Beaths Department Store Building
682-690 Colombo St, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
26th November 1981
Lot 1 DP 7650 Lot 1 DP 6642 Lots 1-4 DP 2564 Pt TS 885
The Beath's building registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga dates from 1935. However, the firm began in 1860 as Kirby and Co., a men's outfitters and drapers, who operated from a store in Cashel Street. In 1866 Oscar Kirby went into partnership with George Low Beath (1827-1914). After Kirby's death in 1868, Beath went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Frank Malcolm, and the business continued to expand. They leased the former Town Hall in High Street until it was destroyed by fire in 1873. Beath and Malcolm then purchased two properties to the east and one to the west of their store in Cashel Street. In 1878 they erected the first three-storey building in Christchurch on their westernmost site. By this stage their customer base had shifted from the construction workers and goldminers of the 1860s to small farmers and the citizens of Christchurch. The increase in the number of women in Canterbury led to a requirement for women's wear, and this was another reason for the company's expansion. By the time Malcolm retired in 1896 Beath's was one of the largest stores in New Zealand.
Beath retired from active participation in the business in 1901, although he remained a director until his death in 1914. The year after his retirement Beath's was floated as a limited liability company. By 1915 the turnover of the store had doubled and it was decided to expand the premises once more. John Mitchell, the managing director since 1906, travelled through Britain, Europe and the United States to garner ideas for the modernisation of the store. Following his return it was decided to add a further three storeys, thus making it, at six storeys, the tallest drapery store in New Zealand at the time. (This building was demolished in 1975.)
The business continued to grow and in 1934 Beath's purchased the 'Sorrenson's Block', which gave the firm access to Lichfield Street, and a block of buildings on the corner of Cashel and Colombo streets, thus providing the company with one of the best retail sites in Christchurch. The following year Beath's erected another new building on this site, the subject of this registration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga.
This new store had been originally designed as a five or six-storeyed Chicago-style building in 1929 by the architectural firm S. & A. Luttrell. The Luttrell's chief contribution to New Zealand architecture was in the introduction of the Chicago 'skyscraper' style, as seen in the New Zealand Express Company buildings in Christchurch (1905-1907) and Dunedin (1908-1910). The firm's architects for the Beath's project were Allan Manson and Jack Hollis, and Hollis was sent to the United States to observe recent trends in department store design before preparing plans. Because of the Depression the eventual structure was more modest than Hollis's original plans. However, one notable feature, from the public's point of view, was the green and gold restaurant, which occupied most of the first floor. This was used for a Royal banquet in 1954, but was closed three years later to make more room for the increasing amount of merchandise.
Changes in usage throughout the store have mirrored changes in society. By 1960, for example, Beath's had altered their basement floor to include a coffee bar, a toy section and a music department, while on the ground floor space had been made for radios, televisions and other household appliances. In 1978 Beath's merged with the D.I.C. (Drapery and General Importing Company) and traded under the D.I.C. name from the Beath's building. In 1987 the building was transferred to Arthur Barnett Ltd, as part of Arthur Barnett's take-over of the D.I.C. in both Christchurch and Dunedin. Today the building houses a food court on the top floor, shops below, and part of the west end of the building has become the city's main bus terminus.
The former Beath's Department Store Building is significant today as a late example of the Luttrells' work and as a building that has remained in use as a department store for over 65 years. It is associated with a long-standing Christchurch firm, which was known for the calibre of its goods and the quality of service. The history of the firm from its beginnings as a men's outfitters to its culmination as a modern department store, illustrates the development of department stores in Christchurch. The building is a well-known landmark on the corner of Cashel Mall and Colombo Street.
23rd August 2001
Report Written By
Ann McEwan, 'The Architecture of A.E. and E.S. Luttrell in Tasmania and New Zealand', MA thesis, University of Canterbury, 1988