Thursday, August 27, 2009

A building at 75 Queen Street

Yesterday, heading down Queen Street, to Britomart to catch the train home, feeling tired and a bit croaky, I looked up at some of the façades -- and spotted this one. I really liked the way the new (maybe just newish, but it looks recent) paintwork had also included some detail of the ornamentation beneath the pediments. Like this:

Well, I wondered what the building was. What its history was all about. Which led to me noting the street number of the shops (No. 75), and then continuing home.

I'm glad I took notice of it, now. The story behind the building and its site has filled in a few gaps for me in terms of central Auckland's story. (I am continually learning new stuff about Auckland this way.)

The land is Lot 10 of Section 17 of the Town of Auckland, an unusually intact piece of early Auckland real estate. The Crown Grantee in 1844 was one Alexander Ross. Exactly who he was I'm not sure, but in 1843 he had somewhat of a correspondence dust-up with the Colonial Secretary over claims he had been cheated of some land he'd purchased at the crown sales, and the obtaining of titles for same. (Southern Cross, 3 June 1843)

Whatever happened to the allotment between 1844 and 1856, in the latter year Josiah Clifton Firth entered into partnership with his brother-in-law Daniel Thornton and William Brook Smith, to form the company of Thornton, Smith and Firth. That year, they called for tenders to build their steam mill on Queen Street.

Southern Cross, 25 November 1856

Their mill was huge, and was one of Auckland's most prominent man-made landmarks in the lower part of Queen Street. Go to the Auckland City Library's Heritage Images Online to see what I mean (go to their Advanced Search page): Photo 4-8989 from 1860, shows the building looming in the centre distance. Another image from 1881, 1-W966, shows how the mill building on the site, at least four storeys, dominated the streetscape.

In May 1860, their first mill (cost £9000) burned down, but within two weeks they commissioned James Wrigley to draw up plans for a new mill on the site, and the partners were soon back in business. By the 1880s, Firth was sole proprietor -- but lost the mill site through mortgage default.

The Old Mill was sold to May 1896 to the Auckland Stock Exchange Company, which intended to tear down the Old Mill and other buildings on the site in order to building a spanking new Auckland Stock Exchange. The property was mortgaged, designs were called for (and a winning one chosen) -- but it all came to nought. By 1897 or so, they had leased the site to Herbert Mayne Smeeton (c.1862-1927).

Smeeton's Exhibition stall. Observer, 7 January 1899

The lease was formalised in 1902, and in 1905 Smeeton bought the site outright. Now he proceeded to create the building we see today, starting early 1902 (Heritage Images, 1-W633) where he replaced the single storey buildings alongside the Old Mill itself with a three storey block, and then completed the building by the early 1920s. The existing façade comes from Smeeton's era, by the looks of it, as the new building came to be known as Smeeton's Building.

H. M. Smeeton was (at the very least) a City Councillor, member of the Auckland Harbour Board, staunch Wesleyan and supporter of the Y.M.C.A.

In 1921, Smeeton sold the building to City Investment Limited, a subsidiary of Winstones, who in turn leased the building back to Smeetons Limited. The building became the Winstone Company's headquarters, and took on their name. The company sold the building in 1971, and from 1981 it was known as Encom House. It was briefly owned by Tower Corporation, and has since 1996 been sold once again.

Well done to the present owners, though -- they're doing a good job of looking after a bit of our heritage.

Auckland Crown Grants database, Auckland City Library
Southern Cross
"Portrait in Mosaic of Ann Clifton Firth", Mona Gordon, 1973
"The First Century: A Centenary Review of Winstone imited", Frank Simpson, 1965
LINZ records

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