Historical Significance or Value
Ashleigh Court is significant to the history of Newtown, one of Wellington’s most distinctive and identifiable suburbs. In particular it is an architectural and functional cornerstone for the first large self-contained shopping district beyond the city centre. The suburb and its shopping district prospered because of the tramline. It permitted large numbers of people to live in Newtown, which created demand for goods, services, and leisure activities. As the tramline expanded further out from the city, connecting with Island Bay to the south and Kilbirnie to the east, the shopping district also provided a more convenient alternative than going all the way into town.
Ashleigh Court was constructed during Newtown’s initial boom and, with five stores and a hotel, it was an integral part of its commercial sector. The hotel occupying its first and second storeys appears to have been planned without a bar, perhaps showing the influence of the temperance movement among Newtown’s residents around the time it was designed and constructed. Except for its use during World War One as a hostel for returned soldiers, the hotel remained functioning more-or-less continually as such until 1990. The transformation of its Riddiford Street hotel entrance into a retail space in 1951 attests to the continued vibrancy of its shopping district into the post-World War Two period. Over the past thirty years, the conversion of the hotel into four apartments and the partial restoration of its façade speak to an on-going process of gentrification in the suburb.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Ashleigh Court has a high level of aesthetic significance for its architecture and unrivalled presence within the commercial streetscape of Newtown, and is a landmark building within Wellington. The building is not merely a conventionally designed edifice altered to fit the requirements of an unconventional site resulting from the peculiarities of Wellington’s original plan. Rather, it is one where prevailing architectural trends at the time of its conception and challenging site within the urban landscape merged and equally informed the final composition.
The result was a building that is best understood as a continuous façade, which has a much greater effect than merely being a noteworthy and decorative component within a significant streetscape. Ashleigh Court enlarges the sense of the streetscape, making itself known when still at some distance away traveling south on Riddiford Street and becoming a visual anchor overlooking a broad intersection having a quality of openness not unlike a plaza. The aesthetic value of this building and its particular setting has captivated photographers since its completion up to the present. Such views are not just important as a demonstration of Ashleigh Court’s aesthetic value, but also have resulted, over time, in the building and its immediate surroundings coming to represent the Newtown and its urban appeal.
Architectural Significance or Value
Ashleigh Court has architectural significance as a fine example of Edwardian commercial architecture and as one of a handful of Edwardian hotels extant in Wellington. Although no architect can presently be identified for the design, it is clear from the building’s eclectic classical decorative program and its complicated structure that a skilled practitioner was involved. When it was built, only the most important buildings in Newtown—edifices such as the hospital, the library, and the Newtown Hotel—were constructed of brick. By this time, Wellington’s CBD was in the process of being rebuilt in masonry, mostly brick, and the material’s association with progress and permanence was already well established. Hawthorn & Crump’s decision to develop the site of Ashleigh Court with a masonry building reflects the ambition the developers had for the project and their confidence in the continued prosperity of Newtown.
Lacking sources of quality building stone for fashioning street facades, architects and builders most often turned to plaster for executing the decoration widely seen in late-Victorian and Edwardian Wellington. Thus, the plain brick wall structure of Ashleigh Court was transformed through the artistry, and artifice, of plasterwork, which was well executed and drew broadly from classical architectural vocabulary. This vocabulary was deployed using a framework and hierarchy for façade design in urban buildings developed during the Renaissance, but interpreted within a contemporary aesthetic sensibility that placed a particularly high value on a multiplicity of parts.
The current verandah is less than half its original extent and no longer has a terrace on its roof. Still, it is still supported along Riddiford Street by iron posts that date from its initial construction. Even in their reduced number, the fluted colonnettes with Composite Order capitals are among the largest collections of heritage verandah posts remaining in the city.
This place was assessed against, and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g, j, k. It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Ashleigh Court is reflective of the history of urban development in New Zealand. The building is located in Newtown, which, although included in the original city plan for Wellington, only boomed with an extension of the tramline in 1879. Located within a notable, nearly continuous group of commercial establishments along the Riddiford Street spine, the building stood apart as the tallest and most ambitious architectural statements. Its scale of development and its architecture are clear evidence of Newtown’s period of confidence as a pioneering suburban community.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Ashleigh Court has associations with World War One history. For the duration of World War One, the hotel portion of the building functioned as a hostel for returned soldiers who were unable to find lodging or were in outpatient treatment at the nearby hospital.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Ashleigh Court is closely associated with the identity of the Newtown neighbourhood. Whatever the motivations of the developers, their high ambition for Ashleigh Court resulted in a building that almost immediately captivated Wellingtonians. The building has been the focus of an unknown number of photographs from just after its completion until the present. The aesthetic attributes of the building almost certainly were and continue to be a reason for its interest as a subject for a photograph. Yet, the duplication of the same view over and over, in time, has permitted Ashleigh Court to represent Newtown—from photographs taken just after its completion to a recent flyer about community planning and the building being featured on Newtown’s Wikipedia page.
(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place
Ashleigh Court is a particularly handsome example of Edwardian commercial architecture as designed to take advantage of its location in the urban landscape. The building’s intriguing form, dictated by the shape of the section, was enhanced through the building’s visual organisation of architectural elements. Its complex decorative scheme executed in plaster, demonstrates a high level of ability and vision by the designer, builders, and artisans and stood among a very small group of Newtown’s most important buildings.
The decision to treat both major street elevations as a single façade—with a substantial continuous verandah on the ground floor and upper storeys utilising a single classical architectural vocabulary—made what could have been merely a prominent building into a distinguished one that both enlivened and enlarged a sense of the Newtown streetscape. It is the intertwined consideration of siting and architecture that sets Ashleigh Court apart from its contemporaries. The ornate plaster rendering over the load-bearing structural brick walls and the elegant, attenuated iron verandah posts are an important reminder of the in-process architectural transformation of Wellington around the turn-of-the-twentieth century from timber to masonry, of transience to permanence.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Beyond Ashleigh Court’s significance as an enlightened work of architecture and urbanism, it has special significance as an increasingly rare building type. During the 1970s and 1980s, Wellington lost an immense amount of its Victorian and Edwardian commercial built heritage as part of a conscious plan to both reduce perceived and real earthquake risk as well as to create an entirely modern commercial metropolis. In terms of materials and structure, unreinforced masonry edifices faced with ornate plasterwork dating from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries were believed to constitute one of the biggest hazards, and scores were demolished in the CBD and Te Aro. Among these, as a type, hotels were lost at a particularly high rate.
Economic downturns and a growing heritage consensus that emerged both in reaction to the cultural losses as well as through the continued professionalisation of the heritage conservation field slowed the losses, but the twin threats of earthquake risk and development pressures remain. Within the relatively modest group of Edwardian survivors only a handful of buildings display a comparable level of architectural and urban effect to Ashleigh Court. The rarity of Ashleigh Court is further augmented by the surviving portion of the ground-floor verandah along Riddiford Street around the building’s north-facing corner and its notable collection of decorative iron support posts.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area
Ashleigh Court has special significance as the most prominent building within Newtown’s principal commercial centre. Recognised in particular for its architectural and historical values by the Wellington City Council (through scheduling of the Newtown Shopping Centre Heritage Area), the commercial spine grew up along the tramline and became densely populated with mainly two-story retail establishments fronted by verandahs. In the early-twentieth century, the size of Newtown’s commercial centre and the variety of its stores led to the district becoming a self-contained shopping destination in its own right. It was only surpassed by Lambton Quay and Cuba Street within Wellington City and Jackson Street, Petone in the greater region.
Early Māori History in Wellington
Wellington’s Māori history extends back to Kupe, who according to oral tradition was the first Polynesian to reach New Zealand. Before returning to Hawaiki, Kupe provided names for a number of distinctive landforms in the Wellington area including: Matiu (Somes Island) and Mākaro (Ward Island) in the harbour and Pari-whero (Red Rocks) on the south coast. Sometime after the arrival of the Kurahaupō canoe led by Whātonga, his son Tara settled in the area of Wellington and his descendants became known as Ngāi Tara.
As the centuries passed, other tribes joined Ngāi Tara, some settling in the vicinity of the harbour and others who were only passing through on their way to the South Island. In the early nineteenth century, European muskets changed the balance of power and settlement among the Māori throughout New Zealand. The Taranaki tribes Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Tama, and Ngāti Mutunga moved south with Ngāti Toa during the 1820s, with the Taranaki arrivals ultimately displacing Ngāi Tara as Wellington’s tangata whenua. Ngāti Mutunga established Te Aro Pā in 1824 and it continued to be occupied by Taranaki iwi, including Ngāti Ruanui, after Ngāti Mutunga’s departure for the Chatham Islands. Covering approximately five acres with an additional sixty to eighty acres of related cultivated land, Te Aro Pā was one of the largest Māori settlements in the Wellington region when European colonisation began in 1840. There were also a number of settlements on Wellington’s South Coast, including several pā and kainga on the foreshore and hills of Island Bay and Tapu Te Ranga Island.
The Rise of Newtown
Ashleigh Court is arguably the most prominent and best known architectural cornerstone marking the commercial centre of Newtown, one of the Wellington’s earliest, largest, and best-known suburbs. William Mein Smith laid out what became Newtown in 1840 as town acres in the original plan devised for Wellington by the New Zealand Company, a plan that included the acute-angled lot at the corner of Riddiford and Rintoul Streets. Existing Māori pā and kāinga, including Te Aro Pā, were located further north and were oriented to the waterfront, and even sites of cultivation do not appear to have extended as far to the south as Newtown, although the area would have been travelled through to access the settlements on the South Coast. The town acres that would come to make up Newtown and Berhampore were in an outlying part of Wellington as surveyed and the area remained thinly populated by households engaged in farming for the first generation of European settlement.
The sparse settlement of Newtown gave way to more intensive (sub)urban development beginning in the 1870s. The topography of the broad, comparatively level valley made rapid subdivision and construction a better prospect than other outlying areas of the city. Employment opportunities, increased amenities, and better access all catalysed Newtown’s establishment as a residential suburb and commercial hub, highlighted by such milestones as: the relocation of Wellington Hospital (1876; opened in 1881); the opening of the Newtown Hotel (1876); the extension of the tramline along Riddiford Street to a terminus at Constable Street and the opening of Newtown School (1879); the construction of a fire and police station and (1880); the opening of Newtown Park (1881); the creation of a branch of the post office (1885); and the opening of a number of manufactories by the mid-1880s. These events also coincided with the increased use and formalisation of the association between the prosaic name ‘Newtown’ and the physical locale, rather than ‘South Wellington.’
The fortunes of Riddiford Street rose with those of Newtown. While all of the land in Newtown had for the most part been subdivided into lots by 1889, construction remained most strongly evident on the parcels on or nearby the tramline with both residential and retail establishments lining Riddiford Street. In 1904, horse-drawn cars gave way to electric trams at last making the suburb both convenient and affordable to workers who flooded Newtown. As blocks further away from the tramline filled with houses, Riddiford Street became even more intensively developed with retail establishments. In short order, Newtown became a self-contained shopping destination of its own that in terms of numbers of retail outlets was only outpaced by Cuba Street and Lambton Quay. It is within this context of feverish development and firm establishment of Newtown’s identity that Ashleigh Court came into existence.
An Intriguing Site and Its Intriguing Proposals
Building contractors John Thomas Hawthorn (ca. 1864-1936) and Colin Campbell Crump (1859-1930) became associated with the prominently located triangular property at the intersection of Riddiford and Rintoul Streets in August 1898. At that time, they entered into a twenty-one year lease with the option to buy with landowner Lucy Mary Compton. They may have become familiar with the site and its potential while they developed a commercial premises for a chemist across Riddiford Street in 1898.
Hawthorn & Crump were in active partnership between 1897 and 1908, sometimes in collaboration with Colin Crump’s brother, the well-known speculative builder Harry Crump. Among the small number of documented Hawthorn & Crump works in Wellington, Ashleigh Court was by far the firm’s most ambitious project. Colin Crump retired from contracting and building activities around the time that the building was completed and later served in public office before his death in 1930. John Hawthorn’s activities after Crump’s retirement up to his death in 1936 remain obscure.
The site seems to have remained underdeveloped when, in 1902, Wellington City Council acquired the property as part of the widening of Riddiford Street. The subsequent compensation to the land owner and the leasees became the topic of complicated court proceedings. The resolution of the case also saw Hawthorn & Crump purchase the property, minus the road reserve, from the city in November 1903. The outcome also required the removal of a ‘dwellinghouse’ that was located in part on the property transferred to the city for the road widening. The Thomas Ward map documents that no building was present in 1892 and it is not known whether Lucy Mary Compton had previously constructed the dwelling or whether Hawthorn and Crump did so under their lease.
On the newly resized and cleared site Hawthorn & Crump envisioned something much bolder and in keeping with the intensive development trends in Newtown and along Riddiford Street. In January 1904, they initially proposed a wedge-shaped, two-storey building of masonry construction with no basement that was estimated to cost £4000. The plans show four shops on the ground floor and a public hall with men’s and women’s toilets on the first floor. There were no exterior wall elevations included in the set, but the verandah appears in plan, elevation, and section, which shows it stopping just after turning the corner onto Rintoul Street. The stunted verandah and location of the door for the public hall on Riddiford Street indicates that the building was conceived to principally address the more important thoroughfare.
More than two years passed with presumably no activity occurring on the site when in the autumn 1906 Hawthorn & Crump submitted an even more ambitious three-storey plus basement design for consideration by the city. As with the earlier scheme, retail shops occupied most of the ground floor, but the upper two levels now accommodated a hotel. The building not only featured an additional storey, but also had an enlarged footprint. The original proposal had four shops on the ground floor and a straight party wall between Riddiford and Rintoul Streets. Space for the stair up to the public hall was borrowed from the area of one of the stores. The new design took in additional land to the south—presumably now the entire parcel—and the party wall was angled following the property line. The enlarged ground-floor plan accommodated five shops plus a central hallway extending fully between Riddiford and Rintoul Streets containing the stair. The upper levels included all public spaces, bedrooms, and service areas required for a hotel and a substantial cellar under the entire building was envisaged, which would have included necessary storage for the hotel.
At present, Hawthorn & Crump’s reasoning for so dramatically altering the development scheme for the parcel is not conclusively known. The Newtown branch of the city library opened less than a year prior to the submission of their first proposal. The building featured ‘a large hall…fitted with a platform and seating accommodation for 150 to 200 people…with anterooms for both ladies and gentlemen,’ a description of a space not unlike the one originally proposed by Hawthorn & Crump. Perhaps they believed that Newtown could support two such spaces and later reconsidered, possibly in light of the fact that the library was public space and would not have required the fees that likely would have been associated with a privately-owned facility. Still, their turn to a hotel as an alternative was a possibly risky one in terms of investment. By 1906, the residents of Newtown had already backed a prohibition of licensed premises and this goal would be fully accomplished just a few years later. Perhaps the proximity of Athletic Park, slightly further south along Rintoul Street was enough to consider a hotel for the property regardless of an impending liquor licensing ban.
An Impressive Architectural Anchor for Newtown’s Commercial Centre
The high level of architectural ambition evident in the scale and design of the building almost certainly would have involved an architect or, at the very least, a very highly skilled draftsman. However, the drawings are unsigned and no other evidence at present confirms an individual or firm. James Bennie is a tempting architect to consider as he was involved in the design of at least two other buildings on wedge-shaped sections in Wellington. Yet, the drawing style used for Ashleigh Court’s plans is distinct from the one used by Bennie around the same time for other buildings.
If Bennie can likely be eliminated for simple associative reasons, then a few others can be introduced as intriguing possibilities using the same approach. Aspects of Edward Blake and Joseph Burr’s drawing and lettering styles are similar to the first (unbuilt) or second (built) schemes for Ashleigh Court. Blake was one of the more prolific Wellington architects around the turn-of-the-twentieth century. Burr was a celebrated draughtsman, and later architect, who around the time of Ashleigh Court’s design worked for Blake’s firm with Francis Penty. Finally, William Chatfield who ‘had a reputation for designing buildings of great strength and with High Victorian forms of plaster decoration’ was also active at the time of its design and construction. Additionally, Chatfield lived in Island Bay from the late-1880s and must have been quite familiar with Newtown and its rapid development.
In devising an eye-catching building for the site, the architect or designer would have immediately benefited from the parcel’s location and shape as well as prevailing architectural trends for commercial buildings. Although reduced in size for the road widening, the lot’s prime position at the intersection of Riddiford and Rintoul remained the same and assured that the building would have a high level of visibility in the Newtown commercial streetscape. Additionally, its acute triangular shape delineated a striking wedge or ‘flatiron’ form for the building. The building further stood out among its neighbours in its scale—three tall storeys among more modest two storey structures—and with its masonry construction. Finally, the building was, essentially, all façade, featuring an array of fully articulated classical elements rendered in plaster applied to its load-bearing brick walls along both the Riddiford and Rintoul fronts.
Lacking sources of quality building stone for fashioning street facades, architects and builders most often turned to plaster for executing the decoration widely seen in late-Victorian and Edwardian Wellington. While part of a harsh philosophical critique about what constitutes integrity in architectural design, an architect-writer in 1907 still provides a reasonable explanation for how plaster was utilised for architectural effect:
‘in the process of erection we see a rough brick structure raised without form...certainly without architectural form, and void of any beauty whatever. The builder, so far as construction is concerned, has done his work…[and] the building might be ready for occupation. Now a transformation takes place…[and the building receives] new and imposing garb [crafted in stucco].’
True to its age, Ashleigh Court’s ebullient architectural detailing merged aspects of popularised Renaissance design with contemporary sensibilities favouring aesthetic excess and a multiplicity of architectural components drawn mostly from classical sources. The assured presence of the building was further underscored by an ornate, continuous verandah along the ground floor that curved around the acute corner, providing shelter for the footpath and a spacious terrace off the hotel’s first-floor rooms. This feature and its location was favourably described ten years after its construction: ‘it is a comfortable, clean, bright, and cheerful spot, encircled by a balcony 12ft wide, from which and from the flat roof there is a wide and beautiful view north and south.’
Construction appears to have taken longer than anticipated. The east elevation submitted with the 1906 drawings includes a central plaque bearing the year ‘A.D. 1906,’ but major construction dragged on through 1907, the year ultimately recorded in the plaque on the facade. Finishing work and the interior fit-out seems to have taken even longer as the Langham Private Hotel did not open for business until May 1908. Even then, completion of the interiors and the business opening seems to have been rushed as the New Zealand Times reported in September 1908: the ‘hostelery [sic] has recently been taken over by Mr J. Russell…[and] has been converted into an up-to-date house, having been renovated throughout, as well as being refurnished from top to bottom, with new furniture.’ The article appears to have misrepresented the name of the proprietor, known to have been Russel J. Langham.
The building was of interest to photographers almost immediately following completion with one of the earliest known photographs possibly taken as early as 1909. This view, looking south from the intersection of Riddiford and Rintoul Streets, remains the signature one for the building. Over time, its individual appeal based on distinctive architecture and urban form came to be a marker of the specific locale—Newtown. This association appears to be purely a visual and aesthetic one. There is no evidence in the historical record of a particular affection for its varied commercial establishments, which have been typical or, at times, marginal in terms of function. Rather, the association is based in its intimately related architectural presence and position within Newtown’s urban landscape.
Hotels, Hostels, and Apartments: A Long History of Accommodation
The original business may have prospered for a time; however, despite being ‘full of boarders,’ it was put up for sale—for ‘immediate possession’—in January 1915. There were apparently no takers as the ‘sale by public auction of the entire contents of the Langham Private Hotel’ amounting to 30 rooms was announced on 24 April. It is not known whether it was a case of simple mismanagement or whether the business struggled because Newtown was among the Wellington suburbs that voted to become dry in the year the hotel opened (although there was no bar indicated on the 1906 drawings for the hotel). Hawthorn and Crump had previously sold the building in 1912, yet that could as much suggest building contractors disinterested in also being landlords as any concern about the financial health of their investment.
The subsequent history of the building saw its continued use for ground-floor retail and the upper floors for various types of accommodation. In January 1916, the Defence Visiting Committee leased the hotel as ‘a home for returned soldiers who are out-patients at the hospital, or are convalescent, or on furlough.’ The prime minister formally opened the ‘soldiers’ hostel’ the following April at which time the press described its bedrooms as ‘airy, clean, simple, and comfortable’ and reported that ‘the soldier inmates look happy and very pleased with their surroundings.’ After the war the facility reopened as the Langham Private Hotel catering to long-term boarders and remained in operation as the Langham Hotel into the 1950s. The hotel’s proximity to the ‘show and sports grounds’ (Newtown Park and Athletic Park) and to the hospital was included in its marketing.
Frank B. Baudinet purchased the property around 1950 and over the next two decades made a number of changes that remain evident as well as proposed alterations that for the most part never eventuated. One of the first changes Baudinet made after purchasing the property was to alter the stair and to cut a new door through the masonry along Rintoul Street, which became the main building entrance and permitted the transformation of the original entrance/stairhall into a small commercial premises.
In the mid-1950s, Baudinet believed that the verandah ‘on the Rintoul Street side was not in good condition and we demolished it,’ necessitating the construction of fire escapes and the redesign of the Rintoul Street entrance. Aside from the partial loss of this public (shelter along the footpath) and private (first-floor terrace) amenity, the demolition also had a significant aesthetic drawback in that it left the ornamental plaster pilasters on the first-floor suspended in the air with no visual ‘support.’
Baudinet used the first floor for his own company offices in the mid-1950s, but the remainder of the property continued to be essentially utilised as a boarding house that, with some upgrades to the shared toilet and bathing facilities, Baudinet later positioned as having been a ‘High Class Private Hotel.’ These upgrades occurred after a Department of Health investigation into complaints about the living conditions at the Langham Hotel, an event that likely also resulted in its rebranding as the ‘Ashleigh Court Private Hotel,’ a name in use by 1957.
As the property owner and no longer an occupant, Baudinet still seemed uncertain of how to best utilise the edifice. In 1966, he was again considering its full conversion to offices before proposing its transformation into modern ‘ ‘Batchelor’ type of Flats’ three years later. This scheme stalled when the city requested seismic upgrades and it was eventually abandoned. In ca. 1974-75, the building ‘got a facelift without and within and now its proprietors…can boast of one of the spickest and spannest private hotels in the city.’ Not long after the renovations, a proposal was also put forth to put a restaurant in the cellar that seems to have included the removal of the small shop in the former entrance/stairhall and the installation of an open stair down to below grade space. The restaurant seems to have been scuttled in all or part because of dampness and drainage issues and although the 1976 proposal for the stair was rejected the work eventually occurred as the stair presently (2017) exists in the building.
Ashleigh Court remained a hotel/boarding house until at least 1989; however, one year later the first floor again seemed to be viewed as possible commercial office space. By the early- to mid-1990s, the first and seconds storeys of the building had been divided into four self-contained apartments, two on each floor one to either side of the stair. A degree of seismic strengthening occurred in the mid-1990s and, in 1997, consent was granted for the restoration of the façade. This work included: the removal of external fire escapes; repair and repainting of the exterior; and the reinstatement of continuous glazed panels below the verandah eaves. While stopping a bit shy of a full restoration, the work eliminated incompatible elements and moved the building closer to its original exterior heritage character obscured since the mid-twentieth century.
One year later, parts of the cellar and ground floor were incorporated into a bar/café/gaming establishment that largely occupied a two-storey, timber heritage building on the adjacent section to the south. The construction linked the two, previously non-communicating buildings via door openings cut through the masonry of the south wall of Ashleigh Court. One opening (and connecting ramp) provided access to the southernmost ground-floor shop in Ashleigh Court, which became a gaming area. A second opening in the cellar wall permitted the installation of stair down to a lower level of the new bar/café. The four apartments on the upper levels of Ashleigh Court continue to be used for residential purposes, with the other ground-level stores tenanted by cafes and the office of the Newtown Community Constable.
With the notable exception of Wellington Hospital, Ashleigh Court remains the most prominent building in the Newtown streetscape. Some of the more recent construction along Riddiford Street is larger scaled, but no other building—historic or modern—approaches Ashleigh Court’s level of distinction and architectural responsiveness to its high-profile siting.
Ashleigh Court remains the visual focus of the spacious intersection at Riddiford and Rintoul Streets and is the principal landmark marking the northern terminus of the Newtown Central Shopping Centre Heritage Area. This precinct is characterised by two-storey, timber buildings fronted by verandahs; their interiors feature ground-floor retail space with commercial or residential space above. Other heritage buildings in this area include Castles the Chemist at 139 Riddiford Street, also developed by Hawthorn & Crump, and Commercial Building, 179 Riddiford Street (both scheduled but not listed). With a presence more in keeping with the heritage buildings along Lambton Quay and Cuba Street than its immediate neighbours, Ashleigh Court rises up from this relatively uniform commercial landscape.
Ashleigh Court is a three-storey edifice that occupies an urban lot terminating in an acute triangle at the intersection of Riddiford and Rintoul Streets. The building’s wedge or ‘flatiron’ form is entirely discernible even at some distance while traveling south along Riddiford Street. The east (Riddiford) elevation has always been the functional ‘front,’ but this demarcation did not have an emphatic corresponding architectural expression. The east and west (Rintoul) elevations—as well as the short wall segment connecting them at the building’s blunted north end—should be read as a continuous façade. On the ground floor, the physical differences between the ‘front’ and ‘back’ were originally obscured by a single, V-shaped verandah that ran fully around the building.
The decoration on the upper levels unifies the three most visible elevations. The eclectic melange of classical elements rendered in plaster include such features as banded rustication; alternating triangular and segmental arched pediments; oversize keystones; cornices, beltcourses, and bands of dentils; fluted pilasters with squat Ionic capitals; and swag-draped plaques.
Only the centre bay of the east elevation markedly distinguishes it from the west. It denoted the location of the ground-floor entrance to the hotel and the windows lighting its stair and central corridor. The first- and second-floor openings are separated by a plaque bearing the date ‘A.D. 1907’ and all are contained under a single arch.
The diminutive north elevation features three panels defined by simple frames and smoothly finished. They historically and presently have signs advertising businesses within the building.
The west elevation lacks the articulated centre bay of the east and the southernmost bay differs with a wide arched opening on the first floor once opening onto the hotel’s service areas. The single round-headed window above this opening is original with the small adjacent one added in the 1950s as part of bathroom renovations.
The south wall party wall bends at its centre along the property line. It is masonry covered in smooth plaster with two window openings on the first floor filled with glass block and a series of small windows on the second floor.
The building’s exterior, on the whole, remains in good condition with most of its original plaster decoration in situ. The sash windows appear to be a mix of original and replaced units, but generally keep to the original design concept.
The removal of the portion of the verandah along Rintoul Street remains a particularly adverse effect in terms of integrity. Without the verandah, the west elevation has a decidedly secondary visual status, accentuated by first-floor pilasters left visually hanging in space (even the faux pilasters painted onto the ground-floor wall stop short of meeting the three-dimensional ones).
That said, the uniformity of the extant verandah along Riddiford and its collection of historic iron posts constitute a rare survivor of a once widespread architectural form.
Formerly a complicated arrangement of ridges and troughs, the modern, metal clad roof has a monopitch sloping down and back from the top of the parapet in the northeast corner to well below the parapet in the northwest corner.
The five ground-floor shops and the entrance/stairhall for the upper levels are partitioned with masonry walls and remain more or less intact. The shops have had some minor changes to their service areas and a door has been cut through the south exterior wall into the southernmost store as part of a bar/café in an adjacent building.
The original hotel entrance/stairhall has been significantly altered. In 1951, the stair was altered to be accessed via a new door opening onto Rintoul Street. The space opening from Riddiford Street was then closed off and became a shop. At some time subsequently, perhaps as early as the late-1970s, a wide stair accessing the basement was opened and the remainder of the space turned into a closet.
The Riddiford Street stair connects to a basement bar that extends under the southern half of the building, also accessible via a stair cut through the masonry foundation wall and connecting to the formerly separate premises to the south.
Glass laylights set into the surface of the footpath remain extant and allow light to pass through the thick concrete foundation walls. A brick partition wall running east to west incorporates a broad arch on the basement level and runs up the full height of the building.
The first and second floors have been divided into four apartments. While some original rooms and features survive in each apartment, the interiors of the two first-floor units and the one on the north side of the second floor have been significantly changed. Alterations include the subdivision of large rooms, combination of smaller rooms, insertion of bathrooms and laundries, new floors and wall linings, and new decorative features such as ceiling rosettes that suggest original elements.
The second-floor apartment on the south side remains the most intact. The original Y-shaped corridor remains readable and lined with a series of doors opening onto rooms that appear to retain their original divisions. The arrangement of cubicles for the toilets and a shower and the bathroom in the southwest corner reflects its mid-twentieth century state with some spaces likely dating from the time of the building’s completion in 1908.
Cities and towns in New Zealand abound with building sites that have interesting shapes for reasons that include challenging topography, organic development histories, and relieving the monotony of the rectilinear street grid. Despite the design potential held by high-profile triangular and polygonal sites, builders, developers, and architects do not always capitalise on their advantages. Ashleigh Court and a number of those that follow—urban, suburban, and provincial—were notably successful in their sensitive design that responds to their sites.
Bank of New Zealand Building No 1, Wellington (1899-1901)
Completed in 1901, this building was designed by the important architecture firm Thomas Turnbull and Son as the head office of the Bank of New Zealand (List No. 212, Category 1). The confident Edwardian Baroque wedge-shaped building shares affinities with Ashleigh Court, in particular its design as a continuous façade at a prominent intersection. However, its scale and the robustness of its decoration are much greater and stronger as befitting the head office of a major bank in the centre of the city.
Stewart Dawson’s Building (Corner), Wellington (1901)
Unconventional sites also result from the irregularity of the original shoreline. In this case, a prominent site located directly across from BNZ No 1 features an obtuse angle that shaped this esteemed building. Architect William Chatfield designed the Edwardian commercial building for jeweller Stewart Dawson (List No. 1871, Category 2). Like Ashleigh Court, the three-storey commercial building features well-crafted plaster decoration using classical motifs, yet the building visually stands out primarily in its width.
Fisher’s Building (1880), Strange’s Building (1899-1900), ANZ Bank (1912), Christchurch
The rigidity of Christchurch’s gridiron plan was in part relieved by diagonal High Street and the resulting triangular sections along it lent themselves to the development of attractive wedge-shaped buildings with continuous street facades. Fisher’s Building and Strange’s Building were listed as Category 1 historic places and the ANZ Bank as a Category 2 historic place, prior to being demolished in the wake of the earthquake on 22 February 2011.
Commerce Building (1879) and Imperial Building (1906), Dunedin
The distinctive Italianate/Renaissance Revival Commerce Building (List No. 4756, Category 2) and the comparatively lofty Edwardian Imperial Building (List No. 4747, Category 2) are located on opposing corners of Dowling Street facing Queens Gardens. Taken together, both buildings contribute to an attractive urban streetscape in a portion of the city defined by its grid of concentric octagons connected by radiating streets, although the Imperial Building makes better use of its corner site with a unified design more comparable to Ashleigh Court.
Corner Buildings with Towers
Buildings with towers constitute a special group in terms of visibility and urbanism. As an architectural device for drawing attention, towers are highly successful. Sometimes they are oddly perched on top of a building and at other times they are integrated into the design to a particularly striking outcome. When coupled with a prominent corner site they can have even more of a dramatic effect.
2-14 Riddiford Street, Wellington (1903)
Despite having a comparable suburban setting to Ashleigh Court in the same neighbourhood, this expanse of seven attached shops with residences above was conventionally designed to face Riddiford Street. The elevation facing Adelaide Road is decidedly less articulated before stepping in to become gardens behind Nos 8-14. The comparative scale of the building and its line of attached units is the intriguing aspect of the design rather than the way it did, or in this case, did not exploit the corner site.
Woods Grocers, Mt Eden, Auckland (1906)
Woods Grocers (unlisted, but scheduled as Category B in the Auckland Unitary Plan (Operative in part, 15 November 2016) is located at an intersection of a principal road running through a suburb developed in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century. The two-storey timber building’s continuous façade with a small domed corner tower faced traffic coming from the city centre in the same way as Ashleigh Court. However, Woods Grocers was located some blocks north of the suburb’s commercial centre as a standalone enterprise.
The Former National Bank (1914), Paparoa
This elegant neoclassical building (List No. 3288, Category 1), constructed as a bank and bank manager’s residence, demonstrates the appeal and presence of unconventional and wedge-shaped buildings in smaller scaled townscapes. Although located in a provincial town rather than a large, metropolitan, suburban neighbourhood, the description of its character within Paparoa provides a direct parallel for Ashleigh Court: ‘its position on a corner site combined with its size and architectural grandeur made this a solid and commanding commercial building in the small settlement.’
When considered against the universe of comparatives, Ashleigh Court is indeed an example of design excellence in its inspired merger of architecture and urbanism. Successful works such as this do not passively exist on the sidelines as attractive, yet static components of their environments, but rather are essential to the active definition and identity of a place. A mundane building on a unique site or an attractive building on a conventional site is not empowered with the special level of impact as a building shaped by both its architecture and siting combined.
Beyond its inherent architectural qualities, Ashleigh Court is significant as an increasingly rare example of a large, masonry Edwardian commercial building with plaster decoration and one of a small number of traditional hotels extant in Wellington. Beginning in the late-1960s, a large swathe of Wellington’s Victorian and Edwardian heritage was levelled because of perceived earthquake risk as well as the demands of a commercial building boom that radically transformed the city centre. The Golden Mile—Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Manners Street, and Courtenay Place—was particularly devastated and hotels and pubs were a type that was especially hard hit.
Only half of the planned demolitions occurred by the early 1980s and a reduction in lending following the 1987 stock market crash and the global economic recession in the early 1990s further slowed the process. Surviving Edwardian former hotels in Wellington include Albemarle Hotel (List no. 3633; Category 2 historic place), People’s Palace Hotel (List no. 3626; Category 2 historic place), Columbia Private Hotel (List no. 3636, Category 2 historic place), the Temperance Hotel at 8 Cambridge Terrace (unlisted but scheduled in the Wellington City District Plan Map 16 Symbol Ref 51/2), and the Bristol Hotel (List no. 3629, Category 2). The Tramway Hotel at Adelaide Road, Newtown, is also relevant to this discussion; however, its 1899 construction places it the late Victorian era.
While a heritage consensus is more widespread now than at that time, development pressure remains strong in the CBD and parts of Te Aro. More problematic, particularly for the city’s collection of Victorian and Edwardian masonry buildings, is the return of a high degree of concern about structural integrity and risk in the wake of Christchurch’s earthquakes and also the Seddon (2013) and Kaikoura (2016) events that caused damage in Wellington.
1906 - 1908
Designed in 1904
Ground-floor verandah along Rintoul Street removed.
Exterior fire escapes added.
1990 - 1991
Apartment conversions on first and second storeys.
Exterior plasterwork was repaired and the whole repainted; this work included elimination of the exterior fire escapes. Reconstruction of the shop fronts along Riddiford Street. Reinstatement of the glazed panels at the roofline of the verandah. Introduction of Juliet balconies on the first floor for the French doors that originally opened onto the terrace positioned on the verandah roof.
Two doors were opened through south wall of Ashleigh Court, connecting spaces on its ground and basement levels with the building/premises on the adjacent section, which historically had been a physically and architecturally separate entity.
Main stair altered to be accessed from Rintoul Street; Riddiford entrance turned into store.
Additional toilets and new kitchen added to southwest corner of second floor (configuration still present in current apartment).
Brick (foundations; exterior, and some interior, walls)
Iron (verandah posts; laylight frames)
Timber (window and door joinery; interior framing, floors, doors, wall sheathing)
Metal (roofing; main/front interior doors for the apartments)
Plaster (exterior decoration; some interior decoration and possibly areas of wall lining)
Glass (windows, interior transoms, thick panes in the laylights)
26th September 2017
Report Written By
James A Jacobs
Wellington City Council
Wellington City Council
Wellington City Council. ‘Newtown Central Shopping Centre Heritage Area, Riddiford Street, Constable Street, Rintoul Street.’ Unpublished report. 28 October 2008.
Humphris, A. and G. Mew, Ring Around the City: Wellington’s new suburbs, 1900-1930, Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2009
Mew and Humphris, 2014
Geoff Mew and Adrian Humphris, Raupo to Deco: Wellington Styles and Architects, 1840-1940, Steele Roberts Aotearoa, Wellington, 2014.
Plumb Productions, 1983
Plumb Productions, ‘Hometown Boomtown.’ Three-part television documentary. 1983. Available through NZ On Screen.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Central Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.