General Buildings (including Yorkshire House)

29-37 Shortland Street, Auckland

  • General Buildings.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 18/09/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 106 Date Entered 2nd April 1985

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)

Region

Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 75278

Summaryopen/close

The General Buildings are considered to be one of the best examples of 'Chicago-style' architecture in New Zealand. Chicago-style design was developed for commercial buildings in late nineteenth-century America, and combined a restrained approach to classical ornamentation with the 'high-rise' form demanded by inner city developers. The construction of these structures in Auckland was frequently associated with the insurance industry (see 'N.Z. Guardian Trust Building' and 'South British Insurance Building'), and it was the Yorkshire Insurance Company that erected the original eight storey part of the General Buildings - known as Yorkshire House - in 1926-1928.

Yorkshire House was considered to be one of the finest buildings in Auckland when it opened, and like others of its type housed the offices and public rooms of the insurance company at ground floor level while most of the remaining floors were rented out to other businesses as office suites. The building was lauded for its use of hot water central-heating, large windows and electric lighting, enabling work to be carried out more comfortably and over longer hours. The building retains much of its original interior and character, being extended in the 1970s with a near-identical addition on Shortland Street.

The building is significant as one of the best-preserved Chicago-style high-rises in Auckland, and important for the unusually intact nature of its interiors. It demonstrates the growing influence of American prototypes in the commercial architecture of early twentieth-century New Zealand, and the link between such design and working practices. It makes a valuable contribution to Auckland's urban streetscape and is a reminder of Shortland Street's history as one of the main commercial thoroughfares in the town. The building has group value for its proximity to the 1920s South British Insurance Building and other historic buildings that were the original headquarters of similar financial institutions.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fletcher Construction Company

Fletcher Construction Company was founded by Scottish-born James Fletcher (1886 - 1974), the son of a builder. Six months after his arrival in Dunedin in 1908, Fletcher formed a house-building partnership with Bert Morris. They soon moved into larger-scale construction work, building the St Kilda Town Hall (1911), and the main dormitory block and Ross Chapel at Knox College (1912). Fletcher's brothers, William, Andrew and John joined the business in 1911, which then became known as Fletcher Brothers. A branch was opened in Invercargill.

While holidaying in Auckland in 1916, James tendered for the construction of the the Auckland City Markets. By 1919 the company, then known as Fletcher Construction, was firmly established in Auckland and Wellington. Notable landmarks constructed by the company during the Depression included the Auckland University College Arts Building (completed 1926); Landmark House (the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, 1927); Auckland Civic Theatre (1929); the Chateau Tongariro (1929); and the Dominion Museum, Wellington (1934).

Prior to the election of the first Labour Government, Fletcher (a Reform supporter) had advised the Labour Party on housing policy as hbe believed in large-scale planning and in the inter-dependence of government and business. However, he declined an approach by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage in December 1935 to sell the company to the government, when the latter wanted to ensure the large-scale production of rental state housing. Although Fletchers ultimately went on to build many of New Zealand's state houses, for several years Residential Construction Ltd (the subsidiary established to undertake their construction) sustained heavy financial losses.

Fletcher Construction became a public company, Fletcher Holdings, in 1940. Already Fletchers' interests were wide ranging: brickyards, engineering shops, joinery factories, marble quarries, structural steel plants and other enterprises had been added the original construction firm. Further expansion could only be undertaken with outside capital.

During the Second World War James Fletcher, having retired as chairman of Fletcher Holdings, was seconded to the newly created position of Commissioner of State Construction which he held during 1942 and 1943. Directly responsible to Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Fletcher had almost complete control over the deployment of workers and resources. He also became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Works, set up in 1943, a position he held until December 1945.

In 1981 Fletcher Holdings; Tasman Pulp and Paper; and Challenge Corporation amalgamated to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd, at that time New Zealand's largest company.

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

Bloomfield & Hunt

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It includes the 1976 addition and more recent modifications. The building lies on the site of early colonial buildings.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1926 - 1928
Construction of Yorkshire House (now part of the General Buildings)

Addition
1976 -
Eastern addition

Completion Date

15th August 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

8 Feb 1923.

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

8 Mar 1928, p.23.

Metro

Metro

8 Jun !988.

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

30 Dec 1926, p.9.

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.