Jean Batten Place Departmental Building (Former)

7 Fort Street, 9 Jean Batten Place And 12 Shortland Street, Auckland

  • Jean Batten Place Departmental Building (Former), Auckland. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: M P. Taken By: M P. Date: 23/02/2018.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7631 Date Entered 9th December 2005


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 1 DP 379909 (CT 320234), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as Jean Batten Place Departmental Building (Former), its fittings and fixtures, thereon.

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 1 DP 379909 (CT 320234), North Auckland Land District


The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.

Located in the commercial heart of Auckland, the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building is an imposing seven-storey structure, built in 1937-1942. It is closely linked with the activities of the First Labour Government (1935-1949), the commemoration of the famous New Zealand aviator Jean Batten, and the architectural work of John Mair, the Government Architect. The building was designed to house government offices, at a time when the administrative duties of civil servants increased due to a greater emphasis on state regulation. Greater regulation was particularly introduced as part of a radical social and economic agenda under the government of Michael Joseph Savage, which oversaw a programme of state house construction, the nationalisation of broadcasting and guaranteed prices for dairy products. Savage came to power following widespread poverty during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.

The building was one of two major office buildings constructed by the government from 1937 in the administrative centres of Wellington and Auckland. While the Departmental Building in Stout Street, Wellington, was to form the largest office block in the country, the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building appears to have been the first to be fully completed. Both structures were constructed under the guidance of the Government Architect, John Mair, who adopted a radically different approach from the Stripped Classical design of his earlier government structures. Both were designed in a more contemporary Moderne style, reflecting ideas of modernity and progressiveness appropriate to the new government's agenda. The Jean Batten Place Building may also have been among the earliest large-scale buildings in New Zealand to employ part-welded steel-frame construction. The site chosen for the offices lay close to the position of the first timber building constructed in Auckland, the Government Store (1841), and in the same location as another significant government building, the Shortland Street Post Office and Custom House (completed 1868), which was demolished prior to building work occurring.

As part of the demolition, a thoroughfare was created between Shortland and Fort Street, ultimately enabling the new building to present three main elevations to the public, and providing better natural lighting for offices. In October 1936, the Auckland City Council held a civic reception for Jean Batten, and named the street - which she viewed - Jean Batten Place in her honour. Batten had three days earlier, arrived in Mangere, Auckland at the end of her solo flight from England, the first ever direct flight from England to New Zealand completed. Batten was also the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia and back, and the first woman to pilot herself across the South Atlantic, and was one of the first New Zealanders to establish a reputation of international renown in any field. Following its completion in 1942, the new building was formally named after Jean Batten Place - rather than Shortland Street or Fort Street - enshrining her name in its title and associating the structure with both modern New Zealand achievements and glamour. The building continued to have an association with Batten in later years, and she visited a mural of her airplane inside the building in 1977.

Completed under wartime conditions, the building was first used as the United States Navy's Operating Base from 1942, following American entry into the Second World War (1939-1945). The building eventually housed the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy Central Communications, the U.S. Joint Purchasing Board and the U.S. Red Cross. At ground floor level, the building was occupied from an early stage by the Auckland East Post Office, replicating the role of the previous building on the site. The post office is said to have become the busiest in New Zealand by the early 1970s and the only one in Auckland to issue vehicle licences. Following U.S. withdrawal from the building towards the end of the war, the remainder of the building was taken up with government offices, as initially intended. Having marked the presence of central government in the commercial centre of Auckland for half a century, the building was sold in 1989, following widespread deregulation of government activities. The building was subsequently converted into a backpackers and has been empty since 2002. The building and its site are considered to have aesthetic, architectural, cultural, historical and social significance.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.


The former Jean Batten Place Departmental Building is historically significant as one of two major office buildings - one in Auckland and one in Wellington - constructed to meet the needs of a consolidated and expanding government bureaucracy in the late 1930s. It is closely linked with increasing government administration in the 1930s and 1940s including that of the first Labour administration (1935-1938), which was mandated to introduce greater government regulation over a wide range of activities following the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Its location reflects Government activity in this part of the city since the foundation of Auckland in 1840-1841. The layout of the building reflects changing attitudes to workplace conditions in the late 1930s, with an increasing emphasis on workers' wellbeing.

The building is also historically significant for its associations with Jean Batten, New Zealand's most famous pilot, incorporating her name in its formal government title, and having ongoing connections with her commemoration in the later twentieth century.

It has further significance for its connections with the Second World War and New Zealand's military alliance with the United States of America. Its importance in relation to this conflict extends to its use after the war as an office of the Rehabilitation Department, the arm of government that had responsibility for integration of servicemen back into New Zealand Society.

The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.


The building can be considered to have aesthetic value for its 'modern' appearance and imposing presence in the Shortland Street/Fort Street landscape. Unusually for a building of its period in central Auckland, it was designed to present three main facades to the public. It retains high visibility for an urban building in the central city.


The building is architecturally significant as one of the earliest major government office buildings in New Zealand to be constructed in Moderne style. It is of value for its connections with the Government Architect, John Mair. It is particularly significant for reflecting Mair's change of architectural approach in the latter years of his professional career, and as one of his last major works. The building exterior retains its visual design in comparatively intact form. The interior also retains much early fabric.


The place is believed to have technological value for its early use of large-scale part-welded steel-frame construction in a New Zealand context. Along with the Stout Street Departmental Building, the structure is likely to be one of the earliest surviving office buildings to have incorporated on-site welding.

The place also has technological significance as a building constructed using New Zealand building materials and manufactured products, the result of government measures to reduce dependence on imports and to stimulate the local economy.

The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.


The building has some social significance as the site of the East Auckland Post Office, which performed important services to the community as New Zealand's busiest post office.


The building has some cultural significance as the offices of the Department of Maori and Island Affairs for over a decade, and as the Auckland venue for Maori Land Court hearings during the 1960s and 1970s.

The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.

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

The place is highly significant for its ability to reflect the development of public works and government administration in the 1930s and 1940s, and particularly during the First Labour Government of 1935-1949. The First Labour Government introduced seminal changes in New Zealand politics, including greater government regulation over the economy and involvement in social welfare. These became standard policies for subsequent governments until the 1980s.

The place also has considerable significance for reflecting government activity on or near this site since 1841. Auckland was created as a government town in that year, and the place and its site have acted as a symbol of central government administration in the commercial heart of the settlement for much of the period since.

The place has significance as a reflection of government policies of the late 1930s to provide improved working conditions for the public service, at that time an overwhelmingly male workforce.

The place, through some of the government departments that occupied the building between 1945 and 1980, illustrates state policies implemented to facilitate the integration of particular groups (returned servicemen; Maori from rural areas; and Pacific Island immigrants) into New Zealand's increasingly urbanised society.

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

Largely constructed during the Second World War, the building has close links with the events of that time. It has particularly high significance for its association with the military alliance between New Zealand and the United States of America, having housed the United States Navy's operating base in Auckland for several years.

The building is also closely linked with Jean Batten, New Zealand's most famous aviator. Several places in New Zealand are named after Batten, but Jean Batten Place, Auckland - created as an integral part of the Departmental Building's designed surroundings - is credited as being the first.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

As one of only two large departmental buildings erected in the late 1930s, the place has potential to provide information about the working conditions of state employees and the organisation of government administration, among other aspects of New Zealand history. Through its extensive incorporation of New Zealand materials, it can also provide information about the exploitation of local resources and New Zealand-based production.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Prominently located in a busy part of Auckland's Central Business District, the place has considerable potential for public education about New Zealand politics of the 1930s, Jean Batten, the Second World War, Moderne-style architecture and the historical development of central Auckland.

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

The building has high design significance as an early example of large-scale government office construction in the Moderne style, and as a valuable representative of John Mair's work in this genre. It is also believed to be an early example of large-scale part-welded steel-frame construction.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The building has commemorative significance for its association with one of New Zealand's most important twentieth-century personalities, Jean Batten.

(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 nationally important historical urban landscape in the Queen Street/High Street/Shortland Street/Customs Street area, which reflects Auckland's role as a major commercial, financial and administrative centre. The area contains a large number of NZHPT Category I historic places, adjudged to be of 'special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value.' The building has particular significance as one of the few major structures within this area that reflects central government activity in the late 1930s and early 1940s.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Fletcher Construction Company

Fletcher Construction Company was founded by Scottish-born James Fletcher (1886 - 1974), the son of a builder. Six months after his arrival in Dunedin in 1908, Fletcher formed a house-building partnership with Bert Morris. They soon moved into larger-scale construction work, building the St Kilda Town Hall (1911), and the main dormitory block and Ross Chapel at Knox College (1912). Fletcher's brothers, William, Andrew and John joined the business in 1911, which then became known as Fletcher Brothers. A branch was opened in Invercargill.

While holidaying in Auckland in 1916, James tendered for the construction of the the Auckland City Markets. By 1919 the company, then known as Fletcher Construction, was firmly established in Auckland and Wellington. Notable landmarks constructed by the company during the Depression included the Auckland University College Arts Building (completed 1926); Landmark House (the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building, 1927); Auckland Civic Theatre (1929); the Chateau Tongariro (1929); and the Dominion Museum, Wellington (1934).

Prior to the election of the first Labour Government, Fletcher (a Reform supporter) had advised the Labour Party on housing policy as hbe believed in large-scale planning and in the inter-dependence of government and business. However, he declined an approach by Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage in December 1935 to sell the company to the government, when the latter wanted to ensure the large-scale production of rental state housing. Although Fletchers ultimately went on to build many of New Zealand's state houses, for several years Residential Construction Ltd (the subsidiary established to undertake their construction) sustained heavy financial losses.

Fletcher Construction became a public company, Fletcher Holdings, in 1940. Already Fletchers' interests were wide ranging: brickyards, engineering shops, joinery factories, marble quarries, structural steel plants and other enterprises had been added the original construction firm. Further expansion could only be undertaken with outside capital.

During the Second World War James Fletcher, having retired as chairman of Fletcher Holdings, was seconded to the newly created position of Commissioner of State Construction which he held during 1942 and 1943. Directly responsible to Prime Minister Peter Fraser, Fletcher had almost complete control over the deployment of workers and resources. He also became the Commissioner of the Ministry of Works, set up in 1943, a position he held until December 1945.

In 1981 Fletcher Holdings; Tasman Pulp and Paper; and Challenge Corporation amalgamated to form Fletcher Challenge Ltd, at that time New Zealand's largest company.

Williamson Construction Company - main contract

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.

Williamson Construction Company

Williamson Construction Company

The Christchurch-based Williamson Construction Company was founded by William Henry Williamson (d.1971), the third generation of the Williamson family to be involved in the building trade. Gaining his first building contract when an apprentice carpenter aged 17, Williamson went on to build hydro-electric stations, freezing works at Kaiapoi and throughout the country, as well as hospitals, bridges, hotels and theatres. He was responsible for construction of the iconic Edmonds Factory (1922 - now demolished) which stood in Ferry Road; and the Nurses' Memorial Chapel (1927) in Riccarton Avenue, both in Christchurch. Williamson described the latter, a brick structure with Oamaru stone dressings and open timber roof trusses, as 'the finest building he ever built'.

A large recently refitted warehouse (believed to date from the early 1930s) at 137 Montreal Street, Christchurch, originally provided storage and served as a work yard for Williamson Construction which conducted business on the site from 1934. William Williamson's office, a small but grand building with a strong classical façade, still stands next door complete with the company's name in brass lettering.

In the late-1930s, rivalry with the Auckland-based Fletcher Construction Company occurred.

This was taken to a new level in 1943, when Williamson Construction secured the contract to build an asbestos-cement plant in Christchurch with a bid uncontested by other South Island contractors, spurring Fletcher Construction to re-establish itself in the South Island.

Both construction companies survived the Depression and war years. The science block at the University of Canterbury and the South Pacific Hotel in Auckland were among some of Williamson's last major contracts. William Williamson died in Christchurch in December 1971, leaving his son Peter to carry on the business. Williamson Construction finally ceased to exist in the 1980s.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.

The site

The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building is located on 733 square metres of land, fronting onto Fort Street (16.19 m.), Jean Batten Place (41.82 m.) and Shortland Street (18.99 m.), and contained in Lot 1 DP 129112. This parcel of land is a corner site between Shortland Street and Fort Street, bounded to the east by Jean Batten Place, and to the west by the Bank of New Zealand building. The old foreshore once extended in to the site prior to the reclamation of Fort Street.

Auckland's first timber building, the Government Store, lay close to the site, as marked by an Auckland City historic place plaque attached to the Jean Batten Place façade of the building. The Store occupied the land that is today bounded by Queen Street, Shortland Street, Fort Street and Jean Batten Place. The structure was associated with a market place.

When Auckland became a Bborough in 1851, the market place was vested in the Mayor and Aldermen. In 1875, the area reverted to the Crown under the Abolition of [Auckland] Provinces Act, but was immediately retrieved by the City under The Auckland City Endowments and Reserves Act. In 1883, the New Zealand Insurance Company was granted a 50 -year lease on the area, at the annual rental of £2,810. To fulfil the terms of its lease, the Company erected an imposing building in 1886 and, in 1921, sold the unexpired portion of its lease to the Victoria Arcade Company Limited. This building had shops on the ground floor with an arcade running from Shortland Street to Fort Street, known as the Victoria Arcade. The arcade was modified before the lease expired in 1933. On the building was a plaque, commemorating that the site marked the foreshore of Auckland in 1844.

Auckland's first brick post office, then combined with a custom house, was designed by Edward Rumsey in Victorian Gothic Revival style. Commissioned in 1864 and completed during 1868, it was built on the block adjoining the N.Z. Insurance Company's land. Two months before the building was completed, it was described in detail as having "'a number of finely carved figure heads [by sculptor Anton Teutenberg] ornamenting the façade representing the Queen, Prince Albert, Prince of Wales, Empress Alexandra, the Governor, the Bishop of New Zealand, chief [Paul], the late chief William Thompson and another celebrated chief and his wife.'" Rumsey's Shortland Street Post Office was demolished in 1936 to make way for a new street (Jean Batten Place) and the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building.

George Graham, in a detailed newspaper story in June 1939 referring to the "'contemplated Jean Batten Place"', wrote about '"pioneer memories of early Auckland'". He said: '"At this spot (then the beach foreshore) the original settlers formed their camps in 1840 .... An old sketch of the camps, showing the Government store and settlers' tents, may be found reproduced in Brett's "Early History of New Zealand" (page 546), which shows also the old Maori track leading from the beach front, past the camps and inland in the direction along the line of what is now practically High Street. At the rear of the camps the track joined with another leading from the Waihorotiu Creek, where Queen Street now runs, and passing up the slope along what is now Shortland Street.'

'"It is interesting to know that on this site of Jean Batten Place also camped the last Maori Ngapuhi war party to these parts, under the chief Pomare, in 1826. On the track was fought a battle when Pomare attacked and assaulted a pallisaded Ngati-Paoa fort on Britomart headland.'

'"For many years in early Auckland these old Maori tracks were still used by the settlers and thus became in time generally speaking, the recognized line of many of to-day's leading thoroughfares, being adapted as such in Felton Matthew's original survey of 1840. For some reason, however, he ignored this particular track past the Government store - and in course of time the old post office and adjoining buildings covered the whole area.'

'"Therefore, if that ancient right-of-way is again available for public use, it will be reviving once more that ancient track- already ancient long before Pomare no doubt passed along it in 1826."'

Construction History

The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building was constructed to help meet the needs of an expanding state service during the time of the First Labour Government (1935-1949). Its position in the centre of Auckland's main commercial district followed that of previous, important government buildings such as the Government Store and the Post Office, as noted above. A large structure was initially conceived on the site in 1934-1935 as a means of housing civil servants who had previously worked from disparate leased premises throughout Auckland. The specific design, construction and early use of the current building, however, took place under New Zealand's first Labour Government, elected in 1935.

Following the traumas of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Labour invested heavily in public works including the construction of government buildings as a means of reducing unemployment and stimulating the economy. They also expanded the civil service to administer greater state regulation. Increased regulation was part of a radical social and economic agenda under the premiership of Michael Joseph Savage (1935-1940), which included - amongst other actions - a programme of state house construction, the nationalisation of broadcasting and guaranteed prices for dairy products. Further centralisation occurred in the 1940s under Savage's successor, Peter Fraser.

The building was constructed as one of two new major Departmental Buildings for the government, one in each of the main administrative centres of Auckland and Wellington. While the Stout Street Departmental Buildings in Wellington was to be the largest office block in New Zealand, the Jean Batten Place Building appears to have been the first that was fully completed. Smaller offices were also built in other centres, including Napier and Palmerston North.

In 1935, it was estimated that the new Departmental Building in Auckland would be completed by January 1938. In February 1936, the contract for demolition and site clearance was let and the site cleared by August that year, four months past its target date. Design of the new building appears to have been running behind time as the Public Works Department's plans are dated June 1937. It appears that the building was conceived as consciously 'modern', promoting a sense of new ideas and a break from the past, as well as modelling high quality working environment conditions for its intended occupants. This was consistent with Labour Government philosophy of the time, which sought to promote a belief that New Zealand was entering a new age of humanitarianism, encapsulated by the catchphrase 'onwards and upwards'.

The tender for the building's foundation and steel frame was let to The Fletcher Construction Company Ltd who, on 23 December 1937 began excavation work for the foundations using a Bucyrus Erie steam shovel. The site would prove to be a challenge in the foundation stage. Mass concrete foundations from the former Shortland Post Office building had to be removed by hand, Auckland City Council not countenancing the use of explosives or a 'heavy pointed tool dropped from height', because of the perceived danger to the adjoining Victoria Arcade building.

Fletcher Construction had previously been involved in a number of Government contracts. By March 1937 it had two state-built joinery factories working 24 hours a day producing timber for new state houses. James Fletcher had also drawn up a scheme for state housing at Orakei in Auckland, and Miramar and the Hutt Valley in Wellington, and succeeded in capturing most of the Orakei and Miraimar contracts. Having just finished the Wellington Railway Station in 1937, the company embarked construction of the Departmental Building in Stout Street. These contracts were important for the consolidation of Fletchers as one of New Zealand's major building firms.

The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building used a steel skeleton frame, encased in concrete in a manner similar to that used on the Chief Post Office (1909) and the nearby former NZ Guardian Trust building (1914-18). To reduce on-site construction noise in this office precinct, the specification called for the frame to have shop fabricated riveted joints but with welded field connections, as was also the case with Mair's Stout Street Departmental Building in Wellington (1937-1942). As early as 1936-1937 the Government Architect had been investigating the use of welded connections rather than riveted joints to eliminate noise associated with the construction of steel buildings in built-up areas. Their use in the Jean Batten Place Building is believed to be an early example of their application in New Zealand for the construction of a large-scale building. Arc-welded steel was first used in the Southern Hemisphere in 1932, and by 1937 the Department of Public Works - who were leaders in New Zealand building technology - had made comprehensive investigations into the use of welding on large-scale buildings and were preparing specifications for use, which they imagined would enable welding to become the standard practice of the Department. The use of on-site welding on the Jean Batten Place structure is likely to be a very early occurrence in a New Zealand context.

During erection, this building drew crowds of sightseers. The steel skeleton framework was completed to the upper seventh level by late 1938, after which work ceased for some months while the plans were revised and tenders sought for the main contract. At the time the building was referred to as '"the world's biggest Meccano Set"'.

In its ensuing phase of construction, The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building illustrates the implementation of new policies that gave preference to the use of New Zealand materials and products in construction projects, as the Labour Government took steps to stimulate, diversify and insulate the economy following the dDepression by controlling exports, overseas funds and imports. The plans for the Jean Batten and the Stout Street Departmental Buildings had to be revised in order to reduce the quantity of imported materials. Subsequently, fresh tenders were obtained and the contracts were finalised in accordance with the amended conditions. The tender for the main contract closed on 14th March 1939 and was awarded to Williamson Construction Company Ltd of Christchurch. In addition to interiors finished with native timbers, the building was to incorporate three types of New Zealand building -stone: cream-coloured Hanmer 'Marble' in the Fort and Shortland Street foyers; Coromandel Tonalite on the ground floor external facing; and plastered Putaruru Ignimbrite on the upper floors. Putaruru Ignimbrite was extracted commercially from several quarries south of Putaruru in the 1930s to 1950s and was used in a number of other Government buildings constructed at this time including the Dunedin Post Office; the State Insurance Building, Christchurch; the Stout Street Departmental Building and the National Museum building, in Wellington. The cladding of many of these buildings has been replaced because the absorbent nature of the stone has caused it to deteriorate as a result of the action of soluble salts leaching into the mortar and adjacent concrete.

The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building was finally completed by the beginning of June 1942, five years after construction began.

Jean Gardner Batten, aviatrix and celebrity

Jean Gardner Batten was born in Rotorua on 15 September 1909, the only daughter of a dentist, Frederick Harold Batten, and his wife, Ellen (Nellie) Blackmore. The family moved to Auckland in 1913 where Jean was exposed to aviation, watching flying boats at the Walsh Brothers flying school located at the former Melanesian Mission site at Kohimarama. In 1929, Ellen Batten took Jean to Sydney and arranged for her to fly in the Southern Cross with Charles Kingsford-Smith.

In early 1930, Batten and her mother financed a trip to England by selling Jean's piano. Jean Batten learnt to fly at the London Aeroplane Club, gaining her licence in December that year, and commenced planning to break the solo England to Australia record set by Amy Johnson. Batten gained a B commercial pilot's licence in December 1932, and with borrowed money purchased a de Havilland Gypsy Moth. After two unsuccessful attempts, both ending in crashes, Batten flew from London to Darwin in 14 days, 22½ hours and became a world celebrity. She had broken Johnson's record by four days, and with her return flight to England later in the same year became the first female pilot to fly from Britain to Australia and back.

Batten was to make another spectacular solo flight. In a new Percival Gull 6 monoplane she flew from England to South America, becoming the first woman to pilot herself across the South Atlantic and setting world records for the ocean crossing and overall flight. She was subsequently awarded the Harmon International Trophy for the most outstanding flight by a woman in 1935, and was also named one of five Daily Express Women of the Year.

As Jean Batten CBE, she emerged from seclusion in October 1936 to undertake her longest journey, the first ever direct flight from England to New Zealand, completed in 11 days 45 minutes.

The following year, at the age of 28, Batten made her last long-distance flight. She flew from Australia to England in 5 days, 18 hours establishing a solo record and becoming the first person to hold England-Australia records in both directions simultaneously.

Jean Batten Place

The 1936 demolition of the former Shortland Street Post Office, which had occupied the whole block of land between the Victoria Arcade, on Queen Street, and the National Bank on Shortland Street, allowed Auckland City to create a new street, named after pioneer aviator Jean Batten.

While the 1844 view of Commercial Bay shows an access way parallel to the present Jean Batten Place, it was later to be occupied by the Shortland Street Post Office, leaving the only connection between Shortland and Fort Streets by way of Victoria Lane (running alongside the Victoria Hotel). Even this was to later disappear under a building.

A new thoroughfare was evidently conceived as part of the overall plans for the Departmental Building and its surroundings, and Jean Batten's arrival at Mangere at the end of her epic flight, resulted in the embryo street being named after her. The City of Auckland had previously agreed to pay the government £35,000 for a 40- foot- wide strip of land, to form a new city thoroughfare between Shortland and Fort Streets. At a civic reception held for Batten, three days after her arrival in Mangere on 16 October 1936, it was announced that '"the new street across the site of the old Shortland Street Post Office is to be named '"Jean Batten Place"' in honour of the famous aviatrix and a commemorative tablet is to be erected there to record her achievements."' In her immediate response, Jean Batten said: '" I hope it will be an inspiration to all who visit it, that it will remind them that we are embarked upon a new era in which air travel is the most modern form of transport and that it will make people more air-minded than they are at present."'

Following the reception, she visited the demolition site, where the new street was to be. A photograph of Jean Batten and the Mayor, Mr Ernest Davis, viewing the site was published along with her letter of thanks written later that day. She wrote expressing: '" deep sense of appreciation of the great honour conferred on me by the Auckland City Council. It perhaps falls to the lot of few people of my age to receive such honour at the hands of the city in which I have lived and been educated."' These were not just polite sentiments for public consumption, as she really did feel the street naming was a great compliment. In a private letter, written from Wellington on 26 October, Jean Batten wrote to a friend in Australia: '"... a busy thoroughfare in the city of Auckland is to be named 'Jean Batten Place' which I suppose is the highest tribute my home town can pay me."' By 1942, the new government building erected alongside the street had also formally incorporated her name in its title, with the adoption of the term, the 'Jean Batten Place Departmental Building'. This reference was preferred in spite of the main public entrances to the building being located on Fort Street and Shortland Street, and can be seen as associating the structure with contemporary New Zealand achievements and an element of glamour, appropriate to the modern design of the structure and the forward-looking policies of the incumbent government. Jean Batten personified modernity not only in her association with flight technology, but also as a glamorous woman who was pursuing an unorthodox goal.

Returning to London on yet another record-breaking flight in October 1937, Jean Batten was not to visit New Zealand again until 1969. One of the first things she did after arriving in Auckland was to visit 'her' Place. The New Zealand Herald again published a photo of her there, this time alongside the bronze-lettered street name and large bronze plaque, which had been proposed on that momentous civic occasion in 1936. Having made that first return home, Jean Batten remained living in the Canary Islands and later, Majorca, but she visited New Zealand often: she was here in 1969/70, 1977, 1979 and 1980, before she died in Majorca in 1982, aged 73. During her 1977 trip, she visited a mural of her Percival Gull that had been erected inside the building, and presented staff with a Commemorative Cover issued in 1976 by Britain's Royal Air Force Museum to mark the fortieth anniversary of her first flight to Auckland. Four years before this, in 1973, the building was renamed the Jean Batten State Building.

United States Navy

With the many delays in the construction of Jean Batten Place Departmental Building, it was not available for occupancy until the end of May 1942. At the time of the United States' entry into the Second World War in December 1941, therefore, the plan for thirteen Government Departments to be accommodated in Jean Batten Place, had still to be realised. It took until 1945 for all the intended occupants to move in. The building's first role was as the '"U.S. Naval Operating Base, Auckland, New Zealand"', established close to the Dilworth Building where U.S. Army personnel were located.

In February 1942 U. S. Pacific Command was allowed control of the building. Plans were drawn up at the end of February for construction of an air raid shelter in the basement. In March 'special' communications equipment was fitted to the upper level/roof and a U. S. Government telephone exchange installed on the fifth floor. Then U. S. Navy personnel '"first entered the building on 1 June 1942 and gradually extended, so they occupied all floors 1 to 7 and part of the ground floor. They had a 24 -hour electricity service during occupancy."' A bill was rendered to the U. S. Navy for electricity consumption. According to the Assistant Under-Secretary of Public Works in Wellington, referring to the question of a lease with the U.S. Government: '"there was apparently no agreement entered into with U.S. Forces with regard to their occupancy of the Departmental buildings in Jean Batten Place."'

Details of the occupation of the Departmental Buildings by the U.S. Navy may have been subject to wartime censorship. In 1942, the Minister of Public Works' statement to Parliament recorded the building at Jean Batten Place as '"now in occupation"', whereas, for the other public buildings included in the report, some comment was made on their occupants and/or facilities provided. A Home and Building article in June 1942 gives details of which Government Departments were going to be housed in the new building, down to the detail of which floor each was to occupy but makes no mention of the U.S. Navy.

The Post Office, named Auckland East, had moved into part of the ground floor in January 1942, even though the rest of the building was still unfinished. No official opening took place.

By November 1942 the Americans were in full possession of all floors above ground level, and control of the building was officially handed to U. S. Pacific Command in April 1943. The Post Office remained on the ground floor, with the U.S. Marine Corps, Central Communications U. S. Navy, U.S. Joint Purchasing Board and U. S. Red Cross located on the upper floors, the U. S. Naval Operating Base occupying the majority of the space.

During late 1944, there was a gradual release of accommodation by the U. S. Forces, with naval services withdrawing to U.S. Naval Barracks in Mechanics Bay. The U.S. Navy Public Works dismantled the signal tower and made the necessary restorations in the basement. The U. S. Marine Corps and Joint Purchasing Board remained at Jean Batten Place until well into 1945.

New Zealand Government Offices

From 1945, three years after construction finished, the Departmental Building was occupied by numerous Government Departments. Those intended to occupy the building, and indicated on the 1939 architect's plans included the following:

State Fire Office Ground floor and first floor, Shortland Street end

NZ Post Office Ground floor, Jean Batten Place

National Provident Fund Ground floor, Fort Street end

Births, Deaths & Marriages Balance of first floor

Education Department Second Floor

Child Welfare Second floor

Defence department Third floor

Transport Fifth floor (Jean Batten Place - Fort Street end)

Treasury Fifth floor (Shortland Street end /Jean Batten Place)

Government Analysts Seventh floor

Street Directories and a letter calculating shared electricity usage, suggest that during the war the building's ground floor was occupied by the State Fire Office and the New Zealand Government Provident Fund, in addition to the Post Office.

In accordance with the Labour Government's promises to improve conditions of employment in the public service (by restoration of salaries, pay rises, increased security for superannuation funds and implementation of a 40-hour, five-day working week with payment for overtime,)' the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building was designed to be a model work place. The building was: '...a shining example of modern functional architecture...affording ideal conditions for the occupants' with lifts and stairs giving 'access to the upper floors, which are equipped with all modern toilet facilities including hot water to the lavatory basins'. Notwithstanding the implication that the building was forward-looking in its facilities and the work environment provided, it did not anticipate the widespread entry of women into the workforce with the outbreak of war. Rather, its design reflected State Services Commission policy (introduced in 1917 and not reversed until 1948) not to appoint women clerical cadets to the public service. (Women could only be taken on, as temporary employees, in areas such as shorthand and typing.) This is evidenced by plans for the building which did not provide female toilets from the ground floor to the fifth floor inclusively. One (presumably) female toilet was provided in association with the cafeteria on the sixth floor; and the lavatory/cloakroom on the seventh floor (contained three lavatories and no urinals).

Following the War four floors of the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building were occupied by the Land and Income Tax Department and two by the Rehabilitation Department. The latter Department was responsible for seeing that 100,000 servicemen returning from the war were integrated back into New Zealand Society and would have been associated with the government's ambitious land settlement scheme putting servicemen onto farms of their own and in the promotion of new educational opportunities.

The building had been designed to enable the consolidation of different government offices in one building, a great convenience to the both the departments and the public. In the 1960s the building's tenants (in addition to the Post Office and the State Insurance Office) included the Auckland Youth Farm Settlement Scheme; the Education Department; the Vocational Guidance Centre; the Royal New Zealand Navy Recruiting Centre; Civil Aviation; the Ministry of Transport; New Zealand State Coal Mines; and the Mines Department. The Maori Affairs Department (by 1975 Maori and Pacific Island Affairs) became a tenant in 1966, occupying the fifth and sixth floors. Maori migration to urban areas had increased greatly after the Second World War (1939-45), and during the 1960s and 1970s New Zealand's Pacific Islands population increased rapidly as people immigrated in pursuit of better educational and employment opportunities. The Maori Land Court Room was located on the seventh floor and sittings appear to have been conducted there until 1978.

The Post Office expanded over time to occupy the whole of the ground floor. It was Auckland's only Post Office to issue vehicle registrations and in early 1970s, it expanded to provide Savings Bank services, with seven tellers. It was then New Zealand's busiest Post Office, having a monthly imprest of $36,000 worth of 3c and 4c stamps. With the sale of Post Office Savings Bank to ANZ Bank, the Jean Batten Place Post Office became an ANZ Postbank in 1988.

Sold by Government Property Services in 1989 the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building was converted into a 306-bed backpacker's hotel in 1991, and operated in that mode until May 2002, since when it has stood empty. In 2000, current owners, BNZ Properties (Auckland) Ltd were granted demolition consent for the building and the adjoining 80 Queen Street property.

Physical Description

The text below is from the original report considered at the time of registration.


The former Jean Batten Place Departmental Building lies in the central business district of Auckland, surrounded by numerous NZHPT registered buildings. Many of those in the immediate vicinity are of a similar scale and bulk, including the former South British Insurance Building (NZHPT Registration # 121, Category I historic place), designed by Grierson Aimer Draffin in 1927; and the General Buildings (NZHPT Registration # 106, Category I historic place), erected to a design by Bloomfield and Hunt in 1926-1928. Both of these purpose-built office buildings are in the decorative Chicago School Style popular in America at the time of their construction.

The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building, constructed some 13 -14 years after these buildings, signals a significant departure in style.

Architectural Description

A familiar landmark building of 7 floors (plus basement), the top floor is largely hidden from view by its generous setback from the parapet. The street facades have a strong horizontal emphasis with alternating bands of bronze windows and Putaruru stone clad walls, which are further accentuated by narrow projecting horizontal banding at sill and window head level. The Putaruru stone cladding has been plastered and over painted.

Coromandel Tonalite stone facings are applied around the base of the building to sill height and extend over and around the principal building entrances to Fort Street, Jean Batten Place and Shortland Street. The cladding is similar to the Stout Street Departmental Building in Wellington - also designed by John Mair at the same time - which has Coromandel Tonalite up to first floor level, and then a material called Vitric Tuff (Putaruru) stone used for the rest of the facades.

The main entrances to the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building, with their stepped stone facings, bronze lanterns and grilles set above door level, have an Art Deco influence.

Centrally placed vertical fins, with Art Deco embellishments, overlaid onto each of the façades, rise from small projecting balconies at second floor level (on Shortland and Fort Streets). The New Zealand Coat of Arms, evident in early photographs, were once placed centrally on the second floor balconies on the Fort and Shortland street facades where their ghost outlines remain today. On the west elevation the ghost outline of the former Victoria Arcade roof is still visible.

Plan form and interior

The government offices that once used this building faced principally onto the adjoining streets, this unique corner site providing ample light penetration for office work. Lift and service cores are set close to the principal Shortland and Fort Street entrances, and back onto and face into two light wells, which at the time of construction adjoined the Victoria Arcade. A connecting corridor between these cores bisects the building, giving access to what were originally large open plan floors with some private office space. Changes to the various floors over the years indicate that these large spaces have been subdivided with partitions, and the public counters and associated offices which were associated with the ground floor uses (State Fire Office, Post Office, National Provident Fund) have been partially removed. Ground floor spaces, visible from street level, retain their original deco influenced plaster ceilings. A large basement incorporates a strong-room and other storage space.

Large open floor plates, while not unusual for their time, indicate a move towards the type of open planning evident in most modern offices. This spatial flexibility has also been noted in Mair's Government Life Insurance Head Office, Wellington (1938), where ground floor spaces could be converted to shops, and concealed accessible wiring enabled telephones, power outlets and lights to be easily moved and installed as required by changing office configurations. It is not clear whether the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building was similarly 'future proofed'.

Design Influences

As Government Architect from 1923 to 1941, Mair designed many public buildings in the inter-war and early war years including post offices, courthouses and other government buildings. He favoured the severe Stripped Classical style, common in this period, occasionally relieved with some small but strictly controlled decorative touches in the Art Deco style.

Towards the very end of his career he designed a small number of buildings in the Moderne style, notably the Stout Street Departmental Building in Wellington (1937-1942), the Lower Hutt Post Office (1940) and the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building (1937-1942). The Stout Street building has been described as stylistically something of an '...uneasy compromise...' between the two periods, stripped classical and the '...modern International Style....' Furthermore, ' comparison with near neighbours, it is graceless and projects an image of defensive bureaucracy....'

At the time of its design the Stout Street building was the largest office building in the country and is thought to have been influenced by several London buildings: the Shell Mex House, built as the Cecil Hotel in 1886 and remodelled in 1931 by Joseph Brothers, and the former Mount Royal Hotel in Oxford St, 1932 by Francis Lorne.

The Jean Batten Place Departmental Building has very strong design similarities to the Stout Street building and could almost be a wing of this structure removed and transported to Auckland, but it is a lighter and more assured building, which nevertheless retains the solidity and gravitas of a government building. The two buildings were constructed more or less contemporaneously and may have been designed at the same or a similar time. Given their departure from earlier government architecture, they can be seen to have projected ideas of progress and modernity, compatible with the radical social agenda of the Labour administrations of Michael Joseph Savage (1935-1940). Their apparent early use of part-welded steel-frame construction in large-scale design may have reinforced this perspective. The two buildings were among the last to be overseen by Mair before his retirement in 1941, and can be seen as the culmination of several decades of professional experience. Initial assessments suggest that the Stout Street building has been more substantially modified than the Jean Batten Place structure since its construction, having had its original stone facing replaced by composite panels in 1985 and being internally refurbished by the Defence Department in the late 1980s.

The Moderne Style is well represented in residential buildings in Auckland, and to a lesser extent in other buildings such as the former Auckland Electric Power Board Building and the Olympic Pool, both in Newmarket; the former Korma Building (former Holeproof Building) in Pah Road, Royal Oak; the Harbour Board Workshops (Former) in Hobson Street (NZHPT Registration # 2649, Category II historic place); and the Central Fire Station, Pitt Street.

Nearby office buildings of a similar date and style to the Jean Batten Place Departmental Building include the Dingwall Building in Queen Street (NZHPT Registration # 4584, Category II historic place), designed by Gummer and Ford in 1935, and the former Prudential Insurance Company Building (NZHPT Registration # 4592, Category II historic place) by Chilwell and Trevithick, 1939, the latter building being notable as having '...the largest external use of structural glass yet made in New Zealan......', with its broad horizontal bands of column-less fenestration presenting a lighter and well articulated façade to Vulcan Lane and Queen Street.

Construction Dates

1937 -

Original Construction
1937 - 1942

Internal subdivision to smaller offices undertaken

1991 -
Internal modifications, including installation of partitions

2006 - 2009
Part-removal of building during redevelopment, with retention of facades and set back on three sides

Construction Details

Steel frame, concrete walls with Putaruru stone facing. Coromandel Tonalite plinth

Completion Date

19th April 2005

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1935 D-1; 1937 D-1; 1938 D-1; 1939 D-1; 1939 D-1; 1940 D-1; 1941 D-1; 1942 D-1

Archives New Zealand (Auck)

Archives New Zealand (Auckland)

'Departmental Buildings - New Departmental Building, Jean Batten Place', BBAD 1054/2605a; 'Departmental Buildings - Jean Batten Place', BBAD 1054/2605b; 'Departmental Buildings - Jean Batten Place', BBAD 1054/2605c; 'Departmental Buildings - Jean Batten Place', BBAD 1054/2745a; 'Government Owned Office Accommodation - Jean Batten Building - General', BBAD 1054/4016a

Christchurch City Council

Christchurch City Council

Amanda Ross, 'High-tech business looks to preserve the past', No 20 in the 'Still Standing' Heritage Building Series

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Selwyn Parker, 'Fletcher, James 1886-1974', updated 7 July 2005 URL: http//

Peter Shaw, 'Mair, John Thomas 1876-1959', updated 16 December 2003, URL:

'Batten, Jean Gardner 1909 - 1982', updated 16 December 2003, URL:

Hayward, 1987

Bruce W. Hayward, 'Granite and Marble: a guide to building stones in New Zealand', Geological Society of New Zealand Guidebook, No.8

Home and Building

Home and Building

'New Government Building on site of old-time jetties', June 1942, p.25

Martin, 2004

Lewis E. Martin, Built For Us: The Work of Government and Colonial Architects, 1860s to 1960s, Dunedin, 2004.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Nomination Form

Opus International Consultants Ltd

Opus International Consultants Ltd

'New Departmental Buildings - Shortland Street - Steel Details' PWD 96418 (1937); 'New Departmental Buildings -Shortland Street - Auckland' PWD 96467 (n.d.), Environmental Division, Auckland

Oral Histories

Oral Histories

Patricia Leary to David Reynolds, March 2005.

Campbell Shepherd, Manager, Auckland Central Backpackers, to David Reynolds, 22 March 2005.

Parker, 1994

Selwyn Parker, Made in New Zealand: The Story of Jim Fletcher, Auckland, 1994

Shaw, 1991

Peter Shaw, New Zealand Architecture: From Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, Auckland, 1991

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

Street File (1936 - 1990), ACC 381 - Box 914 - File 5640

Other Information

NZIA Local Architecture Award Winners 2010, Category: Heritage

A fully referenced version of this 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.