Milne and Choyce Department Store (Former)

131 Queen Street, Auckland

  • Milne and Choyce Department Store (Former). From:
    Copyright: craigsyd - flickr. Taken By: craigsyd - flickr. Date: 30/06/2009.
  • Milne and Choyce Department Store (Former) 1993. From: NZHPT Field Record Forms. Auckland City Council.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Bruce Petry.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2620 Date Entered 26th November 1981


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 1 DP 77767 (CT NA50B/716), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Milne and Choyce Department Store (Former) thereon

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 77767 (CT NA50B/716), North Auckland Land District


The concrete nine-storey Milne and Choyce (former) building, in Queen Street, built at the beginning of the 1920s, once housed one of the largest and most modern department stores in New Zealand: ‘a town in itself’. Like many such stores, it grew from a small drapery store started by women in the second half of the nineteenth century. The store was significant as a leader in the New Zealand retail practice, was a major employer, and for 50 years was an important social space. Its design, by engineer Eric Rhodes and architect Llewellyn Piper, is significant as an early example of then-new earthquake-resistant design. It also has a long connection with the Milne and Choyce families, who were involved for several generations, and with Fletcher Construction.

In 1866 two sisters, Mary Jane and Charlotte Milne, established a millinery and drapery in Auckland. Charlotte later married Henry Choyce who entered into a partnership with Mary Jane, and the store flourished. In 1909, the store took over a substantial 1870s building on Queen Street, originally built for New Zealand Loan and Mercantile. It operated in this building until it replaced it with a new 9-storey store on the same site, constructed in 1921-4. James Fletcher of Fletcher Construction had seen early plans for the new building, and boldly offered to come up with improved plans. Fletchers’ soon had a contract for an enormous new store, designed by their new structural engineer Eric Rhodes and architect Llewellyn Piper, who went on to have a notable career designing many Auckland modern buildings. In contrast to the reinforced concrete beam and column construction commonly used in multi-storey buildings at the time, the building employed flat-slab construction with mushroom-headed columns, recently developed in the United States to be earthquake resistant. This allowed unobstructed ceilings and floor spaces, ‘lending to the monolithic strength of the work an attractive appearance of lightness’. The building was built in five sections, allowing the store to continue business during construction. The eighth floor was topped with a mansard roof containing the Tudor Tearooms, the ‘most up-to-date tearooms in Auckland’, seating 600 and opening into an open-air roof garden, with a distinctive pergola. This roof garden was glassed in by 1927.

The store was highly successful, leading the way in many modern retail techniques, providing additional services such as barbershops, hosting community events, and becoming an important part of the social sphere and a major employer. Its tearoom alone hosted a quarter of a million people in one year. To accommodate their large clothing factory and to create yet more retail space, a new seven-storey building, known as the Annex, was erected at the rear, facing Mills Lane, in 1929-30, containing a highly decorated Art Deco Reception Hall, and with its lower floors connected to the existing shop, and a mezzanine floor added. During the Second World War (1939-45), the building had air raid shelters installed, removed two years later. In 1955, a home appliance department and food court was added to the lower ground floor.

From the 1960s, the company attempted to diversify into suburbs and towns, but like many department stores it struggled to adjust to changing retail climates. Looking to anchor their new Downtown mall development, Fletchers acquired control of the company, and moved the store there, and sold this building. Since then, the building has had numerous internal alterations for many retail and commercial clients. The annex was demolished to make way for a neighbouring tower block in the 1980s. Today the building contains a mix of retail, on the lower floors, and commercial tenants above, and remains an important part of the Queen Street streetscape.


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

Piper, Llew

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Eric Rhodes

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Construction of the Annex, and mezzanine added to the original building

Partial Demolition
Annex demolished

Completion Date

29th June 2015

Report Written By

Elizabeth Cox

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

‘Large New City Block’, Auckland Star, 29 May 1920, p.12.

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Reid, Hilary F., 'Milne, Mary Jane', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Robinson, 1970

Neil Robinson, James Fletcher: Builder, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1970

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Laurenson, Helen, 'Department stores and shopping malls - The rise of department stores', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

New Zealand Herald

11 Nov 1903, p.6.

‘Old Landmark Passes’, New Zealand Herald, 5 September 1922, p.6.

Cashmore, 1984

Cashmore, Stephen, ‘Auckland Loses an Art Deco Interior’, Historic Places in New Zealand, June 1984

Goldsmith, 2009

Goldsmith, Paul, Fletchers: A Centennial History of Fletcher Building, Auckland, 2009

Grattan, 1966

Grattan, K. 'A century of fashion: Milne & Choyce, 1866-1966'. Journal of the Auckland Historical Society 8 (1966)

Hunt & Morrow, 2006

Hunt, Ian and Diana Morrow (eds.), City of Enterprise: Perspectives on Auckland Business History, Auckland, 2006.

Laurenson, 2009

Laurenson, Helen, Going Up Going Down: The Rise and Fall of the Department Store, Auckland, 2009.

Tucker, 1968

Tucker, K A, Milne and Choyce: One Hundred Years Business History 1867-1967, Auckland, 1968

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 Northern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand