W. Lewis Drapery (Former)

29 Esk Street, Invercargill

  • W.Lewis Drapery (Former), Invercargill.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 29/09/2013.
  • W.Lewis Drapery (Former), Invercargill. Building detail.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 29/09/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2519 Date Entered 24th November 1983


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Sec 2, Blk II Town of Invercargill and part of the land described as Pt Sec 1, Blk II Town of Invercargill (CT SL181/232), Southland Land District, and the building known as W. Lewis Drapery (Former) thereon. Refer to the tabled extent map at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 8 March 2018.

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 1 and Pt Sec 2, Block II Town of Invercargill (CT SL181/232), Southland Land District


The W. Lewis Drapery Building (Former), designed by architects, was built for. A ornate three-storey block housed Lewis’s drapery shop and offices, and has historical and architectural significance.

The land on which this building stands was first granted to Invercargill gentleman John Henry Smith in May 1878. Smith leased parts of the land to various tenants including William Lewis in 1886. The mortgage holders (The Scottish and New Zealand Investment Company Limited) took the property in 1888. Lewis relinquished his lease in 1890, but then purchased the land in 1898.

William Lewis and Co. traded as general drapers in Invercargill. The company had branches in Wyndham and Gore. Lewis’s brother founded the business in 1863 as a branch of the Victorian firm Hoad and Co. of Bendigo, of which he was a partner. William Lewis took over the company in 1864. Welsh-born Lewis was brought up to the drapery trade. The first shop was on Tay Street, but moved to Dee Street in 1872. Fires destroyed his premises in 1875 and in 1888. In 1905, Lewis employed 80 people. In 1906 his premises were on the corner of Esk and Dee Streets.

Lewis died in 1908, leaving a sizable estate of £57,501. The drapery premises were transferred to his executors. The executors, members of the Lewis family, were described as Invercargill drapers. The land was transferred to Lewis’s Limited in July 1924.

Just prior to the outbreak of World War One, the company built grand new premises – one of a number of Invercargill companies to do so at that time. The Southland Times reported £33,000 being spent on buildings by four companies building new premises, Lewis and Company’s premises being the grandest, at a contract price of some £10,000. The Otago Witness reported that Fletcher Brothers were the contractors for W. Lewis and Co.’s drapery emporium. In November 1913, Architects Edmund Anscombe and Henry McDowell Smith invited tenders for the erection of business premises for Messrs Lewis and Co. The building featured the latest technologies – electric light was laid on, internal telecommunication systems were installed and passenger and goods lifts installed.

The tea rooms were featured in a Southland Times article: ‘The enterprising proprietors of this old-established business have devoted to the tea rooms the same thought and care and the same sense of colour effects as are to be observed in all parts of the building. The tearooms are reached either by the smooth-running electric elevator, or by the handsome red-pine staircase….’ The tear rooms surround the light well and their shape lends itself to artistic arrangement. The article noted the red pine dado and woodwork, and the richly-coloured fittings. The tea rooms were filled to bursting on opening day.

The Brown Owl Tearooms made history as the first restaurant in New Zealand to serve alcohol when the Invercargill Licensing Trust was formed in 1944, and the city’s liquor outlets were owned by the community trusts. The Brown Owl was a ‘pioneer operation’ in the hospitality industry, and quite scandalous at the time. It closed in 1951 In 2018, it is home to a restaurant.


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

Anscombe and Smith

English-born Edmund Anscombe (1874-1948) emigrated to New Zealand as a child. He served an apprenticeship as a carpenter before studying architecture in the United States. In 1907 Anscombe returned to Dunedin and won a competition for the design of the School of Mines at Otago University. He became the university architect, a position he held until 1929. He went into partnership with Leslie Coombs in 1913 and Henry McDowell Smith in 1914. The latter partnership continued through the 1920s and received commissions as far afield as Invercargill and Palmerston North.

Smith was born in Southland, coming to Dunedin before World War One. After active service he returned to Invercargill before relocating to Dunedin in 1921. McDowell Smith practised architecture in Dunedin and Invercargill for his whole professional life. His major buildings included Dunedin’s Selwyn College, the Ranfurly Hospital, and the Dominion Fertiliser Works at Ravensbourne. In 1951, Norman Oakley joined McDowell Smith, and in 1953 the partnership became McDowell Smith, Oakley and Pinfold. McDowell Smith died in 1965.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1914 -

Completion Date

22nd January 2018

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Murihiku: The Southland Story

Paul Sorrell (ed), Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand