Historical Significance or Value
The place has historical value for demonstrating the importance of postal services and other forms of communication delivery in early twentieth-century society. It is also significant for reflecting the role of post offices in nation-building during the period when New Zealand was transformed from a British colony to a Dominion; the local delivery of public services; and involvement of the state in many aspects of twentieth-century society. The place is closely associated with the development of Epsom and One Tree Hill as early-dormitory suburbs in Auckland, the consolidation of post and telegraph services in one place rather than in disparate facilities in late-nineteenth century Epsom, and the increasing professionalisation of public service delivery in early twentieth-century suburbs.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The place has aesthetic significance as a building of striking visual appearance, with a well-proportioned formal design. It has aesthetic value for its visually interesting exterior elements including window openings with lugged sills and rusticated stiles; a pronounced string course between storeys; protruding central bay; and tiled roof with cresting and wide eaves, features that enhance the effect of light and shadow and produced a pleasing overall effect. Appreciation of the place’s aesthetic value is enhanced by its corner location on Manukau Road, an important thoroughfare crossing the Auckland isthmus; and as a focal point at the north Crescent Road exit of Auckland’s Cornwall Park.
Architectural Significance or Value
The place has architectural value as a surviving small suburban post office of early twentieth-century date, initially designed under the supervision of Government Architect John Campbell and modified in a Stripped Classical style favoured for state architecture during John Mair’s tenure as Government Architect. The building illustrates development and change in government architecture during the first half of the twentieth century, and post office architecture in particular. The place also has value as a significant building type that expresses a visual identity associated with government and public service in suburban communities in the early and mid-twentieth century.
Social Significance or Value
The place has social significance for its role as the main centre for postal services within the Epsom community for a period of more than 80 years. It also has social value as an illustration of a traditional nineteenth- and early twentieth-century business practice that incorporated residential accommodation above the workplace, and for its association with issues linked with gender including the appointment of women as postmistresses in the early twentieth century; and post office work as a socially acceptable avenue of employment for women.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The place reflects the increasing importance of postal services and other forms of communication in early twentieth-century New Zealand. It demonstrates increasing state involvement in postal infrastructure and other forms of service delivery by both the Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Ward in the early 1900s, and the first Labour Government under Michael Joseph Savage from 1935. It particularly reflects the role of the Post and Telegraph Department as an agency drawing disparate towns and settlements into an interconnected nation.
The place also reflects the diminishing role of the New Zealand Post Office over the latter decades of the twentieth century due to alternative methods of service delivery, a reduction in physical government presence in local communities, and the effects of economic reform and corporatisation on the provision of government services in New Zealand in the 1980s. Its location indicates the early twentieth-century government planning of service delivery based on broad catchments irrespective of existing commercial centres, reflecting a policy of providing comprehensive access to state services for the broadest population base.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The former Epsom Post Office has value as a visually striking example of early twentieth-century government architecture, which harmoniously integrates early twentieth-century forms of post office design with a simpler architectural style favoured for commercial and government buildings in the 1920s and 1930s. As a freestanding structure on a corner site, the design enables better appreciation of the overall building form by comparison with post offices of similar style and era within more intensively developed shopping centres. The place represents a rare example of a suburban post office that incorporated an associated garden.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The place is part of a broader historical and cultural landscape in south Epsom, which includes an extensive pa site at Maungakiekie, early twentieth-century public parks at Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill Domain, the former Costley Home for the Aged Poor and other structures at Green Lane Hospital, as well as several notable residences. The place lies close to a significant memorial to John Logan Campbell at an entrance to Cornwall Park. Other noted structures linked with the provision of public services in the area include an electricity substation at The Drive.
Early history of site
The Post Office (Former) is located at the corner of the intersection of Manukau Road and Kimberley Road, Epsom within the central part of the Auckland isthmus. The site lies to the southwest of Mt St John (Te Kopuke), a prominent pa said to have been occupied by Waiohua peoples under the leadership of Kiwi Tamaki in the early 1700s. Mt St John was part of the broader Auckland isthmus taken over by Ngati Whatua in the mid-eighteenth century preceding Auckland’s founding as colonial capital in 1840.
Subdivided into farms as early as 1842, the wider Epsom area became renowned for its large country homes and later as a prestigious residential suburb. The site on which the post office was later built straddled the boundary of Crown Grants made in 1842 to a John Scott, who erected a house known as Bird Grove. The Bird Grove block was subdivided in 1900 to create Kimberley Road. Suburban development in Epsom accelerated with the introduction of electric trams in 1903.
The Crown purchased the site at the corner of Kimberley and Manukau Roads in December 1907. From 1840, Manukau Road had been the main link between the major ports at Onehunga and Auckland. The site was also in a residential area of projected population growth. Representations for a location in the vicinity of a tram barn to the south, where there were a number of shops and a hotel, were rejected on account of the greater distance to the nearest post office at Newmarket.
Previous postal facilities in Epsom had included a temporary office opened in 1849; a more permanent structure possibly on the site of Bird Grove (1882-1900); and a telephone office and telegraph bureau opened some distance away in 1896, which became a post receiving office in January 1898. The new post office was evidently intended to be a more permanent solution. Its location was a comparatively prestigious one, being close to a bronze statue of Sir John Logan Campbell (1817-1912) - ‘The Father of Auckland’ - which had been unveiled at the entrance to Cornwall Park in 1906. Cornwall Park was a large and popular recreational area that had been gifted by Campbell to the people of New Zealand in 1901, during a visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall.
Construction of Epsom Post Office (1909)
The Epsom Post Office opened in November 1909, the year a permanent police presence was also established in Epsom. The symmetrically composed façade of the new, two-storey structure provided the focal point at the northern termination of Campbell Crescent, the green space occupied by the Campbell monument at the Manukau Road entrance of Cornwall Park.
Epsom’s Post Office was erected during a one and a half decade post office construction boom commenced in circa 1900. Postmaster general and later the Prime Minister from 1906, Joseph Ward had overseen the introduction of penny postage in January 1901 and was a strong advocate of the Post and Telegraph Department as an agency designed to draw the disparate towns and settlements into an interconnected nation.
As post office construction increased, Government Architect John Campbell (1857-1942) took steps to develop and standardise a broad range of post office forms. The three basic ‘models’ created included post offices for small suburban and provincial centres, and less modest buildings for the main street of the larger provincial towns. By virtue of the number of post offices erected throughout New Zealand during this period, Campbell is credited with having established the Imperial Baroque as the appropriate architectural style for government buildings. With few exceptions, small suburban and provincial post offices were a one or two storey block with hipped roof and central gable and were three bays wide giving a completed building of about 9 metres by 10 metres.
The Epsom Post Office was designed under Campbell’s supervision by the Auckland Division of the Public Works Department (PWD). In 1908 the Auckland District Engineer received a sketch plan for the purpose of preparing plans and specifications. An initial design providing more accommodation was amended to reduce cost and was approved by Campbell in November 1908 with requested alterations. Tenders were called the following March for a contract costing £1332. The two-storey brick building had a Marseilles-tiled hipped roof and was finished with rough-cast cement plaster and red cement plaster dressings. In keeping with the customary nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial practice, the structure consisted both of a public office (the Post Office) downstairs; and a private residence upstairs (the postmistress’ accommodation).
Internally, the ground floor of the building contained a public vestibule with posting boxes, a public office, telephone bureau, mail room, telephone room, small strong room and a private box lobby accessed via a separate front entrance. The postmistress’ residence on the upper floor, reached by a private side entrance, consisted of a sitting room, two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and pantry. Domestic and office conveniences including a washhouse, lavatories and a bicycle shed were provided in separate outbuildings to the rear. The Epsom Post Office was evidently unusual in having a garden. The appointment of Kaeo postmistress Mrs Lillie Boardman to the Epsom position reflected the social acceptability of post office work as a respectable avenue of employment for women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The Epsom Post Office was one of a small number of post offices of a transitional design that incorporated a central gable (a traditional feature); with entrances in the two front side bays (a new departure). The structure lacked the tripartite composition of earlier twentieth century post office models, such as the facility erected at Onehunga in 1902. The decoration of the exterior of the Epsom building was comparatively restrained, as the three bays were treated equally, with paired windows (rather than an entrance) set in the central bay. Signage incorporated into the façade was of Art Nouveau script rather than the more traditional Roman lettering. From circa 1910, soon after the building was completed, new post offices were sometimes designed with segmental pediments rather than simple timber gables.
The Epsom Post Office was built by Devonport-based building contractor William Ball (c.1882-1933) who had recently arrived in New Zealand. English-born Ball lived in South Africa and South Australia prior to moving to Auckland and, although a bricklayer by trade, soon branched out into building work. Epsom Post Office was one of his early contracts and required remedial works following completion. Ball later became a president of the Auckland Builders’ and Contractors’ Association and was evidently a frequent arbitrator in disputes affecting building contracts.
Subsequent use and modification
The early twentieth-century provision of substantial brick buildings housing post and telegraph facilities in many of New Zealand’s towns and cities coincided with the transition from colony to Dominion in 1907. The Liberal administration’s expansion of the civil service and state regulation had previously created twelve new government departments, leading some to complain that New Zealand was drifting towards government by bureaucracy. As departmental buildings, post offices were the face of the government in the community and conveyed a greater sense of formality than agencies based in private shops, residences or hotels. Over the years, although not all offered all services, post offices provided postal, telephone and telegraph services, savings bank facilities, an agency for the acceptance of licence fees and payment of taxes, and places where government forms could be completed, witnessed and lodged. As the one place where people called regularly, local post offices were informal meetings places and points of social interaction. The postmaster or postmistress was held in high regard, and was the main channel of information from the government to the people.
In 1915, on account of prevalent typhoid fever in Epsom, the two earth closet lavatories were converted to water closets. Minor fire damage occurred to the upstairs bathroom in 1918, the cost of repair being repaid by the postmistress in instalments. Electric lighting replaced gas lighting in 1924.
Growing motor vehicle registrations and other services, such as the 1934 establishment of a school savings branch of the Post Office Savings Bank, put local post offices under increasing pressure. Election of the first Labour Government in 1935 greatly increased state involvement in the provision of social and other services following the Great Depression of the early 1930s, with new measures such as a universal social security system introduced in 1938.
To cope with increasing business, the Epsom Post Office was extended. A single-storey flat-roofed addition was erected on the north side of the building. The southernmost entrance (to the private mail lobby) in front of the mail room was also blocked off.
Other external alterations included removal of the Art Nouveau lettering. The gable facing Manukau Road was replaced by a screen parapet. The remaining front doorway was remodelled in a Stripped Classical style common for state buildings designed during the two decades commencing circa 1923, a period during which John Mair (1876-1959) held the post of Government Architect. External remodelling integrated elements of the structure’s earlier design, such as its windows, with a more modern overall appearance. In many public buildings erected in the late 1930s and 1940s, the progressive ideas of the first Labour Government were reflected in the use of more forward-looking architectural forms. The contract let to J.R. Simpson and completed by 2 July 1937, was supervised by the PWD District Engineer. Pressing need to provide office accommodation for the Labour Government’s expanding civil service led to the general employment of private sector architects for new post offices built at Avondale, Grey Lynn and Devonport.
The presence of the Alexandra Park trotting centre, Showgrounds, the Auckland Teachers College, Epsom Tram Depot, Auckland Transport Board and the Green Lane and Mercy hospitals in Epsom as well as a number of businesses on Manukau Road, contributed to the overall business of the Epsom Post Office. During the Second World War (1939-45) a number of military headquarters, including the Combined Operational Headquarters, were Epsom-based. At this time, and during the First World War (1914-18), the death of relatives in military service would have been conveyed to local families by telegram.
In 1950 the residential accommodation on the first floor was modified to provide an indoor lavatory, and better kitchen facilities. However outbuildings also remained in general use. Those serving the post office were located within the southern area of the rear yard. On the north side of a dividing fence, a three-roomed outbuilding (laundry, storage or wood shed, and a laundry) serviced the residence. A picket fence erected in 1909 survived along the front boundary on either side of the building. At the rear of the building, the ground level of the private yard was raised to enable the postmaster’s car to park off the street.
Concerned at the cramped space in which the postal staff of nine postmen and a mail sorter was required to work, the postmaster suggested in 1958 that the residential quarters above the office could be converted to accommodate the Postmen’s Branch. Brief consideration was given in 1960 to construction of an addition at the southeast corner of the building to expand mailroom accommodation. Neither project proceeded.
Changing methods of payment of social welfare benefits, rapid advances in telecommunication technology, and increasing computer use reduced demand for local post office services. Government economic reforms resulted in the corporatisation of the New Zealand Post Office in 1986. Thereafter services were provided by three entities: New Zealand Post Limited; Post Bank Limited; and Telecommunications New Zealand Limited. The 1,100 post offices open in 1987 operated under a large subsidy, surrendered the following year. Many closed to be replaced by a post delivery centre.
Conversion to private use
The Epsom Post Office evidently underwent strengthening work in the mid-1980s which may have coincided with removal of the chimneys. After April 1989 mail was cleared directly to the Auckland Mail Service Centre. Finding the seven-decade-old brick building uneconomic, New Zealand Post relocated their facilities closer to the Green Lane intersection in 1990. Following the closure of the post office facilities and sale of the building into private ownership, architects Robert Patterson and Associates were commissioned to design single-storey additions to provide further office space. A garage was also added. During modernisation of the building, interior detailing including pressed metal ceilings is said to have been removed. In its new form, the former post office housed activities including an advertising agency, and later a real estate agency.
The former Epsom Post Office occupies a corner site on the north side of the intersection of Kimberley and Manukau Roads, opposite the north end of Campbell Crescent which is part of Cornwall Park. The site is located five short blocks from the Green Lane West shopping centre in south Epsom. Epsom is an inner suburb of Auckland, lying to the south of the city centre.
The site lies within a strip of mixed residential and commercial developments beyond the boundaries of well-established shopping nodes. Manukau Road is a main route connecting the ports of Auckland and Onehunga, which draws traffic from the southern isthmus suburbs. The position of the former Post Office, combined with its visual qualities, make it a well-known landmark.
Nearby remnants of a significant cultural and historical landscape in south Epsom include elements within the open area formed by Cornwall Park and the One Tree Hill Domain, including the extensive pa Maungakiekie, and the One Tree Hill Obelisk (Record no. 525, Category I historic place). The latter structure and nearby Acacia Cottage (Record no. 525, Category I historic place) are closely associated with John Logan Campbell. The Campbell Monument (Record no. 4478, Category I historic place) stands slightly to the south of the former Epsom Post Office, on the opposite side of Manukau Road.
Other surviving components of the historical landscape in south Epsom include the nineteenth-century Costley Home for the Aged Poor and later buildings comprising part of the Green Lane Hospital on Green Lane West (Record no. 4536, Category I historic place); a former 1930 Auckland Electric Power Board Substation at the corner of Green Lane West and The Drive; and the two grand nineteenth-century homes, Marivare in Ranfurly Road, and Rocklands Hall (Record no. 7276, Category I historic place) in Gillies Avenue.
The site consists of a rectangular section of 789 square metres. It has a slight cross-fall from south to north and from west to east. It includes the former post office building in its southeast portion, which fronts directly on to the Manukau Road. The south façade is set back slightly from Kimberley Road. A centrally located single-storey garage addition (1991) abuts the rear (west) wall of the building.
The rest of the section is occupied by a parking area and lawn. The privacy of the lawn area along the north side of the structure is protected from the Manukau Road thoroughfare by a small grove of trees. A low, shallow - stepped rough-cast wall runs along most of the south boundary of the property.
The information in this and the following section of the report has been compiled from archival plans and images, a recent aerial image and views from the public road.
The building consists of the two-storey 1909 post office and later single-storey elements of harmonious design. It combines both Baroque and Stripped Classical design in an integrated whole. The early twentieth-century post office building is a rough-cast, brick structure with a steep hipped roof. The later flat-roofed additions have a tall parapet and surround the 1909 structure on three sides.
The addition to the north (1937) returns a short distance along the west elevation. A timber pergola (1991) supported on rectangular roughcast piers extends along the 1937 (north) elevation and shelters French doors within a canted bay (1991) accessing the garden. A 1991 addition containing offices extends along the remaining length of the west and along the south elevation (1909).
Notwithstanding substantial ground floor-level additions, the building retains its striking external appearance as a former post office. The additions are of sympathetic design and closely reflect the overall style of the existing building and the 1937 addition, maintaining and further contributing to its aesthetic appeal as a local landmark. As the only two-storey element, and by virtue of its central position in the Manukau Road elevation, the original post office remains the visually dominant feature.
The Manukau Road façade consists of a centrally located two-storey post office flanked by single-storey additions. The building retains the double-hung windows with six-lights in the upper sash, a style adopted almost universally in the additions. Well-articulated elements including window sills with lugs, a string course between the storeys, rusticated window stiles, three-bay composition with protruding central bay. These Edwardian Baroque Revival features, along with deep eaves, enhance the visual appeal of the place by accentuating contrast between light and shadow. The main entrance with Stripped Classical-style detailing is located within the northernmost of the three bays of the original building. The southernmost entrance has been infilled with a pair of window sashes (1937). Maintaining the rhythm of the original design, both the addition and the alteration contain a sash window with small upper panes. A centrally located flat-roofed bay with parapet (1937) rises above the eaves line of the Marseilles-tiled hipped roof with terracotta finials and cresting. The deep eaves of the 1909 building have exposed rafter ends.
The single-storey Kimberley Road addition has double-hung sashes grouped in two pairs. Window openings in the side and rear wall of the first floor (1909) are largely grouped towards the southwest corner of the building. Secondary entrances are located towards the south end of the west wall adjoining a modern garage, and centrally located in the north elevation (1937).
Internally the ground floor is laid out with an L-shaped passage within the western section of the building, off which is the stair lobby. Near its northern end, the passage affords side access to a shorter, more centrally located parallel hall that opens to the northern exterior. It also provides open plan access to the front entrance lobby to Manukau Road. Ranged around the north and northwest perimeter of the original building, are three office spaces within the 1937 addition; and four offices in the remaining west and south additions (1991).
The two core spaces within the central east section of the building loosely correspond with the former mail room (incorporating the private box lobby) and the public area of the original post office. The former telephone room and the bureaux have been eliminated. The former strong room may survive under the stairs. A double-width window opening in the south wall has been removed to connect the former mail room space through to the south addition (1991).
On the upper floor three offices and the toilet largely correspond with the original locations of the two former bedrooms, the bathroom and the sitting room. The former living room is now an-open plan staff kitchen. The door of the master bedroom has been relocated, and the original (north) opening of the sitting room has been closed off and replaced by double doors in the west wall.
Although the building originally incorporated pressed metal ceilings, the owner advises that these no longer exist and that the entire interior has been recently modernised. A 1991 newspaper article describing conversion of the building into offices, reported that the interior space was to be a mix of traditional and modern and that windows, joinery and brass fittings were to be saved for use in the extensions.
Pre-construction: Site created within residential subdivision of Bird Grove farmlet
Two-storey brick post office with Marseilles tile roof
Single storey addition on north and west sides
Alterations to residential accommodation, including creation of indoor lavatory, relocation of bedroom door, and modification and extension of kitchen bench (first floor)
1984 - 1986
Strengthening and refurbishment; Chimneys removed
Pergola and bay with French doors on north elevation; and offices on south and west elevations (ground floor); Former residential accommodation converted to office use (first floor); Garage added to west elevation.
Toilet and washbasin added (ground floor)
Concrete foundations; brick walls; Marseilles tile roof.
22nd July 2010
Report Written By
Lewis E. Martin, Built For Us: The Work of Government and Colonial Architects, 1860s to 1960s, Dunedin, 2004.
Startup, R. 1993. New Zealand post offices. Postal History Society of New Zealand, Whenuapai.
G.W.A Bush, (ed.), The History of Epsom, Auckland, 2006
McClure, M, A civilised community : a history of social security in New Zealand, 1898-1998, Auckland, 1998
G. Robertson, A History of Postal Services in the Epsom Block, Auckland, 2002
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.