83-85 Dee Street And 2 Don Street, Invercargill
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
24th November 1983
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as Pt Lot 8 and Lots 11-12 DP 2107 (CT SL120/270), Southland Land District, and the building known as Alexandra Buildings, thereon.
Pt Lot 8 and Lots 11-12 DP 2107 (CT SL120/270), Southland Land District
This romantic Queen Ann-style building on the corner of Dee and Don Streets in Invercargill was built in 1901 for the trustees of John Turnbull Thomson’s estate. Designed by prominent architect Cuthbert Brodrick, who inherited F.W. Burwell’s design mantle, and built by the Mair Brothers, it is an exuberant and significant building with aesthetic, architectural and social significance.
In August 1900, the Southern Cross reported that there was to be a ‘notable addition’ to the architecture of Invercargill in the shape ‘of a handsome building of three storeys at the corner of Dee and Don Streets.’ The building erected to the order of the trustees of John Turnbull Thomson’s estate, was to be divided into five shops, and a number of offices.
Invercargill architect Cuthbert Brodrick designed the building, advertising for tenders in September 1900. Brodrick, who had been articled to F.W. Burwell in Invercargill, practised in the North Island and studied in England before establishing his practice in Invercargill in 1900, awarded the tender to Invercargill contractors Mair Brothers. The contract was for over £4,000, with the building having a 75 foot (22.8 metre) frontage on Don Street, and a 45 foot (13.7 metre) frontage to Dee Street.
The timber buildings already on the site were demolished to make way for the ‘handsome, three-storeyed brick premises.’ The premises were nearly complete in March 1901, with the Southland Times reporting ‘that the second storey was nearly complete. ‘The style is Tudor, and will have a striking effect. The rooms on the lower storey are large, and with spacious cellars below, will make splendid shops. In the second storey the oriel windows will give a novel appearance to the building, and the third storey will complete a very handsome building, which will make a fine cornerpiece and be a wonderful improvement on the old dilapidated buildings which formerly stood there.’
Although initially unnamed, the building became known as the Alexandra Buildings, probably commemorating King Edward VII’s 1901 accession to the throne, with Alexandra beside him as Queen-Empress. The first tenants included auctioneer I.W. Raymond, and seedsman E.S. Perry. Another foundation tenant was the Invercargill Cycling Club (joined by the Physical Culture Club in May 1903). They occupied the whole upper flat of the buildings with a billiard room, two social rooms, and exercise hall. The Alexandra Tea Rooms opened in 1904. More unusual tenants included Madame Heller, ‘psychometrist, and Mr Heller-Kober, ‘metaphysician.’ Mr Mitchell, a surgeon-dentist also had rooms in the building. Long term tenants have included jewellers William A Brown and McLeay’s jewellers.
Design historian Michael Findlay writes that Broderick assumed Burwell’s mantle and filled the city with ‘great panache.’ The Alexandra building, Findlay writes, designed in ‘romantic Queen Ann-style…displays its mixed Elizabethan and Arts and Crafts elements on a prominent corner site, the formality of its location both emphasised by a squat and solid tower and relieved by its oval window and projecting bays.’
Over the years, the Alexandra Buildings have been altered to suit the changing needs of tenants – there were major renovations in 1937 supervised by architect A.G.A. Milne, while in the 1940s, some offices were converted to flats. In 2017, the building houses commercial and retail tenants, and includes residential accommodation on the upper floors.
Brodrick, Cuthbert John
Cuthbert John Brodrick (1867-1946) was born in Invercargill, the fifth son of Thomas Brodrick. He was named for his uncle, the well-known Victorian architect Cuthbert Brodrick (1822-1905). Brodrick was educated at Southland Boys High School. In 1884 Brodrick was articled to F.W. Burwell and trained in the classical tradition, travelling to Melbourne with Burwell to complete his training. Brodrick returned to New Zealand in 1891 after architectural draughting in Queensland for the Government. In 1906 he married Jemima ('Nonnie') Thomson, stepdaughter of surveyor John Turnbull Thomson.
After practising in Hawera for six years he returned to Invercargill. Brodrick entered into a partnership with his pupil Thomas Royds during World War One. Royds died in 1936. Brodrick retired from practice about 1943. During his career, he served as President of the Institute of Architects in 1911, as Vice-President in 1917, and as a member of the council in 1935.
The first building he designed in Invercargill was the Alexandra building. Others (with partner Thomas Royds) included the Italian Renaissance Bank of New South Wales (1912), the Kaiapoi building, the Grand Hotel (1914), the Edwardian Baroque Southland Daily News (1913), the stripped Classical Invercargill Savings Bank (1926), the classical temple Masonic Lodge of St John (1926), the Georgian Waimahaka Homestead, and grandstands for the Southland Racing Club.
Brodrick was also a member of the Borough Council for three terms and became Deputy Mayor.
Scottish-born brothers Matthew Mair (1839-1911) and Hugh Mair (c.1843-1915) arrived in Invercargill around 1862. Mair Brothers were responsible for many of Invercargill’s prominent building projects, including the construction of the water tower in 1889. The Mair Brother partnership lasted until Matthew’s death in 1911. Hugh Mair died in 1915.
Alterations and renovations
Offices converted to flat
5th September 2017
Report Written By
Michael Findlay, ‘The Built Environment’, in Paul Sorrell (ed), Murihiku: The Southland Story, Southland to 2006 Book Project Committee, Invercargill, 2006
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 Office of Heritage New Zealand.