Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Matter of Convenience

We might be about to lose another part of our past and the landscape of memory, if Auckland Council sell off the small toilets and rooms at 50A Rosebank Road.

Avondale considered a public toilet was both a necessity and a convenience by 1916. The only facility of its kind at that time seems to have been connected with the Post Office of the time, the old Avondale Hotel building on the corner of Wingate Street and Great North Road. The Road Board of the time made an offer to take it over, but the Postmaster refused.

Things continued as they were until the inauguration of a tram service in early 1932. With the tram stopping just at the beginning of the shopping area on upper Rosebank Road, it gradually became obvious that people getting on and getting off at the tram stop had a need for relief. There was no place at the tram terminus for the travelling public to “spend a penny” apart from private residences. H J Johnstone, Secretary of the Avondale Development Association, one of our early residents and ratepayers advocacy groups, wrote to the Town Clerk on 8 September 1932, drawing Auckland City Council’s attention to the need for a public toilet at the shopping centre. The Association followed this up with another meeting that November, and another letter, suggesting a site – at the corner of Rosebank and Great North Roads, alongside Fearon’s butcher shop. This may have been the site which is, today, Catering Kitchen cafĂ©. But, nothing further came of this for nearly five years.

The Avondale branch of the Labour Party made an appeal to Auckland City Council on 1 April 1937 that employment opportunities be created in Avondale. An example of a works project to be undertaken in the district, they suggested, was the provision of a public convenience, somewhere in the shopping centre. The City Engineer visited Avondale in February 1938, and reported that two likely sites could be either  Crayford Street at Great North Road, or Racecourse Parade. On 28 June 1938 Council received a petition organised by Mr C H Speakman of Orchard Street, from 169 residents of Avondale, including that W. J. Tait, local land agent, businessman, and President of the newly-formed Avondale Businessmen’s Association. The petition pleaded for a “convenience for Ladies and Gentlemen of the Avondale district and travelling public.” However, there were still no funds available for any work to take place, and the proposal was deferred until the 1939/1940 estimates round.

In November 1939 a combined Avondale-Blockhouse Bay community lobby committee was formed, consisting of representatives from the Avondale branch of the Plunket Society, the Avondale Businessmen’s Association, Blockhouse Bay Improvement Society, Avondale South Women’s Club, Avondale Women’s Institute, Avondale Labour Party and Avondale Returned Servicemen’s Association. They met on November 28, and wrote to Council the next day to consider the proposal for a combined public convenience and Plunket restrooms. At a deputation meeting with Council on 14 December, the committee’s secretary advised that Tait was prepared to offer land on Rosebank Road in return for work on the toilet/Plunket rooms being completed within a year. This was a small part of land which Tait owned as a result of a mortgagee sale in July 1938. Tait originally offered the small site with a 16 foot frontage, but Council by-laws required 20 feet minimum, so Tait increased the area offered to 20 feet x 100 feet. In May 1940, the Avondale Plunket Committee began fundraising for a donation of £50 to Council toward the cost of their rooms.

At the time, the Plunket committee in Avondale, founded in 1922, had seen an increase in work in the district by 200%, a sign of Avondale’s increasing residential development. They were paying rent for use of the ante rooms in the Oddfellows Hall (St Georges Road, just along from St Ninians church, now demolished) for the nurse’s use, receiving mothers and babies on Monday and Friday afternoons. “These ante rooms,” according to M Everton on 20 June 1940, writing as the Auckland committee’s secretary, “cannot be locked, leading as they do, from the street entrance to the Hall where dances are held during the week. Therefore, at times they are left in a disorderly state, and on several occasions Nurse’s cupboard has been broken into, and belongings taken.”

Council approved the construction of two conveniences at a cost of £700 in June 1940, and plans were drawn up by the City Engineer by September of that year. The western wall was to have been a party wall shared by the toilets and a new building for Tait: the new building was not constructed. Foundations were to be steel reinforced concrete, with construction of brick and concrete, with wooden floors and tile roof. The land was transferred to Auckland City Council in December 1940, and the building was completed towards the end of 1941 as per the agreement with Tait, officially opened in 28 February 1942. The Avondale branch of Plunket was based at the offices at the rear of the toilet block from 1942 until 1981, when the service moved to one of two villas at 99 Rosebank Road (present day site of Avondale Community Centre). The establishment of the Rosebank Road toilets emphasised, in an understated way, that the boom years for Avondale’s shopping centre (1940 to 1965) had arrived.

The interior has been altered many times since construction, with the exterior less modified. Improvements were made to the Plunket rooms in 1947, along with the small semi-circular brick wall at the front to separate the entrances to the toilets from that to the Plunket rooms. The entrance to the Plunket rooms was completely separated from the toilets in the early 1950s. Land at the back of the block was transferred in 1947 to J Steele Limited for £30 for that company’s factory building, and more land was transferred in 1955 for the bus turnaround area when trams were replaced by trolley buses. In 1981 the Council Traffic Department moved into the former Plunket offices. In the 1990s, this was the base for the Keep Avondale Ward Beautiful anti-graffiti campaign.

In February 2011, a fire in the storage rooms at the rear of the toilets badly damaged the rooms. The toilets themselves were closed. Auckland Council is now considering selling the land completely, and installing replacement toilets across the road.

It’s a pity, really, that the building can’t be altered and put to another use, even if no longer a toilet. Quite frankly, in all the time I’ve had the need to use its conveniences, the interior (of the ladies, of course) had a dingy appearance to it. It was old and small, and no amount of flashing up with bits of paint and tile could hide the fact that it was tired, and out-of-step. As for the offices at the back, even during the heyday of Plunket’s tenure there, one story my mother told me as to why I wasn’t a Plunket baby was because of the drafty cold corridor there. She objected, after one examination, to dressing me in the chill – and never went back. But it’s a pity something else can’t be done with it. A member of the community, and former Avondale Community Board member, Paul Davie, suggested to me this week in conversation that one reuse could possibly be as an art space, combining the toilet area with the back rooms.

The wall facing the remains of the bus turnaround area, its existing old mural the subject of a previous post, could also become a great canvas for another of Avondale’s already much-loved heritage mural works. I have some suggestions for subjects on that wall, if ever it was saved: a tram coming down Rosebank Road, a trolley bus waiting on the turnaround, the old Methodist Church, now long gone across the road, and because Plunket in Avondale had such a long association with the small building – perhaps a nurse and a child, or something along those lines. The old toilet block on Rosebank Road, for all its faults, is part of our history, something the community got together and campaigned to obtain for our part of Auckland. A pity it may not be part of our future.

Just … a pity.

Council Archive files, especially those copied by Mike Butler and lodged at Avondale Library.
Heart of the Whau, 2003.

Update, 23 December: Positive news from the Whau Local Board, which has decided to look at ways to keep the building. More here.

Update, 21 September 2015: After just over four years, the Local Board had approved a lease for the refurbished office space that the old block has now become to the Pacific Events & Entertainment Trust, calling it the Avondale Community Hub.


  1. It should remain there Lisa. It's been part of everyone's lives somewhere along the way. I still remeber the trolley bus coming down in the late '70's stopping then the driver changing over the couplings. And for years the old timeclock was there where the ARA bus drivers would punch in the arrival time then get back on and off we'd go. Plunket would do their clinics there. Used to see mothers there now and then. Things change but with this there is no reason for it to be removed.

  2. Thanks for that, Liz. I'd really be quite sad if that wee building went. I'd get to that point walking home from Avondale College on hot summer days, and know I was a fair way on the way home.

  3. Unlike yourself Lisa, I was a Plunket baby as were my elder brother and younger sister. I can still picture in my minds eye (right down to the cream wicker pram that my sister rode in) going with Mum when she took sister and myself for our checkups with the Plunket Nurse. It would be a shame to see the building disappear, lets preserve it for awhile least until those who used it's services are cease to remember!


  4. I agree, Gail. Write to the Whau Local Board and tell them how you feel.