Hastings Post Office (Former)
131 Russell Street North And Queen Street East, Hastings
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
27th June 2008
Extent of List Entry
The registration includes all of the land comprised in CT HB103284 (as shown on the 'Extent of Registration' map in Appendix 2) and the building, and its fittings and fixtures, thereon.
Hawke's Bay Region
Lot 6 DP 325578 (CT HB103284), Hawkes Bay Land District
Corner Queen Street East and Russell Street North
Hastings' first post office opened in 1872, located on the corner of Heretaunga Street and Karamu Road within Tobias Hicks's general store. In 1875 it was moved to the railway station building in Station Street (now Russell Street). When the railway station itself was moved in 1896, a stand-alone post office was opened on the Station Street site. This grew too small and in 1910 a new post office was opened on the corner of Russell Street and Queen Street East. Designed by government architect John Campbell, the building included a prominent clock tower. In 1928, major additions were made to the building. Just three years later, the building was badly damaged by Hawkes Bay earthquake. The tower toppled onto the street, killing one person and injuring others. The building was rebuilt in a Stripped Classical style. Government architect J.T. Mair designed the building, which cost £12,022. It remained in use as the Hastings Post Office until at least 1999. In 2001, ownership passed to the Wallace Development Co., by which time the post office had moved to new premises. The Hastings Medical Centre became the principal tenant and to accommodate the new use, considerable alterations were made, including demolition of parts of the building. It reopened in 2002.
The former Hastings Post Office is one of the best known and historically important buildings in Hastings. There has been a post office on the site for nearly 100 years and as the main postal centre in town it was a place used by a great many Hastings residents. Its new role as a health centre has maintained the building's high profile, while ensuring its continued presence in the city's history and streetscape.
The building is two-storey, built in reinforced concrete, and is in the Stripped Classical style. This is evident in the subtle Ionic decoration of the full-height pilasters that support the parapet and form the dominant feature of the composition. Designed by the Government Architect J T Mair, it was an appropriate building for the post-earthquake reconstruction of the city, being economical in form and decoration and of sound structural design, yet with a visual interest deserving of the prominent central site that it occupied.
Historical Significance or Value
The former Hastings Post Office was in use as a post office for 90 years and for much of that time was one of the most important government buildings in Hastings; it was from this building that much government work was undertaken. It housed postal, banking and telephone exchange services, along with myriad other government functions. It was arguably the building of greatest familiarity to locals. The existence of the building is a direct result of the Hawkes Bay earthquake, the single most important event in the region's history. The collapse of the tower that surmounted the previous post office led to the death of one man and injuries to many others.
The former Hastings Post Office has high aesthetic value, especially for the contribution it makes to two of the most important groups of period buildings in the city. These are the buildings on the east side of Russell Street, and those of Queen Street East. It plays a pivotal role in linking these two groups - its scale, visually interesting detail and quiet authority on this prominent corner make it a valuable building in the townscape. It is part of the Russell Street Historic Area (Register No. 7020, formerly known as the Hastings Historic Area). In addition, it has aesthetic value as a good example of the Stripped Classical style (see below).
This post office building of 1932 was an intelligent response to the fate of the Edwardian building - severely damaged by the Hawkes Bay earthquake - that it replaced. The new building was built in reinforced concrete, in a compact, unornamented, Stripped Classical style, which offered no extraneous detail that could be lost in an earthquake. It is a very good example of the style, with subtle and original Classical details providing visual interest in a well-ordered composition of base, pilasters and parapet.
It is a good exemplar of the work of the Government Architect of the time, J.T. Mair, who was responsible for some very high quality buildings (including courthouses, post offices and office buildings) for the Government from 1923 - 1941.
The building has technical value for its reinforced concrete design, presumably state of the art in the immediate post-earthquake period, the best that Public Works engineers could produce. The excellent condition of the structure today is evidence of a sound structural design.
Post offices throughout New Zealand were once significant places of community activity; the importance of Hastings' post office was demonstrated by the celebrations held when the building was opened in 1910. The building's status remained largely unchanged for a great deal of the 20th century, with the Post Office one of the busiest places in the town. The vast array of functions the Post Office had to undertake on behalf of the Government brought many to its doors and its social value during that period was unmatched by any other government building. However, the Government reforms of the late 1980s ended the pivotal role of the Post Office in New Zealand. It was no different in Hastings, although it took some time before postal operations finally left the building. Today, the social value of the building is partly diminished for the loss of NZ Post, but as the home of one of Hawkes Bay's largest medical practices, the building retains some of that significance through its busy new use.
Criteria of Significance or value (Section 23 (2), Historic Places Act analysis): a, b, e, g, k
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The former Hastings Post Office has representative significance for the period that it was the city's principal post office. Like other essential government services from the 20th century, such as the railway, police, courts etc., the post office had pride of place in towns and cities all over the country. Hastings Post Office is also one of the many buildings - reconstructed or restored - that demonstrate the impact the Hawkes Bay earthquake had on the city's commercial heart.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The most significant event associated with the building is the Hawkes Bay earthquake. The damage to the previous building, including the collapse of the tower, left one man dead and many injured, and prompted its reconstruction. The new building is a tangible legacy of that event.
The building is also a reminder of the Labour Government's reforms of the 1980s, which reduced many post offices to little more than postal outlets and prompted the sale of many existing post offices. This was eventually the fate of the Hastings Post Office, but it took more than a decade before it happened.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:
This building and the prominent corner site it occupies were associated with the post office for 90 years. Postal services only ended at the turn of the 21st century so the public connection with the building for that use remains high. To many people it remains the 'old post office'.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The technical value of the building relates to its reinforced concrete design, presumably state of the art in the immediate post-earthquake period. The excellent condition of the structure today is evidence of a sound structural design. In addition, the architectural design is consistent with the high standards set in the Government Architect's office at the time. It is a very good example of the Stripped Classical style, entirely appropriate for its economy of means. It remains today a handsome building in the townscape, enhancing and linking two distinct groups of period buildings.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
As a city substantially shaped by the one event - the Hawkes Bay earthquake in 1931 - Hastings is full of buildings that were entirely or partially rebuilt in the wake of the earthquake. This building is one of many significant buildings that are identifiably from the same period of the early 1930s, albeit in different styles, and which so strongly define the character of the city. The former Post Office is also a key part of the Russell Street Historic Area (Register No. 7020, formerly known as the Hastings Historic Area), which incorporates two blocks on Russell Street.
Category: Category II
Mair, John Thomas
John Thomas Mair (1876-1959) was born in Invercargill and began his career with the New Zealand Railways on the staff of the Office Engineer, George Troup. In 1906 he travelled to the United States of America where he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He then worked in the office of George B. Post in New York before travelling to England where he was admitted as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He became a Fellow in 1940.
On his return to New Zealand he entered private practice, one of his first buildings being the Presbyterian First Church, Invercargill (1915), a prominent building of Romanesque character. He then practised in Wellington, carrying out largely domestic commissions.
In 1918 he was appointed Inspector of Military Hospitals by the Defence Department, and in 1920 he became architect to the Department of Education. Following the retirement of John Campbell in 1922, Mair was appointed Government Architect, a position which he held until his retirement in 1942. During this period he was responsible for a variety of buildings, including the Courthouse, Hamilton, the Post Office in High Street, Christchurch, Government Life Office and the Departmental Building, both in Wellington, and the Jean Batten Building, Auckland. Such buildings show a departure from tradition, with the emphasis on function, structure and volume as opposed to a stylistic treatment of the building fabric.
A Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Mair was made a Life Member in 1942. His son John Lindsay Mair also practised as an architect.
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
Hastings' first post office opened in 1872, located on the corner of Heretaunga Street and Karamu Road within Tobias Hicks's general store. In 1875 it was moved to the railway station building in Station Street (now Russell Street), opening on 1st December that year. The situating of a post office within a railway station was common in small towns connected by railway. The post office remained in the railway station building until 1896, when the railway station was moved.
A stand-alone post office was opened in 1896 on the site of the former railway station building. By 1907 more room was required, despite the Telephone Exchange moving to its own building. A new post office was commissioned for a site on the corner of Russell and Queen Street East. Designed by government architect John Campbell in his signature Edwardian Baroque style, complete with a clock tower, the building was opened with much fanfare by Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward on 24 January 1910. The builder was J. Renouf. Funds to install a clock were raised by the community and augmented by the government. James Collin donated £500, a subscription fund was started, and the government offered to match every pound raised. The chimes were donated by E.H. Williams, the borough solicitor. In 1912, there were 65 people working in the building.
The building was badly shaken during an earthquake in 1911 and the clock chimed more than 100 times before it could be stopped. As a response to concerns about public safety, the tower was altered to prevent it from falling inwards. In 1928, the building underwent major extensions - by as much as four times its original size according to one source - to designs by the Government Architect J.T.Mair. The work cost £16,500.
When the Hawkes Bay earthquake struck in February 1931, the building was badly damaged. The clock tower fell out onto the street as intended, but it resulted in the death of local journalist A.L. Ryan and injuries to many others. While a decision was made on the provision of new premises, a temporary post office was set up in the railway station and in a shed in St Aubyn Street; in March 1931 the temporary post office was moved to Oddfellows' Hall in Market Street.
The government decided to rebuild the Post Office. Government Architect J T Mair designed the building in a Stripped Classical style, then much in use for government buildings. (There is some evidence that parts of the old building were re-used in the new. For instance, one contemporary account describes the building as 'restored' and 'rebuilt' in the same report. However, images of the damaged building suggest that substantial reconstruction would have been required, and in fact it is almost certain that the building was fully rebuilt.)
The new building opened in 1932, at a cost of £12,022. J.T. Mair oversaw the construction and the builder was H.W. Abbott. In 1935, a new clock tower was built alongside the Railway Station. The mechanism from the old Post Office clock was fitted to this new tower as a memorial to the 1931 earthquake.
The building was used as the Hastings Post Office until at least 1999. Over that period, much changed in postal business, particularly after the election of the Labour Government in 1984. The corporatizing and splitting up of the Post Office in 1987 into telecommunications (Telecom), banking (Postbank, now part of the ANZ/National Bank), and post (New Zealand Post) ended the extraordinary role that the Post Office played in the lives of Hastings' people. Up until 1987, the typical Post Office did even more than that, as it was responsible for more than 60 functions, some of which included the registering of births, marriages, deaths and cars, payment of television and fishing licence fees, enrolling to vote, and collecting pensions. Postmasters were even able to perform marriage ceremonies. Most of those functions went elsewhere as a result of the Labour Government's reforms in the 1980s. In this regard Hastings was no different. The building was eventually reduced to postal activity only and became a Post Shop under New Zealand Post, a state-owned enterprise.
Over its life, the building underwent a number of minor alterations for postal business. Not all of these have been recorded but in the 1960s there were three buildings consents issued for changes - unspecified internal alterations in 1963, re-roofing of the building in 1965, and changes to offices in 1969. A bike shed was demolished and a new one built in 1994.
In 2001 ownership passed to the Wallace Development Co., by which time the Post Office had moved to new premises on the corner of Heretaunga and Market Streets. The Hastings Medical Centre became the principal tenant but major changes had to be made to accommodate the new use. The alterations were designed by Chibnall Swann Team Architecture in 2001-02. Care was taken to protect the building's main façade and some elements of the building's interior, such as the original bank vault, which was re-used as the x-ray room. However, the changes also required the demolition of considerable existing fabric, particularly in those less publicly visible parts of the building. The work gained the architects the Gisborne/Hawke's Bay Local Award from the New Zealand Institute of Architects. The medical practice remains the occupant, along with a café.
In 2002 the building was purchased by Heretaunga Health Centre Properties Ltd., which sold it to C P Hastings Ltd. the following year. That same year, offices were partitioned.
The Hastings Health Centre, formerly the Hastings Post Office, is a very good example of Government architecture of the 1930s, and of the Stripped Classical style. This is most evident in the formal elevations to Russell Street North and Queen Street East, which are divided in a very orderly fashion into eight and four bays respectively by tall pilasters rising through the two-storey height of the building. The pilaster capitals have an abstracted Ionic design, with acanthus leaf decoration, incised lines and fluting; windows are set in stepped reveals, and the recessed spandrel panels have an incised diamond for decoration. Despite the strong verticals of the pilasters, the building is given a horizontal emphasis by the long continuous line of the parapet which wraps around both street elevations.
The main (ramped) entrance is half way along the Russell Street façade. The corner has an entrance door too, with an ornamented door case and wrought iron work over the fanlight; there is a balcony and window above, and higher again there is a coat of arms set in the parapet. This is a subtle and formal corner in comparison with the bold tower that stood out as such a major feature of the earlier post office. Despite this, the building has a strong presence in the townscape, as the wide streets and railway line mean that it is seen from some distance away. It is a very important link building, forming a cornerpiece to the line of period buildings on the east side of Russell Street, and to those in Queen Street East.
The building has a large footprint, and although the exterior remains largely unaltered, plan arrangements on both the ground and first floor have been radically altered, especially in the adaptation to the new medical use in 2001-02.
Hawkes Bay earthquake badly damages building. Clock tower falls and kills one and injures many others. A temporary post office is established while a new building is erected.
Building rebuilt in Stripped Classical style to the design of Government Architect J.T. Mair. Cost £12,022.
Changes to offices
Demolished - Other
Demolition of bike shed and erection of new one.
Hastings Medical Centre becomes the principal tenant and major changes designed by Chibnall Swann Team Architecture are made to the building to accommodate the new use.
15th June 2008
Report Written By
Michael Kelly; Chris Cochran
Mary Boyd, City of the Plains, A History of Hastings, Wellington, 1984
Dave Pearson Architects Ltd, 2001 (2)
Dave Pearson Architects Ltd. 'Former Post Office Hastings Proposed Medical Centre', Auckland, 2001.
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Richardson, Peter. 'Campbell, John 1857 - 1942', updated 16 December 2003
Michael Fowler, From Disaster to Recovery: The Hastings CBD 1931-35, Havelock North: Michael Fowler Publishing, 2007.
Hastings Borough Council, 1909
Hastings Borough Council, Hastings: It's (sic) Progress and Resources, Venables-Wilson Co. Printers and Bookbinders, Hastings, 1909.
Hastings District Council
Hastings District Council building files.
Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)
Land Information New Zealand
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
File no 12005-056
Wright, 2001 (3)
Matthew Wright, Town and Country: The History of Hastings and District, Hastings, 2001.
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.