Tag Archives: Renaissance revival

Manchester Unity Chambers

Built: 1882-1883 / 1932-1933
Address: 134-142 Stuart Street
Architects Edmund Roach / Mandeno & Fraser
Builders: Francis Wilkinson / Alfred Edward Silver

The story of this building begins in the nineteenth century with the people who built it: the Oddfellows.

The Hand-and-Heart Lodge, Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows, was founded in 1848 and was the first of the ‘friendly society’ lodges in Otago. By 1882 there were 127 Manchester Unity lodges throughout New Zealand. They provided financial benefits and social services to affiliated families and individuals, and filled an important role in their communities in the days before the welfare state and modern health and life insurance systems. They also organised social activities for their members. The origins of the Oddfellows can be traced to the English guild system, when members of trades without enough fellows to form their own guild joined together to form mixed guilds: the odd fellows. Manchester Unity was one of many manifestations of the movement and was formed when members seceded from the Patriotic Order of Oddfellows in 1813.

This building (in its original form) was built between September 1882 and January 1883, following the expiry of the lease on the lodge’s previous hall in George Street.  There was much ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone, with a procession headed by Krull’s brass band, speeches read from a specially erected platform, and children singing the New Zealand anthem. Newspaper reports referred to the architecture as ‘classic style’, however, it would be more accurate to describe the building as a palazzo in the Renaissance revival style. It was constructed in stone and brick with a cement-rendered façade and corrugated iron roof. The façade decoration included pilasters with Corinthian capitals, window pediments, a dentil cornice, a balustraded parapet, and finials. Francis Wilkinson (1834-1902) was the builder and the contract price was £2,825. Edmund Martin Roach (1835-1912) was the architect. Born in Islington, London, Roach began his career as a contractor and had been Inspector of Works to the Otago Provincial Government before joining the practice of architect David Ross. Roach’s most familiar designs are the Baptist halls in Hanover Street and Primitive Methodist Church buildings (built in two stages) in Dundas Street.

The building as it appeared around the turn of the twentieth century, with the shop of the Madras Tea Importing Co. Ltd on the left, and John Chambers & Son (engineers and importers) on the right (Cyclopedia of New Zealand).

As the ‘mother lodge’ the Hand-and-Heart Lodge provided facilities for the wider Oddfellows community, as well as to many other groups, including Masons, Druids, Foresters, the Gaelic Society, the Disciples of Christ, the Rationalist Church, and the Theosophical Society. Activities included meetings, socials, concerts, lectures, dancing classes, cooking classes, and election meetings. The building also contained shops fronting Stuart Street.

Between 1932 and 1933 the building was extended and remodelled to designs by architects Mandeno & Fraser at a cost of between £6,000 and £7,000. With rearward additions it may have as much as doubled in size. The building contractor was Alfred Edward Silver (1878-1960) and the decorator Edwin Longworth. Many features of the original façade decoration were retained, including four of the eight first-floor pilasters with Corinthian capitals, five of the seven window pediments, and part of the cornice. The finials and balustraded parapet were entirely removed. Art deco detailing was added, including the name of the building (‘Manchester Unity Chambers’) and the date of reconstruction (‘1933’). A hanging verandah was added and new shopfronts included brown and orange ceramic tiles and lead-lighted windows. The extensive additions included a new meeting hall on the second floor, the roof of which is the highest point of the structure. It was remarked that the reconstruction was a major building project in Dunedin during a time of economic depression.

The facade is an example of the widespread facelifting of Victorian and Edwardian  buildings in the art deco and stripped classical styles. In Dunedin, this particular brand of’ ‘remodelling’ began around 1929 (Allbell Chambers), and continued through the 1930s and 1940s, with  examples including the City Hotel (1936-1937), Harris Shoes (1939), NMA (1940), UFS (1940), and Paterson & Barr (1948). One of the last decorative examples was the Hotel Central (1953). From the 1940s onwards these facelifts tended to become more crude and simple, and by the 1950s-1970s they were usually a fairly brutal treatment involving the removal of any ornament and a flush cemented finish (e.g. the Standard Building and the Atheneum). When looking at these buildings the overall proportions and the retention of old sash windows are often a giveaway. Why do it? It was sometimes a solution to maintenance problems (e.g. crumbling stone balustrades) but it was also a reaction against unfashionable Victorian architecture, and a way to make a building appear more modern. I’ve seen one building report from the period which recommends one of these facelifts as an inexpensive way to significantly increase the building value.  My personal view is that it’s shame that so many of our Victorian buildings now look so disfigured and confused, but they do give a building an interesting layered history and some of the best examples work well and are quite delightful.  The Manchester Unity Chambers are particularly appealing, and unusual in the way they have retained some of the old decorative detail.

The Lodge relocated to the Glasgow Street Friendly Society Rooms in 2007, having sold the building some years earlier. It disbanded in 2012, by which time it was known as the Otago Friendly Society. The corner shop was occupied by Eclipse Radio from 1939 to 1993. Something of a local institution, over time it added televisions, model supplies, and computers to its business.  The upper shop has been home to The Perc (originally The Percolator) cafe since 1992 and another cafe, Sugar, now occupies the corner shop. With their unspoilt tile-work and leadlights they have two of the best preserved 1930s shopfronts in Dunedin. The many occupants of the offices have included insurance agents, accountants, solicitors, dressmakers, music teachers, incorporated societies, and currently the Zuma web and design studio. Hopefully, the future of the building will be as colourful as its past.

Eclipse Radio ephemera addressed to my grandfather.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times, 9 May 1882 p.2 (description), 12 May 1882 p.1 (call for tenders), 25 September 1882 pp.2-3 (description and laying of foundation stone), 24 January 1883 p.2 (hall used for first time), 21 July 1933 p.10 (opening ceremony for reconstructed building), 13 February 1993 p.3 (closure of Eclipse Radio and Computers), 30 April 2007 p.4 (relocation of Unity Otago Lodge), 21 July 2012 p.1 (Otago Friendly Society disbanded); The Star, 14 June 2007 p.19 (re-opening of The Perc).

Other references: Cyclopedia of New Zealand, vol.4 (Otago and Southland Provincial Districts, pp.289-90); plans for alterations, Dunedin City Council records.

Moray Terrace

Built: 1880-1881
Address: 57-65 Moray Place
Architect: T.B. Cameron (c.1837-1894)
Builders: Not known

This terrace draws attention to its history with the date ‘1880’ conspicuously displayed below a chimney stack. It was in August 1880 that architect T.B. Cameron called for tenders to build ‘three three-storey residences, in Brick, in Moray place and View street, for Mrs Muir’. The buildings were finished in 1881 and named Moray Terrace. By 1884 the corner residence was known as Gladstone House, presumably because Mrs Muir was an admirer of the British (Liberal) Prime Minister, W.E. Gladstone. The building cost was £4,000.

Who was Mrs Muir? Amelia Muir (1814-1893) was one of Dunedin’s pioneering business women. She was the daughter of Thomas Allen, land steward (or senior gardener) to William IV and a prominent horticulturalist in South Australia from his arrival there in 1836. It is recorded that Mrs Muir’s godmother was King William’s youngest daughter, Amelia FitzClarence, and Dr Hocken noted that it was ‘said’ that she was the natural daughter of George IV. Although this last claim is very unreliable, it’s interesting to think of it as the subject of local gossip! Mrs Muir arrived in Dunedin in 1861 and soon opened Bedford House, a boarding house on Bell Hill. She was later compensated when the house was removed and the land excavated. She was active in the St Paul’s Guild, the Benevolent Institution, the Servants’ Home, and the Female Refuge. She was also a zealous supporter of Otago Girls’ High School where her daughter was the first dux. Her son was a photographer and the senior partner in the firm Muir & Moodie. Her property included houses further up View Street and some family connection remained over forty years after her death, when ‘Muir Court’ and ‘Allen Court’ were built at the top of the street.

MorayTerrace_1883

The architect, Thomas Bedford Cameron (c.1837-1894), had worked in the United Kingdom, Ballarat and Auckland before coming to Dunedin in 1878. He is best known in Dunedin for designing Caversham Presbyterian Church and for winning the competition for the design of the town hall (though R.A. Lawson’s design was eventually used). He also designed a building similar in style to Moray Terrace at 83 Moray Place, which was replaced by the Stuart (now Kirkland) Chambers in 1947. Just a few years younger than Lawson, Cameron was a very accomplished architect to whom I’ll return in the next month.

Moray Terrace is an elegant, pretty, and well-preserved example of Cameron’s work, and another Dunedin example of the revival of the renaissance Italian palazzo. It’s unusual for a terrace – do any others in New Zealand have three-storey street fronts? The many interesting details include pilasters (some with Corinthian capitals and others with rosettes) that distinguish the separate houses. Lost detailing at the ground foor obscures that distinction to some degree, and ball finials above the parapet are also missing. Remarkably, the chimney stacks have  survived more or less unaltered and the one facing View Street remains a focal point of the overall design. Few original features survive inside, at least in the apartments recently advertised for sale. In recent decades the exterior has had a variety of colour schemes: one predominantly blue, another brown, and now one in the ubiquitous fashionable grey.

Moray Terrace has had many interesting occupants. Braemar House girls’ school, run by Jessie Dick, was briefly housed here (before moving further up the street) and the pupils of this ‘Ladies’ Seminary’ included a young Frances Hodgkins. From the mid 1880s Caroline Wells ran a higher-class boarding house in the terrace. Residents in early years included a sharebroker, an artist, a gaol warder, a tobacconist, an  engineer, and a bank clerk. In 1885 a con artist in the building posed as a theatrical agent and persuaded many to part with their money with the promise of getting them work on the stage in Australia. By the time his scheme was rumbled he had disappeared.

Shops were put in the ground floor at some point, their fronts projecting from the facade. The building was home to the Gladstone Milk Bar from about 1952 to 1965. In the 1980s a ghostly apparition, dressed in 1950s denim jeans and jacket, was rumoured to haunt the buildings.

Gladstone House was extensively renovated in 1987 when it became known as Shand House. In recent years the original name, Moray Terrace, has been reinstated.

Newspaper references: Otago Daily Times 31 August 1880 p.4 (call for tenders), 13 April 1881 p.2 (accident to contractor), 18 July 1881 p.1 (to let notice – Moray Terrace), 20 January 1882 p.1 (Braemar House advertisement), 25 July 1883 p.2 (cost), 1 October 1884 p.1 (to let notice – Gladstone House), 17 June 1885 p.3 (‘An Ingenious Swindle’), 28 November 1893 p.6 (Mrs Muir’s obituary), 16 December 1893 p.5 (corrections to obituary), 13 July 1985 p.29 (Lois Galer’s history).

Other references: Stone’s and Wise’s directories; F&J 11/27 (Hocken Collections); Jones, David and Ian Westergaard. ‘Whither the First ‘Botanical Garden’ for Adelaide: The Role and Contribution of Thomas Allen’ in Past Matters: Heritage, History and the Built Environment (Palmerston North: Massey University, 2006).