Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pierce Building, now Symond Court

Every time, up to now, when I've gone past this building on the corner of Khyber Pass and Upper Symonds Street, I've wondered if it was ever a hotel. Well, no, it wasn't, but -- it had connections with one. To a point.

It seems that the corner site once belonged to a Mr Gilfillan, according to NZ Map 4207 in the Sir George Grey Special Collections. Likely this was John Anderson Gilfillan who is remembered among other things as the Gilfillan of Gilfillan's Store in Queen Street.

 Auckland Star 18 January 1873

 Those readers out there who would like the challenge for further information: try rates records for Auckland City's Grafton Ward, Deeds Index 1A.615 and application file 34697C with Land Information New Zealand. Let me know what you find.

Then, sometime between 1873 and 1890, this appeared.

Edward Qualtrough's Orchard & Garden Store (left), and M J Coyle's smithy (right), 1890s. Ref. 7-A11354, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, by kind permission.

A wooden store, operated by Edward Qualtrough, appeared by around 1890 at the corner, next to Michael John Coyle's coachbuilding, smithy and contracting business (Coyle was later a chairman of the Pt Chevalier Road Board, a Mayor of Mt Albert, and headed the Auckland Charitable Aid Board for a time).

Looking down Khyber Pass from Symonds Street showing the Indian Contingent of the Imperial Troops wheeling into Khyber Pass with the Queens Hotel on left, Edward Qualtrough, grocer, on right, and Holy Sepulchre Church. Ref. 4-991, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, by kind permission.

In 1902, Qualtrough's business was taken over by J Valentine, down to sometime around 1910.

Valentine's store (centre), Upper Symonds Street, c.1908. Ref. 7-A1922, Sir George Grey Special Collections, 
Auckland Libraries, by kind permission.

I know that by 1912, when the Auckland Council valuation sheets (ACC 213/171d) began recording the properties for Upper Symonds Street, the wooden store had been replaced by brick shops tenanted by a number of businesses, known as the Pierce Buildings, named after the owner at the time, widow Eleanor Pierce, and the family. Her husband George Patrick Pierce was much lamented when he died in 1891.

The face and figure of the deceased gentleman will be sadly missed from our streets,his genial laugh from many circles where he was always welcomed, and not a few people in Auckland will say with heartfelt sorrow to-day "We have lost a truehearted friend." To the family thus suddenly bereaved, such consolation as may come from a universal public sympathy will be theirs in the painful and unexpected affliction which, in the course of God's providence, has befallen them.

Auckland Star 18 May 1891
Mr. George Patrick Pierce, for many years well known and greatly respected as the General Manager of the New Zealand Fire Insurance Company, was born at Plymouth, on the 21st of June, 1825, and died at Auckland on the 17th of May, 1891, deeply regretted by all classes of the community. He was a son of the late Captain Pierce, R.N. Mr. Pierce placed a memorial window in St. Sepulchre's Church in remembrance of his father and mother. While he was a lad his parents removed to Ireland, whither he accompanied them. Subsequently he was connected with the firm of Messrs Smith, Elder and Co., of London. About thirty-five years ago he arrived in Auckland and became a member of the firm of Messrs Bain, Pierce and Co., trading for a considerable period in Auckland. He retired from the connection, however, and became first local and then general manager of the New Zealand Insurance Company, and occupied both positions with conspicuous ability and success. From his first arrival in Auckland he identified himself with church work, and gained the respect and esteem of the Bishop of New Zealand. In 1865 he joined with four other gentlemen in building old St. Sepulchre's church, under the direction of Bishop Selwyn. From that date until his death he filled various church offices; as vestryman or churchwarden of St. Sepulchre's, Diocesan Nominator, Diocesan Trustee, and member of the Diocesan and of the General Synod. He was also one of the assessors of the Bishop's Court, and for many years secretary of the Orphan Home, Parnell, founded by Archdeacon Lloyd. Mr. Pierce was not only a veteran Freemason, but one of the most distinguished members of the craft in the Colony. ‘He was a member and subsequently worshipful master of the Ara Lodge, I.C., from the early days up to his death. On the retirement with the troops from New Zealand of Most Worshipful Brother De Burgh Adams, the first Provincial Grand Master of the Irish Constitution of Freemasonry, the choice fell upon Bro. Pierce, as his successor; and by his suavity and courtesy, combined with firmness, strict justice and impartiality, Mr. Pierce gained the love and esteem of every Mason belonging to the various constitutions. A Mason he lived and a Mason he died, and his funeral was attended by the members of the English, Scotch and New Zealand Constitutions, who paid their last tribute of respect to their deceased Brother at the Purewa Cemetery, and the occasion was marked by a most eloquent funeral oration delivered by the Grand Chaplain, the Rev. D. Kidd. Mr. Pierce was twice married, and his eldest surviving son by the first marriage, Mr. George Nelson Pierce, is the manager of the New Zealand Insurance Company at Auckland. He contracted his second marriage with Miss Eleanor Connell, who survives him. (NZETC, Cyclopedia of NZ)

Pierce's Building (left, with car parked outside), 10 January 1928, photographed by James D Richardson. Ref. 4-2185,       Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, by kind permission.

After Eleanor Pierce died in 1912, aged 67, the Pierce family retained ownership of the building under Pierce Properties Limited, through to 1944 when the family sold the building to Grace Bros. Ltd, and it became a furnishing store, complete with bulk store to the side and rear. (NA 767/197, LINZ records) Whether this was a branch or subsidiary of the Grace Bros. stores over in Australia, I'm not sure.

Part of Pierce's Building (right), 20 September 1929, photographed by James D Richardson. Ref. 4-1835, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, by kind permission.

Probably Grace Bros. renamed the store. Or, a later owner, refurbishing, decided that "Symond Court" sounded swish.

Oh, the hotel connection? The photo just above also shows the Queens Hotel on the left hand side. There was a bottle store, run by that hotel's proprietor, just across the road in the Pierce Building, according to the Council records.


  1. Hi I've become quite a fan of your site and have noticed you've written a few pieces about the upper symonds street area. I happen to live in the area and love it and have heard a few things about the history of the empty lot on the opposite block to 'Symonds Court' at the end on the corner with Basque Road. I wondered if you were open to the challenge of finding out the building history of that (recently sold) empty lot. Also why 'Basque' Road and 'Basque' Park?

    Cheers - M

  2. Hi M,

    Thanks! Upper Symonds Street fascinates me. I had a great morning just going nuts with the camera, photographing what has always intrigued me so i could look it up later. There's more to come.

    If you mean the empty lot just by the Chinese Community Centre -- that's coming up as well. That is possibly the site (or at least very close) of the original Cotele homestead. Cotele was a subdivision from 1862 -- and that's when Basque Road was named. There's a card in the NZ index at the library which says it was named after a battle, and my guess at this stage (without seeing it) would be they mean the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809 (have a look at Wikipedia). I'll check -- if so, that would make an interesting Street Stories post a bit later.

  3. Great - looking forward to it. Yes, I love Upper Symonds Street - really feel at home here - wonder what will happen to the place when they put a new rail station in the Orange Hall..

    Thanks for the tip on Basque Road, that would make sense.

    Cheers - M

  4. A minor correction if you would Michael Coyle,s middle name was John not Joseph

    Alan Coyle

  5. Thanks for that, Alan. Now fixed. Cheers.

  6. I can remember this building being used by Grace Bros Ltd and they were furniture retailers in the 1960's.

  7. Just toad that the building was designed by Mr & Mrs pierces son, who was working at Bamford & Pierce architects, who also designed Neligan house in Parnell for the Anglican Bishop of Auckland and the demolished Coolangatta in Remuera Road