Leys Institute Public Library Building

20 St Marys Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

  • Leys Institute Public Library Building (right). Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 23/09/2011.
  • Leys Institute Public Library Building. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 23/09/2011.
  • Leys Institute Public Library Building. Building detail. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 23/09/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 613 Date Entered 26th November 1981

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Allot 13 Sec 8 Suburbs of Auckland (CT NA131/205), North Auckland Land District and the building known as Leys Institute Public Library thereon

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)

Region

Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt Allot 13 Sec 8 Suburbs of Auckland (CT NA131/205), North Auckland Land District

Summaryopen/close

The Leys Institute Public Library building, opened in 1905 in St Marys Road, Ponsonby, is nationally significant as a monument to the Victorian ideals of education and self-improvement, and the philanthropic ideals of sections of the Victorian middle class. The two buildings of the Leys Institute, the library and adjacent gymnasium, have high aesthetic and architectural significance as important examples of Edwardian Baroque architecture by architect Robert Watt, of which there are few examples in Auckland, and contribute an impressive street presence in a well-preserved late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century working-class suburb. They are believed to be a rare surviving example nationally of a purpose-built early twentieth-century combination of library and gymnasium in separate but adjoining buildings, and reflect the importance placed on self-improvement through both mind and body in a period of social change and heightened awareness of the disadvantaged. The history of the Institute is closely linked with the Leys family, and the library building has significance due to its history of innovative library practice.

The Institute was originally founded under the will of William Leys, a bookbinder and property owner, who died in 1899, and was significantly added to by his brother, Thomson Wilson Leys, with the Auckland Council providing the site. The Institute library contained a reference and lending library on the ground floor, and a recreation room, lecture hall and meeting room on the upper storey. These spaces were widely used and the building became the parent body for a large number of cultural, music and hobby organisations, many of which took the name of the Institute.

The Auckland Public Library had been established in 1880; the Leys Institute library was effectively its first branch library, but was managed by a separate management committee, including members of the Leys family, until 1964 when it was incorporated into the Auckland library system. Thomson Leys was the first President of the Institute, donated thousands of books, spearheaded the introduction of the children’s library in 1908, and set up a building fund. The family’s involvement continued with his son, newspaper editor Sir Cecil Leys, and members of subsequent generations. Donations of money and books also came from other members of the community.

In 1909 a new room for the lending department was added to the side, and in 1922 further additions doubled the lending library space and added a basement. In 1939 a further addition to the rear was added and the basement extended. In 1958 the two-storey Hilary Leys Memorial Wing was built for the children’s library, designed by notable architectural firm of Gummer and Ford and decorated with murals by the Irish-born James Turkington a prominent artist in Auckland whose works made particular reference to New Zealand society. In the early 1960s the library led the way in educating children, and later adults, who had difficulty reading, and provided programmes for the many Polynesian families who had become part of the surrounding population. Architect John Gummer carried out a major restoration project in 1991, funded by the William Leys Trust Fund.

Throughout its history, the building has played a significant role in the community, and as the Ponsonby library, continues to do so today.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Leys Institute has played a significant role in Ponsonby and Auckland history. The construction of the Institute indicates recognition of the growing boundaries of Auckland and the establishment of Ponsonby. The Institute stands as a monument to the Victorian ideals of education and self-improvement for the community and the philanthropic urge of the Victorian middle class. The history of the Leys Institute is closely linked with the Leys family. The Institute was originally founded under the will of William Leys, a bookbinder and property owner, who died in 1899.

His intentions were to provide a free library and Mechanics Institute. The funds he left were inadequate and his brother, T.W. Leys, contributed half the money needed, on condition that the Auckland City Council provided the site. The Council accepted the offer and the Institute was opened in March 1905 by the Mayor, Mr E. Mitchelson. A year later a gymnasium was erected.

The involvement of the Leys family did not finish there. T.W. Leys, the first President of the Institute, was succeeded by his son, Sir Cecil Leys.

T.W. Leys donated his personal library which was a considerable addition to the Institute. He also set up a trust fund in memory of his wife, which eventually paid for the Hilary Leys Memorial Wing. After the death of the last surviving beneficiary of Leys will in 1965, the Estate passed to the Auckland City Council, and the Institute became a branch library of the Auckland Public Library system.

The Institute's main function is as a library, but it also provides a base for various organisations. These include literary, dramatic, musical, debating games and sports clubs. The Institute acts as an important social centre.

ARCHITECTURAL SIGNIFICANCE:

The Leys Institute is an important example of turn of the century Edwardian Baroque architecture, of which there are few examples in Auckland. At this time numerous types of buildings for which there was no set precedent or architectural style were being built. Many of these buildings fulfilled a civic function such as town halls, libraries, police and fire stations.

In its earlier phase the architecture was characterised by the use of a elaborate and picturesque skyline. The style changed rapidly to a form more influenced by the Beaux Arts tradition. This period of rapid change is apparent when the Leys Institute and the nearby Ponsonby Post Office (1911) are compared.

The Leys Institute is one of several public library buildings in Auckland, each designed at a different time and in a different style. Collectively they are a record of changing philosophies of architectural design and style for such buildings.

TOWNSCAPE/LANDMARK SIGNIFICANCE:

The intersection is a historic corner of which the library, together with Post Office, Fire Station and public toilet, is a key building. Collectively they form a good streetscape facade.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Watt, Robert Martin

Watt (1860-1907) was born in Scotland and studied architecture in Glasgow with the firm of Barclay Bros. He immigrated to New Zealand about 1878 for health reasons and practised in Auckland both on his own account and, from about 1892, with John Mitchell (c.1859-1947). Mitchell and Watt were appointed architects to the Auckland Education Board in 1892 and while Mitchell undertook new work, Watt was responsible for rebuilding projects and renovations to existing buildings. In 1960 Watt was elected president of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Watt was responsible for the design of the Ley's Institute, Ponsonby (1905-06), and the partnership of Mitchell and Watt was responsible for schools at Te Mata (1905) and Maungatautari (1905), additions to schools at Cambridge (1900) and Dargaville (1905), the Seddon Memorial Technical College (1903-13), and Mt Eden Congregational Church (1900).

W Jones and Son

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (STYLE):

The Leys Institute consists of two buildings which are both Baroque in style. One building (the Institute) is two storeys in height, and the other (the Gymnasium) is one storey high.

The facades of both buildings have elongated proportions. Bays of narrow windows are separated by pilasters which culminate in finials. Two of the pilasters on the Institute building culminate in pediments and are flanked by volutes resembling Dutch gables. The central three bay portions of both buildings are stepped forward and have pedimented gables. The window sills and leads are linked by string courses in which the beds of the pediments above the windows are incorporated.

MODIFICATIONS:

1908 - A new lending department added

1927 - Offices altered and additional toilets added

New wireless workshop

1939 - Demolition of existing partitions in the lending department

Extensive enlargement and remodelling of interior

1957 - Hilary Leys Memorial Wing added

Notable Features

The distinctive facade

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1905 -
Institute Built

Modification
1922 -
Alterations made, designed by Grierson and Aimer, doubling the lending library space, and installing a basement

Modification
-
Garden developed to the rear of the building at the entrance of the children’s library, and a mural by Murray Grimsdale added.

Modification
1991 -
Restoration project, including installation of lift

Modification
2007 -
Courtyard area in front of the two buildings developed

Modification
1909 -
A new lending department added

Modification
1927 -
Offices altered and additional toilets added. New wireless workshop

Modification
1939 -
Demolition of existing partitions in the lending department Extensive enlargement and remodelling of interior

Modification
1958 -
Hilary Leys Memorial Wing added

Construction Details

Brick, plastered. Timber framing. Roof timber-framed with metal trusses.

Completion Date

11th June 2015

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Public Libraries

1880 - 1950

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

19 March 1964.

Colgan, 1980

Wynne Colgan, The Governor's Gift: The Auckland Public Library 1880-1980, Auckland, 1980.

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Mogford, Janice, ‘Leys, Thomson Wilson’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, updated 5 Nov 2013

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

9 July 1963

13 June 1984

15 April 1907 (Obituary) p6

New Zealand Listener

New Zealander Listener

26 June 1982

University of Auckland

University of Auckland

J. Barr 1950 Sheppard Collection

Verran, 2004

David Verran, 'Mechanics' Institutes in New Zealand, and their effect on the development of library services.' Paper to LIANZA conference, September 2004

Carlyon, 2008

Jenny Carlyon and Diana Morrow, Urban Village: The Story of Ponsonby, Freemans Bay and St Mary's Bay, Auckland, 2008

Cumming, 1959

Ian Cumming, Glorious Enterprise - The History of the Auckland Education Board, 1857-1957. Christchurch 1959

P204-5

Education Board

Education Board

1857 - 1957, p204-5

Auckland Metro

Auckland Metro

‘Murry Grimsdale: Celebrating Life’, Auckland Metro, Dec 1981/Jan 1982, p.13

Barr, 1950

Barr, John, Auckland Public Libraries 1880-1950, Auckland, 1950

Leys, 1908

Leys, Thomson W, Report on Municipal Libraries in Great Britain, 1908

New Zealand Libraries

New Zealand Libraries

Ridling, Coral, ‘Hilary Leys Memorial Wing: A New Children’s Library’, New Zealand Libraries, Vol. 21, No. 6, 1958, pp142-147

New Zealand Libraries

New Zealand Libraries

Ridling, Coral, and H Hills, ‘Work with Non-European Children’, New Zealand Libraries, No 31, 1968, pp.33-43

Riding, 2001?

Ridling, Coral, One Man’s Dream: The Leys Institute and the Family who Founded It, Ponsonby U3A Publication No1, [2001?]

Anon, 1906

The Leys Institute, St Mary’s Road, Ponsonby, Auckland NZ, 1906

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 Region Office of Heritage New Zealand