Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shortland Street, Vulcan Lane, and the Chancery

I ventured out yesterday to hear a talk on an archaeological investigation of a West Auckland historical site. As the talk was being given in the Pioneer's Hall at Freyburg Place, I took the opportunity to hop off the bus at Princes Street and take a walk through Auckland's old administration centre, via Shortland Street, towards the hall. On the way, I was able to rediscover an old favourite of mine: the former 1YA broadcasting studios.

In her day, she must have been quite a sight, up here on the Shortland Street heights. Even today, I reckon she holds her own amongst the mirror-glass giants. Aside from the NZHPT link just above, there's an interesting transcript of a speech on the history here.
"Commissioned at the height of the Depression by the conservative New Zealand Broadcasting Board, the IYA building in Shortland Street was Auckland’s first purpose-built radio station. Deceptively large, the IYA station’s structure presents a single storey facade to Shortland Street, but extends for another three levels down the hill to Fort Street at the back. Requirements of early radio broadcasting technology dictated that the building be solid and soundproof therefore there are double brick walls twenty-one inches thick to block out noise, and copper framed arched “windows” reveal a second layer of brick rather than a view of the interior. Studios below street level at the front can still be used for music practice and recording as they were built beneath the road and into the hillside to block sound."

Shortland Street itself is still an interesting thoroughfare. This was Auckland's very first "main drag", known in the 1840s as Shortland Crescent. All the movers and shakers were to be found here, rather than at the Ligar Canal bedevilled Queen Street below. Times changed once the sewer was roofed over in the latter road and forgotten.

Still, the old street maintains some pretensions. I just had to take a photo of this sign.

Vulcan Lane. It's mainly cafes too dear for my wallet or fashion places where someone of my over-generous proportions wouldn't be seen anywhere near these days, but I still like it as one of central Auckland's service lanes that made it to the big-time, and has survived the city's growing pains and changes over the centuries. Earliest ad on Papers Past mentioning Vulcan Lane is from a James McLeod, 24 October 1850, wanting "Two good forgers. Constant employment, and good wages to steady men." Earliest article is from 10 January 1851, when one Alexander Hamilton, a blacksmith (apt, as Vulcan Lane's name origins are linked to the smithy trade) made use of " a certain opprobius epithet" to Constable Wilson in the lane, then squared up to him and physically threatened the said representative of the law. Some interesting finds were made during a recent archaeological investigation of part of the lane.

The Chancery is modern, late 1990s, but as the streets at Freyburg Place curve back up the hill towards the gutbusting climb of Kitchener Street, modern here doesn't really look out of place with a glimpse of historic just in behind. Just because I'm intrigued by the past doesn't mean I don't think that stuff from the present is cool.


  1. Close enough to the top of Shortland Street to be relevant to this interesting item is Eden Crescent, where apparently an important source of water for early Auckland still flows. "Unless you are looking for it, it's unlikely you'll find the Waiariki spring, hidden as it is in a car park ..." writes Gordon McLaughlin on the latest issue of AA Directions. He also mentions it in his latest book on Auckland history. I'd quite like to visit this site but, being lazy, I wondered if you or readers of your blog can provide accurate directions, rather than having to go hunting and draw suspicious stares?

  2. Hi Phil,
    Keith Rusden (who also happens to be President of the Blockhouse Bay Historical Society at the moment) wrote a brilliant booklet on the history of the Grey & Menzies soft drinks company, and described the carpark wall (then, as he wrote the booklet, still part of a factory wall) where a horizontal slit existed where the stream's water still ran through, and into drains. I've visited the site myself, on the southern side of Eden Crescent where buildings today back onto Waterloo Quadrant (the stream originates from the Albert Park area). It appears on early Fenton maps, if I recall correctly. However, I see on Google street view that there's been a lot of new construction since I saw that wall myself a few years ago. The wall, the drain and the access to the stream off Eden Crescent may either now be completely replaced, or on private property behind buildings where members of the public would not have permission to enter without authority.

    When Auckland had a severe drought in the late 1840s, when wells ran dry (this was before someone had the-then bright idea to use what is now the Domain duck ponds), the stream was piped and made accessible down close to the shores of Official Bay. When the long wharf was built there in the 1850s, the water pipe was lengthened to go right along the wharf, so that ships could refill their barrels, etc.

    By the way, Gordon McLaughlin's books on Auckland history make me sigh heavily. His 20th century stuff is fine, but the 19th century bits are peppered with unsubstantiated anecdotes (his paragraph on Pollen's brickyard made me cringe).

  3. Just an additional -- according to a 1939 Wises Directory I've got here, Grey & Menzies' factory was at No. 15 Eden Crescent. That might be a good place to look, Phil. Checking the aerials, there's a building in front of the carpark area at the rear today, though. I advise checking with the owners to see if you can look first before going onto their private property.

  4. "By the way, Gordon McLaughlin's books on Auckland history make me sigh heavily. His 20th century stuff is fine, but the 19th century bits are peppered with unsubstantiated anecdotes (his paragraph on Pollen's brickyard made me cringe." I recently borrowed his latest from the library and someone had gone through, very neatly in pencil, making correction after correction!

  5. That wasn't me. :) I bought my own copy, hoping for a great read and some insights. Instead, I'd read a bit, and go "Huh? What on earth???" every so often. I have vowed not to buy anymore of his Auckland history books.

    His book on the history of the Auckland Savings Bank was terrific, and a very good resource. I had hoped for the same with these recent ones. I was sadly wrong.

  6. My partner & I went hunting for the spring and found it easily enough. It is in a car park behind the law school building.

    Near 15 Eden Cres there is a public phone box. Go down the driveway beside this box and veer to the right. Go under the suspended walkway into the carpark. There is an old brick wall at the back of the carpark and the spring is there at about chest height.

    For an item of such significance to lcal history it's a shame there is not so much as a plaque to mark it.

  7. Thanks for that, nakamal. It's certainly an unsung treasure of our city.

  8. This is great! Will be making this Auckland pilgrimage soon to Waiariki Stream, thanks for the instructions!