1 Victoria Street And 31 Weraroa Road, Levin
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
5th September 1985
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as Pt Lots 1-2 DP 2142 (CT WN312/272), Wellington Land District, and the building known as House thereon.
Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region
Pt Lots 1-2 DP 2142 (CT WN312/272), Wellington Land District
Constructed in 1940-41, the house at 1 Victoria Street in Levin is a tour-de-force of Moderne architecture. Moderne architecture was one of the significant and distinct permutations of modernism that became popularised in the 1930s and 1940s. With bold forms, curving planes, and geometric detailing, the house has aesthetic and architectural significance as an excellent demonstration of the Moderne style in residential design.
Richard Albert Speirs and Ethel Hilda Rowe were married in the early 1940s and around the same time moved into a newly constructed house at 1 Victoria Street. Speirs was a member of a well-known Foxton family; his father was a builder who later expanded his interests into flax and timber. Rowe was from Rongotea; the title for the corner section was issued on 21 June 1940.
As submitted for the permit, the plan for the modest two-bedroom house was reversed and it faced Weraroa Road; however as constructed the house was flipped and turned ninety degrees to face Victoria Street. It seems that the present house was achieved through two closely spaced construction campaigns with the symmetrical eastern two-thirds of the house completed in 1941 and the western one-third added not too many years later.
The dwelling as completed remains an energetic demonstration of Moderne architecture widely popular throughout New Zealand in the 1930s and 1940s. Later falling under the broad classification of ‘Art Deco,’ Moderne architecture was one of a number veins of modernism that developed and matured globally between World War One and World War Two.
A featured modern house in a 12 October 1940 article in the Auckland Star exhibited more European or International Style modernism than Moderne; however, its admired exterior characteristics could equally apply to the Speirs house. The writer observed: ‘possibly the outstanding feature of modern design is its appearance of solidity…[the modern house’s] character and charm lies in the flush surfaces which constitute the masses that have been so carefully and harmoniously arranged.’ With smooth, monolithic appearing stucco walls and simple, robust forms, the house at 1 Victoria Street certainly exhibits solidity.
Where the house departs from other contemporary expressions of modernism was a softening of planar intersections with curves and an articulated sense of motion—the parapet wall stepping down toward the back of the house; the rounded corners on the façade and porch; and, most of all, the over-scaled ‘waterfall’ hoods of the window bays. Bold simplicity in design is further reinforced though the rectilinear cut outs on the porch, the integrated geometric decoration along the top of the facade, and the muntin, or sash bar, pattern used on the front door and sidelights.
Ethel Speirs remained in the house until 1979; her husband had died earlier. It appears to remain in excellent condition with few exterior changes, notably a ranch slider on the west wall. There is a one-stall garage at the rear of the section facing onto Weraroa Road, which is probably original, but most likely enlarged.
France & Harvey
Builders of Levin
1940 - 1941
Possible addition of the western one-third of the house
Ranch slider replaces French doors on west side of house
31st January 2017
Report Written By
James A. Jacobs
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
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 Central region Office of Heritage New Zealand.