wall constructed by convict labour in 1862 could still be seen in the basement. The building was renamed the Capitol Building and is still known by that name. The Bristol Piano Company moved to Dowling Street and ceased trading in Dunedin in 1936. The national company went into liquidation in 1938. A later music firm in Dunedin called the Bristol Piano Company was a separate entity.

Occupants of offices in the building have included lawyers, doctors, and dentists. In the early years many of the rooms were taken by music teachers and the Barth School of Music (1921-1972) were long-standing tenants. This school was run by three sisters: Beatrice, Irene, and Ruby. They had a room each on the fourth floor for individual lessons, and there was a classroom where they taught theory to the younger pupils and hosted meetings. They were leading members of the Society of Women Musicians of Otago, and Beatrice administered the Dunedin Centre of Trinity College of Music.

A photography studio designed by the architects Miller & White was added above the existing top storey of the building in 1933. This was originally occupied by the photographer J.J. Webster, and in 1954 was taken over by Campbell Photography, which continued there to 1986. The lawyers Albert Alloo and Sons are now the longest-standing occupants of the building.

Much of the façade detail has been destroyed or covered over, including decorative tilework, parapet railings and detailing, and capitals. The arched window openings on the fourth floor have been replaced with square ones. The essential form of the building remains unchanged, however, and the original window joinery of the oriel windows is also mostly intact. Maybe it will return to the yellow and black Dresden colours one day. For nearly 60 years the building was much higher than its neighbours, until Evan Parry House was built on the site of the Bristol’s old rivals, Begg’s. It still makes a strong statement today, being tall and imposing among a collection of mostly lower buildings, and bringing variety to the streetscape.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 17 April 1867 p.1 (erection of old building), 23 April 1900 p.4 (about the company), 1 September 1909 p.3 (about the company), 22 August 1912 p.6 (new building); Otago Witness 18 May 1867 p.11 (old building); Grey River Argus, 7 January 1915 p.5 (name change); N.Z. Truth, 10 April 1915 p.7 (Theomin and Germany); Evening Star, 31 May 1933 p.3 (image and reference to wall). All references except the Evening Star sourced from Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand.

Other references: Dalziel Architects records, Hocken Collections (MS-2758/0727); Salmond Anderson Architects records, Hocken Collections (MS-3821); Stone’s and Wise’s directories; Suzanne Court, ‘Barth, Beatrice Mary’ from Dictionary of New Zealand Biography; W.H. Morton Cameron, Ports and Cities of the World (London: Globe Encyclopedia Co., [1924]).

Temperance Hall (The Choral Hall)

Built: 1873-1874
Address: 21-27 Moray Place
Architect: Robert Forrest
Builder: James Gore

An early lithograph of the Temperance Hall (Toitū / Otago Settlers Museum)

This post continues the theme of public halls with the Oxford Buildings, known originally as the Temperance Hall and later as the Choral Hall. Completed in 1874, this venue was erected for the Dunedin Temperance Hall Company, a group formed chiefly by members of the Pioneer Lodge of the Temperance Order of Good Templars. The building was intended for the use of various local temperance groups, which were then part of a large, vigorous, and influential movement. They aimed to fight what one local clergyman described as ‘great evils arising from intoxicating drinks’. The hall was also available for general hire.

On the ground floor were offices and the ‘lower hall’ or meeting room, which measured 25 x 41 feet. On the first floor was the larger ‘upper hall’, which measured 72 x 43 feet and contained sitting room for 750 people. This hall had a stage and gallery and an ‘elliptical cove’ ceiling of varnished kauri with sunlights of stained glass. Kauri timber was used throughout the building. The facade was designed in a simple Renaissance Revival style, with rustication and round-headed windows on the ground floor, and curved and triangular pediments above the windows on the first floor. The building was described in the Otago Daily Times as being of a ‘plain but substantial character’.

The architect was Robert Forrest and the hall was one of his early works in his transition from the role of building contractor to the role of architect. The building has been mistaken for a William Mason design due to confusion with an unrealised theatre project that G.R. West put forward for a nearby site around the same time. The builder was James Gore, who submitted a tender of £2,778. The foundation stone was laid by the Mayor, Andrew Mercer, on 26 December 1873, following a procession in which 1,200 people took part. A bottle placed in the stone contained a scroll signed by officers of various lodges, newspapers, coins, and a company prospectus. The building officially opened with a soiree, concert, and dance, on 14 August 1874.

Otago Daily Times, 11 March 1878 p.1 (from Papers Past)

For decades, balls were held (the floors were designed with this in mind), dancing lessons given, and many concerts and other entertainments put on. The Kennedy Family were among the first to appear in the hall with their performances of popular Scottish ballads in 1874. The world billiards champion John Roberts played here in 1876, and the tight-rope walker Henry Morris (‘The New Zealand Blondin’) performed in 1878. A waxwork exhibition featured likenesses of the Kelly Gang and other famous people. One series of chamber music concerts was organised by Raphael Squarise and Arthur Barmeyer through their Otago Conservatorio of Music. A four-day Maori Carnival was held 1902.

Religious meetings were held in the building for nearly 40 years. The Salvation Army’s first New Zealand meetings were held at the hall on 1 April 1883, both preceding and following the better-known outdoor gathering commemorated by a brass plaque on Cargill’s Monument. The Army continued to use the hall for three years. From 1886 the Open Brethren hired it, and it was at this time that the name of the building was changed from the Temperance Hall to the Choral Hall. The Brethren were led by the evangelist Alfred Brunton, who had earlier preached at Farley’s Hall. He led Brunton’s Choir, a group of up to 100 singers that was known throughout Otago, favouring the new style of emotional (and sometimes sentimental) Moody and Sankey songs. This ministry through music may explain the adoption of the Choral Hall name. Brunton died in 1900 and the Brethren continued to hold their meetings in the hall until 1920, when they moved to a new building.

Many clubs and societies met in the Choral Hall. The Dunedin Burns Club held meetings and gave concerts, and from 1891 to 1906 the Otago Art Society held its annual exhibitions in the building. Frances Hodgkins, then just beginning her career, was among those who exhibited. There were also many political meetings and lectures, the latter including such topics as ‘Reincarnation as a Factor in Evolution’ (by a theosophist) and ‘Eighteen Months in the Canadian Far North’ (for the Otago Institute).

11 July 1889 was a significant day in the history of New Zealand. The inaugural meeting of the country’s first women’s union, the Tailoresses’ Union, was held at the Choral Hall and Rev. Rutherford Waddell gave a speech denouncing working conditions and ‘sweated labour’ in factories. This contributed to the breaking ‘sweating scandal’ that led to the Sweating Commission of 1890, which was in turn instrumental in the passing of the Factories Act and other legislation by a new Liberal Government.

Otago Daily Times, 14 July 1890 p.1 (from Papers Past)

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) met in the hall and the Women’s Franchise League of New Zealand grew out of this, holding its inaugural meeting at the Choral Hall on 28 April 1892. This group played a pivotal role in promoting women’s suffrage and widely circulated the petition that was so influential in the successful campaign for women to be given the vote.

In the early 1920s the first-floor hall was converted to a clothing factory for Butterworth Brothers, who employed about 40 staff on the premises, putting their robe department in the gallery and machinists on the main floor. A fire broke out on 16 March 1927, the same day that thousands of people gathered in the streets for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. The blaze extensively damaged the first floor and roof, but the ground floor (where the auctioneer Spedding used the old lower hall) escaped with little more than water damage. The building was rebuilt, but the panelling that can be seen in the hall today suggests that the polished kauri ceiling was lost. The space was later used by Sharland & Co. (wholesale druggists) and the Dunedin Frock Manufacturing Company.

ChoralHall

The Temperance Hall Company sold the building as early as 1882, due to debt and the difficulty of competing with newer halls. In the late nineteenth century it was owned by D.C. Cameron and in the early twentieth century it passed to the Taylor Trustees. In 1932 they employed the architects Miller & White to design extensive alterations to the building which were carried out by the Glue Construction Company at a cost of £2,500. This saw the removal of the lower hall and the building of three shops on the ground floor. A new verandah used Wunderlich pressed metal, while shop fronts featured Australian rose mahogany woodwork, decorative leadlights, and orange and black terrazzo slabs. This work was described in the Evening Star as being in ‘ultra-modern style’. The main staircase was rebuilt in a new location and a lift installed by Turnbull & Jones, for which a small penthouse was added to the roof. The first floor facade decoration seems to have been left unaltered at this time, but in 1944 it was stripped of its ornamentation and given a plainer style that was then fashionable. A new name, ‘Oxford Buildings’, was added to the parapet in relief lettering.

The auctioneers Spedding’s (succeeded by Scandrett’s) took one of the shops. Eliza Squire (a milliner and seamstress) occupied the middle one from 1939 and remained there for twenty years. The other shop, at 25 Moray Place, was occupied by Modern Books from 1943 to 1954. This was run by the Dunedin Co-Operative Book Society (one of just a few bookshop co-operatives in New Zealand), which had socialist ideals and aimed ‘to foster the reading and writing and production of books, pamphlets, circulars and other publications of a nature that will promote an active and intelligent interest in progressive ideas and activities’. The shop specialised in New Zealand books, history, music,and philosophy, as well as general literature. Landfall editor Charles Brasch was involved with the management and day-to-day running of the shop, which was frequented by the local literati. Janet Frame sometimes browsed there in its last year or so, hoping to ‘glimpse one of the literary figures of Dunedin or one visiting from up north’. From roughly 1956 to 1976 the same shop was occupied by Catholic Supplies.

The old upper hall became the Manhattan Lounge in 1960. The space remained essentially unchanged but the old gallery became a bar (originally a coffee bar) with a dance area on the floor below. The Lounge was a popular venue up to the 1980s, and later became the Manhattan Theatre. At the time of writing it is used by the Vertical Aerial Dance studio, which offers specialist pole dancing classes. The shops are now occupied by Modern Miss (vintage clothing), and Whiteroom (sellers of designware, furniture, lighting, and contemporary art). The building looks well kept but the grey exterior colour scheme is a little at odds with the warm colours of the terrazzo.

A lot more could be included in the story of this building. In pulling together various strands I’ve been impressed by the national significance of its social and cultural history. It’s a frequently overlooked treasure, easily worthy of registration as a category I historic place.

OxfordBuildings_shops

ChoralDetail1

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 25 March 1873 p.2 (meeting for proposed hall), 14 April 1873 p.2 (meeting – site put forward), 17 May 1873 p.2 (formation of company), 14 August 1873 p.3 (West’s proposed hall), 27 November 1873 p.4 (tender accepted), 17 January 1874 p.2 (Rev. James Clark on alcohol), 21 January 1874 p.6 (laying of foundation stone), 26 June 1874 p.2 (progress), 7 August 1874 p.3 (description – nearing completion), 15 August 1874 p.2 (opening and description), 21 August 1874 p.2 (finishing touches), 29 August 1874 p.8 (description), 18 September 1876 p.3 (John Roberts, billiards champion), 25 August 1882 p.3 (buildings to be sold), 28 September 1882 p.2 (sale), 27 June 1883 p.3 (lease to Salvation Army), 8 June 1889 p.2 (Sweating Scandal meeting), 29 April 1892 p.3 (Women’s Franchise League meeting), 5 July 1920 p.4 (Open Brethren move out), 17 March 1927 p.10 (fire), 18 March 1927 p.13 (fire); Evening Star, 17 March 1927 p.6 (fire), 20 September 1932 p.2 (alterations), 24 January 1933 p.1 (alterations).

Other references: Stone’s Otago and Southland Directory; Wise’s New Zealand Post Office Directory; telephone directories; Dunedin City Council permit records and deposited plans; Barrowman, Rachel, A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand (Wellington, 1991) pp.125-127; Frame, Janet, An Angel at My Table (New York, 1985) pp.126-129; Stacpoole, John, William Mason: The First New Zealand Architect (Auckland, 1971); Hocken Collections MS-2758/0288 (Miller & White plans)