Sunday, September 28, 2008

A brief history of … the Excelsior Chambers

In the Avondale of 1922, the only shops of note at the main intersection of Great North and what is now Rosebank Road were McKenzies General Store (where the Fearon Building now stands), the two-storey wooden shop serving as a fishmongers and confectionery shop operated by the Shaws, and Stewart’s Garage. The main centre for retail here was the old Five-Roads intersection, where the roundabout is now. The Great North Road was still uneven metal, an impediment to travelers from the city towards West Auckland through Avondale. This was the year of the start of the short-lived Avondale Borough, where the main landmarks of note along Mainstreet Avondale were the Page’s Building built in 1903, and the Avondale Hotel from the late1880s.

It appears, going from references in the Borough Council minutes, that one George Hosking, of a land agents firm Hosking & Hosking, owned the land at the south-east corner of the intersection of Great North Road and Browne Street (now Rosebank Road). Hosking built the retail shops at 54 and 56 Rosebank Road, and subdivided the corner section in 1926. By the late 1920s, his business had been taken over by W J Tait (who had the Unity Buildings constructed in 1932). The land was paddocks and blacksmiths’ outbuildings (the last blacksmith there being George Downing before 1915), and was still largely open in 1924 when Charles Collier set up his ironmongery store just up the incline from where the shops were later built in c.1925-26.

The NZ Herald reported in January 1926 on the planned construction of “two large blocks of shops” at the Great North-Rosebank intersection – one of these was most likely the Excelsior Chambers. The construction was obviously taking advantage of the newly concreted Great North Road

The original building was from numbers 1880 to 1886 Great North Road, with five businesses according to the directory of the time: Cecil Western, draper, at No. 1880 (he remained there until the mid 1930s); Harwood Clifford Hemus, chemist, at No. 1882 (there until 1932); a solicitor John V. Mansill and confectioner Miss Margaret H. Maddren at No. 1884 (neither there beyond a year); and Charles Collier at No. 1886 (he left by the time if the Depression, but opened up his own block of shops across the road, the Collier Buildings.

Around 1929, no. 1890 was added onto the original building, and no. 1892 added around 1937-1939.

Well-known shop owners in the Excelsior Chambers over the years have been the Martin family (Mrs. A Martin started there as a pork butcher in 1932, then Rebecca Martin opened up a furniture dealership in 1933); Charles Funnell from 1956 who bought the business from the Martins. He in turn was there to at least the late 1980s; and Sam Lowe, the fruiterer there from 1937 to the 1970s.

Seventy years of keeping Avondale one step ahead in style

It was around 1933 that Philip Toucich opened his bootmakers shop in the Excelsior Chambers, at no. 1886. The business was one of Avondale’s longest lasting in the footwear trade, passing to F. Zoricich by 1940, then to Vince Zoricich a decade later, and finally settling as the Central Shoe Store in the 1960s. I recall the shop when my mother and I would go on the annual hunt for shoes for school – the high step from the footpath was a climb for a youngster, and the shop was lined floor to ceiling with boxes of shoes in the narrow little area, with displays of shoes and shoe boxes in the front window. These days (2003), it is part of Pacific Gear. There never seemed to be a lot of room there to take time, try on shoes until you found the one that suited you best.

From around 1962, Allen Shaw Shoes opened at 1892, and is still a place for buying quality shoes in Avondale, since being renamed Avondale Shoe Store in the 1970s, and since 1997 being under the management of Hamant. Hamant, originally from Fiji, had a shoe shop there for 12 years before coming to live in New Zealand and taking over Avondale Shoe Store. His father was also in the footwear trade, so he has quite a vast experience in behind him when it comes to helping his customers find just the right shoe for them. “When a customer walks in, “Hamant says, “he won’t get out without buying shoes.”

I remember the store from my childhood as Shaws Shoes. It was my first experience with being able to sit on comfortable chairs, to try on various types of shoe until the right size and style was reached, checking for width across the broad part of the foot, and space for the toes. “Charlie Blacks”, shoe horns and a shop seemingly filled with an infinite variety of footwear are parts of my memory of the shop we now know as Avondale Shoe Store.

For over 70 years, the Excelsior Chambers has been the base for shoe stores excelling in keeping the feet of Avondale, young and old, both men and women, well protected from all seasons, and for a reasonable price.

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