Levy Buildings

20 Customs Street East, Commerce Street And Galway Street, Auckland

  • Levy Buildings.
    Copyright: Britomart Group.
  • Levy Buildings.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Marin Jones. Date: 9/05/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7292 Date Entered 14th December 1995

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 361575 (CT 280326), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Levy Buildings thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)

Region

Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 361575 (CT 280326), North Auckland Land District

Summaryopen/close

The three-storey Levy Buildings modernised in an Art Deco-style by Auckland architects Wade and Bartley in 1934, were constructed in Auckland’s Custom Street East in 1897 to a design by Edward Bartley and occupied by tea merchants Gilmore, Younghusband and Company. The place is one of a number of impressive nineteenth- and early twentieth-century former merchandising warehouse buildings located on the north side of Custom Street East, historically part of waterfront city’s point of commercial contact with the rest of the colony and wider world. The place has considerable historical and social value as the location of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Down Town Club (1942-5), a venue created during the Second World War at vice-regal request as place where women, their friends and members of the armed forces could socialise without comprising their respectability. During adaptive re-use and seismic strengthening (2005-08) building fabric from the 1934 refurbishment was recovered and missing material reinstated.

Prior to European arrival, the site formed part of a shallow bay that bounded an area of foreshore known as Onepanea. Following the establishment of colonial Auckland in 1840, the projected position of Customs Street out in Commercial Bay was identified in 1841 preceding staged reclamations in place by 1882. In late 1882, auctioneers and land agents Stephen Cochrane and James Dacre leased Lot 96 from the Auckland Harbour Board. Following a long economic depression, Auckland architect Edward Bartley called for tenders in June 1897 for the erection of a warehouse.

The building of three storeys with brick external brick walls, timber floors, timber columns and a timber Queen truss roof was subleased to wholesale tea merchants, one of several merchants with tea interests to establish in the Customs Street East vicinity. Front window openings appear to have been comparatively large, possibly to allow greater natural light for tea blending. The firm later known as Gilmore and Company was founded by former plantation manager George Gilmore in 1882, capitalising on demand for tea, a food staple consumed at a higher rate per head of population than in Britain and endorsed by the colony’s increasingly active temperance movement.

In 1918 Australian general merchant and ship-owner Burns Philp bought the firm to open a New Zealand branch to enhance its Pacific Island trade - a trade dominated by Auckland in the 1880s. A single-storey store addition was built to the rear, prior to tea merchants Johnston Limited subleasing. Following occupation by several small tenancies, the furniture company Quigleys Limited held the Harbour Board lease for almost five decades commencing 1935. An Art Deco refurbishment designed by Auckland architects Wade and Bartley in 1934 included remodelling of the exterior and the addition of plate glass windows. Quigleys closed when managers Max and Maurice Levy were called up for military service in 1942. A seven-day-a-week venue run by the YWCA, known as the Down Town Club (which was also the headquarters of the Women’s National Service Corps) was established at the request of Lady Newall, wife of the Governor-General, and occupied the building until January 1945. Popular with uniformed servicemen including Americans stationed in the South Pacific, the club had some 5000 members. Nine businesses occupied the building in 1947 commencing more than two decades of multiple tenancies. In 1992, the property vested in Auckland Council. After demolition consent lapsed in 2001, the structure was strengthened and transformed into boutique office and retail accommodation in Auckland’s Britomart precinct.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

The Levy Building was built circa 1896 for tea merchants and indent agents Gilmore, Younghusband & Co. During World War II the premises housed the YWCA's Downtown Club, an organisation that catered for the social needs of women in the armed services.

The establishment of the Downtown Club was an effort to provide for the social needs of women in a period when their role and place in society underwent considerale and rapid change brough about by the demands resulting from World War II.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural:

Although originally built in 1896, Levy Buildings is now predominantly Art Deco in style after the remodelling of the exterior in the 1930s. Some elements of the original Classical facade are still evident however.

The interior of this buildings seems to have undergone the usual development where the original walls, ceilings and floors remain unchanged but act as hosts to partition walls. The stairwell, stairs and balusters appear to be unchanged (except for the carpets) and the Art Deco modelling of the windows in the 1930s has not been changed on the inside.

Archaeological:

Parts of this area have archaeological potential.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Social:

The use of the building by the YWCA as a social club for service women during World War II adds to its social significance. The establishment of the club was an effort to provide for the social needs of women in a period when their role and place in society underwent considerable and rapid change.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

The following comments are made in relation to the criteria identified under S.23(2) of the Historic Places Act 1993.

a) The extent to which the place reflects important and representative aspects of New Zealand history.

b) The association of the place with events, persons or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

The Levy Building reflects the importance of merchandising warehouses to New Zealand cities. In a colony which lacked substantial manufacturing industries, importing was an important business activity. These merchandising warehouses were usually clustered around the interface between the waterfront and the central business district. Its use, at vice-regal request, as a social centre for service women during the Second World War adds to its social history significance.

c) the potential of the place to provide latowledge of New Zealand history.

The Customs St East buildings all stand on land reclaimed between 1879 and 1886 and therefore have archaeological significance.

Reclamation of the seabed commenced in 1859. The outer edge of the northern side of Customs St was initially bounded by a muddy embankment and on the seaward side of the reclamation were massive stone retaining walls. Customs St provided access to a number of wharves constructed out across the mudflats of Commercial Bay to deeper water. Between 1879 and 1886 the reclamation continued in a northerly and easterly direction forming the land between Customs and Quay St. This is the land on which the warehouses now stand.

It is probable that a large quantity of material will have been deposited on the sea bed from the wharves which is likely to include artefacts of historical and archaeological interest.

g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

Although originally built in 1896, the Levy's Building is now predominantly Art Deco in style after the remodelling of the exterior in the 1930s. Some elements of the original Classical facade are still evident however.

The Levy's Building should be regarded as a retail/commercial building in the Art Deco style even though the design is eclectic, ie, in the sense that the place was originally designed as a warehouse in Classical Italianate style, vestiges of which are still visible in the Classical trabeated form of the facade.

As an Art Deco building, Levy's is very plain. Typical Art Deco elements on the present exterior consist of wavy lines, taking the place of the traditional string course, which are used here as three in horizontal parallel across the three bays of the original facade. Low relief sculpture, another typical Art Deco element, is used to form a decorative entablature below the cornice. The sculpture is cleverly done, blending in with the still visible original Classical Corinthian capitals of the four fluted pilasters which define the three bays of the facade. The central window frames on the first and second storeys finish the remodelled composition with stylised Art Deco window heads in arched form.

k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

This warehouse is one of several Merchants' warehouses on the northern side of Customs St East. This impressive group of nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings once formed the city's point of commercial contact with the rest of the colony and the world.

Conclusion:

The Levy's Building, 20 Customs St East, is recommended for registration as a Category II as a place of historical and cultural heritage significance and value. The Levy's Building is one of a group of turn of the century merchandising warehouses built on Auckland's busy waterfront. It also has interesting social links with the YWCA's Downtown Club during the Second World War.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bartley, Edward

Edward Bartley was born in Jersey in 1839, and educated in the Channel Islands where he learned techniques of the building trade from his father, an architect and builder.

Bartley immigrated to New Zealand with his elder brother Robert, also an architect, while still in his teens. They eventually settled in Devonport, Auckland. Initially Edward was in the building trade but later he practised solely as an architect. He was at one time vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was also Diocesan Architect for the Church of England.

Amongst Bartley's most notable works were his ecclesiastical buildings including St John's Church, Ponsonby (1881), St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880), Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, and the Synagogue (1884). He was also responsible for the Opera House (1884) and Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (1884).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Recommendation for Registration report for the Customs Street Historic Area considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

"Levy Buildings".

Plaster frieze, Corinthian capitalled pilasters, deco mouldings, one bay return to Commerce St, three storey, brick, façade remodelled [c.1930's). Built c.1896, lessees of the site at the time were W.S. Cochrane & J. Dacre, first occupiers of the building appear to have been Gilmore Young husband & Co. tea merchants.

Architect: Not known.

Construction Dates

Modification
-
Alteration including exterior Art Deco remodelling

Modification
1945 -
Alteration: Door/window openings (Customs St East, Galway)

Addition
1945 -
Verandah (Commerce, Galway St)

Modification
1948 -
Alterations: Showcase windows (Commerce St)

Modification
1951 -
Alterations: Internal; openings second floor (Galway St)

Addition
1960 -
Addition/Alteration: Single-storey (Galway St)

Addition
1989 -
Addition: Internal staircase

Structural upgrade
-
Earthquake strengthening; refurbishment, recovery/reinstatement of 1934 design elements; balcony addition Galway St); ground floor lowered (remnants of kauri cobbles displayed in new floor slab); 1897 stair reconfigured; lift shaft added

Structural upgrade
2013 -
Brick chimney (1897) strengthened

Original Construction
1897 -

Public NZAA Number

R11/2572

Completion Date

11th May 2015

Report Written By

Joan McKenzie

Information Sources

Auckland Public Libraries

Auckland Public Libraries

Photograph: Neg W107 (1900)

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

Valuation Rolls - East Ward - Feb 1896 - entry 346 - allotment, Feb 1897 - entry 346 - brick warehouse.

Coney, 1986

Coney, Sandra, Every Girl: A Social history of women and the YWCA in Auckland, Auckland, 1986

Other Information

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 Northern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand