Coombes’ Arcade (Former)

25-27 High Street, Auckland

  • Coombes’ Arcade (Former), High Street, Auckland.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 4/10/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 560 Date Entered 26th November 1981


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt DP 1014 (CT NA2021/66), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Coombes’ Arcade (Former) thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage New Zealand Board meeting on 25 June 2015.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt DP 1014 (CT NA2021/66), North Auckland Land District


The visually striking building located at 25-27 High Street, Auckland, was erected in 1885 to a design by notable Auckland architect Edward Bartley as part of redevelopment of clothier Samuel Coombes’ Queen Street premises to create an arcade. The two-storey brick front portion with mansard roof and basement reflects Victorian Italianate and Victorian Second Empire influences in its external design. The place has architectural and historical significance as what is believed to be High Street’s oldest surviving building, as a rare and substantial surviving remnant of an early arcade, and for its unusual design influences. It also reflects nineteenth-century commercial activity in central Auckland and the urban scale of premises that once dominated back streets behind Queen Street. It has aesthetic and contextual significance as an important heritage feature close to historic Vulcan Lane, and Freyberg Square.

Prior to European arrival, successive iwi and hapu groups occupied Horotiu, which included the present-day Queen Street gully. Shortly after the establishment of Auckland as colonial capital in 1840, the Crown granted Allotment 41 to James Coutt Crawford who subdivided it in 1846. The Auckland dispensary, a timber building destroyed by fire in 1858, may have occupied part of the High Street frontage, which was vacant in 1866. Elements of a subsequent, single-storey brick building may have been incorporated in the later structure. In 1879, Coombes leased the property which extended to Queen Street, buying it in June 1882.

The two-storey brick building fronting High Street was erected as part of extensive alterations and additions (1883-85) extending between the two streets. Arcades, an efficient way of developing a small site in a built-up area, were forebears of present-day malls and plazas. Providing retail space, they also often incorporated stores, offices and workshops on the upper floors. Coombes’ Arcade, and the grand Victoria Arcade (1884-6) demolished in 1978, were early examples of the building type in Auckland.

The proposed three-storey portion on the High Street frontage was modified to two storeys with a mansard roof following concerns by the City Surveyor. While the exterior design incorporated elements of the Victorian Italianate style then popular for commercial buildings, the mansard roof with an elaborate front dormer suggested Victorian Second Empire influences - possibly inspired by the winning design by Melbourne architects Grainger and D’Ebro for the nearby Auckland City art gallery/library/offices in 1884.

Coombes’ tailoring establishment, set up in High Street and Vulcan Lane in 1872 to serve his Queen Street drapery, moved in 1884 concentrating the business at one location which also provided a number of offices tenancies. The High Street building had four offices on the second floor, and a custodian’s apartment above. The economic depression of the late-1880s contributed to Coombes’ bankruptcy in 1886. In 1905, the arcade consisted of a number of offices, caretaker’s residence, and two shops fronting Queen Street.

Andrews and Clark, a large furnishing manufacturer and retailer, began their long association with the building in 1912, commissioning Auckland architects Wilson and Moodie to design alterations including basement showrooms extending back to High Street. A double-height space at the rear of the building with west-facing roof lights may date from this time. The High Street premises, part of which became the workshop and despatch entrance for the Queen Street furniture outlet, were damaged by fire in 1914. In 1961, the building changed hands becoming part of the Queen Street branch of McKenzies, a nationwide department store chain, and later the Plaza Shopping Centre. It currently (2015) houses specialist retail tenancies.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bartley, Edward

Edward Bartley was born in Jersey in 1839, and educated in the Channel Islands where he learned techniques of the building trade from his father, an architect and builder.

Bartley immigrated to New Zealand with his elder brother Robert, also an architect, while still in his teens. They eventually settled in Devonport, Auckland. Initially Edward was in the building trade but later he practised solely as an architect. He was at one time vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was also Diocesan Architect for the Church of England.

Amongst Bartley's most notable works were his ecclesiastical buildings including St John's Church, Ponsonby (1881), St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880), Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, and the Synagogue (1884). He was also responsible for the Opera House (1884) and Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (1884).

Simon Millington

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1885 -
Two-storey building High Street, possibly incorporating elements of earlier brick structure.

1912 -
Conversion of basement to showroom

1914 -
Fire damage to interior

Upper-roof slates replaced with corrugated asbestos

Including, new stairs and re-roofing of Atrium section

Completion Date

27th May 2015

Report Written By

Joan McKenzie

Other Information

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Northern Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand