Australis House and the AH Nathan Building, 42 Customs Street
AH Nathan House is notable for the different coloured bricks used in its construction. It was erected in 1903 for merchants and importing agent AH Nathan & Company, and designed by architects Wilson and Moodie. David Nathan had set up as a merchant in 1840 in Kororareka in the Bay of Islands; his nephews Arthur and Louis came from England to manage the new business in Auckland. The company eventually became the retailing giant LD Nathan. Neighbouring Australis House was built in 1904, designed by architects Mitchell & Watt. The refurbishment of the buildings, led by architects Peddle Thorp, combined them into a single entity known as Australis Nathan, a process that involved decorating what was once the rear of the buildings to create new ‘fronts’ for them facing Takutai Square.
The Chief Post Office / Britomart Transport Centre,12 Queen Street
The Chief Post Office was designed in the Imperial Baroque style by John Paton with government architect John Campbell, and opened by Prime Minister William Massey on 20 November 1912. It has white Oamaru stone and grey Coromandel granite on its main facade and marks the western edge of the Britomart precinct. The building, now a Category One Historic Place, served as the city’s main post office until it was closed in the 1990s; an art deco addition to the rear in the 1930s was demolished to make way for a new extension designed by Mario Madayag and Jasmax as part of the building’s transformation to the Britomart Transport Centre in 2001.
Excelsior House and Stanbeth House, 22-28 Customs Street East
Excelsior House was built circa 1885 (its architect is unknown) for Brown, Barrett & Co: tea, coffee and spice merchants who eventually moved to the Masonic Building next door. Neighbouring Stanbeth House was designed by John Blaikie for produce merchants Coupland & Co and built around the same time. Half of Excelsior House was demolished in the 1930s to allow for the widening of Commerce Street, which explains the lack of symmetry of the façade when viewed from Customs Street East. Maunga, a mural by artist Shane Cotton, was installed on the western wall of Excelsior House in late 2020.
Te Ara Tahuhu and The Pavilions
Te Ara Tahuhu is the plant-lined pedestrianised street that leads from Britomart Transport Centre to Takutai Square. The buildings along it were designed by Cheshire Architects. In the courtyard connecting Te Ara Tahuhu with The Hotel Britomart (where Allbirds, The Store, Sass & Bide and Fabric are located) is the artwork Pou Tū Te Rangi by Chris Bailey (Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Paoa Te Aupouri, Irish), a name that translates as ‘the standing posts that reach for the heavens’ and celebrates the connection between tāngata (people) and whenua (land). Just outside the courtyard on Galway Street, you can see the six aluminium panels by Lonnie Hutchinson (Kai Tahu, Ngāti Kuri ki Kai Tahu, Samoan) which make up her work Aroha ki te Ora (Lover of Life) which references the Kai Tahu creation story, in which there were three protagonists: Papatūānuku, Takaroa and Ranginui.
Britomart’s central public space features a generous lawn and the artwork Te Rou Kai, a fountain with 16 sculptural stones beside it that refers to how this foreshore area was once an important source of kaimoana for early Māori. It is by Chaz Doherty (Ngai Tuhoe), Renata Blair (Ngāti Whātua) and Bernard Makoare (Ngāti Whātua, Te Uri o Hau, Te Waiariki, Te Taikūtae). The intermittent pops of the fountain represent the squirting action of the shellfish that would once have been harvested from here.
Maritime House, 130 Quay Street
This art deco gem was designed in the 1940s by architect BC Chilwell, although its facade was modified in the 1950s and a third floor added in the 1970s. Alma restaurant is on the ground floor.
Northern Steamship Building, 122-124 Quay Street
Opened in May 1899, the Northern Steamship Building was occupied by a coalition of steamship operators that offered passenger and freight services from Auckland to Bluff on their fleet. It’s now home to The Brit Pub & Eatery, with offices above.
Union Fish Company, 116-118 Quay Street
This building is home to Ebisu restaurant on its ground floor (with Oji Sushi facing Tyler Street) and was built from 1904-06. It may have been designed by architect RM Watt, who also designed the Ponsonby Fire Station. In the 1970s the building was home to Harro Haufbrauhaus, a traditional Bavarian restaurant serving German beer and food, with a band playing German drinking songs. Cheers!
Seafarers Building, 104 Quay Street
Built in 1970, The Seafarers Building not only contains the bars and eateries Ostro and Bar Non Solo (and boutiques such as WORLD, Zambesi and Kate Sylvester), but the Auckland International Seafarers’ Centre, which includes the Mariners Memorial Chapel of St Peter. It is one of Britomart’s few buildings of the late Modernist era.
Quay Building, 106-108 Quay Street
Originally designed in 1906 by Robert de Montalk for the New Zealand Laundry Company, this building had two floors added in 1924 before agricultural produce merchants Robertson Bros & Lewishman moved in. In the 1930s, the building became a radio factory for decades. By the 1980s, Artspace gallery and a group of 13 artists had studios there. It’s now home to Amano.
Altrans Building, 104 Quay Street
The Altrans Building, home to Amano Bakery on its ground floor, was designed by John Currie, who added a fourth floor to the building in 1913. It was designed for kauri gum merchant Samuel Rawnsley. In 1937 it was taken over by cake makers the Newdick brothers, who put their bakery on the third floor. Later, Altrans and the New Zealand Harbour Board Workers Union had their offices in the building.
Wharf Police Building, 102 Quay Street
Architect Charles Arnold designed this structure for the Colonial Sugar Company’s head office. It became the Wharf Police Station in 1961. Like many other buildings in Britomart, it was slated for demolition in the 1980s, and described by the Auckland Harbour Board as “unlovely and shocking”. It’s now home to the Brew on Quay pub.
Kiwi Tavern, 3 Britomart Place
This 1910 building was designed by architect John Currie as a warehouse for a crockery business. The ground floor was leased in 1920 by motor engineering firm WR Twigg (Twigg himself was later killed in an encounter with a lion while game hunting in Zimbabwe). In the 1970s, the building was home to the legendary restaurant Clichy’s before becoming the Kiwi Tavern in the 1990s. Mexico restaurant now occupies the ground floor.
The Hotel Britomart, 29 Galway Street
Britomart’s newest building was designed by Cheshire Architects in a project that also included the refurbishment of the adjacent heritage buildings and the creation of a new laneway. The hotel is New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star Hotel, certified by the NZ Green Building Council. It has 99 guest rooms and five luxurious Landing Suites. The building is clad in hand-made bricks intended to harmonise with its older neighbours. The patterning of its distinctive windows mimic it heritage neighbours on the lower floors, becoming more randomised as the building rises.
Masonic House and Bucklands Building, 30-32 Customs Street East and 34-36 Customs Street East
Masonic House was occupied in 1885 by John Buchanan, a wholesale grocer and tea, coffee and spice merchant, and Brown, Barrett & Co, coffee and spice merchants who roasted their beans in a two-storey annex at the back of the building. The neighbouring Bucklands Building has a facade that matches the Masonic Building, but was built later. Masonic House was purchased in 1952 and renamed by the Masonic Institute and Club. An arcade linking Customs and Galway Streets was built in 1973. Both buildings were refurbished as part of The Hotel Britomart project, which included the creation of a new laneway connecting Customs Street East and Galway Streets. The laneway is named Tuawhiti Lane, a name gifted by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei: ‘Tua’ means ‘the other side’ and ‘Whiti’ means ‘to cross over’; it is also a word used to describe food of succulence and good quality, a nod towards the fare served at kingi, the restaurant in the lane.
Westpac and EY Building, Takutai Square
The Westpac and EY Building was designed by Sydney architects Johnston Pilton Walker in association with Britomart-based Peddle Thorp. The building opened in 2011 and is bisected by the Atrium on Takutai, which continues the axis established from Britomart Station along Te Ara Tahuhu.
Charter House, 54-58 Customs Street East
54-58 Customs Street East
Now part of Westpac’s headquarters, Charter House started out as a single-storey building in 1905, before being scaled up to a four- and five-storey structure in 1920. For almost 50 years it was home to R&E Tingey, a plant and wallpaper business. The building has been refurbished and is now part of Westpac’s headquarters, which were designed by Sydney architecture firm Johnson Pilton Walker and Britomart-based Peddle Thorp. It is linked to Westpac’s other building by airbridges featuring colourful artworks by Shannon Novak.
Levy Building, 20 Customs Street East
The Levy Building was designed by Edward Bartley and opened in 1888. It has been extensively altered in the years since, although the form you see today is essentially how it looked in the 1930s. During World War II the building housed the YWCA Downtown Club, which opened in 1942 in response to fears that a lack of suitable venues in which servicewomen could entertain men might lead to them frequenting hotel bars. A thousand people used the club and its snack bars, lounges and dance floor each day.
Barrington Building and Old Sofrana House, 10–12 Customs Street East and 14-18 Customs Street East
Currently closed for refurbishment, the Barrington and Sofrana Buildings were designed as warehouses to serve Auckland’s increasingly busy port. Both buildings were designed by architect John Currie; construction on Sofrana House began at the end of the 19th century for P. Hayman & Co, a firm that dealt in jewellery, crockery, musical instruments, stationery, saddlery and household items. The Barrington Building, opened in 1905 and now a Category Two Historic Place, was leased by Gustav Kronfeld, a German fruit and produce merchant who came to New Zealand from Samoa and developed trade between Auckland and the Pacific Islands.