Taumarunui Post Office

47 Miriama Street, Taumarunui

  • Taumarunui Post Office. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Paul Le Roy. Taken By: Paul Le Roy – Minicooperd. Date: 12/10/2017.
  • Taumarunui Post Office. Interior detail. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Paul Le Roy. Taken By: Paul Le Roy – Minicooperd. Date: 12/10/2017.
  • Taumarunui Post Office.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Rebecca O'Brien.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7623 Date Entered 24th June 2005

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the building, its historic fittings and fixtures such as the terrazzo floors, brass fittings, joinery, and original light fittings, and the chattels identified on page three of the report, and the land comprised in Certificate of Title SA42C/507, South Auckland Registry

City/District Council

Ruapehu District

Region

Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

Sec 7, Pt Sec 9, Blk VII, Taumarunui Maori Township (CT SA42C/507)

Summaryopen/close

After a false start and several relocations, the Taumarunui Post Office eventually moved into its own purpose-built premises in Miriama Street in 1909. But this was boom-time in Taumarunui - the Main Trunk Railway had been completed the year before - so it was not long after the doors had opened that the staff and community were asking for more space. By 1927, after various extensions, renovations and requiring the Postmaster to live off-site, central government was again being lobbied for a brand new, more spacious post office equipped with modern technology to provide a more efficient service to the largest town in the King Country.

Eventually, in 1929, the request was approved and planning began. However, as the Great Depression set in, the Government curbed its spending and work on the Post Office project was called to a halt. After further lobbying by the community and local government, work began again in 1935 using the 1931 plans by the Government Architect JT Mair, which were revised to incorporate additional earthquake strengthening - an after-effect of the Hawkes Bay disaster.

Mair's two-storied spacious design was described by the press as being in the Renaissance style, perhaps referring to the combination of decorative mouldings (swags and reeding/fasces), a tiled roof, a pediment and dentilled cornice with some terrazzo floors. This style was popular particularly in the United States, where Mair had studied architecture, for buildings associated with finance and government. The building incorporated a number of other features popular in the 1930s in New Zealand, such as reinforced concrete construction, an honesty of structure as seen in the visibility of the beams, large areas of glass, and the use of steel external window frames. Concerns for social responsibility were reflected in the use of local labour and materials where possible, as well as in the way the space was designed as much for the comfort of staff as for the public they served, with good lighting, spaciousness, fresh air and modern technology. The frontage incorporated brick panels and ironwork, while the largely single storied mailroom at the back of the building had more of an industrial air with a corrugated iron roof and skylights. The building incorporated some of the latest technology available in New Zealand at the time. The project included a concrete driveway with gates in style complementary to the other ironwork and two buildings to the rear: the P&T shed and a garage.

The building was opened in 1935 with great celebrations attended by a large crowd and dignitaries from across the region and beyond. It was the first building in Taumarunui to be opened by a Government Minister (indeed, two MPs were present) and then as now is one of the most imposing buildings in town, despite the need for some maintenance. The architect's design accommodated for future growth, which is partly why the building has been little altered. Many of the original fittings remain. At the opening there were calls that Taumarunui Post Office should be made a district Post Office rather than reporting to Hamilton, however this was never actioned.

In a town whose fortunes have since waned, the Post Office building stands as an impressive symbol of a time of greater optimism. The Taumarunui Post Office has had minimal alterations and is important for its aesthetic and architectural attributes. The architecture, influenced by the Renaissance style then popular in the USA, conveys an impression of power, wealth, and stability. However, the design was also influenced by contemporary ideas about social responsibility, and features equitable treatment of both staff and public spaces. Constructed using new, mechanised processes such as reinforced concrete, and steel window exterior joinery, the building is also of technological interest. The design of the Post Office reflects an equitable treatment of both staff and public spaces, a feature that was influenced by contemporary ideas about social responsibility. In use as a post office for over 70 years, the building is held in high esteem by the public.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building's style reflects the high standing of the Post and Telegraph Department at the time of construction and the optimism of a district that was starting to boom again after the Great Depression. The building incorporated some of the latest technology available; some of these features have survived. Alterations have been minimal and the frontage is almost entirely intact. The design expresses the concerns of 1930s architecture, such as functionality, honesty about its structure, and concerns for social responsibility. The social responsibility is reflected in the use of local labour and materials where possible, and in the way the space is designed as much for the comfort of staff as for the public they served, with good lighting, spaciousness and fresh air. Like other modern buildings of the time it incorporated the newly available, mass-produced products of reinforced concrete (plastered, as was popular in Art Deco), steel and glass.

When the Post Office was first opened, the local newspaper described it as: An extremely neat design, a building void of frills and utilitarian in every respect, yet withal, a structure that impresses and one that Taumarunui may be proud of for the rest of her days'. When the public come to make use of it to-day they may say 'Too elaborate for Taumarunui'; they may even use the word extravagant and try to blame the powers that be for giving them more than they asked for'.

The Government Architect's office skilfully used cheap reinforced concrete construction combined with beautiful detailing such the terrazzo floors, brass fittings and quality joinery, symmetry, a very high stud, and symbols of authority (GvR, Royal coat of arms fascines) to evoke a sense of beauty and awe.

The architecture is influenced by the Renaissance style popular in the USA, an area where the architect JT Mair had studied and worked. It was a very appropriate style for the public face of the largest government department whose duties included banking and revenue generating activities in Taumarunui: the building conveys power, wealth and stability. The use of native timbers in the interior (rimu doors, kauri counter) appears to be at a time when native timbers were beginning to be recognised as beautiful in their own right rather than viewed as second rate to the timbers more traditionally used in Europe.

The vivid descriptions of the building at the time of its opening and details of the individuals and organisations involved in the construction and opening ceremonies provide a detailed historical account of a public building that has since seen continuous service as a Post Office for 70 years. The building has been altered minimally and stands as a testament to its creators, especially to the expertise of local joiners and the local Winstone roof tile manufacturing plant, which has since closed. Considering the number of timber mills in the area, it is also likely that the timbers used in construction were sourced and milled locally.

Mair's time as Government Architect was noted for his use of local resources where possible: this building is no exception. This approach may have been influenced by the architectural community's concerns about social responsibility during the 1930s, possibly fed by observations of the impact of high levels of unemployment and deprivations of the Depression. The design of the Taumarunui Post Office is also notable in this regard for the equitable treatment of both staff and the public: both the entrance lobbies and the staff toilets are paved with terrazzo, and the building is spacious, warm, light and airy throughout, even if the frontage looks more impressive than the utilitarian southern aspect. The building serves to express the optimism of a town beginning to boom again as it emerged from the Depression.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The building is a good example of government architecture produced as New Zealand emerged from the Depression, employing cost-saving techniques such as reinforced concrete construction with the Renaissance style. It was constructed early in the period when the Public Works Department's Architectural Branch started developing a closer working relationship with structural engineers and incorporates some earthquake strengthening techniques brought in after the Hawkes' Bay earthquake. The building's construction used some of the latest techniques and incorporated some of the latest technology, much of which remains. The building has not been substantially modified.

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

The Post Office is believed to be the first building opened in Taumarunui by a Government Minister. It represents the work of the Government Architect JT Mair at a time when he was incorporating additional earthquake strengthening as a result of the Hawkes Bay earthquake. It is also a fine example of his use of local tradesmen where possible, in particular the quality joinery produced by Messrs Ross and Hartnett and Marseilles roofing tiles produced by the Winstone's tile works.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

The Taumarunui Post Office is built on a piece of land associated not only with the postal and telecommunication services, but with other various Central Government activities since at least 1909. At the moment it is adjacent to the Court House. It is the most impressive of a row of four heritage buildings, and despite some dilapidation, it is still one of the most impressive buildings in the town.

The building was constructed after considerable lobbying by the community, in particular the local chamber of commerce and council. The building has been in continuous use as a post office since its construction in 1935, an important communication centre for the district.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Mair, John Thomas

John Thomas Mair (1876-1959) was born in Invercargill and began his career with the New Zealand Railways on the staff of the Office Engineer, George Troup. In 1906 he travelled to the United States of America where he studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He then worked in the office of George B. Post in New York before travelling to England where he was admitted as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He became a Fellow in 1940.

On his return to New Zealand he entered private practice, one of his first buildings being the Presbyterian First Church, Invercargill (1915), a prominent building of Romanesque character. He then practised in Wellington, carrying out largely domestic commissions.

In 1918 he was appointed Inspector of Military Hospitals by the Defence Department, and in 1920 he became architect to the Department of Education. Following the retirement of John Campbell in 1922, Mair was appointed Government Architect, a position which he held until his retirement in 1942. During this period he was responsible for a variety of buildings, including the Courthouse, Hamilton, the Post Office in High Street, Christchurch, Government Life Office and the Departmental Building, both in Wellington, and the Jean Batten Building, Auckland. Such buildings show a departure from tradition, with the emphasis on function, structure and volume as opposed to a stylistic treatment of the building fabric.

A Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, Mair was made a Life Member in 1942. His son John Lindsay Mair also practised as an architect.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Taumarunui was an important Maori settlement long before Tasman visited New Zealand. As with Maori, European settlers initially established themselves on the coasts, eventually working their way inland, so Taumarunui, in the centre of the North Island surrounded by difficult terrain, was settled relatively late by Europeans compared to much of New Zealand. The King Country has been described as 'New Zealand's last frontier'. Even in the mid-19th Century, Taumarunui was peopled mostly by Maori, with only the occasional Pakeha. The Maori inhabitants were initially not particularly welcoming of Pakeha, wishing to retain sovereignty over their land. It is still referred to as 'Taumarunui Maori Township' on some official documents. For the first few decades of Pakeha settlement, land was available only for lease. The area finally opened up in the late 19th century with the development of the main trunk railway and the apparently insatiable demand for timber. For many years sawmilling was by far the main industry in the King Country, with sheep farming next in importance.

When the first Post Office opened in Taumarunui in 1885 (under the name 'Taumaranui') as part of the Hamilton Postal District, it was primarily intended to service railway construction. Mail was brought from Te Awamutu by Maori on horseback, a journey that took 2-3 days - there was no proper road. The PO was to close just two years later. It was not until 1900 when the Main Trunk line reached Ongarue and the track formation work had reached Taumarunui that European settlement of Taumarunui really got started. The PO reopened in 1902 in Langmuir & Richards Store. Langmuir incorporated postal duties into his travelling salesman duties, delivering mail to Ongarue once a week, staying the night then returning the following day with mail and stores for Taumarunui.

The railway reached Taumarunui in 1903, and on the first of January the PO was placed under the administration of the Railway Department. 'The small railway station, situated then on the eastern side of the railway, served also as a Public Works Pay Office, Post Office, registration office for births, marriages and deaths [one of] the only buildings of a permanent nature in this hamlet'. By 1904 Alexander Hatrick's Wanganui River services began, serving settlers, tourists and those wanting to connect with the railway. Taumarunui became known all over the world as the start of Hatrick's Wanganui River Trip. The local newspapers began in 1906, allowing the Postmaster to include notices on the daily mail services and for The Junction Hotel to advertise 'telegrams promptly attended to'. The town's population started to boom after the Main Trunk Railroad was opened in 1908.

A purpose built post office was opened on the 19 June 1909 in Miriama Street. It incorporated the postmaster's residence and a paddock. On the 12 June 1911 a telephone system was introduced, with 26 subscribers. By 1912 additions were made due to a rapid increase in business. However, these were also soon outgrown and the postmaster was required to move out so his accommodation could be converted to workspace. Subsidiary buildings included the 1918 Benzine store and a garage. By at least January 1927 there were calls by the local chamber of commerce and others for a brand new post office.

Initial approval was given, plans were developed and tenders called for the current building in 1929, but as the Great Depression deepened and government revenue fell, Public Works spending was slashed. Work on the new Post Office, originally intended to be completed by the end of 1932, was put on hold. However, the government was repeatedly lobbied by both the MP Mr F Langstone and by the Taumarunui Borough Council to resume work, emphasising the inadequacy of the 1909 building to serve a population, which had grown four-fold. .

The Government Architect's plans for the Post Office had been announced in September 1931, 7 months after the Hawkes Bay earthquake. However, when permission to resume work on the Post Office was granted by Cabinet on 12 Oct 1933, the plans had been revised with earthquakes in mind. The Government Architect, JT Mair, took part in the reconstruction of Napier after the February 1931 earthquake, designing new government buildings such as the Ministry of Works building and the telephone exchange. It appears that his experiences working in that environment led to the revision of the plans to incorporate earthquake strengthening and perhaps fire resistant qualities. It was expected that 'the building will be the most modern and outstanding edifice in Taumarunui, with the exception of the Public Hospital'.

A tender for the work of £14,156 was accepted in January 1934, with construction beginning soon after on the previously empty paddock next to the 1909 Post Office. While the builder awarded the tender, WH Whittaker, was based in Auckland, he was known in the district for his work on other local buildings such as the Technical School and the Enterprise buildings.

The building was described at the time as being in the Renaissance style, two storied reinforced concrete with brick panels on the frontage and a Marseilles tiled roof. The combination of reinforced concrete with brick features can be seen in other buildings of the period, such as the Auckland Railway Station (1929) and the Tui Brewery building (begun 1935). The combination of new technology with a classical finish is perhaps best seen in the F de J Clere AMP building opened in Wellington in 1925 which Mair is likely to have seen. It was 'a style that influenced much public and commercial architecture of the 1920s in the United States. [The AMP] building displays the traditional approach of finance houses and insurance companies - a clinging to the classical and formal qualities of architecture'. Appropriate for a building that incorporated the Post Office Savings Bank. In addition, the fasces are a classical symbol of governmental power and authority, and seen 'prominently among the architectural ornaments of a number of government buildings in Washington: on and around the speakers' podium in the chambers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, at the entrance to the National Archives, etc'. Mair studied and started his architectural career in the United States, so it is likely that he maintained an interest in the developments there.

One of the features of the Post Office building was the use of large windows to give plenty of natural light. The skylights have since been covered over, suggesting the plan may have been too successful. The design was frequently described as spacious, allowing for future growth. At the rear of the section another smaller building was constructed for the linesmen, known as the P&T shed, currently sometimes referred to as 'the white shed.' The PO was responsible for all government vehicles, so the project also included a new garage for servicing vehicles and a petrol pump, no longer in existence. A 'destructor' was also installed (possibly an incinerator or a rubbish compactor).

In a pattern begun during the depression, wherever possible, Mair used locally-sourced materials and workmanship. This included the roofing made by the Taumarunui Winstone's tile works and joinery by Messrs Ross and Harnett. According to the Taumarunui Press, the counter Ross & Harnett built “... is said to be of a better finished article than could have procured in Wellington or elsewhere and reflects great credit on the Taumarunui firm.”

Work went well and it was completed ahead of schedule in 1935, fifty years after the first Post Office was opened in Taumarunui.

Taumarunui long ago arrived at the stage in its progress when it needed a postal building fitting its size and the requirements of the large volume of business that is done in the local post office. The new building no doubt will be an edifice that will add dignity to the town and that will give the local officials the equipment which will enable them to handle the growing business of the office adequately for many years to come... It was only after persistent representations to the Government that Taumarunui got its new post office.

The new post office provided a focal point for civic pride, expressing recognition of the area's growth and renewed economic confidence. The post office was a substantial undertaking for the area, budgeted at £14,500 in 1934, against 38 other building consents for Taumarunui in the same year with a total expected value of £8,457 (more than double the previous year). Despite many new homes being built, rental accommodation was at a premium and the number and value of building permits had swelled again after the depression.

The new building was not just important to Taumarunui, but to the whole district. In preparing for the opening, the Mayor of the Ohura County Council, Jason Caird, 'said the speakers should stress the importance of having Taumarunui made a district post office centre. Why should we be under Hamilton? A movement was on foot to have the centre shifted from Hamilton to New Plymouth, but it should be shifted now to Taumarunui as the centre of the King Country'. This sentiment was expressed at least twice on the day of opening. Planning for the opening included senior representatives from the Taumarunui Borough Council, Taumarunui County Council, Manunui Town Board, Kaitieke County Council, Ohura County Council, not to mention the local Hospital Board, the Public Works Department and of course the local Postmaster, Mr OE List. The festivities were jointly paid for by the various local councils represented.

Although the wiring for telegraph and telephone departments (including the latest manual telephone exchange, known as a branching multiple) were not finished, the building was opened 25 January 1935 on what was described as a “red letter day for Taumarunui” by the Hon Adam Hamilton, Post Master General. (Earlier in the day a young boy climbed onto the dais and sternly announced the Post Office officially open, but his speech was cut short by another boy pinching his leg. ) The Post Office is believed to be the first building opened in Taumarunui by a Government Minister. It was the first visit by a MP for some years. The public was invited to the event and shops were closed for an hour and a half in support. Some of Miriama Street was cordoned off to traffic. Lines of flags were borrowed from either the Auckland City Council or the Auckland GPO to decorate the streets and the dais, constructed in front of the Post Office by the Taumarunui Borough Council with the assistance of Mr Hooker of the Public Works Department. The Union Jack flew from the new Post Office flagpole. A large crowd of 2-3,000 residents of the district attended the opening ceremony.

Speeches were given by the Taumarunui Mayor (CA Boles), F Langstone MP and the Postmaster General (the Hon Adam Hamilton). Langstone noted that Taumarunui was at the apex of three districts: Auckland, Wellington and Taranaki. He predicted that as a result of coal deposits and the large tract of native forests Taumarunui would become one of the largest inland boroughs in New Zealand. Regarding the Post Office building, he stated:

... as far as post offices went in country districts it was all that they could desire. When they saw the joinery work, the rimu doors and the magnificent counter, they would appreciate the value and suitability of New Zealand timbers for this class of work.

They were joined on the dais by the chairmen and representatives of the various local bodies, the Chief Postmaster from Hamilton, the Te Kuiti postmaster, the Taumarunui Postmaster and various other dignitaries. Mr R Stewart represented Whittaker and Co.

The first stamp from the stamp vending machine in the vestibule was sold to Hon Mr Hamilton, who also sent the first telegram, addressed to the Prime Minister. There was a rush by children to buy stamps as mementoes of the occasion.

At the time it opened, the Taumarunui Post Office employed: a postmaster, a supervisor, five exchange attendants and clerks, ten telephonists and clerks, two messengers, four message-boys, one postman, one line foreman, two linemen, a lineman chauffeur and a faultman. The telephone exchange operated 24 hours and served approximately 480 subscribers.

The building is designed for the comfort and safety of not just the public but staff as well (despite being designed in a period of high levels of unemployment), emphasising fresh air, natural light, spaciousness and an attention to detail.

Peter Shaw's father ran a furnishing shop in Taumarunui in the 1950s. Shaw remembers how the Post Office post box lobby provided an opportunity for local businessmen to meet and talk while they collected their mail.

Thinking ahead, the NZPO retained the old post office building, but sublet it to various government departments, as retaining the land would allow for the new post office to expand if required. However, in December 1966 a demolition permit for the old post office was issued to allow for the construction of a new court house which required part of the site occupied by the old building. The new courthouse was completed in 1970.

Plans were drawn in 1951 to sympathetically alter the garages, which still appear in an aerial photograph taken in October 1967, but they have since been demolished or removed.

In 1987 the government split off Telecom and Post Bank Ltd (Postbank), with the third component, NZ Post [Shop], remaining in building. Later Kiwibank was incorporated. In Nov 1990 internal alterations were planned, these included the renovation of the ground floor toilets and reorganising the shop space. In 1998 Opus approved the occupancy by Exercise Fitness studio on 1st Floor. They altered some of the flooring, eventually moving out in mid-2004.

On the 5 October 1999 approval was given for the vacant P&T building at the rear to be used as workshop for six people to produce garden furniture. They vacated the building after at least two years occupancy in April this year.

The main building has been in continuous use as a Post Office since it was opened in 1935, an increasingly rare occurrence, and is a good example of government building design of the early 1930s, incorporating some of the lessons learned from the Hawkes Bay earthquake. The building was designed as the world was coming out of a period of instability and beginning to hope again. This was a time where the Post and Telegraph Department was one of the largest government departments and an important source of government income. The building's owners would have wanted a building that conveyed dependability. Solidarity, stability, power and authority is conveyed through the architect's use of a very high stud, thick concrete walls, design minimizing risk from earthquake and fire, plus subtle quality detailing. Despite some minor alterations and a need for maintenance, it is still arguably one of the most impressive buildings in Taumarunui. Like many rural communities, Taumarunui is struggling to find a significant point of difference to encourage strong growth again, with the Post Office standing as a somewhat run-down symbol of more prosperous, optimistic times.

Physical Description

Main building:

When viewing the two-storied building from the street, the ground floor from left to right consists of the post office box lobby on the left, the original Post Masters Office, the entrance lobby in the centre and the public Postshop and Kiwibank area. Behind this is the mailroom, a bathroom and staff room. The first floor, again from left to right, consists of what was the accounts and telegraph area, a lobby and the telephone operators area on the right. The telephone operators room has had a new room created in the rear right hand corner, recycling an older door but using battened pinex and smaller skirting boards (65mm high, cf original skirtings in switchboard room of 240mm). To the rear of this floor (left to right) is the battery testing room, the battery storage room, and the two staff rooms with the ladies' and mens' toilets. This floor is built around a central atrium which lets in additional light and air. The 'floor' of the atrium is glazed, intended as a skylight for the ground floor, but the glass has been painted over.

The front of the building is largely symmetrical, with vertical red brick panels and topped by a pediment featuring the royal coat of arms above a dentilled cornice. This was surmounted by a flag pole, now missing. Raising and lowering the flag was done from the stub balcony off the first floor landing. The balcony features a metal balustrade. The wooden toggle used to tie off the flag rope is still visible on the side of the balcony. A modern post office sign has been attached to the right of the balcony.

The balcony acts as a small canopy over the main entrance, which is flanked by a pair of electric 'lanterns' and topped by more metalwork. Below the cornice is a pair of swags (festoons) in relief work picked out in red, a motif repeated in the original rain-water heads along the sides of the building. The window spandrels incorporate decorative mouldings of stylised tied bundles of rods - fasces minus the axe - in red, contrasting with the rest of the building in white. A 1935 black and white photograph of the building frontage suggests that the swags and fasces were also originally white. The window frames and exterior doors were originally painted dark green.

The red door to the post office box area does not appear to be original and includes a punch code lock for night access. The main entry vestibule features a terrazzo floor inset centrally with the royal GvR monogram (King George the V, who reigned 1910-1936) in a circle. The floor panels are separated brass rules. The front step and internal stair case are of red-coloured concrete: vinyl now covers the staircase steps. The lobby had a clock visible from the street, now gone. Letters are still posted in the lobby; originally this was through three slots with burnished brass plates: there are now four slots but the original wooden collection bins are still in place through the wall. The noticeboard and brass-finished stamp vending machine have gone. To the right of the mail slot is the brass plaque commemorating the building's opening. To the left of the mail slots are the stairs leading to the second floor. There is a decorative metal security gate at the foot of the stairs in the same style as the balcony etc. On the left of the lobby is the door to the original Postmaster's Office, now a storage room. The office door is original in varnished timber with six panels and a toplight.

With the exception of the double doors at the top of the stairs, the internal doors are original and finished in varnish: most are 5 or 6 panelled doors with toplights. The internal doors to the post box room are particularly large, presumably to allow for trolleys with large parcels. There are two sets of double doors with glazed panels, one leading into the Postshop and the other leading into what would have been the accounts area - ie both leading into areas where the public had access. The public toll booth at the top of the stairs (no longer in use) used the latest sound-proofing technology featuring a particularly thick door with double glazed panels for privacy and a bakelite handle. There were originally two such booths. Some of the building's joinery has been changed.

The original 14 ft (4.27 m) stud is still evident on the ground floor, continuing the impressive feel of the building, but the two large rooms on the first floor have false ceilings installed which are in disrepair. Gaps in the false ceiling suggest that the original ceilings are intact above. The upstairs ceilings of 1935 are of fibrous plaster panels with a battened effect in the same material. On both floors decorative structural beams cross the ceiling and continue to the floor in the form of pillars with simple corner detailing.

The flooring at street level is concrete, while the first floor predominantly timber. The mail room's floor was originally covered with malthoid on bitumen. The public area was originally covered with one foot square rubber tiles which were expected to last 20 years and when they could be easily replaced. The area is now carpeted. In the large upstairs telephone operators room some of the timber flooring has been either replaced or overlaid with particle board by the gymnasium operator. The floor coverings in the upstairs area were originally of linoleum: some of this may remain. These floors are in poor condition, but the patching and other marks indicate the removal of some features, for example the walls surrounding the telegraph operators' office.

Many of the more Arts and Crafts influenced fittings have been removed, with the exception of the 'leadlight' lamps flanking the main entrance and some of the internal joinery. The building originally incorporated sixteen public desks with leadlight partitions. A 45 ft rimu and kauri counter with bronze detailing was designed to accommodate six workers representing the various departments (post, telegraph, postal orders and banking). However, this desk was removed as part of a renovation of the main public area, probably in 1990, and was bought by a local postal employee who incorporated it into her domestic kitchen.

Steel joinery is used for the exterior windows and the balcony door. The window design, a fanlight and hopper system, was designed to allow in fresh air without creating drafts. Much of the window glass appears to be original, including the decorative frosted glass in the front ground floor windows in a classical design and the textured glass in the upstairs toilets. One upstairs window (western wall, northern corner) has a roller blind, while other windows still have brackets indicating that blinds were in use at one time. Some of the windows have been painted or covered over. What appears to be air-conditioning units are installed in the upper sections of the windows in the larger rooms, but they are not used. Most of the original steel and brass window furniture remains, as do many of the electrical switches in brass and bakelite. However, most of the electrical light fittings have been replaced with fluorescents. There is an original Art Deco light fitting in the original Postmaster's Office.

The Postmaster's Office is the only room with wallpaper, which appears to date from the 1960s. Originally the building's interior was finished in Keen's cement with a dado in battleship grey bordered with a black line. Now the downstairs area is finished in off-white. Upstairs various paint colours have been used on the walls at various times including: brown, mint green, peach and pink. The wooden skirting boards upstairs were finished in varnish at one time, but most are painted now.

The two safes are still intact and bear the plaques of Collett & Son Engineers Dannevirke. The rear mailroom dock has been remodelled with new internal walls and windows.

The ground floor toilets were originally the tiled men's rest room, with wardrobes for uniforms, etc. This area was renovated c1990, providing two toilets and a shower for use by postal staff. The tiles and most original fittings were removed. It is adjacent to the downstairs staffroom. Both sets of upstairs toilets are accessed through staff rooms: a door or alcove has been installed since construction, presumably to comply with Health and Safety regulations. Originally the men and women had separate staff areas, with the “...women's retiring room [having] provision for preparing supper and washing up.” The toilets have terrazzo floors and tiled walls predominantly intact. The dado line of blue tiles has been painted over, perhaps to mask the occasional missing one. The urinal has been removed but the water tank supports are still in place. The toilet cisterns have been replaced with modern plastic versions.

The buildings reinforced concrete foundations were reported to go 6 ft 6 in below ground level, while the basement was 11 ft below floor level. The basement was not inspected, but appears to be accessible from a hatch in the floor of the former Postmaster's Office (now a storage area) with a hatch outside near the south western corner for coal deliveries. It housed a White Rose boiler, “the latest type of circulating heater introduced into New Zealand” The boiler was connected to heavy pipes which were carried in trenches of concrete underground, and connected to a decorative radiator system and was installed by Hargraves & Co, Wellington. The old coal-fired boiler is still in the basement, and the original radiators are still centrally heated but from an electrical system installed adjacent to the original boiler.

The building at the time of construction was described as being one of the most up-to-date in the Dominion, featuring innovations such as a telegraph chute: the push buttons for this are still evident both upstairs and down. The telephone exchange was installed by a Mr Dick and involved some 2400 wires, providing for a maximum of 900 subscribers, with each telephone operator managing 150 lines. Presumably this was updated at some point but the entire telegraph and telephone system was removed approximately 12 years ago. A timber post on top of the building visible from the west side of the building appears to have been the exterior telephone and/or telegraph connection, it was not shown on the original plans.

Iron gates on the street front also on the west side of the building are original, opening on to the concrete driveway, which was used by the mail vans. At the back corner of the building on the gate side there is an unusual curved outcrop rather like a bollard, possibly to protect the building from vehicles manoeuvring around the corner. This driveway now appears rarely used: the demolition of the 1909 PO building made for much more spacious access from the eastern side.

Two of the mail sorting tables are antique and may date from the 1909 Post Office. New furniture was made for the 1935 opening, so several other tables and furniture items are likely to date from this period, but this has not been firmly established.

P&T shed: The single-storey P&T shed was not inspected internally, but is constructed in a similar style to the rear, mail room section of the main building in that it is built of reinforced concrete with a corrugated iron roof and featuring decorative vertical battening under the gable. It also features the same rectangular-section downpipes and steel window frames of the main building. The porch around the front door has been repaired relatively recently and the northern end now has a window in what was a doorway. An original description of the building indicates that it had four rooms, including a work room, a store room and an overseers office.

Notable Features

Chattels include the driveway gates and the wooden collection bins.

Construction Dates

Designed
1929 -

Original Construction
1935 -

Construction Details

The two-storied Taumarunui Post Office was constructed in 1934-35 of plastered ferro-concrete featuring brick panels on the street frontage. The front section of the main building is roofed in Marseilles tiles while the rear mailroom section has a corrugated iron roof. Terrazzo flooring is used in the entrance vestibule, post office box lobby, first floor landing and upstairs toilets. Exterior windows are steel framed while internal windows use wooden joinery.

At the rear of the property is a single-story reinforced concrete building constructed as part of the same project. The garage no longer exists.

Completion Date

11th February 2005

Report Written By

K. Mercer

Information Sources

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Peter Shaw, 'Mair, John Thomas 1876 - 1959', updated 16 December 2003. http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/

Winter, 1913

N. A. Winter, Taumarunui old and new: an illustrated record of the growth of a New Zealand town. Taumarunui [N.Z.] : Taumarunui Press, 1913.

Startup, 1977

R. M. Startup, New Zealand Post Offices: An alphabetical list of every Post Office, Telephone office, or Telegraph Office ever open under the control of the New Zealand Post Office, with dates of opening, closure or name change, along with location and also reference to influence in placenames. Auckland NZ: The Postal History Society of New Zealand Inc, 1977.

Taumarunui Press

Taumarunui Press

'Local and General' 26 Jan 1935, 4. 'New Post Office', 13 Oct 1933, 4-5.

'New Post Office: a fine utilitarian building' 25 Jan 1935.

'New Post Office.' Taumarunui Press 26 Jan 1935, 6.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.