Wright's Buildings

18-20 Fort Street, 13 Commerce Street And 8 Fort Lane, Auckland

  • Wright's Building.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 672 Date Entered 26th November 1981


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Allots 50 53 & Pt Allot 52 Sec 2 City of Auckland (CT NA13A/396), North Auckland Land District and the buildings known as Wright's Buildings thereon, and their fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the upgrade report for further information).

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Allots 50 53 & Pt Allot 52 Sec 2 City of Auckland (CT NA13A/396), North Auckland Land District


Wright's Buildings are located a short distance from Auckland's central waterfront, and reflect the city's role as an important commercial entrepot in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Constructed in several stages prior to 1925, the warehouse and office structures were occupied for many years by A.B. Wright and Sons, a firm of customs and shipping agents with a business network extending across New Zealand.

Located at the junction of Fort and Commerce Streets, Wright's Buildings occupy reclaimed land on the site of Auckland's early foreshore. The Commercial Bay shoreline was utilised by Maori before colonial arrival, and was also a major landing place for people and supplies after colonial Auckland was founded in 1840. In 1875, a lease for the reclaimed site was secured by carter and forwarding agent Joseph Craig (father of entrepreneur J.J. Craig), who built a brick store and office - later demolished - on the corner of Fort and Commerce Streets. In 1883 Craig assigned part of the lease to merchant Henry Henderson of Henderson and MacFarlane, a timber milling, warehousing and shipping firm whose vessels plied the coastal and Pacific Island trades as the Circular Saw Line. Henderson controlled the entire holding by 1889 and may have commissioned a surviving three-storey brick building, constructed at an unknown date between 1886 and 1908 facing Commerce Street to the north. Between 1899 and 1908, a period of economic boom, downtown Auckland underwent considerable redevelopment as reticulated utility services and plentiful reclaimed land became available.

In 1905, receiving and forwarding agents A.B. Wright and Sons took over the holding. Wrights was founded in circa 1893 at nearby Queen's Wharf by carrier Alexander Wright (1834?-1895). In 1910 the firm commissioned architect Thomas Mahoney (1854/5?-1923) to design a grand five-storey office warehouse to replace Craig's former premises. With his father Edward Mahoney (1824/5?-1895), Thomas was responsible for many of Auckland's finest buildings.

Prominently located on a corner site, the new building was erected by builder William Hutchison (1858-1918) for £7000, and was evidently completed by 1911. Its imposing appearance was influenced by Romanesque architecture as adapted in late nineteenth-century Chicago by Henry Hobson Richardson, and can be referred to as being of Edwardian Warehouse style. Constructed of yellow brick with plaster dressings, the premises incorporated a rusticated base, three main floors with prominent arcaded windows, and an attic storey. Incorporating an electric passenger lift, its ground, first and second floors were initially partitioned into offices. A decade later all remaining floors were in office use.

Tenants such as produce agents, brokers and merchants, serviced rural industries. Other occupants included insurance companies, customs and shipping agents, and accountants. In 1912 A.B. Wright and Sons secured the property to the west, a two-storey Italianate-style building probably constructed by 1882 for forwarding agent Franz Scherff.

A.B. Wrights and Sons became an incorporated company in 1914 with three of Wright's sons as directors. Advertising itself as Custom-House and Shipping Agents, the firm had agents throughout New Zealand at this time.

In 1925, a five-storey addition was erected in concrete to the north of the 1911 building. The Stripped Classical design was by Gummer and Ford, an architectural practice of national significance. Only one of the upper floors had ladies' lavatories, reflecting the city's predominantly male clerical workforce. Replacing an earlier structure, the addition maintained a physical connection between the 1911 offices and the pre-1908 building, which remained in use by A.B. Wright and Sons as agents for Union Marine Insurance.

In later decades the tenants of Wright's Buildings were predominantly manufacturers' agents and representatives of the commercial service and merchandising sectors. In 1960, the pre-1908 part of the complex was remodelled to present a modern façade to Commerce Street, but retained its original facade to Fort Lane.

A.B. Wright and Sons ended its eight-decade association with the property in 1987 and ceased business in 2001. In circa 2003, the 1911 and 1925 structures became backpackers' accommodation above ground floor level and two more floors were added. The northernmost building, the oldest structure on the site, is currently (2009) a restaurant.

Wright's Buildings have aesthetic significance for incorporating distinctive frontages that form a landmark in Auckland's Fort Street area. The complex has architectural significance for incorporating an unusual surviving example of Edwardian Warehouse design in Auckland, which was undertaken by Edward Mahoney and Sons. It also has value for its addition by Gummer and Ford, an architectural practice of national prominence. The place has historical significance for reflecting the ongoing development of Auckland as a business centre and port in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and for its association with notable firms such as Henderson and MacFarlane and A.B. Wright and Sons.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mahoney, Thomas

Thomas Mahoney (1854/5?-1923) was the eldest son of Edward Mahoney, a leading Auckland architect. Thomas joined his father's firm, Edward Mahoney and Sons, in 1878 and was followed soon after by his younger brother Robert.

The firm was responsible for a wide range of designs including domestic buildings, commercial and public buildings, churches and hotels. They won a competition for the design of the Auckland Customhouse in 1888, and were also responsible for the design of The Pah (now Monte Cecilia Convent), Hillsborough (1887), the Elliot Street facade of Smith and Caughey's Building (1910) and Wrights Building, Auckland (1911).

Thomas was secretary of the Auckland Institute of Architects in 1885, president in 1883, and treasurer in 1902. In 1907 he was president of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

2003 -
Addition: Two floors to 1911 and 1925 structures

1875 -
Pre-construction: Two-storey brick building (cnr Fort & Commerce St)

1886 - 1908
Pre-construction: Three-storey brick building (frontage Commerce St and Fort Lane)

Original Construction
1886 - 1908
Construction: Three-storey brick building (frontage Commerce St and Fort Lane)

Demolished - Other
1910 -
Demolition: c.1875 building

Original Construction
1910 - 1911
Construction: Five-storey brick building (cnr Fort & Commerce St)

1913 -
Alteration: Construction of door (ground floor) & bridge (first floor) connecting 1911 structure to adjoining building (c.1878-82) at 16-18 Fort Street

1914 - 1924
Alteration: Upper three floors of 1911 structure partitioned as offices

Demolished - Other
1925 -
Demolition: Three-storey building (Commerce St); Construction: Five-storey addition (Commerce St)

1960 -
Alteration: Façade c.1882-1908 building remodelled (Commerce St)

1964 -
Alteration: c.1882-1908 building interior refitted out

2003 -
Alteration: Upper floors of 1911 and 1925 structures converted to backpacker accommodation

Completion Date

30th September 2009

Report Written By

Joan McKenzie

Information Sources

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Public Libraries

Stevens, George Treacy, 'Auckland, N.Z', NZ Map 374, Special Collections

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

21 December 1918, p. 12

Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory

Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory, Auckland

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

DI 2A.1246, 7D/564; 16A.146, 28D/678, R5/826, R5/827, R5/828, R112/184; DI 5A.3, 33M/816; DI 12A.844, R125/559, R170/478; CTs NA761/100, NA13A/396; DP 31049 North Auckland Land District

Leighton's Auckland Provincial Directory

Leighton's Auckland Provincial Directory

New Zealand Herald

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

25 February 1956, p.12



1 September 1910, p.385; 1 August 1911 [unpaged]

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

'Map D13 - 10 January 1919', ACC 014-D-13, Auckland City Council Archives.

Auckland City Environments, property file 16-20 Fort Street.

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region office

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.