Monday, October 6, 2008

Update: the truth behind the Coast Guard Hall

Updated from this earlier post ...

In 1922, with the formation of the Avondale Road Board District into a borough, the council agreed to find a place in the district for the new volunteer fire brigade to call a headquarters. There was a triangle of land alongside Trent Street, itself once the way that vehicles and people could cross the railway lines before 1913-1914 and the building of the overhead bridge. The Railways department agreed to lease the land to the borough council, and a two-storey fire station and bell tower were constructed.

"Outside was a tower which held the fire bell. This bell was rung to call to duty from their homes and workplaces the voluntary brigadesmen. There was some confusion because of the similarity of the sound of this bell to those used by some Chinese market gardeners. In 1926 Mr. Ah Chee was asked to change the tone of his to make it distinct from the fire brigade's." (Challenge of the Whau, 1994, p. 102)
Once Avondale amalgamated with Auckland City in September 1927, the volunteer brigade disbanded, and the district came under the command of the Auckland Fire Board. In 1933, a new brick and concrete fire station was built further along Blockhouse Bay Road, but by 1929, Auckland City Council had assumed the lease agreement (No. 14287) which the Avondale Borough Council had taken out with NZR. Both Challenge of the Whau and some later council staff members were incorrect when it was thought that the city council owned the land -- it was and still is a railway reserve.

In 1932, Stanley H James of the Avondale Unemployment Association applied to use the old hall. After correspondence among councillors and staff members, during which it was discovered that although the building could in theory seat 60 people, with dodgy foundations and insufficient bracing for the walls, 30 was by far the safer number to allow in the room at any one time. The Association were also advised that there was to be no dancing, drilling, or similar actions; four casement windows had to be altered to allow the sashes to open; and suitable bracing was required for the front of the building. The records remain silent as to whether the Association took up the offer after all.

In 1933, the Council sub-leased the building instead to a Mr. Finlay, a bootmaker, then in 1939 a painter named McPhail used the building. The Coast Guards came into the picture around 1941, with a 10/- sub-lease agreement. During World War II, an EPS shed was also on the site, adjacent to Trent Street.

From 1945 until its demolition, the hall became the home for the Waterview Scout Group, another (like the Coast Guards) who seemed a distance from their area of operations with a headquarters next to the Blockhouse Bay Road overhead bridge. In 1946, W J Lydiard did try to apply to the Council to use the hall "for the purpose of manufacturing footwear uppers," but he was turned down for two main reasons: that the hall was in a residential area, and the Council had no intention of turfing out the Scouts. "The building," wrote the City Engineer, "is supplying an important need of the youth of the district ..."

In early 1948, calamity: a piece of steel from the old bell tower broke off and lacerated the arm of a railway worker below. The Council took action and authorised the demolition of the tower, what materials as could be salvaged to be taken to the council's depot.

In May 1949, the Scouts wrote to the Council, aware of plans being considered for a new railway scheme (perhaps the later realignment in the 1950s) and asked the Council if an alternative site was available should they lose the hall. Council offered them a site on a plantation reserve at Seaside Avenue, but eventually the Scouts settled on a property at Fairlands Avenue. By 1957, though, the Scouts were still in the old fire station building at Trent Street, although their new hall was under construction. Now even the combined branch of the NZ Labour Party in the Grey Lynn Electorate expressed keenness to take over the lease in place of the Scouts, but by now the Council had had just about enough of the old building. The City Engineer recommended demolition in August 1957, and this finally happened once the Scouts moved out at the end of 1958.

Challenge of the Whau had it that this same building continued on but in 1963 the Avondale Racing Pigeon Club took out a permit "to erect and extend a club house" at Trent Street. The rather forlorn building there today is the 1963 replacement for the old volunteer fire brigade building. Hopefully, some time, old photos of the building may surface from out of someone's collection.

Of course, all this back-story will become meaningless when the temporary platform is created there at Trent around December or so. But, it's still history.

(Information obtained from Auckland City Archives files on the old Avondale Fire Station building at Trent Street, plans and permits, and valuation field sheets.)

Updated 8 October here.


  1. So that's where it came from. I always wondered what the score was with that old building. Now I know.

  2. Me too. It just didn't seem like an old fire station to me. It isn't -- it's the Pigeon Club building. I've ordered some papers from the City Archives files -- looking forward to adding them to the files for reference.

  3. I live three minutes' walk from there and long ago (15+ years?) we used to get calls from people who thought our phone number was the pigeon racing club's. It must have been listed incorrectly somewhere.