Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Remains of a tavern about to fade

I posted about the Queen's Head Tavern façade, at the corner of Mayoral Drive and Queen Street, back in late December 2009. Since then, I have a bit more info on the hotel, thanks to Papers Past, and a booklet called Toast the Ghosts, put together by Garth Houltham in 1990.

Henry Hopper Adams started the first Queen's Head hotel in Victoria Street. I've found one reference dating from 1863, but he was possibly there a bit before that. In time for the licensing meeting in April 1868, he had another Queen's Head hotel, a two-storey wooden building in Upper Queen Street, in place. At the end of 1870, the license transferred to William Adams.

By the end of 1877, the proprietor was a Mr. Frances McCormick, then from September 1879 Ellen Moller. In March 1881, John Grogan took over the license.

Into the picture around 1883 stepped John Carroll Seccombe, owner of his father Richard Seccombe's Great Northern Brewery, and one of Auckland's early beer barons. From his obituary:

Our obituary column to-day contains a notice of the death of Mr John C. Seccombe, who passed quietly away at an early hour this morning, at the age of 58 years. Deceased had been residing at the Lake Takapuna Hotel for some weeks past recruiting his health, which had been failing for some time. He was the second son of Mr Richard Seccombe, of the old-established Great Northern Brewery, Kyber Pass, and was respected by all who knew him. Deceased came to Auckland with his father in 1860, and soon afterwards they started the brewery in Kyber Pass, sinking the famous well which is so well known in connection with the premises. After some years the father retired and the business was taken up by deceased, who carried it on up to the time of his death, assisted by his sons. Deceased took an active part in the business till about six months ago, when his health failed him. In addition to a large circle of friends, he leaves behind him to mourn their loss a widow and family, comprising three sons and a daughter. Percy, the eldest son of deceased, only died some four weeks ago. The interment takes place in St. Mark's cemetery, Remuera, on Wednesday afternoon next, the remains leaving the North Shore ferry tee at half-past three o'clock.
Auckland Star 16 February 1892

Seccombe had noted hotel and church architect Edward Mahoney design a replacement Queen's Head hotel for Queen Street in brick.

Auckland Star 15 September 1883
This is the name of a handsome new brick building recently erected at the foot of Upper Queen Street. Messrs Mahoney and Sons prepared the plans for Mr J. G. Seccombe, who is the owner and has leased the property to Mr McIlhone, now in possession. The building is a brick structure, comprising two stories and cellar, having a frontage to the main road of 40ft. 6'in., with a depth of 45ft. The ground floor is subdivided into two sitting-rooms measuring each 14ft. x 11ft., a large dining-room, the bar, 22ft. x 14 ft., kitchen, 16ft by 10ft., with pantry attached. The upper story, to which access is gained by means of a handsome staircase, consists of sitting-room, 14ft. x 13ft., and eight bedrooms, averaging 14ft. by 10ft. each. The building internally is finished in the best style, and the furnishing generally is good. It has a slate roof, and in finished externally with Portland cement and pressed bricks. The front is of an ornamental character, and is subdivided with pilasters with foliated caps, and further enriched by various ornaments of suitable design. The parapet is rendered attractive by three prediments, the central one containing the name of the house, and each of the side ones a medallion of the Queen's head. The contractors for the work were Messrs McConnachie and Flatt, who have given every satisfaction. Contract price, £1,939.
Auckland Star 3 July 1884

Bolding mine. Here's the "ornamental character" front, as at December 2009. Compare the 1884 description.

Fire gutted the upper storey in July 1887, but business soon resumed.

News came just over 100 years later that the hotel was to be replaced by an office tower but at least the façade was retained, and given a C2 classification on the Auckland City Council's heritage protection lists in 1987.

Now, so I've been informed today, that could well all change. The site is to be that of a new development called Queen's Lane.  In a press release, the remaining piece of the 1883 hotel is described as "the 'ugly duckling' of Auckland’s 80’s façadism." I beg to differ. What is ugly in my opinion is that the bare remains of our heritage is going to be replaced by yet another bland retail development, instead of any attempt to incorporate Mahoney's iconic design into the new structure. This is depressing.

"...the former Queens Head Tavern facade will make way for a revitalised retail frontage and a new Queen Street entry to the tower above."

I'd appreciate any comments from readers on this.

Update, 12 October 2011: I've emailed NZ Historic Places Trust. They advise that the façade is currently registered as Category II, and that their position is that attempts should be made to try to retain the façade. There are challenges, of course, regarding structure etc, but they do remain opposed to its removal. This is very heartening news. Hopefully something can be sorted between the developers, NZHPT, and Auckland Council. I've also emailed Cr Sandra Coney, Chair of the Parks, Recreation and Heritage Committee.


  1. Why is it I am reading a repeat of 1980's corporate bs when it comes to our heritage buildings. This has hacked me off big time. To yet again read of news that some corporate clone is planning on destroying an important remnant of Auckland City's heritage makes me mad as hell. Replace it? With what? Boring glass and chrome enhanced with the odd tropical plant or two to keep the next generation of yuppies happy. Auckland's buildings lack character as it is where the modern architecture goes that is. Our heritage buildings are far too important to end up as rubble on a construction site. Facade or not it should stay. Off my soap box now

  2. Ditto what Liz said, boring, unimaginative and well-overdone glass,chrome and steel buildings are well represented elsewhere, why keep repeating the ugly habit?
    Why the heck are they hell-bent in obliterating every trace of heritage, culture and history?
    Both sides of the ditch are guilty for this, it's got to stop :(

  3. This is sickening to hear! Did we learn nothing from the wanton destruction of the 80's?

  4. I thought our new council were meant to be taking a strong stand on heritage? Facadism would never be tolerated now, but this is not an excuse to obliterate the Queen's Head.

  5. Cheers, folks. Great to see your comments! Spread the word, please. I'm still in a most unhappy mood about this (as Liz said above, "hacked off big time".)

  6. They should at least use the facade in a park or somewhere else. It shouldn't be destroyed :(

  7. I am not a fan of facadism. If the new building was set back a good bit further so that the street scape was kept intact, maybe it could work. But the new building is just ugly anyway. While I haven't come across too many nice new highrise office building that I like, I have seen one or two. This proposal is nothing more than maximising profit. It will be comparatively cheap to build and it will look like it was cheap to build. New Zealand's premier city and it being a premier location deserves better.

  8. I've just sent an email to Cr. Sandra Coney, chair of Auckland Council's Parks, Recreation and Heritage Forum. We'll wait and see.

    I like your idea, aucklandmusings. All right, the architecture should stay on site ideally, but if it could be preserved somewhere, that would be better than nothing. An otherwise blank wall somewhere? Perhaps Western Park (which already has an art exhibit there regarding our lost buildings).

    I agree with you, Andrew. The new development just seems to me to be more of the same, a "Newmarket on Queen Street" thing (Newmarket being one of our swisher shopping strips, for those not familiar with the place).

    I've woken up with a dark cloud hanging over my head today, and I think it's more than the rain.

  9. I also think the Queens Head facade should remain. I don't like the glass monstrosity above it, but as a pedestrian at street level, you are mostly aware of the building facade, not the building above it. To demolish the remaining facade because of an idealogical purist priciple is more of the same flawed logic that led to the facade in the first place. Two wrongs don't make a right!


  10. Just waiting to hear back further from Sandra Coney -- but I've had a response from NZ Historic Places Trust (see above, in update to main post).

  11. Just seen your comment, David -- cheers. At least NZHPT are also onto things. See update above.

  12. I've had a response from the Mayor of Auckland's Office. His Worship the mayor has asked Senior members of Auckland Council to look very seriously at the issues I raised in my letter to him. Hope that helps in some way. the Corporate Clones need to get a good does of reality. I'm an ex Aucklander BUT I used to work in the City live there from time to time and there is no way we want Auckland: City of the Bland and Corporate Clonism. We want Auckland: City of Sails and City of Colour.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. It all depends on Auckland Council. Under the Resource Management Act and Local Government Act, they're the ones with the teeth -- and they have not got the facade on their schedule. despite NZHPT's info. All NZHPT can do and have done up to now is get into discussions with the developers. At least, they're one recognised HPA around here, though, who cares what happens to thos last bit of the old pub. Heartening, at least.

  15. It would be such a shame to lose the Queens Head, I remember when they destroyed His Majesty's Theatre, it was gut wrenching to watch what has become still only a parking lot, some nearly 30 years later.