Friday, April 29, 2011

More of the vanished: Auckland's Market Building c.1917

Updated 31 May 2012: David has installed another version of his work, on his own YouTube account.

David Hirtzell, who gave us long-gone Kilbryde in digital format, and roves around looking for remains of the past, has also prepared a very cool animation: a fly-through tour of the Market Square block in central Auckland c.1917, the site of today's Aotea Square, Civic Building, Aotea Centre, and the Civic Theatre. Working on the base provided by the 1908-1919 City of Auckland map from Auckland Council Archives, David searched through the Heritage Images Online from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Central Library, especially those from the James D Richardson collection depicting the old market building in the centre of the block in 1921. Together, the collection of images applied to what was known of the buildings and the layout come to an estimated date of c.1917.

Here's the animation, best seen in full-screen mode, viewable via YouTube:

And, of course, some history ...

In 1855 an area of just over 6 acres, bounded by Queen, Grey, Cook, Albert and Wellesley Streets, was secured as a Market Reserve for the citizens of Auckland, during the period of the first Auckland City Council. Hardly a great place to have a  public market, many felt: the area was the swamp formed by Wai Horotiu, the Liger Creek, and was still in a swampy, “unsanitary” condition into the late 1860s. Plans were made to drain the market reserve by the City Board which preceded the later (second) Auckland City Council. The “filling in” of the reserve was to continue until 1872.

The laying of the foundation stone for the market building in November 1872 didn't exactly go without a hitch.

The preliminary arrangements for laying the first stone were completed early in the morning. A stand with seats had been erected for the accommodation of those ladies who had received invitations from the contractor. ... A platform had been erected for the accommodation of the Mayor and those speakers who might follow him ; as also for the representatives of the Press. The framework had however been so temporarily put together, and was altogether composed of such slender materials, that no sooner had the reporters taken their seats than it came down with a crash. Several hands were put on to repair damages, but these were as temporary as the original structure, and, before the proceedings had terminated, there was a second and irreparable breakdown. 

At the rear of the ladies' stand a refreshment stall had been put up by Mr. Williams, landlord of the Anchor Hotel. This was specially intended for the Volunteers, who were regaled, by order of the Mayor, on behalf of the City Council. A strongly-framed timber triangle had been erected, to which were attached a crab-winch and chain for hoisting a scoria block intended to cover the basement stone, out of which an oblong square hole had been cut to allow of the deposits which will be hereafter mentioned. ... Outside of the military square from 1,300 to 2,000 of the citizens were present to witness the ceremony, but of this number only a small percentage could see what was taking place, and none could catch the words of the speakers. 
Southern Cross 12 November 1872

David, who found this piece on the laying of the foundation stone, wondered what became of it when the building was later demolished. Good question.

Mr. Anderson, the City Surveyor, now presented his Worship with the plans of the building, and in accordance with the usual custom expressed a hope that his Worship would lay the foundation-stone properly, as upon it depended tho stability of the structure. Mr. Brodie, the Town Clerk, handed his Worship the articles to be deposited in the stone, consisting of a copy of the Daily Southern Cross newspaper, of the New Zealand Herald, the Evening Star, the Weekly News, and the Weekly Herald ; and also the different coins of the realm, from a threepenny piece to a five shilling piece. He also read the following parchment-scroll, which was likewise to be deposited in the stone :— " The Foundation Stone of the Auckland Market was laid by his Worship the Mayor, P. A. Philips, Esq , on Monday, the 11th of November, Anno Dommi, 1872. Tricesimo Sexto Victoriae Regina. Sir G. B. Bowen, KCB., Governor of the Colony ; T. B. Gillies, Esq , Superintendent of the Province. The following are the names of the City Councillors in office at the time:—Henry Isaacs, Esq. ; Richard Hobbs, Esq. ; F. L. Prime, Esq. ; Stannus Jones, Esq. ; Thomas Williams, Esq. ; John Cosgrave, Esq. ; W. J. Hurst, Esq. ; J. M. Dargaville, Esq. ; George Holdship, Esq. This Building is erected by the City Corporation at a cost of £3,500. Architect, William Anderson, City Surveyor; Contractor and Builder, M. Donaher. (Signed) Philip A. Philips, Mayor; P. Brodie, Town Clerk." The box containing these articles was then placed in the receptacle for the purpose, and His Worship then performed the ceremony of laying the stone in the customary manner, declaring it at the conclusion to be truly laid; after which cheers were given for the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Mayor, the Superintendent, the contractor, and the ladies. The Volunteers then marched off to their respective Drill-sheds ; the people dispersed ; and his Honor the Superintendent, the Mayor and Municipal authorities, and those invited, adjourned to luncheon.

The market was completed in 1873, a cruciform timber building with corrugated iron roof, 270 ft long with a thoroughfare 37 feet wide. From 1875, under the “Auckland City Endowments and Reserves Act” of that year, the City Council were empowered to lease the street frontages around the Market, and lay roads through the land.

The Market itself was not as successful as had been hoped. By the 1890s, it seemed to have become a bit of a battleground between European growers of produce, and the Chinese growers who were gaining numbers, and seemingly more successful. Still, this was where the firm which was to become Turners and Growers established one of their earliest bases of trade. By 1912 the old building was described as “distinctly discreditable to such a city as Auckland”. A report in that year by the Mayor, C. J. Parr, noted that the buildings around the Market were “mainly of a poor class, and some of them are now approaching an almost ruinous condition.” Parr made a recommendation in his report that the Market Reserve could be the site for a Municipal Theatre and Opera House, along with warehouses and new buildings along the Queen and Grey Street frontages “of a height, style and character to be fixed by the City Council.” 

Once the temporary leases for the Market Building had expired the building was demolished in 1921. It had already been replaced by new City Markets closer to the wharves. Elliot Street was continued through to Cook Street, the new portion being named Bledisloe Street, and the Market entrance or Market Street became Myers Street. A grand civic centre was planned, and most of the old Victorian buildings on the Queen Street frontage, earning rental income for the city, were demolished along with the market building -- but the Mayor at that time had miscalculated. A vote among the ratepayers to approve a loan for the scheme declined the proposal, and so the former market space became mostly open air carparks for the next three or four decades.

My sincere thanks to David Hirtzel, Auckland Council Archives, and the Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Central Library, for permitting me to post David's movie up online. Frankly, I hope someone can come up with funding to allow David to proceed further into this, perhaps working on more of the old city blocks, giving us a taste of what it once was like to live and work in old Auckland.


  1. Great background information once again thanks Lisa. I think this was essentially Auckland's first shopping mall. It had the same controvercy we get with malls today - small shopkeepers angry it would put them out of business, 7 day trading etc.

  2. I like that comparison, David. Yes -- it was meant to be something of a one stop shop. Just a pity the idea didn't last at that stage.

  3. This was nothing like a shopping mall. It was a wholesale produce market much like Covent Garden with piles of vegetables and joints of meat hanging about. it was intended for retailers to fequent rather than shoppers per say. The City markets were eventually moved to the viaduct quarter in 1915 where Turners & growers were until about ten years ago. What you have in mind is a proper shopping arcade with individual shop fronts and tiled floors. That appeared as he Victoria Arcade on Queen Street and later the Strand Arcade which is still extant.

  4. Actually, I have to disagree with you there, krdheritage. The early history of the markets was that a number of various traders set up there. The later trend towards it being primarily a produce market is what you're thinking of.

    See the Auckland Star, 15 May 1875, p. 2 for this description:

    A saunter through the Auckland market at any other time than Saturday evening (when the lassies are out for an airing) is not by any means a cheering undertaking. Half the stalls are closed, and open stall-keepers lean upon their counters, and glance down the columns of the newspaper, or lose themselves in a deep theological treatise from the pen of J. Edwards. One scholarly man in years naturally of a cheerful. turn of mind, was laughing immoderately over a page of Don Quixote; another was comparing Auckland with Tasmania, and lamenting the scarcity of gold in this golden isle. Another respectable woman in years, was giving her daughters lessons, as a mother should do, in the art of love. A little further on, a cluster of men with their hands in their pockets, were admiring Clark's "Happy Family," consisting of monkeys, birds, cats, &c, which form really a wonderful instance of unanimity in opposite natures. A large collection of second-hand volumes may be observed in a central corner stall, the least required, perhaps, of all human requirements in thousands of households, for as one said, "'tis all very well, but give me a Motion cabbage in preference to (Lord) Bacon." On the shutters of a butcher's stall was written, "closed for a few days'" on another "a death in the family;" and at the stall of Mr. Fenton, a female remarked, " How dear butter is getting, up to 2s. 3d., dear me." Mr. Kew smiled from his toyshop as we passed, and the confectioner opposite hoped trade would shortly improve, he had just received an order for a wedding cake. A few pheasants hung here and there indicative of the season, but generally the market wore a cheerless aspect, and stall-keepers complained sadly of the dreariness of, the times, some asserting that they had not taken money enough during the week to pay the weekly demand of the Inspector.