Friday, November 19, 2010

Aurora's End

Updated 9 March 2011.

I took the photos here in April 2006, when the old Aurora Hotel was still standing. Today, it isn't. Earlier this morning, the wreckers moved in, demolishing it as it had developed severe structural cracking.

The Aurora Hotel was a complex of four buildings: a three-storey hotel building at the corner of Federal Street and Victoria Street West, a two-storey building facing Federal Street to the north, another two-storey building facing Victoria Street West, and a two-storey building at the north-eastern corner of the site. There's a carpark immediately to the north off Federal Street, making up the rest of the site. The original hotel here was wooden, dating back 1851, when it was built by Captain William Currie first as a grocers store, then obtaining a licence the next year. Patrick Gleeson, 19th century publican of some renown, had title to the property from 1874. He owned a number of Auckland's hotels in their heyday, and would lead the St Patrick's Day procession through the town each year "resplendent in Wellington boots, grey suit, grey topper and grey beard atop his black hat," according to the online history of the Empire Hotel, another of his chain.

A couple of brick additions were made to the old wooden hotel by 1880, then there was a fire in 1884. Lease documents between Gleeson and William Lynch included the following agreement:

“And also shall and will before the thirtieth day of November 1884 at his and their expense own cost and charges erect build and complete for occupation and use upon the said parcel of land … a two-storey messuage or Hotel in substantial accordance with the plans elevations and specifications already submitted between the said parties hereto …”

The use of the term “messuage”, usually meaning a dwelling house complete with land and outbuildings, has been used in terms of accommodation hotels since the 1600s on legal documents.

 Two storeys, however, became three storeys. Exceeding the letter of the law in this case, wasn't illegal.

NZ Historic Places Trust dates the building from 1884, Peter Shaw in a Metro magazine article in 1990 said 1905, but the truth appears to be somewhere in between. There were two extensions added, in 1907 and 1911, lending the whole complex the label of "Edwardian Baroque". They say Edward Mahoney was the architect, but I've yet to see anything hard and fast regarding that. Yes, he was Gleeson's architect of choice, and his work dots the landscape in terms of hotel architecture (Mahoney is fascinating, being architect both of "dens of iniquity" and, as a Catholic, houses of the Lord for that sector of the community.)

Gleeson leased the hotel to Moss Davis in 1891, so it followed from there that it became a Hancocks Hotel, later in the name of the Captain Cook Brewery from 1898. Dominion Breweries leased the hotel from 1936. Patrick Glesson died in 1916, but it wasn't until around 1961 that the family finally relinquished title to the site.

Various owners and lease holders since then, and various names. Paua Palace around 1993. The Palace Casino. Simply ... The Palace. Garish neon applied to the corner gave it the appeatrence of a grand lady suddenly adorned with a cheap coronet and diadem from a $2 shop to some observers. When the bus stop to Blockhouse Bay was just up the road on Victoria Street, the old building was a familiar sight.

Earlier this year, there was disquiet over the plans by the old lady's current owners to convert the building into a brothel, conveniently close to the Sky City Casino. Now, we'll just have to wait to see what arises from the rubble.

An update: Yes, the fellow I mentioned who gave me a call was a journo. have recognised Timespanner. I didn't say all that I was quoted there as saying, but -- wow.

Further update: the demolition on You Tube, and via TV3. The second link's footage is both rivetting and saddening.

Another update, 9 March 2011: Auckland Council have issued a report on the collapse.


  1. Cracked it might have been, but still a shame to see it go.

  2. True, Andrew. I agree. But given all the add-ons and alterations, it was probably asking too much to try to shore it up.

    Just had a call from (I think) a journo who's spotted this "little blog" of mine and the Aurora post. Good to see the interest out there, even if it is at the end of the hotel's existence.

  3. Hey you are causing trouble...yes I see that innocent "Who Me?" look there.

    Way to go Lisa. Sad we've lost the Aurora I suppose yet another ugly glass monstronsity is going to fill the void. Looking at what is in behind..? Clone Clusters galore.

  4. As MBF says. It wouldn't feel half as bad when old buildings were lost if they were replaced with a building people liked. Who really likes modern buildings? Good modern buildings seem to be few and far between.

  5. @Andrew, Good modern buildings are few and far between in Auckland in anycase