Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Land of the "Paragon"

Story of the South St Judes Street Block (Part 1)

(Photo: "Dingle Dell".)

The lines on the old 1884 deposited plan are a bit of a hotchpotch. In an area of land bounded by the road known then as the New North Road (which we now know as St Judes Street), the Kaipara Railway line, the road to the brickyard (now St Georges Road) and one of at least two Government Roads in old Avondale (now called Chalmers Street) – the surveyor hired by former hotelier James Palmer drew his lines. For one thing, a curvy unnamed creek snaked its way across his plan, distorting the rear boundaries of all the properties. Also, a new street was dedicated, and marked out (but unnamed). This was in later years to become Ahiriri Street. Then there was the buildings already on the land, in one case going back to 1867 (the Public Hall, where now stands the Hollywood Cinema) and a blacksmith’s forge. These meant the lines that were normally straight across that pesky creek became oddly angled close to St Georges Road, and at the site of the old forge, Lot 6 made extra wide compared with the other parcels of land. The railway line, surveyed in the 1870s, land taken for the purpose by 1878, left the southern end of Layard Street cut off from the rest of the road (an unformed road now a green swathe leading to Chalmers Street today), and made the lots just below it jagged and irregular in shape.

This was part of the second “Greytown” sale, the auction advertised for December 9 1883 at noon at D F Evans’ mart in Queen Street in the city, on terms of “One third cash, the balance can remain for 5 or 10 years at 8 percent, or can be paid off at any time.” You can see a copy of that auction map at the Avondale Community Library today.

The surveyor and the speculator

This land was originally part of a great area of land, Allotment 64. This was originally around 54 acres, bounded (although these roads did not exist then) by Blockhouse Bay Road, Rosebank Road, Great North Road and Chalmers Street.

I thank Mr. Cullen Szeto of Szeto Visique Optometrists (2022 Great North Road) for donating to the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society a copy of a valuable historical background report by Infinite Enterprise International Ltd. completed c.1987 for one of the then-owners of the Page’s Building. It is a good summary of research into the early land titles for the area.

In 1845, Thomas Florence purchased Allotment 64 from the Crown on crown grant. According to The Infinite Enterprise report, he was a surveyor who came to New Zealand in 1834, one of the earliest surveyors in Auckland, working from North Cape to Castle Hill in the Coromandel area. He may have been the same Thomas Florence, a surveyor and settler in Tasmania in 1818, who had been asked by the Lt. Governor there to survey Macquarie Harbour. Whereas others bought land in the then-Whau District purely on the basis of land speculation, Florence owned his allotment until 1862. It was likely farmed, and possibly the land was leased out for use as grazing. It would have been sloping country (present day Avondale residents can testify to the steepness of the climb up Crayford, St Judes and Chalmers Streets), possibly best suited to cattle, foraging in the scrub.

The farm was sold to Daniel Lockwood on 2 September 1862. He was a hotelkeeper, licensee of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Hobson Street, and a landowner in the central city area. Not much is known about him at this stage, but he on-sold the farm to Thomas Russell seven months later.

There is a considerable amount of information known about Thomas Russell however (1830-1904). Four years before he purchased Allotment 64 he had founded NZ Insurance Co., and in 1861 he formed the Bank of New Zealand. He and his friends, among the number included shipowner Thomas Henderon (founder of Henderson’s Mill, which later became Henderson), (Sir) John Logan Campbell, (Sir) Frederick Whittaker, and flour miller Josiah Firth, all of whom were fellow capitalists and speculators.

According to the 1987 report, Russell appears to have immediately subdivided the farm into 48 lots, named it Greytown (likely after then-Governor Sir George Grey), and dedicated three new roads for the subdivision: Cracroft Street, Blake Street (these likely named after heroes of the Taranaki War), and Layard Street (the reasoning for this name is even more speculative – it could be after Sir Austen Henry Layard, a noted archeologist of the time).

I had believed that land speculator Michael Wood (earlier subdivider of land further north he dubbed “Waterview” in 1861) had been the organiser of the Greytown subdivision. Instead, according to the 1987 report, he had been the one to buy all except for 6 lots at the original 3 April 1863 auction. Ownership of these lots, which included those which make up the property today bounded by St Judes Street, Great North Road, Chalmers Street and the railway line, passed to Michael Wood on 4 May 1864, who the next day on-sold 32 lots, including the above area, to a friend of his, David Nathan. David Nathan is best known for being an extremely successful Auckland merchant in the mid-19th century, a scion of the Jewish community, and founder of a business that evolved into L. D. Nathan & Co. He had considerable involvement in land dealings in the Avondale and Waterview areas, either buying lots in speculation, bailing out his friend Woods, or providing mortgages (to John Thomas of the Thomas Star Mill in Waterview, for example). Here, we leave the 1987 report (which from this point focussed on the area of Allotment 64 around the present-day Page’s Store).

James Palmer (1819-1893) enters the picture in 1867. On 22 July that year, he purchased all the lots of the original farm south of the present-day line St Jude Street, bounded also by Great North Road, Chalmers Street, and Blockhouse Bay Road. Before coming to the Whau he was hotelkeeper at the Royal Hotel, Eden Terrace. He may have actually arranged to buy the land earlier that year, for it is noted, when the Whau Minstrels held their first fundraising concert for a public hall to be built, that “a piece of ground kindly lent by Jas. Palmer, esq., of the Whau, in a position well suited for the erection of a permanent public hall,” served as the site of the stage in early March 1867. However, the entertainment could also have been on the site of the Whau Hotel (second in the area) that he had erected by 1870, which was situated on the other side of today’s roundabout.

By April that year, Palmer had donated land for the public hall (site of today’s Hollywood Cinema). He went on to build the third Hotel in 1873 (after the second burned down the year before), donated land on St Judes Street for the Anglican Church in July 1874 (it was built 10 years later), and in creating the lot numbers recognised today in the St Judes to Chalmers Street block in 1883 later dedicated and laid out the path of the present day Donegal Street (once Palmer Street) and Ahiriri Street (April 1884).

On the same day, 9th of April 1884, he sold Lots 9, 10 and 11 to William Potter, a bus driver.

William Potter To Elizabeth Kelly and beyond – Lots 9 to 11 (1884 – 1970s)

This William Potter could have been the same “Mr Potter” which the 1994 book Challenge of the Whau stated ran a horse bus service from the Whau around 1882. Considering that the Northern Bus Company started in 1884, Potter could have been one of their drivers.

Potter’s purchase would have been a pasture falling steeply to the south and the winding creek. Sparks from passing steam trains would land from time to time in the part nearest the rail line. But it was ideally placed, if Potter was running his own, competing bus service, to be a paddock and shelter for horses, being situated on the main route used to get to the city via Mt Albert. At this stage, little more is known about William Potter.

In August 1900 Potter sold the three lots to Elizabeth Ellen Kelly. There isn’t much known about her, except that by 1916 the News referred to her as “an old resident of Avondale, but who for the last three or four years has resided in Te Aroha.” In 1905 she on-sold Lot 9 to William Kelly, a builder (it isn’t certain whether he was a relation, but he occupied all three lots in 1905 according to the Avondale Roads Board rates listing for that year.)

At some point between 1900 and 1913, the Paragon Boarding House was built on Lots 10 and 11. This was a nine-roomed house which was completely destroyed by fire on 13 January 1916. At the time of the fire, the building was occupied by the Schmidt family of four adults and five children. The Schmidt’s eldest child woke at around 2am on hearing a sound in an adjoining room on the eastern side. He woke his father, but by then a portion of the house was already enveloped by fire. The westerly wind fanned the flames, and with Avondale at the time having no reticulated water supply (and also, no fire brigade), the gathered neighbours could do little to try to save the house. Apart from some hastily-gathered personal items, nothing was saved, the Schmidt’s furniture and effects going up in flames with the building. A detached outhouse which had some items stored within was untouched.

As happens in Avondale after incidents such as this, the locals immediately looked for reasons why the fire happened. Sparks from a train engine were discounted, as no train had passed for at least three hours, and also there had been several sharp showers of rain that night between the departure of the last train and the fire. Thoughts turned to the possibility of an arsonist (the premises of William Myers the coachbuilder were nearly set alight in what the News at the time called “a deliberate attempt” the previous late December, and in 1917 Binsted’s butcher shop down at the St Georges Road corner was completely destroyed, that fire unexplained.)

It is doubtful that Elizabeth Kelly arranged to have another building erected on the site. In 1919, she sold the property to Charles Frederick Mackadam (a commission agent, from Te Aroha). The property remained with the Mackadam family until recently. “Dingle Dell”, the building demolished in late June 2005, could have dated, therefore, from the early 1920s. It became 21 St Judes Street.

Whoever William Kelly was, he sold his lot 9 (17 St Judes Street) to Selima M Murray by 1913 (she owned the property at least until 1920). The house there could be as old as 1905, perhaps built by William Kelly. In 1928 John Bentley (wharf foreman) was living there, and in 1929 a contractor named George Larkin, according to the directories of the time. No one else is listed until 1940, when it seems Fred W Percy (a labourer) shifted over from No. 15. By 1952, the house was occupied by a local butcher, Arthur Furse. He was there down to the 1970s.

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