Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An empty corner

For years, heading past in buses along Great North Road just out from the Pt Chevalier shops, I’ve wondered just why the eastern corner of Moa and Great North Roads (1073 Great North Road) was empty. Had a house ever been there? How long as that corner been vacant? I decided recently to follow that question that often leads me down research paths these days: why is that corner the way it is?

The corner is a small fraction of the original Allotment 27 of the Parish of Titirangi, itself a further part of the northern part of the Sutherland Estate, a 149 acre farm stretching from Pt Chevalier Road (then called Barracks Road) and the Meola Stream. I wrote about the Sutherland Estate in number 4 of the Pt Chevalier Times, how the farm had a series of Scottish owners, was leased to William Motion in 1864 –likely as part of his sheep run – and to Samuel White in the 1880s, when he operated a night soil depot controversially close to the new municipal water supply at Western Springs.

In 1911, farmers William and James Thompson of Auckland and Alexander Bell of Morrinsville purchased both Allotment 27 and the adjoining Allotment 26. At some point before 1913, the Thompson-Bell partnership sold property to the Liverpool Estate Syndicate for £10,000, the equivalent of around $1.5 million today. (Letter to Official Assignee from the Syndicate, 5 July 1920) Thomas Henry Dignan, James Gustavus Mack, Sydney Mack (all from Pt Chevalier, the latter a land agent) were among the signatories to the subdivision plan from 1913 which laid out Tui, Huia and Kiwi Roads (DP 8813). Oddly, the Liverpool Estate syndicate did not appear on the formal title as owners, though Thomas Dignan, Thompson and Bell are names associated, in 1916-1918, with proposals to the Auckland Education Board a part of their land (Liverpool Estate) fronting onto Pt Chevalier Road, including part of Huia Road, as a possible site for a school in the district. (The new Pt Chevalier School finally ended up built on land once owned by Thomas Dignan, on Te Ra Road).

Moa Road was dedicated around 1913 as well, on a separate subdivision but all part of the Liverpool Estate sale. The angle of Great North Road which swings slightly to the south just before Moa Road meant that this section of the subdivision would always have irregular-shaped sections at the end of Moa Road – but, somehow, only lots 27 and 28 of DP 8812 were really affected. The rest were progressively sold and developed as time went on, fairly well without any hitches.

In 1922, lots 27 and 28, at the eastern corner of Moa Road, were still in syndicate ownership – only now, the official owners (NA 359/57) were Francis John Dignan, Frederick Patrick James Dignan, James Mack once again, with Hallyburton Johnston. A year earlier, the syndicate appear to have had some sort of a deal with a builder named George Arnold, with the view to building a retail complex there. His name only appears on City Council records from that time, including in 1923 when permission was sought to subdivide lots 27 and 28 into three sections. (DP 17153) The only reference I’ve found to the submission in the Council’s minutes, a report from the City Engineer, appears to have been confused as to both the lot numbers, and the sizes of the subdivision (the lots put forward by Arnold and the lawyers were slightly larger, but still small).

Dignan, Armstrong, Jordan & Jordan, 21/6/1923
Submitting for approval plan of proposed subdivision of Lots 28 & 29, Great North Road, Point Chevalier, owned by George Arnold.
City Engineer, 28/6/1923
Stating that the proposed subdivision has a frontage to Great North Road, which is a main thoroughfare, and in the course of time the property in this vicinity will be utilised for the purpose of erecting shops thereon, that the sections have a frontage of 50 feet, 50 feet and 52 feet, respectively to the main road, a maximum depth of 118 feet and a minimum depth of 73 feet to the street, and in all the circumstances recommending that the subdivision be approved.

Council minutes, 12 July 1923, p. 1448

Nothing happened, perhaps due to the recession the country went through at the time. In January 1924, the syndicate managed to sell all three parts of their 1923 subdivision to Mrs Gladys Coral Gash, who transferred it to Mrs Florence May Mines (c.1882-1955) the following month. Florence was the wife of Jesse Mines (c.1866-1933), and together they ran a lock-up general store up at 67 Old Mill Road, The building was still there as at 2009. Widowed in 1933, Florence was successful in selling Lots 2 and 3 in 1935/36 – but Lot 1 was a bit of a problem. Council realised that the lot was too small for residential development – yet, because it was in a residential zone, couldn’t be developed as a retail site.

24 June 1935
T Jordan, on behalf of Mrs F M Mines, applying for permission to erect a house on Lot 1, Plan 17153, Great North Road, Pt Chevalier, which area is less than the minimum area required at the present time in the case of dwelling houses.

1 July 1935
City Engineer: reporting that although the area is below the by-law minimum for that district, Council approved of this subdivision on 12 July 1923; two lots being cut into three, and therefore it is only reasonable to grant permission to erect a dwelling house as requested. He would point out, however, that the house must be so erected on the lot that the yard space required under the Municipal Corporations Act is obtained.

Recommend that application be granted, in terms of the City Engineer’s report. 
Valuation field sheets, ACC 213/60a, Auckland Council Archives

Florence Mines managed to sell Lot 1, right on the corner, to a Mrs Dorothy Williams in Kaikohe, most likely as a piece of investment property in Auckland. The investment went sour, when Mrs Williams realised she couldn’t develop on the site either.

11 October 1935
H L Beech & Company: applying for permission to erect a residence with a Bowser Station in front, on Lot 1 at the corner of Moa Road and Great North Road, Pt Chevalier. They add that there are two or three feet of good top soil on the section which could be given to Council for top-dressing at the Stone Jug.

16 October 1935
City Engineer: reporting that in the zoning scheme relating to this district, this property is located within the Residential District wherein buildings for commercial purposes are not permitted, and he sees no reason for Council to make any departure from the zoning scheme.

Recommend that the application be declined. 
 Valuation field sheets, ACC 213/60a, Auckland Council Archives

And so, Lot 1 right on the corner remained empty, too small for a house and yard, and in the wrong place for anything else other than grass.

In 1947 Mrs Williams finally sold the site to Mrs Kate Nobilo, who gifted the property to her daughter Milly two years later. John and Kate Nobilo were farmers up at Te Hana from around 1911. It appears that it was John who ordered his nephew Nikola Nobilo to come to New Zealand, where ultimately Nikola set up a legendary winery at Huapai. John Nobilo purchased No. 7 Moa Road, next door, in 1943, and his daughter Milly was to live there from that point for most of the rest of her life. She died in 2007, at the age of 97, her funeral service at the nearby St Francis and St Therese Catholic Church in Montrose Street, Pt Chevalier.

So, the empty section is that way through subdivision confusions and misunderstandings, during the time of Pt Chevalier’s urban development. Whether it will finally be redeveloped now is up to its present, or future owners. For now, though, it's the remains of an area of farmland where once sheep grazed, then night carts clattered, all a long time ago.

Update 24 August 2012: The empty corner is empty no longer -- the owners have created a carpark for their new early childhood facility The Rumpus Room.


  1. It is nice to have bits of land like that which don't have a use or purpose. It has quite a history!

  2. As I was researching this over the last couple of weeks or so -- folks would come up to me and ask, "Hey what are you researching?" My response, "A vacant lot" tended to earn an eye blink or two. But yes, you're right Andrew -- this one turned out to have quite something to it. A bit of land without use or purpose. I like that.

  3. I grew up in Point Chev, there are some unusual things there.

  4. You're right there. Despite the fact that it's my adopted "patch" (my home patch is Avondale, but Pt Chev calls to me constantly) -- I never cease to be fascinated by what terms up.

  5. There is a old Maori Canoe at Pt Chev primary, the numerous streams running through the place, the vacant lots in the middle of those bird named turned into reserves but were BMX tracks for a while in the 80's, the old dance halls and other ruins down at the beach, Meola Rd and all the things that have happened there like the time the truck driver fell unconcious and drove up Huia road...right through to the front of a house on Meola. The name change at Western Springs High if that would improve its students, the mysterious volcanic caves just there where old moa bones and human bones were found, the old car testing station at the top of Huia Rd where the Ambulances were raced down at high speed...the old house where the community centre is now and its evil black dog......

  6. I might share these with the Pt Chevalier Historical Society, to see what extra info they have. Next month's guest speaker at our meeting there is from the primary school, he should know about the canoe ...

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  8. Another enjoyable post. I love vacant spaces because there is more to the imagination.
    Speaking of strange and interesting things of a historical nature in the area - I am sure you aware of the fact that the whole Western Springs area, a bit further up, including the Zoo, and up the back through to Garnet Road area and the aircraft museum (this layout is all a bit vague given I have been gone over twenty years, and maybe I am not only literally getting "off the beaten track") was once a major city dump in Victorian times. It was a real haunt for the bottlers to dig. Some of them even had stuff that had been pulled out when Western Springs was being landscaped as the recreational park it is now. It was quite amazing the tunnels and pits those treasure hunters used to dig, even encroaching on to people's properties, down the bottom of back yards, in their desperation for finds! (I am sure a lot of this was done at night). The best part was a bushy strip along a hillside that passed from perhaps somewhere around before the Bulock Track through to the area where the aircraft museum was. (again, it's a long time ago now). It was known that one was to be cautious as I think it was public land and people had been caught and fined as I recall, but the lure was irresistable. Given that the professional pillagers, who were quite strategic, competitive and mercenary about it - mostly left all the "other stuff" behind, including what they considered the "common" Victorian bottles, it was good for scavengers like my family and you could find numerous great things like victorian door knobs and candle holders that had been discarded by the supposed connoisseurs. We are talking about the very early eighties by this time and it was known it had been well "done over" by then. So we had a few fruitful trips picking up the (now twice tossed away) discards including a lot of amazing examples of china sherds which my mother kept in orange crates in the garage (I think she intended a mosaic project, which much like a lot of other craft endeavours, never came to fruition or was only ever half done). This all came to an end one day when I took a slide down the hillside and a large piece of Victorian turreen slashed through my gumboot and went into my ankle. It was traumatic enough that it ended our gathering adventures in that area. That's the price you pay for fossicking sometimes...

  9. Hi Darian. No, the city dump was from the 20th century, when Auckland City used the Meola Reef Reserve, and the area that is now MOTAT 2 for that purpose.

    I'll be doing a full research post at some stage soon, but basically the area from Western Springs Park, up through most of the Zoo, across Meola Road to the reef, was Auckland's military rifle range from 1859 until 1867. Then it was leased to William Motion as part of his sheep farm, before being declared Asylum Reserve (the top bit) after 1876, while the bottom bit was turned into a quarry. Public Works Department were still quarrying down near Great North Road to the 1950s. A lot of the land occupied by the zoo is an archaeological site therefore -- but Council in 1922 simply bashed down stone walls and other features to make a home for the animals.

    The eastern side I think you were writing about was of course close to where abattoirs, tanneries and workers cottages were located, so no wonder there was a raft of stuff. Thanks for the info and the memories -- I'll mention these to the Historical Society as well.

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  11. Not really sure what side it was, but this part was Victorian era for sure. It was all quite deep into the hillside. So not just " stuff thrown down the hill". I've never seen as good a site for artefacts since, other than Trumper Park in Sydney when they re-landscaped it (which still wasn't as good), I even found a Victorian denture with three teeth still in it. it was pretty creepy but a great find. I wish I could remember what I've done with it...
    Now looking at a map it looks like what is called Jagger's Bush Reserve, between the point of Old Mill and (the unfortunately named) Motions Road, and Meola Rd. I am pretty sure there was a rough track that went through the gully there. It could be described as the Eastern area, yeah.

  12. Jagger's Bush appears to be associated with Frank Jagger, who bought the old Gittos tannery near that area. Look up Frank Jagger elsewhere in Timspanner, for a bit of a summary of his varied career.

  13. Interesting, maybe all that stuff was "discarded" down the hill by residents and then eventually was dumped over (no pun intended) by oodles of night soil courtesy of Mr. Jagger, seemingly burying it quite thoroughly in the gully. which now makes me think...EW about all that fossicking I was doing...

  14. There is a bookin the main library about the begining of Point Chevalier and Westmere and there History. Ive read them twice over as they are so fantastic you feel you were part of the happening then.

  15. I remember Miss Nobilo . She used to look after that small lot . She had a large old American car which she kept garaged .

  16. I'm going to have to do a bit of an update soon. Since early last year, the corner is now a small carpark for an adjoining early childhood centre. Finally, the corner is empty no longer (well, almost!)

  17. I was told back in the 60s she wouldnt sell it in case they built a pub there,may have been a tale though.