Karamu Chambers (Former)

124-126 Karamu Road North And Queen Street East, Hastings

  • Karamu Chambers (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Imelda Bargas.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1081 Date Entered 27th June 2008


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes all of the land in CT HBB4/122 (as shown on the 'Extent of Registration' map in Appendix 2) and the building and its fittings and fixtures thereon.

City/District Council

Hastings District


Hawke's Bay Region

Legal description

Lots 17-19, DP 2795 (CT HBB4/122), Hawkes Bay Land District

Location description

Corner Karamu Road North and Queen Street East


Karamu Chambers was built in 1935 for a company of the same name. Large shareholders in the company and one of its first directors, Hugh Chambers, were members of the well-known and influential Chambers family of Havelock North. It was an investment property, the only one that Karamu Chambers Ltd built and owned, and it remained in that company's hands until 1969. During that period the building was occupied primarily by commercial tenants, such as solicitors Hallett and O'Dowd, the Yorkshire Insurance Co. and Nicol and Stevenson, seed brokers, along with the Te Mata Park Trust Board, which administered land donated by the Chambers family. The building was sold to Devon Agencies, a company part-owned by Selwyn (later Sir Selwyn) Cushing, whose firm Esam Cushing has occupied the building ever since.

The building's ownership by just two companies represents a lengthy historical connection. The specific association with the Chambers family and with Sir Selwyn Cushing gives the building local historic value.

Karamu Chambers is a reinforced concrete building, stripped Classical in style and two storeys high. The façade is divided into three main parts: the middle section is a smooth curve around the corner, while on either side is a recessed section with tall columns rising through two floors. Apart from column capitals, the building is devoid of any decoration, and it has plain finished surfaces, giving it an appearance that is more modern than most of its contemporaries in the city.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Karamu Chambers has had just two owners over its life and both are historically significant. The building was constructed for a group of local investors in the wake of the Hawkes Bay earthquake. Karamu Chambers Ltd. was comprised of seven directors, three of whom were members of the Chambers family, an important farming family from Havelock North. During their ownership the building was occupied by a number of mainly commercial lessees. Included among them was the Te Mata Park Trust Board, established after the Chambers family donated land for a park at Havelock North. The building has been owned since 1969 by Devon Agencies and occupied from that time by Esam Cushing. Both of these companies are partly owned by Sir Selwyn Cushing, a prominent New Zealand business leader. Esam Cushing has been a significant provider of financial services and investment advice in the Hawkes Bay, and nationally, for a number of decades.


The aesthetic value of Karamu Chambers derives from both its architectural qualities (see below) and from its very important contribution to the townscape qualities of the area. Its strong form, and the sweeping curve of the corner of the building, give it a presence on a busy intersection in the CBD. It is pivotal in this streetscape, linking groups of interesting historic buildings, of similar age, scale and style, in Karamu Road and Queen Street. It is also visually linked with period buildings on other corners of the intersection, so that Karamu Chambers is at the heart of an important heritage area.


Karamu Chambers has architectural value as an excellent example of the stripped Classical style; it is almost completely free of ornament (abstracted column capitals are an exception), but there is no lack of visual interest because of the strong, bold form of the building and the inter-play of horizontal and vertical elements. It is a confident design, the work of a locally important architectural practice that designed significant buildings in the city after the Hawkes Bay earthquake.


Karamu Chambers is a high quality commercial building of the mid-1930s, well designed and well built. It is therefore valuable as an example of the building technology of the time. The survival of the original drawings and engineering calculations enhance its technical interest.

Criteria of Significance or value (Section 23 (2), Historic Places Act analysis): g, k

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

Karamu Chambers is a high quality commercial building of the mid-1930s, well designed and well built. It is therefore valuable as an example of the building technology of the time. The survival of the original drawings and engineering calculations enhance its technical interest. Its design value is likewise high, as an example of the stripped Classical style of architecture, popular in the 1930s and entirely appropriate in the context of the economy and strength required of commercial buildings in the aftermath of the Hawkes Bay earthquake.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

Hastings' present built form is still largely made up of buildings constructed in the aftermath of the Hawkes Bay earthquake in 1931. This building is a product of that tumultuous event. Its general style and appearance are similar to many of the surrounding buildings, the majority of which were constructed in the post-earthquake period and which so strongly define the character of the city. Queen Street East, particularly in the vicinity of Karamu Chambers, contains some significant buildings from this era and earlier, and is one of the city's more coherent and complete built landscapes.

Category: Category II


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Davies & Phillips

Harold Davies (1888-1976) and Eric Phillips (1897-1980) worked independently before forming a partnership with Albert Garnett in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The three were particularly active as part of efforts to rebuild Hastings following the Hawkes Bay earthquake of 1931. Garnett left to work on his own account in 1933 and Davies and Phillips carried on their partnership, which went on to become one of the most successful in the city's history. Davies and Phillips were responsible for the design of a broad range of buildings throughout the Hawkes Bay, although the majority of their work was in Hastings. Among the most important buildings the partnership was responsible for in that city were the former Commercial Bank of Australia Building (1933), Roachs' Building (1934), Las Palmas (1935), and Hastings War Memorial Library (1959), the latter as Davies, Phillips and Chapman.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The present building on the prominent Karamu Road-Queen Street East corner site has had two distinct histories. Prior to its construction the site was occupied by the National Bank's first purpose-built Hastings branch. The Bank bought the land in 1914 and the branch opened two years later. The National Bank was founded in London in 1872 and opened its first branches - in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch in 1873.

The corner premises was used by the bank for the next decade and a half until the Hawkes Bay earthquake struck on 2 February 1931. The ensuing fire burned the building's interior out and that coupled with the ensuing water damage left the building unable to be reused. The National Bank soon joined its counterparts in a temporary building erected for the resident banks and never returned to its original site. The National Bank built new premises in Market Street in 1934.

That same year, Karamu Chambers Ltd was established in Hastings and its primary object was to buy the property on the corner of Karamu Road and Queen Street East. The first directors were Harry Abbott, a builder, Frank Candy, company manager, and Hugh Chambers, a farmer at Mokopeka, and a member of the well-known and influential Chambers family of Havelock North. Two other members of the Chambers family held shares, and there were seven shareholders in all. The three largest shareholders were the Chambers. The company bought the property from the National Bank on 28 November 1934.

Karamu Chambers Ltd. contracted Davies and Phillips to design a building on the site and work was completed, probably in 1935. Davies and Phillips were successful architects in their own right before teaming up in the wake of the Hawkes Bay earthquake to work on Hastings' reconstruction, sometimes in collaboration with Alfred Garnett, another important early 20th century Hastings architect. Davies and Phillips continued their partnership long after the Depression and many of their designs still stand in Hastings.

Karamu Chambers was an investment property - apparently the only one the company built or owned - and for the 40 years that occupants were recorded by street directories, they remained fairly constant. Early tenants included Hallett and O'Dowd, solicitors, who occupied the ground floor, under various permutations, for the entire period, while the second floor housed Albert Palmer, an accountant, Kelsey and Rogers, share brokers, and Henry Davies, a surveyor. After World War II the Te Mata Trust Board, established to administer Te Mata Park as a public park and public recreation ground, became a long-standing tenant on the first floor. The land for the park was donated by the Chambers family (in 1927) so the Board's presence in the building was no coincidence. In the 1950s, the Yorkshire Insurance Co. and Nicol and Stevenson, seed brokers, also took offices on the first floor.

In 1969, Karamu Chambers Ltd. sold the building to Devon Agencies, and two years later the company was dissolved. Devon Agencies was part owned by Selwyn (now Sir Selwyn) Cushing and probably formed with the purpose of buying Karamu Chambers. It was bought to house the offices of Esam Cushing, which later also took over the building next door at 125 Queen Street East.

Cushing's involvement with Esam Cushing began in 1960 when he became a principal in the firm that he later gave his name to, along with his business partner Stan Esam. Sir Selwyn Cushing is a successful Hawkes Bay businessman with many commercial interests. In addition, he has held major positions on public organisations and companies, include chairing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Brierley Investments and Air New Zealand. Esam Cushing remains the occupier of the building.

Physical Description

DESCRIPTION: (based on site visit Chris Cochran/ Michael Kelly, 2004):

Karamu Chambers is stripped Classical in style, the façade divided into three main parts: the middle section is a smooth curve around the corner, while on either side is a recessed section with tall columns rising through two floors; there are six of these in the Karamu Road elevation, and four in the Queen Street elevation. A spandrel panel forms a strong horizontal band linking the sections; the whole of the framework of the composition, major columns and parapet, is devoid of any decoration, the parapet itself forming one long horizontal from end to end.

There is a door at the end of each elevation, that on Queen Street giving access to the stairs to the first floor. While today there are general office spaces and meeting rooms on both floors, the original drawings show a waiting room and surgeries on the first floor.

As was common practice following the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake, Karamu Chambers is built in reinforced concrete. The street elevations are finished in smooth cement plaster; this was originally lined out as stonework and coloured with pigments. It is now painted. Exterior joinery was specified as redwood timber (now replaced), while interior joinery was heart rimu.

UPDATE: (Based on site visit Imelda Bargas, March 2008):

The interior of a number of the offices on the ground have been modernised, the upper floor fittings date from approximately 1970s/80s. Features of interest on the interior are the strong rooms, two on each floor.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1935 -
Building constructed for Karamu Chambers Ltd and designed by architects Davies and Phillips

Construction Details

Karamu Chambers is a reinforced concrete building, two storeys high with a basement. The main structural elements are in reinforced concrete, including foundations, floors and walls; most of the roof, and internal partitions, are timber-framed.

Completion Date

15th June 2008

Report Written By

Michael Kelly; Chris Cochran

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Auck)

Archives New Zealand (Auckland)

Karamu Chambers Ltd. 1934-1971, ACCC Series 7605 W5010 Item 14, 1934/38

Fowler, 2007

Michael Fowler, From Disaster to Recovery: The Hastings CBD 1931-35, Havelock North: Michael Fowler Publishing, 2007.

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

1940 - 1959-60.

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

HB 48/261 & HB B4/122

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.