Historical Significance or Value
Franconia, originally an apartment block, has historic significance as an early example of high-density inner city living. It was built towards the end of the inter-war period that helped transform Wellington into a modern city. Built for a wealthier type of tenant, the occupations of its tenants over the years reflect this. Its conversion into office and retail space in the 1960s or early 1970s reflects changes in land use at this end of The Terrace.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Although located on a busy street and surrounded by taller buildings, Franconia can still be seen much as originally intended. Its street façade makes a distinctive statement on this part of The Terrace, with the decorative features of the ‘pilasters’, the curved window and stepped back balcony of the top floor. The north façade can also be appreciated and here the main feature is the triangular oriel window extending over four floors, also with a blue surround. The rear of the building, visible mainly from the motorway, is also distinctive for its curved windows. With its Streamline Moderne design and elegant proportions it makes an important contribution to the streetscape of this part of The Terrace, providing a ‘lower rise’ note among taller buildings.
Architectural Significance or Value
Franconia is a good surviving example of the work of the well-known architect Edmund Anscombe, who is perhaps best remembered for his work on the temporary Centennial Exhibition buildings, Wellington (1939). Externally, Franconia still looks much as originally built; the main change being the conversion of the garages on the ground floor to shops. Its internal service area (stairs and lift) are also in reasonably original form, although the floors have been modified over time to suit different functions. Being located on a narrow site, Franconia has a more vertical emphasis than the horizontal emphasis of most of Anscombe’s other Wellington buildings (and which is also more typical of the Streamline Moderne style), such as Anscombe Flats, Post and Telegraph Building, Belvedere, Hamilton Flats, and Olympus.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
High-density residential buildings began to appear in the main centres of New Zealand in the early 1920s. Franconia is one of the 32 apartment blocks built in central Wellington between the two world wars that helped see New Zealand’s capital city transformed into a modern city of tall office and apartment buildings. Its transformation from apartments to commercial space is also representative of changes at this end of The Terrace beginning in the 1960s.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Franconia is associated with the well-known architect Edmund Anscombe (1874–1948) who was influenced by new developments in architecture and also promoted concrete construction methods, including patenting a type of concrete block. He was particularly known for his architecture for the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition in Dunedin (1925) and the Centennial Exhibition in Wellington (1939–40). Among his surviving buildings are a number of Otago University buildings, theatres, museums/galleries, commercial buildings and apartment blocks. His Wellington apartment blocks, in particular, show his interpretation of the international Streamline Moderne style.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The reinforced concrete construction of Franconia represents the increasing popularity of concrete construction in central Wellington in the inter-war period. It is also a key factor in the architectural styling of the building. Architect Edmund Anscombe was an advocate of constructing in concrete and patented a form of concrete block. Franconia’s Streamline Moderne style, evident in the curved corners and horizontal ‘speed lines’ are here combined with stylised elements of the classical orders to make an interesting and unusual design.
Before the arrival of Maori from Taranaki in the 1820s, the Wellington area was populated primarily by people of Kurahaupo waka descent, including Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Muaupoko, Ngati Apa and Ngati Ira. The Waitangi Tribunal referred to these as ‘Whatonga-descent peoples’ since all claimed descent from Whatonga, an early Maori explorer, who named the harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara, for his son Tara. The people from the Taranaki region were often given the common name of ‘Ngati Awa’ (and later Te Atiawa) by outsiders, but they comprised a number of tribes. These ‘incoming tribes’ included Ngati Toa (also known as Ngati Toa Rangatira), Ngati Rangatahi, Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui.
By the 1820s, Europeans were arriving at Port Nicholson (as it came to be known, after John Nicholson, the Sydney harbourmaster). In May 1839 the New Zealand Company advertised in London 990 lots of Port Nicholson land for sale and in August 1839 Colonel William Wakefield arrived and began negotiating with Maori to purchase land. The first immigrants began arriving in January 1840.
In 1865 when Wellington became the capital city, the population was just 4,900. But Wellington’s economic base was significantly improved by the relocation of the capital and by 1881 the resident population had reached 20,000. A building boom accompanied the population increase. More than 70 per cent of this growth took place in central Wellington, leaving some areas overcrowded. The hills and town belt around the central city created barriers to expansion to the outlying areas, but the electrification of the tramway system in 1904 (and the declining need for agricultural land close to the city) meant the suburbs experienced significant growth in the early twentieth century.
Economic depression ended the 1920s boom, but by the close of the 1930s there was renewed growth and confidence. High-density residential buildings began to appear in the main centres of New Zealand in the early 1920s. Between the two world wars, 32 apartment buildings were constructed in central Wellington. This construction boom was aided by advances in technology such as the use of reinforced concrete and steel, allowing taller buildings to be built. Early blocks of luxury flats in Wellington include Inverleith at 306 Oriental Parade (Register no. 1396; 1922), Braemar Flats (Former) at 32 The Terrace (Register no. 1341, Category 2; 1924/5) and Chevening Flats at 90 Salamanca Road (Register no. 1347, Category 2; 1929).
Franconia is located on The Terrace (previously called Wellington Terrace), which was formed on the ridge behind Lambton Quay (which was formerly at the edge of the beach) in the early days of European settlement. The Terrace was a favoured residential area for the more affluent. Franconia occupies part of former Town Acre 461, which was originally purchased by Hon H. Petre, a first-wave settler and the son of one of the original New Zealand Company directors. On the 1892 Thomas Ward survey map an eight-room house with a bay window and veranda is shown as being on this site. A synagogue was a near neighbour to the north. There were no houses across the road at this point as it was a steep slope down to Lambton Quay.
Franconia, comprising six storeys, was designed by Edmund Anscombe and Associates in 1938 as residential apartments, and built at a cost of £15,000. The building was constructed in reinforced concrete, cast in situ. It is typical of the increasing use of concrete for apartment buildings in the inter-war period. Franconia’s builder was L Daniell and it was built for Topic Ltd. Topic Flats were located next door at number 138 The Terrace, so Topic Ltd was probably a property development company. The first and second floors were divided into two flats, while the remaining floors (including the ground) comprised one flat each. Four garages were provided in front of the ground floor flat, two of them in tandem (so, with three openings to the street).
Edmund Anscombe (1874-1948) began work as a builder's apprentice in Dunedin and in 1901 went to America to study architecture. He returned to Dunedin in 1907, designing many buildings there. He proposed, and was official architect for, the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition in Dunedin in 1925–26. Anscombe moved to Wellington in 1929 where he was particularly known for his work as the designer of the Centennial Exhibition (1939–1940).
The New Zealand Centennial Exhibition held at Rongotai (an eastern suburb of Wellington) in 1939–40 attracted more than 2.5 million visitors at a time when the country’s population was 1.6 million – many people made repeat visits. It was a celebration of nationhood, ‘in the most spectacular amusement park in the southern hemisphere’. Anscombe’s Moderne style ‘conveyed by the exhibition buildings was intended to reflect New Zealand’s progressive approach’.
Anscombe also promoted his architectural ideas through pamphlets, such as Modern Industrial Development (1919) and he patented a form of concrete block in 1920. He died in Wellington in 1948.
All the flats in Franconia were rental properties and the tenants tended to be middle-class professionals. Early tenants included a drapery buyer, a barrister, a dentist and company directors. In June 1940 the Evening Post noted that Mrs F R Picot of ‘Franconia’ The Terrace, had returned from a visit to Australia, and a month later she advertised for a ‘capable cook-parlourmaid; references essential; good home and wages’. Mrs P L Porter advertised for a ‘competent woman for light housework, three or four days a week’ in October 1943; and Wellington’s wind was the reason for the advertisement some months earlier for a lost brassiere ‘blown from clothes line. Reward on returning to 4th floor, Franconia’.
Topic Ltd transferred the property to the Tourist Hotel Corporation (THC) in 1962. Some residential tenants remained after this, but by the late 1960s or early 1970s the entire building was devoted to commercial purposes. THC was the primary tenant until 1976, when the building was sold to F.S Havill Properties Limited. Havill undertook a number of internal alterations on all floors, though the original doors were re-used and some decorative plasterwork retained. The primary occupant at this time was advertising firm SSC & B Lintas New Zealand, and the building was named Lintas House In the 1970s, the urban motorway was constructed behind Franconia and proclamations affecting the land, and compensation certificates, are recorded on the title.
In 1987 it was sold to Unity Developments Limited (UDL), who proposed to demolish the building and erect a 15 storey commercial building in its place. The NZHPT’s objection stated that ‘with Anscombe Flats in Oriental Bay, [Franconia] comprises the sole residential buildings in Wellington designed by this architect and thus of his ‘moderne’ style. It has an important cityscape function.’ UDL went into receivership before this could happen, and the building was instead sold to Invincible Life Assurance Limited and renamed Invincible House. Since this time, the building has been leased to a wide variety of commercial tenants.
Aside from internal alterations in 1976, other recorded changes to the building include the conversion of the garages to office or retail space in 1973, the construction of a verandah above the footpath in 2001, and the installation of new toilets on the ground floor and an oral surgery on the 3rd floor the same year. The fifth floor balcony has been enclosed with glazing in recent history. Apart from the conversion of the garages and the new verandah, the external appearance has not significantly changed.
An aerial photo from 1960 shows Franconia as one of the few taller buildings on this part of The Terrace, mostly surrounded by wooden houses, although the brick synagogue was still a near neighbour. The Evening Post in 1959 had ‘sounded the knell for the Terrace’s days as a street of stately residential homes when the 18-room boarding house at 169 was sold to New Zealand Portland Cement’. But as late as 1972, there were still houses on both sides of Franconia and the synagogue was still two buildings away. The synagogue remained until 1976; the land having been taken for the motorway, but only part of it was needed. The empty section next to Franconia (where the synagogue and a house had been) was sold in 1981 as the ‘last big site available for office development on The Terrace – Wellington’s own mini version of New York’s Manhattan’.
As seen in a 1982 photo, the building used to have the word ‘Franconia’ on the corner of the front façade. At this time an awning-style verandah was being added to the side; this was replaced in in 2001 in a style more sympathetic to the building style.
In February 1994, father and son businessmen Gene and Eugene Thomas were murdered in their offices within the building, which was then known as Invincible House (the word ‘Invincible’ replacing ‘Franconia’ on the corner of the building). The building was owned by the Thomas family, and Martin Thomas subsequently sold it in 2000 to ‘a group of local investors’ who planned to turn it into ‘boutique offices’. It is now tenanted by various commercial businesses.
Franconia is located on one of Wellington’s busier inner-city streets, The Terrace. This part of The Terrace contains offices, hotels, and, since 2011, next door is Victoria University’s Joan Stevens Hall providing catered accommodation for first year students. Behind Franconia is the urban motorway and an off ramp is nearby, exiting opposite the James Cook Hotel.
While formerly one of the new high rise buildings on the street, Franconia is now somewhat overshadowed by the taller buildings on both sides and across the road. Nevertheless it still retains streetscape appeal as it extends one or two metres further than its neighbour to the south, and on the north there is a gap of about 10 metres and the neighbouring building is angled away from Franconia; making the north façade, as well as the street (east) façade, of Franconia visible from the street. There is a set of steps beside Franconia, which lead down to the Clifton Terrace car park beneath the motorway. Four car parks belonging to Franconia are located behind, and some metres below, the building.
The building is a mixture of elements of different styles with the curved streamlining of the Moderne style very much in evidence on the street façade. The curve of the building from the third to fifth storeys is echoed above in a stepped-back attic storey leading onto a curved balcony. The lift machine room projects above the main roof. The building is solidly constructed in reinforced concrete with a rendered finish and is trimmed with steel windows, doors, and balcony rails. The rear of the building is also partly rounded from the first to fifth storeys – this side is now best seen from the motorway.
The ground floor is formed as a plinth to the building; the wall faces are finished in a heavy brocaded render distinct from the much lighter texture applied to the remainder of the building. The Terrace façade ground floor contains the three original garage door openings, now converted to shop-fronts with large plate-glass display windows.
The ground and first floor are composed symmetrically about the centre of this elevation and finish with a square corner at either side of the façade. Centred on the façade above the ground floor, are three large decorative pilasters running to above the top of the fourth floor windows, finished with a hint of Ionic volute. Above this are other stylised elements of the classical orders – guttae (the small drop-like ornamentation) and taenia (horizontal band above) at the top of the fifth floor. These elements have been seen as ironic comments on the decline of the classical in the contemporary architecture of the day. But conservation architect Russell Murray suggests they are also a typical Anscombe gesture and may just have been decoration employed to enliven the façade.
Above the first floor, the elevation is made asymmetric by the north-west corner of the building curving to join with the north façade. The windows for each floor are run in a strip which, interrupted by the pilasters, is continued around the curve with elegantly curved corner picture windows with large panes of curved glass at the second, third and fourth floors. The asymmetry is further emphasised by the top floor balcony and its roof, which recedes back from the corner but carries the same curved line. This balcony, mostly open on the original plans, is now largely enclosed in office space.
A prominent feature on the north façade is the triangular oriel window extending four-storeys above the main entrance (this lights the stairwell). This is set in a moulded plaster surround that has capital motifs matching the pilasters on the front elevation. The windows in the oriel are glazed in translucent Georgian wired glass that provides a soft light to the interior in the day and a gentle glow from the interior at night. To the west (motorway) side of the oriel, there are two windows to each floor. On the east (street) side of the oriel, there are also two windows, but the far window is incorporated into the corner window curving around to the front façade.
The west elevation (the rear of the building) is divided into two vertical sections, the left side a five-storey bow window with three windows per floor, each in three faceted sashes, the right side a plain vertical face with one large and one small window per floor. The original fire escape balconies, located next to the bow windows, still exist along with their railings.
The south elevation is now half-obscured by the adjoining office building; the remaining half is still just visible. It includes the original service well in the centre part of the building, and modern galvanised steel fire escape/access ladders.
Internally, the original stairwell and lift survive in unaltered form, including the wooden handrail and scrolls, and stair lit by the oriel window. Parts of the building accessed for this report were the entrance area, stairs, and part of the second floor which was untenanted at the time. The entrance door is on the north elevation and opens into a small foyer, containing the lift, stairs, and doors to ground level tenancies. Exiting at the second floor there is a door opening to a short corridor – there are two tenancies on the floor, one at the front and one at the back. Included in the back tenancy are a small bathroom/toilet and two rooms with an entrance area; it has exposed wooden floors. The entrance area opens to the largest room on the right, with its large curved window at the rear – this is made up of three windows – the one on the right is 12-paned, the central window is 16-paned and the left is 8 – smaller on this side as the door to the fire escape is located here. These windows contain a mixture of fixed lights and operating sashes. On the left of the entrance foyer is a second smaller room with a 12-paned window at the rear.
Although the interior has been progressively modified over the years, its outward appearance has changed little since its construction in 1938.
In Wellington, some of the buildings that Anscombe designed still exist, although only two of his Wellington buildings are currently (2012) registered – Anscombe Flats, 212 Oriental Parade (Register no. 1333, Category 2), and the Post and Telegraph Building, Herd Street (Register no. 7419, Category 2). Invincible House, 161 Willis Street (1935), Hamilton Flats, 9 Hawker Street (1935), Belvedere on the corner of Majoribanks and Austin Street (1937), and Olympus, 280 Oriental Parade (1937), are four of his other extant apartment blocks. There are at least a dozen of his buildings registered in Dunedin or Otago (five are University of Otago buildings), two in Hastings, one in Rotorua (Civic Theatre) and one in Wanganui (Serjeant Gallery). Apart from Franconia and Anscombe Flats, most of his registered buildings are civic buildings.
The Streamline Moderne style developed in the late 1930s from Art Deco but reflected the aerodynamic properties that were becoming popular in industrial design – such as curves instead of sharp angles, and horizontal ‘speed lines’. Anscombe Flats, Olympus, and Belvedere, all constructed a year before Franconia, share some similarities of design with Franconia. In particular, Anscombe Flats and Olympus have a curved corner on the front façade with a large corner window and Belvedere and Olympus have an oriel window extending over three storeys. However, Franconia has a more vertical emphasis than the horizontal emphasis of some of his other buildings (and which is also more typical of the Streamline Moderne style), such as Anscombe Flats, Belvedere, Post and Telegraph Building, and the (temporary) Centennial Exhibition buildings. On the exhibition buildings, William Toomath said the ‘hallmark of the ‘streamline’ art deco style – repeated horizontal bands – appears everywhere’. Due to the narrow site of Franconia the vertical is more prominent, but there are still some horizontal elements such as the incised lines on the top floor and the windows curving around the corner on the street elevation.
Franconia is significant as one of Anscombe’s remaining apartment buildings; as a good example of the Streamline Moderne style, it shows more of a vertical emphasis than his other Wellington buildings in this style and features some stylised elements of the Classical style. Franconia is also of heritage interest in the streetscape of The Terrace as a former residential apartment block now in an area of mainly postmodern commercial office buildings.
Converted to office use
Garages on the ground floor converted to shops
A verandah was added from the footpath to the main (side) entrance
The verandah was replaced in a style more sympathetic to the building style; new toilets on the ground floor and an oral surgery on the third floor were installed.
Concrete, steel windows
5th March 2013
Report Written By
B. Brookes (ed.), 'At Home in New Zealand', Wellington, 2000
Gatley, Julia, ‘Going Up Rather than Out: State Rental Flats in New Zealand 1935–1949’, in B. Brookes (ed), At Home in New Zealand: History, Houses, People Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2002, pp. 140–154
14 April 1938, p. 22; 25 June 1940, p. 12; 24 July 1940, p. 1; 19 March 1943, p. 1; 30 October 1943, p. 1; McGill, David, ‘Tales of Wellington Terrace’, Evening Post, 14 April 1979; ‘Developers about to fill last Terrace gap’ Evening Post 7 September 1981; ‘Invincible House sold’ Evening Post, 22 Sept 2000
McCarthy, Christine, ‘Concrete Passions: Anscombe’s material politics’, in ‘Good Architecture should not be a Plaything’: New Zealand Architecture in the 1920s, a one day symposium, Centre for Building Performance Research, Victoria University of Wellington, 2 Dec 2011, pp. 49–55
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.