Equitable Insurance Association Building (Former)

45-45B Queens Gardens And 6 Vogel Street, Dunedin

  • Equitable Insurance Association Building (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Derek Smith.
  • .
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Derek Smith.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4751 Date Entered 19th April 1990


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Sec 13 Blk LV Town of Dunedin (CT OT37657), Otago Land District, and the building known the Equitable Insurance Association Building (Former) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Sec 13 Blk LV Town of Dunedin (CT OT37657), Otago Land District



The section on which the building stands is part of the large Otago Harbour Board reclamation of the 1880s running across the commercial front of Dunedin from Queen's Gardens to the Oval. The land is still in Harbour Board leasehold. The first lessee of the land was the Equitable Insurance Association of New Zealand (established 1884) who took out a lease for 21 years in March 1885. The lease was transferred in 1894 to the Providential and Industrial Insurance Company of New Zealand (established 1889), which was taken over by the Provident Life Assurance Company (established 1904). At some stage this company named the building Phoenix House after they became part of the Phoenix Group of insurance companies. Their head office was in this building, with branches throughout New Zealand and in Sydney and Brisbane. In 1969 they moved to new premises in Stuart Street.

Since then the building has been leased to a variety of tenants including Ritchies Transport Holdings who had the charter for the airport bus run and renamed the building Airport House.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Airport House reflects the commercial life of Dunedin and Otago through its 85 year association with a succession of major insurance companies. It has served Dunedin as a commercial building for over 100 years.


F.W. Petre is best known for his ecclesiastical designs and Airport House has significance as one of two few commercial designs. Just as the emerging wealthy merchant class of Western Europe seized upon the classical style of the Renaissance for their impressive commercial buildings and town houses so too did the merchant colonists in New Zealand. Airport House is such an example. It relates to the other Petre design nearby, the Royal Guardian Exchange building (1881) in the same Renaissance idiom. Together they demonstrate the architect's considerable versatility and skill.


An important building in the streetscape fronting Queen's Gardens.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Petre, Francis William

Petre (1847-1918) was born in Lower Hutt. He was the son of the Hon. Henry William Petre and grandson of the eleventh Baron Petre, Chairman of the second New Zealand Company. Petre trained in London as a naval architect, engineer, and architect, returning to New Zealand in 1872. During the next three years he was employed by Brogden and Sons, English railway contractors, superintending the construction of the Dunedin-Clutha and the Blenheim-Picton railways.

He set up office in Dunedin in 1875 as an architect and civil engineer. He designed a house for Judge Chapman (1875), followed by 'Cargill's Castle' (1876) for E B Cargill and then St Dominic's Priory (1877), all in mass concrete.

It is for his church designs and for his pioneering use of concrete that Petre is most recognised. His church buildings include St Joseph's Cathedral, Dunedin (1878-86), Sacred Heart Basilica (now Cathedral of the Sacred Heart), Wellington (1901), St Patrick's Basilica, Oamaru, (1894 and 1903) and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch, (1904-05), which is the outstanding achievement of his career. Petre's commercial buildings include the Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance Building (1881-82) and Pheonix House (now Airport House, c.1885), both in Dunedin.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


This two storey building is in the Italian Palazzo style of the Renaissance.

The rusticated ground floor elevations of the building feature a regular series of round-headed windows. The symmetrical Rattray Street facade consists of a central bay, flanked on either side by three round-headed windows. It is likely this central bay originally contained the entrance to the building. Entry is now through the innermost of the flanking arches on either side of the central bay. For continuity the Vogel Street facade also continues this window arrangement.

The first floor of the building has been treated in a more decorative manner. Repetition of round headed windows of a slightly smaller scale and the rusticated surfaces treatment give unity to the two levels, while the Ionic order at first floor leads to a more imposing upper level. The central bay on the Rattray Street facade is framed by paired Ionic columns. In addition both ends of the street facades have paired Ionic columns which give definition to the building. The Ionic order is repeated in pilasters which flank each of the windows at this upper level. The building is capped with a classical cornice and a parapet. The parapet is probably not the original.


Alterations to interior partitions and relining for retail outlets and flats.

Fireplaces removed or blocked off.

Exterior has modified window joinery.

Original central entrance has been blocked in favour of the two flanking entrances.

Parapet is probably modified.

Notable Features

The fine handling of the facade.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1885 -

Construction Details

Base constructed of Port Chalmers breccia and the walls of Oamaru limestone.

Information Sources

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1905

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 4 Otago and Southland, Cyclopedia Company, Christchurch, 1905

Knight, 1988

Hardwicke Knight and Niel Wales, Buildings of Dunedin: An Illustrated Architectural Guide to New Zealand's Victorian City, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1988

McCoy, 1968

E McCoy and J G Blackman, Victorian City of New Zealand, Dunedin, 1968

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.