Bank of New Zealand (Former)

1 Tay Street, Clyde Street And Wood Street, Invercargill

  • Bank of New Zealand (Former).
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Susan Irvine. Date: 1/03/2011.
  • Bank of New Zealand (Former) on left. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Andrew Baird. Taken By: Andrew Baird - The Roaming Radiographer. Date: 27/01/2008.
  • Bank of New Zealand (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 1/01/2014.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2465 Date Entered 20th October 2011


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Secs1-2 Blk LXXV (CT SL12B/68) Town of Invercargill, Southland Land District, and the building known as Bank of New Zealand (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

Secs 1-2 Blk LXXV Town of Invercargill (CT SL12B/68), Southland Land District.


One of Invercargill’s most prominent symbols of strength and trustworthiness, the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) premises, was opened on the corner of Tay and Clyde Streets in mid 1879. The corner site was distinguished from the earliest days of Invercargill as a landing point for supplies for the first settlers in 1856. A few years later, in May 1864, the manager of the newly formed BNZ laid the foundation stone for the bank’s premises, the bank literally being the cornerstone of the community. By the mid 1870s, however, it was clear the BNZ required another, grander building more suited to the prosperous and thriving township that Invercargill had become.

The BNZ’s grand statement was designed by noted Invercargill architect F.W. Burwell (1846-1915), whose architectural style was transforming the commercial heart of Invercargill. His design for the bank was Victorian Classical, with carefully proportioned classical facades, round headed windows and richly detailed balustrades. The overall effect was imposing. Begun in 1877, the building was completed in mid-1879.

By 1926 it was felt that the original building was too small and the arrangement inconvenient. Faced with either demolition or remodelling, under the guidance of another prominent Invercargill architect E.R. Wilson (1871-1941) a compromise was reached. The interior was gutted and the building was extended but much of the exterior was kept intact. By 1927 the reconstruction was complete and pleasingly merged Classical elements with 1920s Art Deco institutional design. The reconstructed building ably served the purposes of the BNZ until the late 1970s. In 1980 the building was sold to the Bethel New Life Church (now named Cornerstone New Life Church). The congregation altered the building to enable its use as a church. They also ensured ongoing repair and maintenance.

The former BNZ building is architecturally and aesthetically impressive. Designed to symbolise power and position, it sits imposingly on a prominent corner site forming part of a heritage precinct of grand financial institutions. Built and then reconstructed by two of Invercargill’s most noted architects, Burwell and Wilson, the structure speaks to the importance of banking history and its role in developing provincial economies. In an example of adaptive reuse, the building was modified and is now used as a Church. The building remains a community gathering place, although its role is now spiritual rather than financial.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The former Bank of New Zealand has historical significance. It was associated with a prominent banking institution for over one hundred years. This building occupies a site that has been significant since Invercargill began and its commercial importance was recognised at an early stage by the BNZ. The growing prosperity of Invercargill and its agriculturally rich surrounds was reflected in these comparatively lavish banking premises. The building represents the historical flurry of bank building which occurred in the 1870s as both the country and its financial institutions gained firmer footing. It also embodies the grandeur and solidity favoured by nineteenth century banks in their buildings.

This building is the successor to the BNZ premises which was one of the first ever purpose-built BNZ bank in New Zealand. This current building occupies the same site. The former BNZ is also reportedly the first building to be built of Oreti stone.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

The former Bank of New Zealand building occupies a prominent corner on a main intersection in inner city Invercargill. It is a strong and imposing structure, representing the heyday of both provincial Invercargill and nineteenth century bank building in New Zealand. The building, on the exterior at least, remains in relatively original condition and has long been a major contributor to Invercargill's inner-city character.

The former bank also relates to other nearby banking establishments including the Westpac Bank on the corner of Tay and Dee Streets and the National Bank on the corner of Clyde Street and The Crescent. Together these three form a heritage precinct of banking institutions and make a significant visual impression on the townscape of the central city area.

Architectural Significance or Value

The former Bank of New Zealand has architectural significance. It is a fine example of Victorian Classicism. This building is an excellent example of the work of F.W. Burwell, leading Invercargill architect of the 1870s and 1880s. The 1927 additions are in sympathy with the original concept and the resulting appearance remains one of grandeur and stability, qualities often associated with Classicism. They are a testament to the skill of prominent architect E.R. Wilson. The architecture of the interior is a good example of late 1920s institutional architecture, amid the prosperous pre 1929 stock market crash and 1930s depression. Wilson was considered one of Invercargill’s leading architects of the early twentieth century.

The former Bank is also an example of the typical standard of extravagant bank buildings which were built in prosperous and thriving main towns of provincial New Zealand in the late nineteenth century. Banking institutions appeared to compete with the edifices they constructed with the intention of demonstrating their superiority and thus woo customers. Seldom is this architectural competition exemplified better than in the three grand bank buildings gracing the intersection of Tay, Dee and Clyde Streets.

Social Significance or Value

The former Bank of New Zealand has social significance. It stood as a physical reorientation of the dependability and solidity of the province and its future. The bank was a symbol of reassurance for the local population. It provided a place of safety for an individual’s cash reserves and as means of borrowing to launch an individual’s future plans. In this way the bank and banker were integral to the development and growth of society. In Invercargill this was particularly important in helping to finance the development of a prosperous farming community. The building is still a community gathering place but the function it fills for the community is now spiritual rather than financial.

Spiritual Significance or Value

The former Bank of New Zealand building has spiritual significance. While the building was once a symbol of financial wealth, for the last 30 years it has been a symbol of spiritual wealth. Many aspects of the architectural style of the former bank building work well in a spiritual environment; the large central chamber; the lofty and soaring windows; and the beautifully coffered ceiling which draws the onlooker’s eye heavenward.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Bank of New Zealand (Former) speaks to the importance of banking history. The role of the bank was pivotal in the colonial economy both nationally and provincially. In Invercargill, the BNZ played a central role in the commercial progress and economic development of the burgeoning town and its surrounding rural district. It was also one of the earliest BNZ banks established in the country, and is a representation of the style of noted architect F.W. Burwell. Its grand facade represents the period of history where financial institutions emphasised their status, function, and upstanding nature through their buildings; a very different impression from the community-friendly image presented in the twenty-first century.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The former Bank of New Zealand Bank is associated with noted Invercargill architects F.W. Burwell and, later, E.R. Wilson. Both were to gain national recognition.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place

The local headquarters of the Bank symbolised wealth, position, strength and trustworthiness within the Southland community. The Bank was a home grown ‘colonial institution’. It represented the strong financial base on which Southland grew, on the back of the province’s wealth from sheep, wool, cattle, cropping, timber and coal. It is a testimony to the community esteem for the Bank, both in terms of its physical location and its standing in the community, that in 1927 they decided to rebuild the expanded building on the same site and retain the original façade. A further testament to its community standing is Cornerstone New Life Church’s long and successful tenure as proprietors of the building. The mezzanine was added with care and respect for the original structure. They have carried out ongoing maintenance and repairs, and preserved the building’s grand exterior.

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

The architectural design of the former Bank is significant. It speaks to the grand and imposing structures erected by financial institutions during the prosperous years of the 1806s and 1870s.

The building is an excellent example of Victorian Classicism and is a fine example of the architectural styling of F.W. Burwell, leading Invercargill architect. The building also speaks to the architectural skills of E.R. Wilson, who remodelled and simplified the building without lessening the impact of the imposing exterior. His additional Art Deco embellishments serve to enhance rather than detract from the original building. It is now an unusual testament to both Victorian Classicism and Art Deco institutional architecture.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The site of the former Bank of New Zealand has commemorative value. Embedded in the Tay Street façade is a plaque which records the site as the place where the first landing of supplies for the settlers took place. An entrepreneurial seamen, named John Kelly, landed stores on this place in 1856 for the first pioneering farmers who settled near Invercargill.

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

The former Bank of New Zealand building forms part of a wider historical and cultural landscape. It speaks to the importance of banks and banking in New Zealand’s developing colonial society and represents the national 1870s bank building boom. The building also forms part of a commercial landscape in Invercargill, much of which was designed by prominent architect F.W. Burwell. In particular, the former BNZ is part of heritage bank precinct where three, once four, majestic financial institutions form the heart of Invercargill city centre. The building’s value in the wider community was evident when the Cornerstone New Life Church bought the building. This community have lavished attention and care on the historic structure, ensuring the former Bank remains a prominent ‘cornerstone’ of central Invercargill’s historical and cultural landscape.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g, h and k.


It is considered that this place qualifies Category II historic place.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Burwell, F. W.

F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) is noted for designing many buildings in Invercargill, transforming the centre of the town between 1874 and the mid-1880s. Born in Scotland, Burwell served his articles with the architect John Matthews and immigrated to New Zealand in the late 1860s. By 1873, he had established his practice in Queenstown. He moved to Invercargill the following year. Once established there, he began designing elegant two and three-storey buildings in the Renaissance style. He designed almost all the buildings in Dee Street, including the hospital. 'The Crescent' was another notable Invercargill streetscape created by Burwell. In recognition of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887 where he practised in Melbourne, Perth and then Fremantle. He was particularly successful in the last, as Western Australia was in the middle of a building boom, and a number of his commercial buildings in central Fremantle are now classified by the Australian Heritage Commission. Burwell returned to Melbourne in 1910, and died there five years later. (Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Burwell, Frederick William (1846-1915)' in Jane Thomson (ed.), Southern People: a dictionary of Otago Southland biography, Dunedin, 1998, p. 74.)

Wilson, E R

Edmund Wilson was born in Invercargill, the son of Henry Fitz Wilson, a merchant and Dorothy Eleanor Richardson. The Wilson family was prominent in Invercargill: Henry Wilson was chairman of the Hospital Board, the Bluff Harbour Board and the Invercargill Savings Bank. He was a warden and choir member of St John's Church. Edmund Wilson served a seven-year apprenticeship with the local firm of McKenzie and Gilbertson. He may also have served some time with noted Wellington architect Frederick de Jersey Clere. In 1902 he married Elizabeth Alice Mary Dickinson. They had three sons and two daughters.

Amongst Wilson's commissions in Invercargill were the Town Hall and Civic Theatre (1906), St Catherine's Girls' College, the fire station, and various retail stores. He designed many churches, both in Southland and elsewhere. These included St John's Anglican Church, Invercargill (1913), St Mary's, Merivale (1927), St Andrew's in Southbridge, Mid-Canterbury, and St Michael's, Kelburn, Wellington (1920). He designed town halls in Otautau and Bluff. Kew Hospital, which came near the end of his career, was among his most important commissions. Edmund Wilson was also a vestryman, lay reader and choir member of St John's. Two of his brothers were Anglican clergymen. Wilson was a President of the New Zealand Institute of Architects. Wilson died on 13 October 1941 and was buried in St John's Cemetery, Waikiwi, Invercargill. His wife, Elizabeth, died in 1955. Wilson's practice was inherited by Baxter Hesselin McDowell, now McDowell Architects, who retain his original plans.

Ramsay, John

Scottish-born Ramsay (c.1835-1919) arrived in Auckland in 1859. Hearing about the gold rushes in the South, he journeyed to Dunedin before joining the hopefuls at the Tuapeka goldfields. After his marriage to Elizabeth Allen he took up residence at Longbush where he set up as a sawmiller in conjunction with John Laidlaw and James Strang. After that partnership was dissolved he moved to Invercargill and worked as a builder, active from the mid 1870s. He was the builder for F.W. Burwell’s St Paul’s Church (Presbyterian) and the Bank of New Zealand building in Invercargill, as well as building additions to the Fleming and Company Flourmill in 1881. He worked on many significant buildings including the AMP buildings, the first government buildings, the first part of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, the race and turbine of the Mataura freezing works, as well as his own Ramsay’s Hall on Tay Street, later incorporated into the Thomson and Beattie’s drapery concern. However, bankruptcy in 1887 seems to have ended his contracting career.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori History

Ancient stories tell the origins of southern Maori, with the waka of Aoraki becoming Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island), and its sternpost, Te Taurapa a Te Waka o Aoraki becoming Bluff Hill (also known as Motupohue). The Maui traditions are told in the south, with Maui arriving in his waka Maahunui, and pulling up the stone to be used as an anchor - Te Puka o Te Waka a Maui (Rakiura). Maui's achievements are recognised in place names in the south, including Omaui near Bluff, and Te Tapuwae o Maui and Te Rereka o Maui in Fiordland (Maui's footstep and Maui's leap).

According to the Ngai Tahu Statutory acknowledgments in the settlement important villages along the south coast included: Te Wae Wae (Waiau), Wilson House Dr Report 7 Taunoa (Orepuki), Kawakaputaputa (Wakapatu), Oraka (Colac bay), Aparima, Turangiteuaru, Awarua (Bluff), Te Whera, Toe Toe (mouth of the Mataura River) and Waikawa. Mokamoka (also known as Mokemoke or Mokomoko) was a settlement at the Invercargill estuary sustained by the rich resources found there. Tauranga waka occur up and down the coast linking land and sea trails with mahinga kai resources. Whaling boats plied the waters from the 1820s leading to changes in settlement patterns and resource use. 1853 saw the Murihiku purchase which left Maori south of the Pataki (excluding the Otakou Block) with only 4,630 acres, the start of a long quest by southern Maori for justice questioning the legality of the purchase as well as the inadequacy of the land reserved.


Invercargill Township was laid out by chief surveyor John Turnbull Thomson in 1856. Although the location was chosen for its centrality for both sea-based and land-based traffic, the surrounding low lying swampy ground made the new settlement practically inaccessible. The development of the town, however, was given an enormous boost with the gold rushes of the early 1860s.

Invercargill’s first Bank of New Zealand

Early settlers saw the establishment of banking institutions as integral to the ‘welfare of the community.’ The lack of a bank drew many a lament:

‘The community are daily sustaining irreparable losses in consequence of not having the ordinary means of transacting business; money becomes scarce, and every individual is compelled to avoid entering into many highly profitable schemes for the benefit of the settlement. Newly arrived immigrants are inconvenienced from having no place of safety to deposit their cash. It is an invariable question, Where is the Bank? They are told there is not one. They express their disgust, and blame the colonists as destitute of energy.’

Banks had become central to the normal functioning of Western society. They provided a safe place to leave money and operated as a reputable money lender. These roles were not only essential at the national economic level but in the daily dealings of every colonist.

The Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) opened for business on 16 October 1861 in Auckland. The founders quickly turned their attention to the South, as without co-operation from these provinces there was little prospect of long term success for the institution. On 1 May 1862, the first Invercargill branch opened in Calder Blacklocks bonded store, a wooden building, on Tay Street. The original store was built by famous Otago pioneer, Johnny Jones of Waikouaiti, in 1857.

The foundation stone of a permanent home for the BNZ was laid on 26 May 1864 on the corner of Tay and Clyde Streets by the general manager Alexander Kennedy. A central and prominent site in Invercargill, it was also the site of the first landing of supplies for local settlers. In March 1856, John Kelly, a seaman who had settled at Ruapuke 32 years earlier, landed the stores for the first farmers who settled near Invercargill.’

This building was one of the first erected in New Zealand by the BNZ for its own purposes. It was single storied with a two roomed attic, a round headed opening and a wooden residential addition. Robin Griffin, researcher of New Zealand’s Victorian banks, theorised that the architect may have been William Mason because of its similarity to the Wellington BNZ.

New premises, 1877-1879

Banks symbolised wealth, position, strength and trustworthiness. The BNZ embodied these characteristics in colonial Southland but gained additional substance from its home grown origins as a ‘colonial institution... It represented the solid, trustworthy, financial base on which Southland grew, on the back of the province’s wealth from sheep, wool, cattle, cropping, timber and coal.’

As a palpable testament of this solid trustworthiness and wealth, the BNZ required an extravagant building more suited to the prosperous and thriving township that Invercargill had become. It was time to replace the old bank with something more fitting the Bank’s growing status and Invercargill’s growing township. The BNZ was not alone in this philosophy. Over the course of the next few years, the various banking institutions competitively tried to surpass each other with the edifices they built, to show off their success to the public at large. Testimony to this is the three magnificent bank buildings which still grace the corners of the intersection of Tay and Dee Streets in Invercargill. The fourth corner was also adorned by the Colonial Bank of New Zealand, although this building was demolished in the 1950s.

During the 1870s in New Zealand more bank buildings were constructed or re-constructed than at any other period during the nineteenth century. The number of BNZ buildings almost tripled. During this decade capital from abroad was invested freely in New Zealand. Properties rose to high values and money was freely lent upon mortgage. Interestingly, Griffin notes with regard to the architecture that ‘the New Zealand bank architects of the 1870s were feeling their way with reasonably economic, bland buildings in young townships so as not to offend either local citizenry with unaccustomed ostentatious displays of wealth or the directors and shareholders with wasteful expenditure’. The architect of the new BNZ premises was, apparently, unhampered by these concerns.

The first decision was selecting the site for the new and imposing BNZ bank; a straightforward matter. The site already occupied by the Bank was on a prominent corner, indeed one of the most prominent, in the central township. Forty years of retrospect later, it was written that the BNZ occupied ‘what may be termed the most imposing site in Invercargill’. It was also clear that other banks were establishing themselves on opposite corner sites to form a financial hub. For the BNZ there could be no better site.

The next decision was the choice or architects. Noted Invercargill architect, F.W. Burwell (1846-1915) was selected. Burwell’s designs began revolutionising the centre of Invercargill township around 1874; a transformative reign which lasted until the mid-1880s. Born in Scotland, Burwell served his articles with the architect John Matthews. Immigrating to New Zealand in the late 1860s, he was in business in Queenstown by 1873. He moved to Invercargill in 1874. Described as ‘Invercargill’s earliest and probably most influential architect’ Burwell designed The Crescent and much of Invercargill’s commercial district. It has been argued that he ‘made Invercargill one of the finest built towns of New Zealand in the 1880s’.

Architectural historian Michael Findlay wrote that ‘Thomson’s wide streets required the attentions of an ambitious architect ... the matching of Frederich William Burwell (1846 - 1915) and Invercargill was a most successful and productive one... Burwell brought a new level of cosmopolitanism to the Invercargill streetscape... He began filling Thompson’s plan with highly disciplined rows of two-and three-storey Italianate shops, banks and financial buildings. Burwell’s carefully proportioned classical facades answered a need for appropriate architectural form ..his vocabulary included round headed windows at the upper level under projecting cornices and richly detailed balustrades. The overall effect was both varied in scale and highly consistent in detail...’

In recognition of his work, Burwell was elected a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1880. The depression in the 1880s, however, saw his commissions decline and he moved to Australia in 1887, practising first in Melbourne, followed by Perth and then Freemantle. Burwell returned to Melbourne in 1910, where he died five years later.

Burwell’s design for the new BNZ premises showed a certain similarity to the 1862 building. Both were round-headed with pilasters, a balustrade at roof level, and a doorway recessed within the rounded corner. This similarity may have been out of respect for the previous building on site, or because of Burwell’s friendship with the possible original architect William Mason. The bank’s brief, however, may simply have been for a similar building except more elaborate and suitable to the larger, more prosperous township of the 1880s.

Tenders were called for in June 1877. Mr John Ramsay was the successful contractor and by August foundations were being laid. The building was not completed until mid 1879.

Owing to the difference in street levels the building was two storeys high on the street front and three storeys high at the rear. Burwell’s design provided accommodation for banking business and also a residence for the ‘officer in charge’. The banking chamber was 31 by 37 feet (9.45 by 11.27 metres) and 28 ½ feet (8.68 metres) high with a floor of Staffordshire ‘encaustic tiles of rich design’. Around the central chamber were various rooms including the manager’s office, two strong rooms, bathroom and a residence. The residence, which ran over three floors at the rear of the building, contained a dining room, drawing room, bedrooms and kitchen. Its front entrance was via a porch on Clyde Street.

Burwell’s exterior embraced a handsome circular portico; a row of Corinthian columns raised on a base of dressed stone, supporting a large entablature which was topped by bold balustraded parapets. The window design included circular heads with transoms supported by pilasters and columns.

Materials included Portland cement concrete for the foundations, slate for the roof and bricks for the internal walls and partitions. The superstructure used stone from the Oreti quarries, which ‘though costly, is held to be the finest and most durable building stone yet discovered in the Colony. This is the first building constructed with this stone’.

Contemporary commentators followed the construction with interest. The Southland Times noted that ‘when completed, the building will throw into the shade very many of the first-class banking establishments in this Colony’. It described the architectural style as ‘Corinthian Renaissance.’ The article went on to describe the proposed premises:

‘The banking chamber will be a spacious and handsome room...The walls throughout are formed into a series of panels by bold pilasters with moulded bases and capitals springing from a dado of panelled and moulded cedar, supporting a full moulded entablature, consisting of moulded architrave and cornice, with richly designed frieze. From this springs the arched ceiling with its moulded and panelled ribs running up to the elaborate panelling above, comprising geometrical ornamentation, rosettes, pendants, &c., in bold relief. The whole, when finished, will have a rich, light, pleasing and artistic effect..The external design presents an elevation to Tay and Clyde Streets of equal dimensions and of precisely similar design. The main entrance is at the corner of the two streets, facing Dee Street. This has been made a prominent feature, and consists of a circular portico, having a row of Corinthian columns raise on a base of dressed stone, supporting an entablature of massive proportions, surmounted by bold balustraded parapets.. Ornamentation has been judiciously though sparingly introduced... Taken as a whole, the design exhibits great study, and has throughout the appearance of stability and repose, combined with no small amount of grace and beauty.

In January 1879, some three months before the Bank was finished, the newspaper again reported on the ‘massive structure..which is at once original, striking, and from an architectural point of view, very beautiful.’ By this time the semicircular tellers’ desk was in place and the ceiling was completed. The ceiling of the bank chamber was described as ‘unique in this district, the beautiful plaster mouldings having all been executed by a highly experienced workman.’ Burwell was praised for following ‘a highly commendable principle, namely that of utilising colonial industries in every possible instance..[it] reflect[s] the highest credit on the architect, Mr Burwell, and must greatly enhance his already high reputation in this town’.

1927 Modifications

In the following years the interior was altered to suit the growing needs of the town, and the residential quarters were continually encroached on. By 1927 it was felt that ‘the arrangement of the planning of the building was more ingenious than convenient or complete.’ The BNZ was faced with either demolition and a rebuild, or remodelling and extension of the original building.

Architect E.R. Wilson was consulted. Edmund Richardson Fitz Wilson was from a noted Invercargill family who were prominent in local business and religious circles. His father Henry was Chairman of the Savings Bank, Hospital and Bluff Harbour Boards, as well as active in St John’s and All Saints’ churches. In 1897 Edmund completed a seven year apprenticeship with Invercargill architectural practice MacKenzie and Gilbertson, taking over the firm when the two partners moved away. He gained several important commissions including the Invercargill Town Hall, Civic Theatre, Fire Station, Kew Hospital, St Catherine’s Girls College, St John’s Anglican Church and many leading retail stores. Wilson’s reputation exceeded the local to the national, particularly during his governance roles in the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

After considering Wilson’s designs for both options, the BNZ decided on a compromise; the building would be extended, the interior would be completely reconstructed, and the exterior would be retained with some significant changes made to the facades.

Work probably began in 1926. The first stage was to gut the interior. The exterior facades facing Tay and Clyde Street were retained, along with the old south wall and the basement structure. The roof structure and the interior of the building were gutted along with the old east side wall. The main change to the exterior was the repositioning of the entrance door, which may have been because the corner was particularly windswept. The old large portico was replaced by a small porch located on Tay Street and the three bays between the original corner columns were filled with concrete. New windows were constructed and installed throughout the building in a style in keeping with the Art Deco style of the 1920s. The original slate roof was replaced with corrugated iron. The building was extended an extra bay width on the Clyde Street elevation and an extra half bay width on the Tay Street elevation.

The new style of the interior was predominantly that of the early Art Deco period, with some Corinthian column detailing. The plaster work on the auditorium walls illustrated simple Art Deco lines. It was the ceiling which attracted the most public notice, described as ‘designed in fibrous plaster of a very ornate pattern [which] adds materially to the atmosphere and impressiveness of the Bank’. The walls were rebuilt in brick and the foundations in concrete. The main floor was entirely occupied by the chamber and manager’s room. The basement strong room was also built at this time. The walls were 2 feet 6 inches (76 cm) of thick reinforced concrete. An apartment was again constructed for the senior banking officer on the top floor of the new rear extension.

The Southland Times, under banner ‘Asset to the Town’, gave a full report of the reconstruction in July 1927:

‘The chamber ranks among the most imposing and convenient banking chambers of the Dominion. While handsome and attractive, it is simple compared with the old chamber and with many elsewhere. It is flooded by daylight from three sides, with absence of top-lightings, and for night work is fitted on the latest principles of semi-indirect electric lighting. The staff is arranged compactly on modern lines for ideal administration in the heart of the chamber, while the counters and desks for public convenience are on the outer margin in letter U shape, thus affording them the maximum of space and ease of service.

In the basement with headroom of 11 feet [3.35 metres] floor to ceiling, are commodious safe storage vaults for the various records and documents which are kept by the bank for a minimum of ten years, In the heart of this storage vault are the strong rooms and treasury, fitted with every modern convenience and with great precautions by way of protection against thieves and fire. Here also is storage for stationery, small lavatories and the heating chambers.

The rear portion of the building towards Wood Street has comfortable and attractive top floor accommodation for the resident staff.’

On 28 March 1927 the staff were able to move into the new premises. After the remodelling, the Bank covered an area fifty percent greater than that of the old building. It had been completely remodelled at a total cost of £17,032. The building was well-received - ‘the latest architectural designs in the construction of a modern bank have been incorporated, and the result is a building that is a credit to its architect and to the town.’

Later modifications

The building appeared to undergo few modifications in the decades following its reconstruction. By the mid 1970s, however, the BNZ apparently decided the site and the building was no longer suited to the needs of modern banking. In 1978 the Bank moved to new premises on the corner of Kelvin and Esk Streets. The BNZ first offered the former bank to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Following discussions, the property was put on the market. On 2 December 1980 the property sold for $70,000. The new owner was the Bethel New Life Church (now named Cornerstone New Life Church).

Modifications and repairs were quickly undertaken. The contractor was Peter Baxter but much of the work was carried out by volunteer labour. The banking chamber was turned into a church auditorium and a half-moon shaped mezzanine was added half way across the chamber, which provided seating for 500 people. A kitchen area was installed in former office space. The basement was altered firstly to provide some flood protection and secondly to create Sunday School rooms. The exterior was steam cleaned and painted. The new church opened on 12 December 1981.

In 1996 a three stage restoration of the building was begun. During stage one the windows were restored. Old panes were replaced with new glass and aluminium windows were removed and replaced with curved windows made in Invercargill. Original steel frames which had rusted and were beyond repair were replaced with replica steel frames. During the second stage, the former Bank was painted and some plaster was repaired, as was the roof. In 2002 the congregation repainted the interior. The ornate coffered ceiling is intact and the façade is as it was reconstructed in 1927.The building’s original grandeur is still evident.

In 1927, as the Bank’s reconstruction was nearing completion, architect E.R. Wilson remarked that it was ‘interesting to reflect what will be the size and appearance of the town when this new building has become obsolete as did its predecessor’. Perhaps Wilson would have been proud to know that over 80 years later, far from being obsolete, the BNZ bank building was revitalised and looking into the future with confidence.

Physical Description


The former BNZ is set on one of Invercargill’s most central and prominent corners. It is on the south corner of a roundabout which features the Troopers’ Memorial at its heart. It forms part of what was once an imposing banking precinct including the Colonial Union Bank, Bank of New South Wales and National Bank on the other corners. Although the Colonial Union Bank was demolished, the streetscape created by these financial edifices remains impressive.


The exterior of the former BNZ follows a Victorian Classical style. It has two street facades set at right angles linked by a curving corner which echoes the curve of the street corner. A colonnade of fluted columns with Corinthian capitals decorates the street frontages. Continuous about the two street facades is an architrave, a dentilled cornice and a balustraded frieze which upstands in line with the pilasters below. The frieze contains the title ‘Cornerstone New Life Church’. The parapet is simple. It has stone eaves brackets supporting the ledge of the parapet. Above is stone balustrading between each upstand.

The Tay Street façade has two large arched windows, although the one to the right has been converted into an entrance. Both windows are flanked by small pilasters and have a moulded architrave with keystone, while between and on either side is a fluted Corinthian pilaster. Three windows line the curved portion. They are narrower than the original 1877 windows and were created to fit the spaces left by the removal of the original entranceway. Double pilasters flank these windows. The Clyde Street façade has three arched windows again flanked by small pilasters with full-height and fluted Corinthian pilasters. Each of the building’s windows is unusually decorated with geometric shapes in the actual windows. The height of the windows indicates the height of the internal banking chamber.

The Tay Street façade also has a plaque which records this site as the place where the first landing of supplies for settlers transpired. The plaque reads ‘At this spot in March 1856, John Kelly, a seaman who had settled at Ruapuke 32 years earlier, landed the stores for the first farmers who settled near Invercargill.’

The rear of the building, the southern elevation, is simple and undecorated. It is clad in roughcast and has two fire escapes. A car park area is at the rear, with a wall enclosing it. There is also a back porch, accessed by stairs from the car park which leads to a back door. There is also access to the porch via a wooden bridge from Clyde Street.


Returning to the Tay Street entrance, a short flight of concrete steps leads to the entrance porch and the small foyer beyond. Turning to the right of this foyer/corridor are double glass doors which lead to the church auditorium, once the main banking chamber. Wooden panelling, topped by a dado, lines the walls to the bottom of the large and imposing windows. The panelling features both horizontal and vertical panels. One of the most impressive features of this space are the three windows which replaced the original entrance way. Their height gives a soaring aspect to the space. A sound desk now runs most of the length of the western elevation, underneath these windows.

The south elevation includes a modern kitchen/service area, a reception office, and two wooden panelled doors, one at either end of the elevation. These were originally managers’ offices. The largest office runs along the remainder of the western elevation on Clyde Street. It is also wood panelled and has another large window. It has two doors; one to the former banking chamber and the other to another office which may have originally been the secretary’s office, and is now Church administration space.

On the eastern elevation is a stage and large screen which have been added for church services. At the Tay Street edge of this elevation are stairs which lead to the dominating feature of the chamber; the mezzanine floor. The mezzanine was added in 1980. It was built inside the walls of the chamber and can be removed with minimal damage to the surrounding walls. It includes six rows of seating. Along the rear of the mezzanine runs a glass barrier which provides a view from the top to the bottom of the soaring corner windows.

It is from the mezzanine which the most striking original feature of the interior may be best admired. This is the elaborately coffered ceiling. It is made up of a series of sunken panels, in the shape of squares or rectangles, also called caissons (‘boxes’), or lacunaria (‘spaces, openings’). The strength of the ceiling structure is in the framework of the coffers. The carved motifs are flowers and leaves framed in square borders. The coffer panels are painted cream. The decorated frames surrounding them are painted mint green.

The plaster interior walls also maintain their original Art Deco decoration. Above the wooden paneling and dado, the main height of the wall runs to a plaster dado, three quarters the height of the chamber. These walls, which are painted cream, contain a simple rectangular plaster frame. Above the mint coloured plaster dado, the cream walls contain simple Art Deco lines. The simple lines balance contrast with the elaborately carved ceiling.

Toward the rear of the mezzanine is a door which leads to a small corridor. This part of the building was formerly the residence of the caretaker, and before that, a bank officer. At one end of the corridor, to the west overlooking Clyde Street, is an office with original wooden paneling. The floor cuts through the height of the window. At the opposite end of the corridor, is a large room which is now used as a youth area. The room has some original wooden paneling and a kitchen has been added to the space. The floors are wooden. Leading from this space, along the southern elevation, is an original staircase. It is wood paneled with a wooden balustrade and wrought iron supports. Original windows line the walls and overlook Wood Street, running along the rear of the block. The stairs are covered in vinyl. At the bottom of the stairs, a door opens into a small corridor which leads to the ground floor offices on both sides and the sanctuary in front.

Returning to the entrance foyer corridor, and through the door opposite the auditorium entrance doors, is a stairway to the basement. This area is used for Sunday School purposes. The basement contains a number of rooms, large and small, as well as winding corridors, storage spaces and toilet facilities. Some of the doors appear to be original, as do some of the fixtures such as coat hooks and shelving. The windows are also original. There is also access to the back porch and car park beyond.

Construction Dates

1926 - 1927

1980 - 1981
Modified for Church purposes; mezzanine added

Original Construction
1877 - 1879

Construction Details

Portland cement concrete, bricks, Oreti stone, corrugated iron roof (originally slate)

Completion Date

30th May 2011

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

Chappell, 1961

N.M. Chappell, New Zealand Banker's Hundred: Bank of New Zealand 1861-1961, Wellington, 1961

Sorrell, 2006

P. Sorrell, (ed) Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland to 2006 Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago Southland Area 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.