Saturday, April 14, 2012

A stroll along Quay

Supposedly June 1908, but possibly from 1910 or later. A view of the block from what is now Britomart Place (left) to Commerce Street beside the Northern Steamship Company building. Ref 1W-1451, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

Back on 6 March, on the way to a meeting in Mechanics Bay area, I took the scenic route from Queen Street -- along Quay Street East. All of this is reclaimed land, just water and mud (if you were lucky) back in the 1840s to early 1870s. Thus, the Auckland Harbour Board dominated here, and leased parcels of land to individuals and businesses up to the tangle of late 20th century municipal amalgamation.

First stop -- the Northern Steamship Company Building, with a category 1 registration from NZ Historic Places Trust. The notes on the NZHPT site don't include architect or builder (they were completed back in 2001, before Papers Past hit its stride with inclusion of the Auckland Star), so here's the August 1898 proud announcement of the original (two storey) development:

The Northern Steamship Company, with a view to concentrate their increasing business so that the manager may exercise more complete supervision, have commenced the erection of a new set of offices in Quay-street, immediately opposite the Company's jetty. The plans were prepared by Mr A. P. Wilson, architect, and the work will be carried out by Mr J. T. Julian.

The block will be built on two of the Harbour Board's allotments which extend from Quay-street to Station Road, a distance of 85ft, while the frontage will measure 66ft. As the land is reclaimed, the foundations will be piled. The building will be of brick, with a stone base. The middle portion of the ground floor will be occupied by the public counter, while on one side will be the manager's office and board room, and on the other the offices of the superintending engineer and ship's husband. In the rear the accountant's room, typist's room, and fireproof strong room will be placed and behind these, and partitioned off by a brick wall, will be a store 40ft by 63ft abutting on Station Road. The first floor will have two stairways, and will be divided off in a similar manner to the ground floor, the back portion being used as a store-room, and the front providing accommodation for extra clerks, patternroom, lavatories, etc. The flooring joists will be of steel, supported on cast iron columns. In the middle of the iron roofing will be eight, large skylights, affording ample light to the upper storey. The main entrance will be situated in the middle of the building, and at the back will be side entrances. The facade will be divided into five bays, two storeys in with a flagstaff in the centre. The middle cornice will be inscribed "Northern Steamship Company, 1898." The back elevation, fronting Station Road, will be divided into four bays, with a large entablature and pediment in the middle. 

Auckland Star 13 August 1898

July, 1903. Northern Steamship Company building at left. Ref. 1-W1062, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

Architect Arthur Pollard Wilson (1851-1937) is also credited with the original 1899 Strand Arcade (also built by J T Julian) which was destroyed by fire in 1909; the Naval & Family Hotel in Karangahape Road, and the A H Nathan warehouse in Customs Street.

From Auckland Weekly News, 26 May 1899, AWNS-18990526-8-2, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

As for the company:

Prior to 1881 the people of Auckland had no regularly organised well-equipped steam service to connect the numerous ports and coastal districts of the province with the capital. There were a number of boats owned by various private persons, and in their way and day these served the community in a manner calling for considerable thankfulness. But the joint causes of settlement and industry required more extensive, more systematic help, and a businesslike attempt to supply this was made by the syndicate, which afterwards developed into the Northern Steamship Company.

A start was made by buying six steamers—namely, the “Argyle,” “McGregor,” “Rowena,” “Douglas,” “Staffa” and “Iona.” The “Wellington,” “Clansman,” “Gairloch” and “Glenelg” were added soon afterwards, but still, in 1888, when Mr. Ranson took the management, only nine steamers were employed by the company, which now (1901) has a fleet of twenty-eight steamers, the aggregate tonnage of which exceeds 5000 tons. In achieving the strong position which it now occupies, the company has had to face many drawbacks and difficulties.

From 1881 to 1890, no dividend was paid on the large investment of capital, and even at the end of that period only a modest 21/2 per cent. That, however, was the turning point in the affairs of the company. In 1891, 5 per cent, was declared, from 1892 to 1896, 6 per cent., and since then 7 per cent. This, though satisfactory, is not a large return on the capital invested, in view of the risks connected with an extensive inter-coastal trade. Still the main point is that the Northern Steamship Company is now an unqualified success. Its large, well-officered, well-manned, well-equipped fleet is one of the institutions of the country; and a tourist taking voyages over the routes its steamers cover would see many of the most interesting and beautiful parts of New Zealand.
Cyclopedia of New Zealand (1902), from NZETC

1910. Left is the Union Fish Company Building, then owned by United Repairing, and next to it the Northern Steamship Co Building. In the middle of the image, it looks like the 1905 telephone box design. Ref. 4-1318, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

From Auckland Weekly News, 26 May 1899, AWNS-18990526-8-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

I have one gripe, though -- the placement of a lovely pair of aluminium interpretive panels, provided by the old Auckland Regional Council, were (on the day I visited) obscured behind a cafe table and a sun umbrella (see images). Hard to view, let alone photograph.

Around the back, the third storey added in the 1920s is very obvious by the brickwork, although the design remained true to Wilson's original.

Next, stuck between two modern facades, the Union Fish Company Building. That was the name of a bar and restaurant which occupied the building from 1981 to early 1990s -- it doesn't really reflect the building's history, and folks coming along in the future will think it had something to do with a company like Sanford's, or fish canning or something. The "United Repairing" building would have been better (that subsidiary of the Northern Steamship Company was there for 40 years, from 1910 to 1950). The Union Steamship Company was there from 1954 to 1972. But, no ... it is now saddled, forever, with the name of a long-gone restaurant.

The building originated from the firm of W A Ryan & Co, agents for the American Oldsmobiles in 1906 (one of the agents predating AB Donald). Just months after completion in 1906, Ryan's new two-storey brick building was completely gutted by fire, including £8000 of plant, and up to £15,000 worth of motor vehicles. If the facade did survive the fire, it was a miracle. Apparently, only the brick shell remained.

Ryan sold his lease (all the block was leased from the Auckland Harbour Board at that time) to the Northern Steamship Company in 1908, apparently deciding that he'd had enough. From then on, various owners, until Auckland City Council took it over in 1991.

There is uncertainty as to the architect. NZHPT theorised (2001) that the architect was R Norman Shaw.

The facade consists of alternating red and buff brick courses. The three centred arch and window surrounds are of red brick, alternating with keystone which are connected by a continuous hood moulding.

The upper floor is divided into bays by vertical members some of which once extended to include a gable/pediment detail.

This (now removed) gable detail, the banded brickwork, the keystone and hood moulding details are all features of the Queen Anne style used by the English architect R Norman Shaw (1831-1912). Some of his work was published in the Builder.

While Auckland City Council had it that it was likely R M Watt.

The building’s brick and stone design, constructed in the British Free Style, may be attributed to R. M. Watt, who designed the Ponsonby Fire Station.
Also, they restored three pedimented parapets to the building -- but it originally had four. Did someone realise the budget was getting tight, and thought no one would notice?

After another modern facade, the New Zealand Laundry building or Quay Buildings. Laundry companies in Auckland started out in the late 19th century, employing women in factory-style conditions to service the increasing hospitality trade from pubs and hotels. Robert de Montalk is credited with this building's original design (1906), but it was modified in the 1920s by later owners (Robertson & Spedding from 1920, Gilmore Oil Co from 1930, Radio Ltd (later Radio [1936] Ltd, then Ulimate Eleco, 1955) from 1935, Olsen Properties 1969, Council from 1991. Many firms had offices here over the years, according to the postal directories.

Part of the Britomart Precinct branding, this poster slapped on the front of the building has to be one of the most prominent interpretive signs I've seen. "Not so far from here on this very spot in September 1840 Captain Hobson arrived at Britomart Point ..." Really? He'd have had wet shoes and clothes up to the neck at least, then, because "this very spot" was under water then, still part of Commercial Bay, all pre-reclamation. Point Britomart was to the east of this sign, about 50 metres or so away at least. "Not so far", but not really "on this very spot".

The former Wharf Police Building, but mainly the Colonial Sugar Refining Company building from 1903 to 1960.

July 1904, when the block had only the two bookends: CSR building on the left, then nothing until the Northern Steamship Co building. Ref 1-W1141, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

Must say this is neatly done. Would be nice if more buildings had this wayfinder feature.

Leaving the past for a bit, and heading further east, I came upon this: "Pelagic-Chevron", by Bill Hayes.

Across the road, the 1946 Auckland Electric Power Board Quay Street substation, actually on Plumer Street. When built, this was a crucial part of central Auckland's power supply needs right from the start. Built during a period of rationed power supply post-war, this building was part of the AEPB's redevelopment strategy. Its importance was enhanced in 1958 by the laying of a gas-filled 110,000-volt cable carrying power from Penrose substation to Quay Street substation, “the installation of which was believed to be the greatest project of its kind yet undertaken in New Zealand,” according to Jennifer King in A History of the Auckland Electric Power Board 1922-1972. In 1960, “the three biggest three-phase transformers in New Zealand, estimated to be capable of handling Auckland’s electricity distribution efficiently until 1975, were placed in the Quay Street substation,” following the laying of the cable. In 1984, an oil-filled circuit breaker on one of the station’s main incoming transformers blew up, creating a “fireball” and causing the black-out of two thirds of the central city. In 1998, failure of the two cables between Quay Street and Penrose were part of the pattern of cable failures which lead to severe power loss over the months of February and March.

From this point, Quay Street gradually becomes Tamaki Drive. There is a definite point, where one becomes the other (at the end of The Strand), but when I did the walk once from Downtown to Mission Bay, to my mind -- from here on, I was eatsward bound.

I spotted this building in the distance, from across the railyards, 73 The Strand. In 1917, three of auctioneer G W Binney's children leased the sire from the Harbour Board: Mary Binney, Edwin Haselden Binney, and Frank Gordon Binney. In 1919, the lease was transferred to the firm of Abraham & Williams, of which E H Binney was managing director. The building was used as a wool store. Wright Stevenson & Co took over the lease in 1927 (according to the Fletcher Trust archive site, Wrights had an interest in Abraham & Williams from 1922), and Abraham & Williams was liquidated in 1950, three years after Binney's death.

A catering company had the lease from 1970, then Strand Storage from 1986, then James Kirkpatrick Ltd from 1992. The Melanesian Mission Trust Board took over in 1996. As a former wool store, the building is an interesting piece of history -- and coming up to its century.

From the NZ Railways Magazine, 1 June 1927, via NZETC.

Here's a landmark which should be on some heritage listing somewhere: the 1927 Strand Bridge.

Ref 1-W792, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

At the time, it was described as the largest of its kind in the country, spanning eleven sets of rails, and providing a 66 foot roadway in exchange for the dangerous level crossing it replaced. The turntable in front is 70 feet (now disused and filled in). The bridge was associated with work constructing the Beach Road main Auckland Railway Station, as well as development of the south-eastern rail line deviation, which became part of the main trunk.

The bridge is still holding up well today. But there is no plaque upon it to commemorate its place in our rail history. Pity.

Another part of that 1927-1929 development -- what looks like a former railway signal box.

It is apparently leased out as offices at present. Hopefully someone might come along and recognise it as part of a group of heritage landmarks at the (temporarily) reopened Strand railway station.

Update: Stephen (from comments below) has pointed out that Mainline Steam helped with the opening of the old Auckland signal box on 18 February 2010 as offices by providing Ja1275 free of charge for Datamine's corporate event (the current occupiers). Photos here.


  1. Hi Lisa. Re you comments above regarding the former railway signal box, if you go to the "Mainlinesteam" web site and click on news then scroll down to Feb 19 2010 you will see the story on this building.There is also a link to some photos relating to it. Stephen.

  2. Cheers, Stephen. I'll pop in an update.

  3. Thanks, very much enjoyed this :-)