Much of Britomart’s unique character comes from the contrasts and relationships between its buildings: historic and modern, bold and intimate, public and private. In spirit of Auckland Heritage Festival, here is some history behind nine of Britomart’s 18 heritage buildings.
Most of the 18 historic buildings throughout the precinct date from between 1880 and 1920. Many were built as warehouses and storerooms for Auckland’s early merchant industry. They range from the magnificent Imperial Baroque of the Chief Post Office to the restrained Art Deco elegance of the Maritime Building on Quay Street. All of Britomart’s heritage buildings are being carefully restored, with meticulous attention to materials, colour schemes, fittings and other period details.
UNION FISH COMPANY BUILDING
This ornate two-storey building completed in 1906 formerly housed engineering and marine workshops, until its reinvention as a bavarian-themed bar called Harrou’s Hofbrauhaus in the 1970s, featuring German beer, food and a band playing traditional German drinking songs. Today Japanese restaurant Ebisu calls the Union Fish Company Building home, with commercial tenants above.
Now fully restored, the former warehouse was once home to the Young Service Womens Club. Constructed in 1897, the Levy Building was extensively remodelled in 1934 in the contemporary Art Deco style. During WWII the building became famous as the home of the Young Womens Christian Association Downtown Club. It opened in 1942 as a safe social venue for young servicewomen, whom it was feared might otherwise frequent hotel bars. Today the Levy Building houses RJB Design along with other commercial tenants.
The Kiwi Tavern was originally built as a crockery warehouse in 1908. Then in 1920 motor engineer W. R. Twigg leased the ground and first floors, eventually purchasing the lease and becoming the sole occupant in 1937. Twigg met an unfortunate end after an encounter with a lion while game hunting in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). His company was taken over by W. E. Brooke Taylor, who ran it until 1972. In 1973 the famed Clichy Bar and Bistro opened for business here. The building’s reputation as a popular venue continued into the 1990s, when it was home first to Tatler restaurant, then the Kiwi Tavern. Today the building houses Mexico.
This five-storey building was completed in 1897 for Brown, Barrett & Co, tea, coffee and spice merchants. Despite naming it for their then-famous Excelsior coffee brand, Brown, Barrett & Co never occupied the building and instead took up residence in the nearby Masonic Building. In the 1950s the building became a branch of Bank of New Zealand, who eventually occupied the whole building. Today Generator and Cafe Hanoi call Excelsior House home.
Built in 1897 the then unnamed building was owned by the Auckland Harbour Board. A 50-year lease was subsequently granted to Sir Henry Brett and Thomas Wilson Leys, newspaper proprietors, printers and publishers. In 1900 their Auckland Star newspaper had the widest circulation of any newspaper in New Zealand. From 1936 to 1968 the New Womens Club (later named the Auckland Womens Forum) occupied the top floor. Today the Buckland Building houses MADE, Service Denim, Havaianas and other commercial tenants.
Built in 1905, the Altrans Building first housed a kauri gum business. In 1920 the building was sold to a grain and seed merchant. In 1937 it was purchased by the Newdick brothers who were cake manufacturers, who made extensive alterations, including adding a bakery to the third floor. In 2014, the Altrans Building underwent a large-scale renovation and today it houses Amano.
Offering views of the Waitemata Harbour to the north and Auckland City skyline to the south, this 1970s building is a real Britomart gem. The Seafarers Building’s name is taken from the Mission to Seafarers, a group with longstanding ties to the building; whose Auckland International Seafarers Centre still sits on level one. In 2014 the building underwent a major renovation opening up five extra floors that had previously been used as temporary spaces. Today the Seafarers Building houses Deadly Ponies, Ostro, SEVEN, The Seafarers Members Club, WORLD, Zambesi and Kate Sylvester.
Built in 1903 the Barrington Building was first leased by a German man named Gustav Kronfeld. Kronfeld travelled to Samoa and became a trader, later developing trade links between Auckland and the Pacific Islands. Used as his warehouse, the Barrington Building stored his Pacific Island curios, tinned fish, fruit and vegetables. It was later sold to John Bates & Co, a china and crystal merchant, who occupied the building from the 1930s to the 1960s. In the 1970s the first floor was occupied by the Barrington Gallery. The gallery opened with an exhibition featuring Picasso engravings and works by nine local painters, and continued to showcase leading New Zealand artists. Today the ground floor is dedicated to fashion housing AS Colour and Huffer, as well as commercial tenants above.
Originally head office for one of New Zealand’s first maritime companies, this building is now home to the offices of Britomart management. The Maritime Building was erected in 1946 on a site previously occupied by an engineering workshop. It displays Neoclassical, Art Deco and Modernist influences and Oaken now calls the ground floor home.