Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Pohutukawa Junction

St James Church in Wellington Street. Ref. 4-3542, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

On passing by a spot on the way to the on-ramp to the North-Western motorway from the city, a cabbie said he reckoned the site used to be that of a church. He was close -- a church had once been on the same block, now obliterated by motorway development.

In 1864, at a point where Wellington, Nelson, Hobson and Pitt Streets used to converge, a Presbyterian church was constructed.
A meeting was held on Friday night, 26th, of the Building Committee of St. James's Church, for the purpose of opening the tenders for the erection of the new church, Wellington and Nelson streets, of which Mr. T B. Cameron is architect. The following were the tenders Philcox and Vaughan, £3,666 Ephraim Mills, £3,800; Wm. Cameron £3,157; Samuel Goodill, £2,995; A. R. Watson, £2 940; Andrew Anderson, £2,587; John Young, £2,720; James Newell, £2,700; C. Leighton, £2,676; Andrew Clow (accepted), £2,657.

Southern Cross 29 August 1864

We've seen builder Andrew Clow's work before: the Edinburgh Castle hotel, and James Halyday's furniture factory.
The Rev. Mr. Bruce made a short speech on "Ceremony." He also referred briefly to the want of a bell in St. James's Church, and thought that when a church had got a steeple it should also get a bell. He spoke of the prosperity of the Church, and was extremely glad to hear that the debt on the building was being liquidated … He was glad to hear of the progress that had bet n made in the church during the past year, and was happy also to know that the church was getting out of debt.

Auckland Star 9 April 1873

The Presbyterians added St James Hall, next the church, sometime around the late 1870s.

Meanwhile, at the corner of Wellington Street and Pitt Street, the Catholic Institute  was built in 1865. By 1908, it was a Marist Brothers school.

Detail from sheet G 11, 1908 City of Auckland map, Auckland Council Archives.

So, by 1908, the block featured the church, the hall, the school, and other smaller buildings. In 1943, the school was remodelled to become a servicemen's club during World War II. (Home and Building, September 1943 Spring, vol 6, no 4, p 18-19, via Index Auckland)

Then, came the 1960s and the motorways. With State Highway 1 under construction, ramps were needed for the central city. This block was chosen as the site, the buildings here doomed to make way for the motorway. St James Church was demolished around 1963-1964. The rest of the block gradually followed as the decade wore on.

The site during the mid 1960s. Photographer N M Dubois, ref 786-A011-6, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

So, why the title for this post? Because of a sculpture on the site, seen below in the aerial from Auckland Council's GIS website.

And seen much better at Auckland West blog.

The sculpture of a pohutukawa blossom was designed by Rod Slater in 2006, consists of 105 stamens, and has recently been refurbished after it faded quite badly in the Auckland sun.

I don't mind the pohutukawa blossom -- but it's unfortunate I had no chance to see the church.


  1. I like the street scene from the 1960s.It is post June 1964 as the cars have black and silver numbar plates.These were issued in June 1964.
    Tne car nearest the camera is a 1939 Plymouth.There are also two other pre-war cars visible in the photo.

  2. That's one sculpture I've NEVER warmed to: to me, it looks far too much like a piece of children's playground.
    Such a prime location deserved something better...

  3. Something harking back to the church that was demolished, perhaps?