'Taj Mahal' Public Toilets (Former)

Cambridge Terrace And Kent Terrace, Wellington

  • 'Taj Mahal' Public Toilets (Former), Wellington. Image courtesy of rnfoster.com .
    Copyright: R.N. Foster. Taken By: R.N. Foster. Date: 9/02/2013.
  • 'Taj Mahal' Public Toilets (Former), Wellington. North end. CC Licence 2.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Ewan Munro - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Ewan Munro. Date: 8/07/2012.
  • 'Taj Mahal' Public Toilets (Former). Kent Terrace and Oriental Parade, Wellington, 1920s. Ref: 1/2-116556-F. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22838426. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image .
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1434 Date Entered 25th November 1982

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Legal Road as coloured red on SO 18457 (NZ Gazette 1927, p. 3270; D WN67/266), Wellington Land District, and the building known as 'Taj Mahal' Public Toilets (Former) thereon.

City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Legal Road as coloured red on SO 18457 (NZ Gazette 1927, p. 3270; D WN67/266), Wellington Land District

Location description

Located on the road median between Cambridge and Kent Terraces (north end), Wellington

Summaryopen/close

The ‘Taj Mahal’ building was built as a public toilet in 1928–29 (opening in July 1929) and got its popular name from the distinctive domes at either end. Designed by the City Engineer’s office and built by Fletcher Construction, it is situated in the median strip between two busy roads, Kent and Cambridge Terraces at their northern end, and is also visible from Courtenay Place and Majoribanks Street. In the William Mein Smith survey of Wellington the land the ‘Taj Mahal’ is on was originally set aside for a canal running from the waterfront to the Basin Lake at the end of Kent Terrace, intended for barges to deliver goods to Newtown warehouses. However the 1855 earthquake raised the land the Basin Reserve is now on and a canal was no longer needed.

The Wellington City Council Heritage Inventory notes the women's rest room was under the dome at the north end with wash areas and toilets in the body of the building, while the men's toilets occupied the south end. The building was used as public toilets until it was closed in January 1964. It was reopened a few months later following much protest, but it lasted only another two years before finally closing as toilets in 1966, when it was offered for lease for other uses. Downstage Theatre, located across the road, used it for storage and workshops from 1971 until 1977. Then it was used for a time as an art gallery and restaurant. At some time in its post-toilet life (prior to 1997) a window has been added to the south end.

Author David McGill mentions some colourful incidents in its history – a ‘pray-in’ student capping stunt in 1953 for example. There was also a capping stunt in 1967 as a photograph in the Alexander Turnbull Library collection shows. When it closed in 1966, there were many suggestions for alternative uses for the building – converting it into a ‘begonia house, a hanging gardens, an SPCA centre, wine shop, restaurant, gramophone museum, love shop, amusement parlour, historical display and art gallery, Girl Guide headquarters, you name it.’ A Nevile Lodge cartoon of a decade later was drawn at the time Downstage had vacated and the council was seeking new tenants for the building. It has housed the Taj Mahal restaurant, The Dome Bar and Café, Traffic Wine Bar, Scorpio’s Welsh Restaurant and is currently occupied by the Welsh Dragon Bar.

The ‘Taj Mahal’ has become a Wellington city landmark, not only for its distinctive design of rounded ends and roof domes but also for the many uses that it has seen (or have been proposed) since it closed as public toilets in 1966. It has social, historical, aesthetic and architectural significance.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fletcher Construction Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

WCC Engineers Dept.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1928 - 1929

Other
1966 -
Ceased use as a public toilet

Modification
-
Conversion to subsequent uses

Completion Date

19th November 2012

Report Written By

Vivienne Morrell

Information Sources

Evening Post

Evening Post

‘Tenders Called’, Evening Post, 4 July 1928, p. 10; ‘The new rest room opened this morning’, Evening Post, 12 July 1929, p. 11.

McGill, 1980

David McGill and Grant Tilly, In Praise of Older Buildings, Auckland, Methuen, 1980

Other Information

A fully referenced proposal summary report is available from the Central Region office of NZHPT.

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.