Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Sanitarium Building, Queen Street

Paul Hafner sent these images of his to me for the blog's "relics collection", back on December 8, saying that many years ago, he'd often walk past this building on his way to work, "Always a healthy selection of nuts and stuff... I have no idea when they ceased their retail operations."

Picking this out of my "received and must do something about it when I have the chance" inbox today, I started looking at when Sanitarium became associated with the building. A late-20th century facade, this. The NZ Card Index database from Auckland Library says that in 1962, the company (already a presence on Queen Street from at least 1927 -- see photo ref 4-1688 on Heritage Images) moved into a permanent site at 110 Queen Street, which is the address still for this building: 108-110 Queen Street.

But -- how long was it before all that was left of Sanitarium's interest here was the lettering with one letter askew, and the "SHF" monogram in the centre?

Well, it seems that the Australasian Conference Association Limited, the property and rights-holding arm of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the South Pacific (the owners, of course, of Sanitarium Health Foods) owned the Vulcan Lane corner site next to the building (right of Paul's photos) down to 1999, when the site became the property of Norfolk Trustee Company).  So possibly, although there's no sign of them mentioned on the title for the Sanitarium Building itself until 1992, when a number of titles for property at the corner were amalgamated, the health food shop lasted into the 1990s.

But is that the end of the building's story? Uh, no, it isn't ...

The links between the certificates of title and the Deeds Indexes had come adrift over the years. The prior reference given for the combined title in 1992, for example, was a deeds index page which terminated in 1875. Before I made myself dizzy looking through the list of subsidiary references, this allotment having been carved up into small shop sites from Queen Street to High Street even into the 1840s -- I headed to subdivision plans. 

And it was then that I realised that there was much more to the storey of this building Paul photographed than it's use as a base by Sanitarium.

This is a detail from the 1914 plan, DP 9347 (crown copyright, LINZ records). 110 Queen Street back then was owned by a Mr Fernyhough, and occupied (on lease) by the Ivil Brothers, who were hairdressers ... and G Aickin. Which was a name which screeched things to a halt because I know that name well. This was Graves Aickin, Auckland chemist, and nephew to Dr Thomas Aickin of Avondale. When Graves Aickin arrived in Auckland in 1863, he worked for around 18 months on his uncle’s Rosebank farm, before opening up a chemist shop in Karangahape Road in 1865. He’d studied his profession originally in Belfast under his uncle.

Quoting from the Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1902 - Auckland Volume):

He was born in County Antrim, Ireland, and educated at the Rev. J. K. Anderson's seminary, Belfast, and he studied his profession under his uncle, Dr. Aickin, of that city. In 1862 Mr. Aickin went to San Francisco, and came to Auckland in September, 1863. After his arrival in New Zealand Mr. Aickin started farming, and was for about eighteen months engaged in that business with his cousin, Dr. Thomas Aickin, of Avondale. Not being satisfied with his prospect as a farmer, he removed to the city and opened a chemist's shop in Karangahape Road in 1865. There he remained until 1870, when he went to the Thames goldfields, and established a business, but soon returned to Karangahape Road. 

About 1875 he removed to the city, in consequence of the expansion of his business, and took premises in the same block in which his present fine establishment is situated in Queen Street. Since then his business has been one of great dimensions. 

Mr. Aickin first entered public life as representative of East Ward, and filled the position for seven years with credit to himself and benefit to the city. During the same period he was chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board. It was during his chairmanship that the board let the contract for the construction of the Calliope Dock, and during his councillorship the Albert Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the Colony, was laid out, and he also took an active part in the organisation of the Free Library. In the present year (1900) Mr. Aickin again entered public life, and was returned unopposed to represent the Grafton Ward. 

During his long residence in Auckland Mr. Aickin has held other honourable public positions. He has been chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Chamber of Mines, president of the Ratepayers' Association, and member of the Auckland Museum Institute. Mr. Aickin has always been identified with gold mining, and has done a great deal to develop the industry in the Hauraki Peninsula. He married a daughter of the late Dr. Philson.
It was actually 1872 when he first set up business in Queen Street, between Shortland Street and Vulcan Lane, just along from 110 Queen Street, but advertised as "opposite the Bank of New Zealand". (Auckland Star, 30 April 1872) There he set up "The Pharmacy".

We have paid a visit of inspection to the Pharmacy of Mr G. Aickin, recently established in Lower Queen street, and as we hold that every thing tending to minister to the refined taste of the public, whether in commercial or any other walk of life, is deserving of encouragement, we have very great pleasure in commenting on what we have seen. One cannot fail being first struck with the chasteness and the beauty of the fittings and decorations, and though this may seem to many a thing of minor moment, we affirm that in a chemist's shop of all other places it is of prime importance. The infirmities of the flesh unhappily necessitate our resort to abominable drugs, evil smelling, ill-tasting and nauseating even after they have passed from our gaze, and it is not too great a concession to human weakness that the place where we procure them should be made as pleasant looking as possible. Mr Aickin has evidently consulted for these frailties and sentiments, and has produced a most pleasing tout ensemble of polished mottled kauri and gilding of plate glass and carving; of drawers and phials with their quaint uncouth and elliptical Latin of charming perfumeries and other bijouterie for the lady's toilet, and of huge carboys fearfully and wonderfully made, sufficient to strike the beholder with awe, as containing within them all the healing power requisite for all the ills that flesh is heir to. The Pharmacy is really a gem in medicine shops, and front its situation right by the side of the greatest thoroughfare in the city, and irrespective of its healing drugs, the display of articles that appeal more to the fancy than the practical views of life, will present a powerful temptation to our fair sisters when engaged in the noble though expensive luxury of shopping. We observe a few items in the furnishing which reveal that thoughtful foresight that comes of residence for a time in Yankee land a little desk for example, with its little library of English and American medicine books, and with prescription forms ready for being filled in, is specially prepared for medical men while a neatly furnished retiring room, where one of the healing brethren has his city quarters, and with an entrance from the rear, ensuring privacy to the patients coming or retiring. All will contribute in no small degree to popularise the Pharmacy. We understand that it is intended by Mr Aickin that a leading principle in his conduct of the establishment will be to obtain at the very earliest date every new remedy of which he receives intelligence, as well as at any cost to keep the newest and freshest drugs. We have no doubt that the popularity which has attended Mr. Aickin during his residence in the Karangahape road will follow him and increase now that he has got into the very heart of the city and its whirl of business, and we have every expectation that his Pharmacy will be an unqualified success.
Auckland Star, 3 June 1872

Then, in 1879, a move into a new shop, in a new building -- 108-110 Queen Street.


The corner of Vulcan Lane and Queen Street as at 4 December 1917. Detail of Aickin's "The Pharmacy" at 108-110 Queen Street below. Reference 1-W1614, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries.


The building recently erected by the side of St Mango Cafe, and designed as pharmacy for Mr Aicken, the well-known chemist, is a handsome addition to the street architecture of Auckland. It possesses a very neat and tasteful external appearance, and internally the fittings are as complete and excellent as skill and ingenuity could dictate. The Pharmacy occupies one half of the ground floor, the other half being fitted up as a cigar divan by Messrs Partridge and Woollams but all the cellarage accommodation and the whole of the upper story are at Mr Aicken's disposal, and most judiciously has he utilised them.

The shop opens on to the street of course, and in its adornment and ornamentation no expense has been spared. The counter runs at right angles to the street, and is as attractive and as chaste in design as the carver's handicraft and decorator's art could render it. It is fitted with the customary glass cases, and inside these the scents and other toilet requisites are arranged with a due attention to system. Extending along the end of the counter, and facing the entrance to the shop, is a very pleasing dispensing case, having in its centre a large mirror, while behind the counter are ranged row upon row of beautiful varnished drawers fitted with American drawer pulls.

The shop is paved with Minton mosaic work, and at the door the words "Aickin, chemist” are skilfully constructed with variegated flags. We understand that the fittings were executed by Mr John Harvie, the decorating by Messrs Holland and Butler, and that the carved cornice work surmounting the drawers was undertaken and finished by Mr Batts, of Ponsonby.

As we have already said the whole of the second storey is an adjunct of the
Pharmacy. Access to it is gained by a flight of stairs, and a spacious corridor runs along it; the rooms, four in number, being situated to the right and left of the two rooms at top of the stairs one is devoted to the reception of new goods in case and bulk, while the other is known as the warehouse and laboratory. In this latter apartment are stored poisons, subtle and potent, enough to poison the whole city, but so classified and arranged that no one can be unaware of their character. Of the two rooms which overlook the street, one on the left hand is the consulting room, and the other is intended for the accommodation of waiting patients. The consulting room is well furnished, while the patients rooms contains a table covered with interesting reviews, magazines and illustrated papers—a thoughtful contrivance for rendering the period of suspense which precedes the interview with the dreaded medico as little irksome as possible.

The cellar beneath the shop is used as a storehouse for the most valuable and combustible of the drugs and medicines and due care appears to be exercised in their storage. Speaking generally, the pharmacy is the most complete establishment of the kind we have visited in Auckland, and the most efficient and handsome manner in which it has been furnished and equipped discovers a laudable desire on the part of the proprietor to anticipate the wants and please the tastes of his patrons. In conclusion it may be stated that the architect, for the erection of the building was Mr Bartley.
Auckland Star 20 March 1879

He remained in business there until the middle of 1918 when he retired, and died aged 82 in 1923, at his home on Park Road.

Auckland Weekly News, 22 January 1914. Reference AWNS-19140122-54-3, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries.

By the 1930s, the building was no longer "The Pharmacy", Aickin's store now just a memory as the facade looked blankly upon the world.

Vulcan Lane corner, 1930s. Detail of the building below. Ref. 4-2529, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Council Libraries.

Then, as we now know from the photos sent through by Paul, along came the 1960s, and the building once more became part of the health landscape of Auckland -- but the facade designed by architect Edward Bartley back in the 1870s was now completely obliterated. Poetic justice, perhaps, that the facade which covered over a relic from the 19th century, and our pharmacy history, has itself now become a relic this century.


  1. Very interesting post, Lisa. I knew that your encyclopedic knowledge combined with your detailed research would dig up far more than meets my unsuspecting eye. Thanks.

  2. You flatter me, sir! Wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been for the kind use of your photos. Thanks!