16 Symonds Street, Auckland
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
22nd June 2007
Extent of List Entry
Registration includes the land in NZ Gazette 1965, p.285 (as shown on the 'Extent of Registration' plan in Appendix 3 of the Registration Report), and the structures, their fittings and fixtures thereon, excluding the Arts Building to the southeast and its footprint. The registration includes garden features such as walls, railings and a gate in the northwestern part of the property.
Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)
Allot 33 Sec 9 City of Auckland (NZ Gazette 1965, p.285), North Auckland Land District
The former house at 16 Symonds Street is the southernmost of a group of three adjoining Italianate houses, and reflects high-status urban design in late colonial Auckland.
Constructed in 1884, the two-storey dwelling was erected in lower Symonds Street, one of the city's earliest thoroughfares. Prior to the mid 1860s, the Symonds Street ridge was at the epicentre of British colonial power in New Zealand, containing Government House, the Albert Barracks and the General Assembly building. Noted for its ongoing inclusion of high-status institutions such as the Supreme Court, the ridge became increasingly popular as a residential area for the town's commercial leaders in the 1870s and 1880s, after the transfer of colonial administration to the newly designated capital at Wellington and the departure of British troops.
The property occupied by the current building at 16 Symonds Street was initially part of an endowment reserved by Governor George Grey under the Grammar School Trust Deed of 1850. By the early 1860s, separate single-storey timber dwellings with shingle roofs had been erected on the site by ironmonger John McRae and school teacher Alexander Whyte. As property values rose, the Auckland College and Grammar School Trust sought to improve its income by demolishing existing structures and creating new subdivisions, specifying that dwellings on each property should cost no less than ₤500. In 1884 wine and spirits merchant, Edward Lewis (1835?-1909) purchased the lease for both 14 and 16 Symonds Street for the benefit of his wife Julia (1830?-1912), who transferred half of her interest to a trust for her children by her first husband Charles Davis (1814?-1875). Julia Lewis was mother-in-law to the influential Jewish businessmen Laurence David Nathan (1846-1905) and Alfred Hyam Nathan (1856-1905), while her first husband had also been an eminent member of the early Auckland Jewish community. Funded by Julia Lewis, near-identical new houses were constructed at 14 and 16 Symonds Street by January 1885. Both appear to have been initially built for rental purposes.
The house at 16 Symonds Street was constructed in an ornate Italianate design that was fashionable in the 1870s and 1880s, particularly among merchants, whose commercial premises were often erected in a similar style. It was built by William Baildon & Alexander Stevenson to a design by the prominent architectural firm of Edward Mahoney and Sons. Edward Mahoney had earlier been responsible for The Pah, reputed to be the grandest villa in Auckland, and had also recently taken the presidency of the Auckland Institute of Architects. He retired from business in 1885. The asymmetrical frontage of the new villa included a projecting bay and a short verandah, and befitting its financial value the house was built of durable materials, incorporating brick walls and a slate roof. Erected on sloping ground, the building contained two main storeys for reception rooms and bedrooms, with a kitchen and service rooms probably located in a basement. A large garden at the rear may have included a detached timber structure from an early stage. A multi-storey rear verandah on the main house overlooked this area and afforded more distant views across Grafton Gully to the Auckland Domain.
The residence was initially let to surgeon Charles Newberry Cobbett in October 1884. This occurred just before the urban property market collapsed, as Auckland entered into a lengthy period of economic depression. In 1891, it was let to another surgeon, Thomas G. Davy. In 1894 Edward and Julia Lewis moved from their home of many years in Hardinge Street into 16 Symonds Street, where they remained until 1908, the year before Edward's death. By the following year the residence, in common with a number of substantial homes located in the Symonds Street area, had become a boarding house providing accommodation for single working people and a transient population. This occurred as wealthier citizens increasingly moved to houses in suburban locations. Later known by the name Mona, the establishment contained 18 bedrooms and operated into the 1960s. Following its acquisition by the University of Auckland, the building housed the Political Studies Department, its current occupants. In 1966 it was at the centre of a student demonstration focussing on issues of surveillance and freedom of speech, the first protest of its sort on the University campus. The property's rear garden and outbuilding were removed by the early 1980s, when a large Arts Building was erected. Alterations were carried out to the main house at a similar time, including the removal of chimneys and other features.
The former house at 16 Symonds Street is aesthetically significant as one of a cluster of three imposing and ornate Italianate villas, enhanced by its tree-lined frontage to Symonds Street. It is architecturally significant as a surviving example of a two-storey colonial dwelling of urban design built to house citizens of standing, and is also an example of the work of the noted Auckland architectural practice of Edward Mahoney & Sons. The place has historical value for its association with the conversion of the Symonds Street ridge into a desirable residential district following the departure of the colonial capital to Wellington. It is also of value for its connections with significant early Jewish merchant families, and an important episode in the recent history of the University of Auckland, which involved issues of freedom of speech on campus.
Historical Significance or Value
The place has historical significance for its association with the transformation of the Symonds Street ridge into a sought-after residential district following the transfer of the colonial capital to Wellington. It demonstrates the role of the area as a high status enclave within the later colonial town and also reflects subsequent changes to the area, including the conversion of many large inner city dwellings to boarding houses and the subsequent development of the area for university purposes. The place also has historical value for its association with significant early Jewish merchant families, and an important episode in the recent history of the University of Auckland, which involved issues of freedom of speech on campus.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The place has aesthetic significance as one of a cluster of three imposing and ornate late-Victorian urban villas designed in the Italianate style. Its aesthetic value is enhanced by the collective similarity of design, scale and detailing of these buildings, and their proximity to the tree-lined frontage of Symonds Street. Collectively the group enhances the visual amenity of lower Symonds Street, one of Auckland's earliest colonial thoroughfares.
Architectural Significance or Value
The place has architectural significance as a surviving example of a two-storey villa of urban design, built to house citizens of standing. Its architectural significance is enhanced by the survival of two adjoining villas, which demonstrate the spatial relationship of many large villas to each other within a late colonial urban environment. It also has significance as an example of the work of the noted Auckland architectural practice of Edward Mahoney & Sons.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The place reflects the evolution of Auckland's lower Symonds Street area as a sought-after residential address in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. Together with two other dwellings to the northeast, it demonstrates the nature of the urban streetscape in a well-to-do part of the colonial city. It also reflects the adaptation and use of large dwellings in the twentieth century as boarding houses and flats, and for office accommodation for academics in the expanding tertiary education sector.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The building is associated with notable early Jewish merchant families in Auckland, including those linked to Charles Davis and L.D. and A.H. Nathan. The building has considerable historical significance as the focus of an important student demonstration in the mid-1960s centred on principles of freedom of speech and protest against covert political surveillance on the university campus.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
Located beside a busy Auckland thoroughfare and as part of a major tertiary institution, the place has potential for public education about the history of late-Victorian architecture, high-status residential development in colonial Auckland, and aspects of the development of the University of Auckland.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The place has value as one of a group of three adjoining urban villas, displaying notable spatial relationships and other characteristics linked to late nineteenth-century residential urban design.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The place forms part of an outstanding historical and cultural landscape in the lower Symonds Street area. The surrounding landscape is particularly significant as the epicentre of colonial power in early New Zealand, as a high-status residential and administrative area in the late nineteenth century, and as an important educational precinct during most of the twentieth century. It contains an unusually large concentration of structures, in-ground archaeological deposits and trees of recognised heritage importance. Items include the British governor's house, remnants of the largest military barracks in colonial New Zealand and the oldest surviving stone church in the country.
The place is a place of historical or cultural heritage significance or value due to the extent to which it reflects the development of a well-to-do part of central Auckland, its association with important Jewish families and political protest in the 1960s, and its potential for public education as part of a major tertiary institution. The place is also assigned Category II status having regard to its residential urban design and as part of an outstanding cultural and historical landscape in the lower Symonds Street area.
Edward Mahoney (1824-1895)
Edward Mahoney emigrated from Cork, Ireland with his wife Margaret and three children. The Mahoneys arrived in Auckland in 1856 where Edward set up as a building and timber merchant. In 1876 he established the architectural practice that later became Edward Mahoney & Sons, which for over thirty years designed and supervised construction of many Catholic buildings as well as churches for other denominations.
The Church of St John the Baptist, Parnell (1861) and St Mary's Convent Chapel (1866) are two of the earliest surviving ecclesiastical buildings designed by Edward Mahoney and reflect the gradual evolution from simple Gothic Revival structures to more ambitious and creative use of the Gothic form such as may be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Khyber Pass (1881); and St Patrick's Cathedral, the latter completed in 1901.
Edward Mahoney was a founding member of the Auckland Institute of Architects, attending the first meeting in December 1880 where he was appointed honorary treasurer. He became president of the Institute in 1883. His sons Thomas (1855?-1923) and Robert (1862-1895) joined him in practice in 1876 and the early 1880s respectively.
Upon Edward's retirement in 1885, Thomas and Robert carried on the practice. After Robert's death in 1895, Thomas changed the firm's name to E. Mahoney & Son. The Mahoneys designed a wide variety of buildings including the Auckland Customhouse, hotels, commercial buildings and houses, their best-known surviving domestic buildings being the Pah, at Hillsborough (1877) and the Dilworth Terrace Houses, Parnell (1899). Their ecclesiastical buildings included St Mary's Church of the Assumption, Onehunga (1888) and St Benedict's Church, Newton (1888).
The firm of Edward Mahoney & Son continued to practice for a short period after Thomas Mahoney’s death in 1923, but was eventually dissolved in 1926.
Source: NZHPT Registration Report for Bank of New Zealand (Former), Devonport (Register no. 4511).
William Baildon (1836?-1917)
Born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, William Baildon arrived in New Zealand in 1859. After working on the Otago and West Coast goldfields he joined the rush to Thames in 1867. He settled in Auckland ten years later where he worked for many years as a builder and contractor and was a member of the Arch Hill Road Board.
Alexander Stevenson (1859-1925)
Alexander Stevenson was born in Glasgow in 1859 and was four years old when his parents immigrated to Auckland. He worked as a carpenter for seven years before taking up employment with the New Zealand Freezing Company. Stevenson later became the officer in charge of the Pukekohe Central Dairy Factory's testing department and was ultimately manager of the Waiuku and Frankton Butter Factories.
Early history of the site
Prior to European settlement, there was Maori occupation on today's Symonds Street ridge and Queen Street gully, known as Horotiu. The ridge may have been particularly well-regarded for its fertile soils and was cultivated by Ngati Whatua in the 1830s, when food was grown to supply the increasing number of Pakeha visiting the Waitemata harbour. After Auckland was chosen as the site of the colonial capital in 1840, the ridge was laid out as the epicentre of administrative power in the new colony, incorporating the British governor's house, the Albert Barracks - the largest military installation in the country - and the general assembly, where delegates from throughout the country gathered to discuss political matters. Following the departure of the colonial administration to the newly designated capital at Wellington in 1865 and the withdrawal of British troops shortly afterwards, the ridge consolidated its reputation as a high-status neighbourhood in the 1870s with the construction of desirable housing for the wealthy and places of genteel recreation such as Choral Hall and Albert Park.
The site occupied by the current building at 16 Symonds Street was part of a larger area of land on the southeastern side of Symonds Street that was initially an endowment reserved by Governor George Grey under the Grammar School Trust Deed of 1850. A Grammar School for the intended instruction of 'persons of all classes and races' who inhabited the colony was an early attempt to encourage local education, but was not finally established until 1869. The site on which the house at 16 Symonds Street was eventually built was subsequently part of a land parcel leased by the Trust administrators for 20 years to settler Charles Pike in October 1859. Ironmonger John McRae and school teacher Alexander Whyte had each built a house on parts of the land by late 1861 and early 1862. These were single-storey timber dwellings with shingle roofs, and were removed or demolished in 1884, following the lapse of the lease. New subdivisions were created by the Auckland College and Grammar School Trust, including the 604m² site on which a new house was constructed.
Construction of the building
The terms of the leases offered for the new subdivisions required that any dwelling erected should cost not less than ₤500. This reflects the increasing desirability of the area in the 1870s and early 1880s, particularly for individuals with commercial backgrounds who prospered during the economic boom of that period. Fifty-year leases for adjoining properties at 14 and 16 Symonds Street were granted to wine and spirits merchant, Edward Lewis (1835?-1909) in March 1884. The leases were held for the benefit of his wife Julia (1830?-1912), who transferred half of her interest to a trust for her children by her first husband Charles Davis (1814?-1875). Davis had been a merchant and auctioneer by trade, who had arrived in Auckland in circa 1843 and was one of three men who served the Auckland Hebrew congregation until a rabbi could be engaged in the early 1850s. Davis, merchant David Nathan and another were instrumental in obtaining a site for a synagogue. Ties with the prominent Nathan family were strengthened when one of the Davis' three daughters married Nathan's son Laurence David (1846-1905) and another married Nathan's nephew Alfred Hyam Nathan (1856-1905). The firm of L. D. Nathan established in 1868, grew out of David Nathan's general merchandising business which had been established at Kororareka in 1840 and relocated to Auckland in 1841. Later operating large kauri gum store, bond store and tea warehouse premises on the corner of Auckland's Commerce Street and Customs Street East, L. D. Nathan was one of few major Auckland businesses to survive the economic depression of the later 1880s and 1890s. Although more recently established than the business of L.D. Nathan, the firm of A.H. Nathan - importers, wholesalers and shipping agents - also enjoyed extensive trade throughout the province. The Nathans and other prominent members of the Jewish community lived in the immediate vicinity of lower Symonds Street during the late nineteenth century.
Plans for identical houses at 14 and 16 Symonds Street were drawn up by the noted Auckland architectural firm of Edward Mahoney & Sons in March 1884. Edward Mahoney had recently become president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was known for his design of one of the grandest merchant dwellings in the Auckland area, at the Pah in Hillsborough in 1877. The design for the buildings was approved by the Auckland Grammar Schools Board three months later, and tenders were called at the beginning of June for the erection 'in brick or concrete', of two residences. Ten tenders were received. That of Baildon and Stevenson was accepted.
Erected 'out of Julia Lewis' own separate estate and money', the urban-style villas were completed by January 1885. Their Italianate design was fashionable in the 1870s and 1880s, particularly among merchants, whose commercial premises were often built in a similar style. Built of brick with slate roofs and of asymmetrical appearance, the houses had kitchen and service rooms in the basement, living and dining rooms on the ground floor and bedrooms on the first floor. They also probably incorporated plumbed-in bathrooms. Much taller and more spacious than the houses they replaced, the residences were designed to portray the wealth of their occupants. Built close to the street, the residence at 16 Symonds Street had a small formal front garden and a significantly larger garden area to the rear, which may have included a detached timber structure from an early stage. A verandah on the ground and upper floors overlooked this area and afforded more distant views across Grafton Gully to the Auckland Domain.
Evidently built as a rental property, 16 Symonds Street was let to surgeon Charles Newberry Cobbett in October 1884. This occurred just before the urban property market collapsed, as Auckland entered into a lengthy period of economic depression. In 1891, it was let to another surgeon, Thomas G. Davy. In 1894 Edward and Julia Lewis moved from their home of many years in Hardinge Street into 16 Symonds Street, where they remained until 1908, the year before Edward's death.
Subsequent use and development
In 1912 the Davis children sold the property to Nora Gick who had operated a boarding house there since 1909. A number of substantial homes conveniently located in the Albert Park and Symonds Street area had become boarding houses towards the end of the nineteenth century, providing accommodation for single working people and a transient population. Later known by the name Mona, the establishment contained 18 bedrooms and operated into the 1960s.
The Crown sold 16 Symonds Street in February 1951, but reacquired the property in 1965. Control of the land had previously reverted to the Crown in 1949. The University of Auckland had been asked in 1956 to accept Princes Street as a 'permanent home'. The proposal had drawn strong objections, including those of medical specialists who by now practised from the area in large numbers. Formally opened in May 1883, the Auckland University College initially occupied the disused District Court House in Eden Street. By 1965 the University was operating from over 80 buildings in the Princes Street/Symonds Street area, 45 of which were old residences or private hotels.
The house at 16 Symonds Street (and ultimately those at 12 and 14) became the home of the Political Studies Department. In 1966 fears of the McCarthyism that had accompanied the cold war mentality of the 1950s were reawakened, sparking a student demonstration centred on the building at 16 Symonds Street. The first of its sort on the campus, the protest was a significant episode in the University's history. New Zealand Security Service officer David Godfrey had enrolled as a student in 1962 and in 1966, while enrolled for a third year course in political studies, his activities on campus became known. Following protests from his classmates and in view of its responsibility to ensure freedom of speech, the University proposed that Godfrey not attend tutorials and be given private coaching instead. On 31 May, 50 students whose concerns were not allayed, gained entry to the building as the location of the Political Studies Department, and were removed by police. The matter was debated in parliament and a Commission of Enquiry was ordered at the University's request.
Land to the rear of the plot was significantly altered with the construction of the current Arts Building in 1981, by which time the rear garden and earlier outbuildings had been removed. Refurbishment was carried out to the house at a similar time. As part of this refurbishment undertaken in 1978-1979, the building's chimneys were removed and the rear verandah replaced by one salvaged from a Wynyard Street address. Whilst the houses at 12, 14 and 16 Symonds Street are all now part of the University's Political Studies Department, 16 Symonds Street has served this function the longest.
The former house at 16 Symonds Street is currently one of a dwindling number of surviving colonial residences on the Symonds Street ridge. As one of a group of three adjoining houses of contemporary construction and design, it reflects prevailing attitudes to urban design in what was a well-to-do part of the colonial town.
The former house is one of a remnant group of three substantial, late-Victorian properties located on the southeast side of lower Symonds Street. Situated in the heart of the University of Auckland campus on the eastern side of Auckland's central business district (CBD), the properties are situated on the crest of the Symonds Street ridge. This section of Symonds Street, a major thoroughfare, is lined with numerous 100-year-old London Plane trees. These are identified in Appendix 2: Schedule of Trees, in Auckland City Council's District Plan.
Located within the eastern part of the historic colonial centre of Auckland, 16 Symonds Street lies within a broader landscape of outstanding historical and cultural heritage value. In the same block are St Andrew's Church (NZHPT Registration # 20, Category I historic place) which is the oldest surviving stone church in New Zealand, a house at 5 Alten Road (NZHPT Registration # 7398, Category II historic place), two other late-Victorian villas in Symonds Street, noted above, and two buildings of early twentieth-century date in Grafton Road. One of the two latter buildings, the plastered brick villa Bayreuth at 10 Grafton Rd, was for a time the home of influential music teachers Johannes Wielaert and wife Katherine Schafe. In the block to the north and east are the colonial governor's residence (Government House (Former), NZHPT Registration # 105, Category I historic place), remnants of the largest military barracks in New Zealand (including the Albert Barracks Wall, NZHPT Registration # 12, Category I historic place), the Old Choral Hall (NZHPT Registration # 4474, Category I historic place), which was one of the major venues for cultural gatherings in colonial Auckland, and the Old Arts Building, University of Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place). Numerous other places of considerable significance are located in nearby Waterloo Quadrant and Princes Street, including the former Supreme Court (now the High Court, NZHPT Registration # 17, Category I historic place), a former synagogue (NZHPT Registration # 578, Category I historic place) and several large residences collectively known as former Merchants' Houses.
Number 16 Symonds Street is the southernmost of three similar urban properties of late nineteenth-century date, all of which are now encompassed within the Arts and Commerce precinct of the university campus. The property consists of a rectangular 604m² site incorporating a large building of residential design, a small front garden and an extensive open paved area to the rear containing a raised walkway. The walkway extends along both the southeastern and southwestern sides of the building. In the northeastern side yard is a free-standing canopy to shelter pedestrians. A large Arts Building and its footprint lie within the southeastern part of the property but are excluded from the registration. The ground slopes down considerably from the northwest to the southeast of the site so that the main building is two stories in height at its Symonds Street façade and three storeys high to the southeast. Much of the building's shallow front yard is taken up by the entrance to a pedestrian underpass below Symonds Street. A metal fence on low concrete walls stands on the front boundary. The fence incorporates a garden gate.
The two-storey villa is of Italianate style and L-shaped in plan, with a projecting front bay. Identical in appearance to its neighbour at 14 Symonds Street to the northeast, the house is constructed of brick with an external plaster finish. On its front facade, the building has a full-height, canted bay with an entablature between its two storeys. The bay is also expressed in the roof form of the building. A front door is sheltered by a single-storey timber verandah which runs along the rest of the frontage. The verandah is supported by paired square posts and has a decorative frieze. The window surrounds on the upper storey of the façade have segmental heads, contrasting with the round-headed windows of the ground floor bay. The sides of the window openings are trimmed with an acanthus-leaf motif at the springing point. The side walls of the building are plain. The northeastern wall has a single opening, a rectangular window lighting the basement. The southeastern wall has three rectangular windows - two at basement level and one on the first floor. A short two-storey timber verandah extends across part the building's rear wall at basement and ground floor levels. The building's roof incorporates a series of hips and is clad with corrugated iron. The roof eaves have decorative brackets.
Internally, the central hallway on the ground floor has a large room off its northeast side, and two rooms off the southwest side. The hall walls are of masonry construction. The large room has French doors onto the rear verandah. The front room off the southwest side, the tutors' room, has a fireplace with marble surround although the fireplace is no longer in working order. A steep narrow stairway at the rear of the building connects the ground floor with the basement, where there are offices and space for storage. The main entrance hall on the ground floor has a pair of ornate scrolled arch supports. On the rear wall of the landing above is a window with stained glass borders. The first floor has been partitioned to provide four offices. Fire-proof lobbies and smoke doors have been installed throughout.
1909 - 1925
Conversion into 18-room boarding house
Conversion to offices and tutorial rooms for University use
Detached timber annex removed.
Slate roof replaced by corrugated iron.
1979 - 1980
Building refurbished (see registration report for details).
Brick, corrugated iron roof.
2nd May 2007
Report Written By
Martin Jones and Joan McKenzie
N. Easdale, Five Gentlemen's Residences in Princes Street Auckland: The Occupants and Their Enterprises 1875-1900, Auckland, 1980
T. Hodgson, The Heart of Colonial Auckland 1865-1910, Random Century NZ Ltd, Auckland 1992
L. Nathan, As Old as Auckland: The History of L.D. Nathan & Co. Ltd and of the David Nathan Family 1840-1980, Takapuna, 1985
Keith Sinclair, A History of the University of Auckland, 1883-1983, Auckland, 1983
R. C. J. Stone, Makers of Fortune: A Colonial Business Community and its Fall, Auckland, 1973
K.A. Trembath, Ad Augusta: A Centennial History of Auckland Grammar School 1869-1969, Auckland, 1969.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office
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.