If these walls could talk – from tea, spice and coffee merchants to a wharf police station, find out the history behind Britomart’s heritage buildings.
Much of Britomart’s unique character comes from the contrasts and relationships between its buildings: historic and modern, bold and intimate, public and private. 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.
CHIEF POST OFFICE BUILDING
Built in the same Imperial Baroque style as the Auckland Town Hall, the CPO Building was built in 1909. It was opened by Prime Minister William Massey on 20 November 1912, before a crowd of more than 8000 Aucklanders. For several decades the building was the main postal and communications hub of the city, offering mail, telegraph, banking and pension payment facilities. It was the central telephone exchange and the rooftop housed Auckland’s radio wireless service, providing contact with ships at sea. In 1992 the Post Office closed and the building fell into a state of disrepair as it suffered major damage during a fire. It was reopened in 2003 as the main entrance to the Britomart Transport Centre. Throughout 2005 the building was meticulously restored with the mosaic tiled floor, glazed wall tiles, staircases and the stained glass dome of the old banking chamber brought back to its former splendour.
NORTHERN STEAMSHIP COMPANY STEAMSHIP
Commissioned by the Northern Steamship Company in 1888 this building was located on reclaimed land opposite the wharves and near the railway station, it was the ideal home for this coalition of shipowners and businessmen. The company provided regular passenger and freight services from Auckland to the Bluff, and by the early 1920s its fleet numbered more than 40 vessels. A wooden boardwalk allowed passengers to cross to the steamers without getting muddy in wet weather. A third level was added in 1921 to provide accommodation, a laundry and additional offices. When the company eventually ceased operation in the 1970s, the lease reverted to the Auckland Harbour Board and now it houses the Northern Steamship Co. Brew Bar and commercial tenants above.
Built for the New Zealand laundry company in 1906, the Quay Building has been through many changes and tenants over the years. New owners added two storeys in 1922 and in 1924 Robertson Brothers, builders and contractors, and Lewisham Limited, agricultural product merchants, moved in. In 1927 four shop fronts were added and 14 businesses occupied the building. Radio Ltd took over in 1935 and for several decades most of the building was a radio factory. In the late 1980s, contemporary art gallery Artspace occupied the Quay Building. Also in the building were the studios of 13 young artists funded by arts patron James Wallace, founder of the Wallace Arts Trust. Then in 2014, a major renovation took place and today the Quay Building houses Amano and commercial tenants above.
CHARTER CUSTOMS HOUSE
Rescued after years of neglect, Charter House has been almost completely rebuilt and is now integrated into the new Charter Customs Building. The original build date of Charter House is unknown, but at the turn of the twentieth century it existed as a single-storey building on a site fronting Breakwater Road, now known as Britomart Place. From 1929 the building began a long association with painting and decorating firm R. & E. Tingey. Tingey’s operated from the building for almost 50 years, until 1976. However, by the end of the twentieth century the building was virtually derelict. In 2008 Charter House underwent a substantial rebuild, the external facade and roof were saved and integrated into the new Charter Customs Building, part of Westpac’s head office complex, Westpac on Takutai Square.
Built in 1885, Masonic House was one of the earliest buildings on the northern side of Customs Street. Designed by Edward Mahoney, this four-storey warehouse was built in 1885 for tea, coffee, spice and grocery merchant John Buchanan, one of the largest wholesalers in the city. Coffee and spice merchants Brown, Barrett & Co, owned by John McKail Geddes, also occupied the building. The building was occupied by a variety of tenants, including the London Book Shop in the 60s. In 1973 the building was altered to create an arcade linking Customs Street to Galway Street, containing 11 retail premises. Today it houses Havaianas on the ground floor and various commercial tenants above.
WHARF POLICE BUILDING
The Colonial Sugar Refining Company leased the site in 1902. The company owned the Chelsea Sugar Refinery at Birkenhead, and needed a location close to the port and railway for its head office. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company remained in the building for more than 50 years. In 1961 the New Zealand Police took over the lease and the building operated as the Wharf Police Station until 1993. In 2009 a full renovation occurred – the building is notable for its well-preserved interior, which includes the original police offices and strong room and mahogany partitions. Today Brew on Quay calls it home.
AUSTRALIS NATHAN BUILDINGS
The restoration of Australis Nathan was an ambitious construction project that saw two significant heritage buildings, Australis House and the Nathan building, joined internally to create a stunning new retail and commercial space.
Built in 1903 and 1904, the buildings originally served as warehouses and storefronts for influential importers and merchants, Andrew Entrican and Arthur Nathan. Since then, each has undergone several changes of ownership, but both have remained largely untouched since the 1970s. Throughout 2016 Australis Nathan welcomed international retailers Tiffany & Co. and Chanel to the ground floor, along with specialty chocolate makers Miann. The upper floors now serve as offices for several premium commercial tenants including lawyers Anderson Lloyd and the offices of retailer H&M.
The front half of this four-storey building, fronting Customs Street East, was built in 1885 as a warehouse for Coupland & Company – a grain, seed and produce supplier. Later occupants included the Auckland Wool Stores of the NZ Mercantile & Loan Co, produce merchants Sharp & Co and kauri gum merchant Edward Morton. Subsequent occupants included the Old Age Pension Office, the first of its kind in the world, and the British General Electric Company showroom. Later there were a succession of restaurants on the ground floor, including the Silver Grill Dining Room and the Dynasty Chinese Restaurant. Merchant C. H. Furness & Company was the major leaseholder from the 1920s to the 1970s. The name Stanbeth House was probably derived from the middle names of the subsequent leaseholders, William Stanley McConnell and Nancy Elizabeth McConnell. Together with its neighbour Excelsior House, Stanbeth House has now been fully refurbished and houses a variety of commercial tenants.
OLD SOFRANA HOUSE
Built as a warehouse for watch and jewellery importers P. Hayman & Co, the design of this grand old building earned its architect a gold watch. In 1898 London-based merchants Henry and Lachlan Hayman leased and constructed the building as a warehouse for the Auckland branch of their family firm P. Hayman & Co, which traded in watches, jewellery, crockery, musical instruments, stationery, saddlery and household items. The property remained in the Hayman family’s hands until 1935. A succession of tenants followed before the building was reopened in 1970 as Columbus House. It received its current name in the 1980s when it was leased by shipping company Sofrana Immobilier Ltd. Today Old Sofrana House is home to Little Bird Organics, Macpac and various commercial tenants.