Historical Significance or Value
The place is historically important for its connections with the Albert Barracks and early military activity in New Zealand. It is particularly significant for demonstrating the transformation of a major urban area into an exclusive residential neighbourhood for Auckland's commercial and professional elite in the late nineteenth century. The place reflects the wealth and lifestyle of such groups and their prominent position in Auckland society. It is associated with later developments in urban history, including the growth of the University of Auckland in the twentieth century and attitudes to heritage protection in the early 1970s.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The place has aesthetic significance as an elite late-Victorian urban residential building designed in an ornate, Italianate style. It has considerable value for its prominent contribution to the visual amenity of the Princes Street and Albert Park landscapes; for the grand appearance of its main residential structure, and for the quality of its surviving external and internal detailing. It is aesthetically important as one of a conjoining group of high-quality and ornate historic residences on the western side of Princes Street.
Archaeological Significance or Value
The place has archaeological value as part of the Albert Barracks complex, the largest and most important military installation in early colonial New Zealand. Evidence exists that the place contains the buried remnants of a military road, located immediately outside the main Barracks wall.
The place can also be considered significant for its later colonial use as an elite urban duplex residence. Elements associated with this activity include the main residential building and garden features. Nearby excavations have indicated that buried archaeological deposits linked with residential and related activity are likely to survive. The archaeological value of the place is enhanced as it is a rare survival of an elite residence and curtilage within the urban centre of colonial Auckland.
Architectural Significance or Value
The place has architectural significance as a reasonably well-preserved elite urban residence in late nineteenth-century Auckland. It has architectural value as an unusual surviving example of a semi-detached residential building of ornate, Italianate style in central Auckland. Its value is enhanced by the survival of adjoining residences of similar style and date which reflect the range of expression in Italianate design of the 1870s and 1880s.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The place has significance for its association with British military activity in New Zealand, and Auckland's function as early colonial capital. It is of particular value for reflecting the economic boom of the 1870s and early 1880s, Auck-land's ongoing role as a major commercial entrepot, and the social prominence of Auckland's mercantile and professional elite. The place is also important for reflecting the emergence of exclusive residential neighbourhoods based on wealth in late nineteenth-century urban society.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The place is associated with individuals of significance, most notably Auckland politician and publisher, Sir Henry Brett and his family.
(c)The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The place has potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history, particu-larly the activities of the British Army in the early colonial period. The place is notable for incorporating the probable (and rare) archaeological remains of a military road. A study of this has the capacity to improve knowledge about the organisation and operation of colonial military garrisons in general, and the Albert Barracks in particular.
The place also has potential to provide knowledge about the functioning and economy of elite urban households and boarding houses in late nineteenth-century Auckland. Considered likely to incorporate a range of material linked to its use as a duplex residence, it probably has particular capacity to supply in-formation about the lives of wealthy mercantile and professional families, and boarders, in one of New Zealand's largest colonial urban centres.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The place has considerable potential for public education about the military, commercial and residential history of colonial Auckland, being a highly visible Council-owned property on the fringes of a major park. Lying within Auckland's busy city centre, its potential is enhanced by its location close to two major edu-cational institutions - the University of Auckland and the Auckland University of Technology.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The place has some significance as an unusual survival of a semi-detached timber residence of quality within Auckland's colonial core.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement
The place incorporates archaeological remains linked with the Albert Barracks, which was operational during the first three decades of New Zealand's colonial history.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The place is a significant element within a historical and cultural landscape of outstanding importance. The northern part of the Symonds Street ridge incor-porates places of significance to Maori and was the epicentre of British adminis-trative and military power in New Zealand. It also incorporates significant heri-tage linked with the redevelopment of the area as an exclusive residential and recreational neighbourhood in the late nineteenth century, its ongoing focus as a centre of wealthy residential and medical activity, and its occupation by the University of Auckland during the late nineteenth and twentieth century.
The importance of the place is enhanced as one of a group of residential build-ings of similar age and style that reflect variations in Italianate style, and both the individuality as well as collective identity of their mercantile owners.
Summary of Significance or Values
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, f, g, i, k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Early history of the site
The site occupied by Ellesmere was part of a significant Maori and early colonial landscape on the Symonds Street ridge. Prior to European arrival, land at the northern end of the ridge incorporated a pa known as Te Rerengaoraiti. Another settlement, Horotiu, may also have been located in the immediate vicinity, occupying high ground overlooking the Horotiu (now Queen Street) gully. Ongoing cultivations on the ridge were intermittently maintained during inter-tribal hostilities in the early nineteenth century and re-established by Ngati Whatua in the late 1830s. Ngati Whatua left these cultivations as a result of their offer, and the subsequent purchase by the Crown, of some 3,000 acres at Auckland in 1840 to accommodate a capital for the new British colony.
Following the establishment of Auckland as a colonial settlement, the Symonds Street ridge was at the epicentre of British administrative and military power in New Zealand. Significant buildings in the area included the Colonial Governor's residence at Government House, the Provincial Council and General Assembly, and the Albert Barracks - which was the largest military installation in the colony. Erected using Maori labour in 1846-1852, the basalt walls of the Barracks enclosed accommodation for approximately 1000 soldiers. The northern wall and structures associated with the fortification lay a short distance to the south of the current site of 23 Princes Street, with a military road running immediately beneath the property. This formed the primary access to the Barracks, linking its main gate with the southern terminus of Princes Street until 1873.
Following the relocation of the colonial capital and its associated administration to Wellington in 1865, many of the troops were withdrawn. In February 1870, the last of the fourteen British regiments to serve in New Zealand left the Barracks, after which the fortification was decommissioned.
Redevelopment of Albert Barracks
Decommissioning enabled a large part of the eastern core of colonial Auckland to be redeveloped. Prior to the construction of the Barracks, the Surveyor-General Felton Mathew had intended that the northern end of the Symonds Street ridge should be occupied by residences arranged in fashionable avenues and crescents. In the 1870s, the area remained desirable for its proximity to places of high social standing such as the former Government House, and for its elevated vantage point overlooking Auckland's commercial district. The Auckland Improvement Commission subsequently laid out new roads, subdivided the land and promoted the creation of Albert Park.
The redevelopment appears to have marked a new approach in urban Auckland, consciously creating a neighbourhood based on wealth. Formal restrictions for leaseholders stipulated that sections could not be further subdivided and that the houses erected were to be two storied, roofed with slate or iron and to be built at a cost of at least £700. Plans for the houses were also subject to the approval of the commissioners. Earlier residential areas in Auckland were generally more mixed and influenced by shared places of work (such as occupation of the Symonds Street ridge by high officials and ordinary soldiers alike), although some areas were traditionally more prestigious than others. The redevelopment attracted many wealthy merchants, who had become Auckland's new elite following the departure of government officials to Wellington. The former were often self-made men from working- or lower middle-class backgrounds, whose success reflected the unusually high potential for social mobility in colonial New Zealand. Their rise was assisted by a prolonged economic boom in the 1870s and Auckland's emerging role as a major Pacific entrepot.
As part of the redevelopment, tenders for the southward extension of Princes Street from its junction with Waterloo Quadrant were received in June 1873. The road, along with others in the vicinity, was evidently complete by April 1875. Most of the Barracks wall was also dismantled in 1873-1875. In keeping with the proposed nature of the area, the streets were metalled, lit with gas and provided with drainage and sewerage. Deciduous trees were also intended to be planted.
In December 1875, the Auckland Improvement Commissioners auctioned 99-year leases for fourteen sites on the western side of Princes Street. Considered to be the premier plots within the redevelopment, these were advertised as desirable for their 'unsurpassed and uninterrupted view' over the surrounding area and their proximity to the Government House grounds. They were also considered suitable as villa sites for businessmen as they lay just a few minutes walk away from Auckland's main commercial district in the Queen Street gully. All of the purchasers obtained at least two conjoining allotments between 1875 and 1877 to provide generous sites for their homes.
Construction and initial use of 23 Princes Street
The lease for Lots 5 and 6 was initially purchased in December 1877 by Albert Dornwall. It was immediately transferred to Henry Brett (1843-1927), a prominent publisher who owned the Evening (later Auckland) Star and who was responsible for Brett's Colonist's Guide and other widely-disseminated publications. A self-made entrepreneur, Brett was also the first person to introduce photo-engraving to New Zealand with the production of the New Zealand Graphic from 1890. He was mayor of Auckland at the time that the lease for 23 Princes Street was initially advertised.
The plot appears to have remained empty until 1881, when a large two-storey house of ornate Italianate style was erected. Construction occurred a few years after similar buildings were erected on adjoining sections. It is unclear if Brett, an inhabitant of Parnell, ever intended to live on the site. The timber house may have been erected for investment purposes. Its external appearance was that of a single-occupancy residence with a main frontage containing a central portico. However, a brick dividing wall down the middle of the structure suggests that it was intended from the outset for use as two semi-detached dwellings. Access to the northern household was from a door in the north side of the building, beside an ornate two-storey balcony. The design and ornate nature of the residential building indicates that it was intended to blend in with the prestigious appearance of its neighbours.
Both halves of the structure were sufficiently commodious to incorporate a suite of large rooms at ground floor level and several bedrooms upstairs. Small timber extensions for each dwelling were erected against the rear (west) wall, possibly at the same time as the rest of the structure. The Italianate architectural style employed for the structure was often used for both mercantile residences and premises in Auckland during the late Victorian period, being modelled on the designs of Italian Renaissance buildings erected from the proceeds of commercial wealth. Many other houses in Princes Street were built in variations of this style, although each was also highly individualised. Together, they can be seen to represent the flexibility of Italianate architecture, as well as individuality within the collective identity of their mercantile owners.
By 1883, the building was occupied by separate tenants: insurance agent Robert Dobson in its northern portion and merchant Moss Levy in the southern half. Levy, a single man, was one of several Jewish merchants living in the immediate neighbourhood whose occupancy coincided with construction of Auckland's main synagogue at 19A Princes Street in 1884-1885. It is possible that the grand semi-detached residences may have initially suited single men of means.
Subsequent use and modification
A succession of further sub-lessees occupied the premises over the coming years. The southern residence, occupied by Levy until 1885, was subsequently inhabited by H.D. Levinsohn. In 1890 it was lived in by surgeon, A.H. Orphen. Henry Brett's daughter, Mrs L. Grainger, and her husband became the occupants in 1903 and were still resident in 1925.
The northern portion, initially tenanted by Robert Dobson, was taken over in 1885 by ironmonger J.H. Keep. Keep was in turn succeeded in 1887 by boarding house proprietor Mrs Powell (later Mrs Paine). By 1893 the establishment was known as 'Ellesmere'. The Symonds Street ridge was noted for its respectable boarding houses from the late 1880s and 1890s, when Auckland was gripped by a prolonged economic depression. These were usually run by respectable female housekeepers, providing accommodation for single people or married couples.
Rear additions appear to have been made before 1900 to expand the facilities of both the boarding house and the adjoining tenancy. These comprised a large two-storey brick addition of symmetrical dimensions and a further, single-storey timber attachment against its western wall. The rear yard was divided in half with freestanding outhouses against the north and south boundary walls. The boundary itself comprised a high brick wall, evidently incorporating a stepped pedestrian access from a service lane to the rear. There is no indication of stables.
Subsequent modifications focused on the northern tenancy. An early timber extension was converted into a taller brick structure, and the northern part of the pre-1900 brick addition appears to have been raised by a storey, possibly at the same time. The ornate two-storey verandah on the north wall was also infilled. These changes created more commodious accommodation, particularly at first floor level.
During the late 1920s, occupation of the building intensified. In 1929, the northern section of the structure was converted into four separate households: one in the basement, one on the ground floor and two on the first floor. A concrete garage was added to the site in 1930. A doctor's surgery was established in the building in 1952, reflecting an aspect of the area's late nineteenth- and twentieth-century history as a focal point for medical practitioners. The balance of the building remained in flats, a situation that continued until 1977.
Heritage protection and institutional use
By the 1970s, the land on which the house stood had reverted to Auckland City Council ownership following the expiry of its 99-year lease. In 1963 the Council had decided that Ellesmere, along with its neighbours on the western side of Princes Street should be demolished to become part of Albert Park. By 1972 a developing awareness of the importance of preserving heritage, and heritage values in formal city plans, led the Auckland City Council to retain and restore the Victorian residences. The Auckland Improvement Trust Act 1971 allowed the Council to keep one or more of the houses as examples of Victorian architecture, and a subsequent Act detailed how the buildings were to be managed. In 1974 the Council resolved to designate the houses and the adjacent synagogue as a conservation area and to restore them. Physical boundaries separating the property from adjoining houses appear to have been removed at this time or later.
Ellesmere was subsequently leased to the Auckland University Club. The building was considerably altered, and several interior spaces were reconfigured. Many external structures and features were also removed or heavily modified at this time. The building is currently (2007) occupied as a language school, for which internal alterations were undertaken in 1996. The main alterations undertaken in the past two decades have included the addition of an extra storey in the southwest part of the building and the removal of partitioning throughout much of the original northern tenancy.
Ellesmere is one of very few elite dwellings remaining from when the Symonds Street ridge was the premier residential address in the city. Many contemporary houses that occupied neighbouring streets have been demolished, and of those that remain most have lost significant aspects of their nineteenth-century surroundings, including their curtilages. Together with Albert Park and other houses that remain on the western side of Princes Street, Ellesmere forms an important reminder of a major recreational and residential landscape on the fringe of Auckland's colonial commercial district. It is the only surviving example within the 1870s and 1880s Albert Barracks redevelopment known to have been built to a semi-detached design.
Ellesmere is located in the eastern part of Auckland's Central Business District (CBD), on the Symonds Street ridge. It is situated on the western side of Princes Street, a broad tree-lined thoroughfare that separates the city campus of the University of Auckland from Albert Park, one of central Auckland's main recreational spaces. Ellesmere is one of several large adjoining historic residences along the eastern fringe of the park. A narrow service access, Bowen Lane, separates most of these properties from the adjacent park grounds.
The immediate area is noted for its historical and cultural heritage significance, encompassing numerous important buildings and archaeological sites. Immediately to the north of Ellesmere is the former Synagogue (NZHPT Registration # 578, Category I historic place), and the Northern Club (NZHPT Registration # 663, Category I historic place). To the east is the former Government House and its grounds (NZHPT Registration # 105, Category I historic place), the University of Auckland Old Arts Building (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place), and a remnant of the Albert Barracks Wall (NZHPT Registration # 12, Category I historic place). To the south and west, Albert Park is also an important archaeological and historical landscape, incorporating the buried remains of the Albert Barracks, several registered historic places (including a band rotunda and a keeper's cottage), and other elements linked with nineteenth-century recreational and Second World War military use.
Ellesmere is the second northernmost of a group of five surviving historic residences, and occupies a 1076 m ² lot that is approximately rectangular in plan. The ground in the eastern part of the site is relatively flat, but slopes downhill in the western half. The property incorporates a large two-storey building, a moderately sized front garden and a brick courtyard to the rear. The front yard is grassed and has ornamental plantings. It is separated from the street by a low ashlar wall with concrete coping. The western (rear) boundary is retained by a more substantial basalt wall, which is pierced by a narrow flight of steps that originally provided access from Bowen Lane. This has been blocked by more recent brickwork. Two stepped paths flank the building to the north and south. Both boundaries on the north and south sides of the boundary are unfenced. The site may incorporate the remains of a military road that connected the main gate of Albert Barracks with the original southern terminus of Princes Street prior to 1873. It may also contain buried remains associated with the later residential use of the place. Nearby excavations at 31 Princes Street in 1990 revealed the well-preserved remains of features connected with both phases.
Ellesmere consists of a two-storey timber weatherboard building of Italianate design, with additions to the rear. Set back from Princes Street, it is broadly rectangular in plan with a projecting side bay, and has a hipped roof clad with asbestos slates. Its rear portion is comprised of a series of brick or other additions with hipped roofs. As a result of the sloping ground on which it is situated, its rear elements incorporate a basement level. All but one of the building's chimneys has been removed above roof height.
The building's main (east) frontage is symmetrical, with a doorway and single-storey portico framed within a slightly projecting central bay. The portico is supported on classical columns and is reached from the garden by a short flight of masonry steps. The central bay contains a sash window at upper floor level and is topped by a central gablet incorporating elaborate fretwork. Other sash windows of elaborate design flank the bay at both ground and first floor level. The roof line is emphasised by ornate, wide bracketed eaves and other decorative elements.
The south elevation of the original timber structure similarly incorporates a shallow projecting bay, which contains a bay window at ground floor level. The north elevation of the timber building has been more heavily modified but retains a two-storey projection towards its western end and what appears to be a filled-in double balcony (or a balcony replacement) elsewhere. This façade has an assortment of openings, including a bay window, and a doorway with external steps that are similar to those leading up to the east door. These have been overlain with more recent brick. The sizeable two-storey rear (south) addition has a roofed timber deck along the length of its west wall, sheltering a lower basement which has windows and a centrally located door. There is a shorter, roofed deck and escape stair at second-floor level.
Originally divided into two separate tenancies, the building interior has been amalgamated to form a single unit. This has been carried out by opening out several internal spaces. The layout of the original southern dwelling is significantly better preserved than that on the northern side of the building.
The ground floor incorporates a broad central hall, which originally served the southern dwelling. Off its south side are several moderately-sized rooms, including former service rooms at the rear. The hallway leads through to a back door providing access to a recent balcony. Original staircases to upstairs and basement levels are also located in the hall. Several recent openings in the north wall of the hall allow free circulation into the previously separate northern tenancy. Most of the original partitions in the northern part of the building have been removed although a large room in the early rear brick addition remains.
Upstairs, the southern dwelling retains larger amounts of its original arrangements. Rooms at this level are accessed from a short hall. A narrow corridor also leads from the landing to further rooms at the rear. As in the downstairs area, most of the spaces in the northern dwelling have been opened out, although vestiges of earlier partitions remain. The best-preserved space is a large room in the raised, brick rear addition which has external access to a recent upper balcony. Five rooms in the basement appear to largely retain their early arrangement, although now incorporate interconnected doorways.
The main ground floor hallway contains a ceiling rose, and its staircase incorporates a simple but elegant newel post. A decorative archway with a glazed light separates the front hall from the remainder of the passage. The main front room of the original southern tenancy has a walled-in arch on its north wall and a ceiling rose, but no surviving fireplace. To its west, the central room is lit by a large bay window. Off the remainder of the south hall are three sets of modern toilet facilities. Notable features in the opened-out northern tenancy at the same level are windows in the former front room which have leadlight art deco detailing, and a blocked-off Victorian-style fireplace with a timber surround. An original front door may survive in the north wall further west, containing a late nineteenth-century style leadlight and fanlight. Back-to-back fireplaces survive in the dividing wall between the original tenancies in the pre-1900 brick addition at the rear.
On the landing of the main staircase to the upper floor, a doorway with rounded arch and semicircular fanlight opens into a corridor providing access to modern spaces created in 1976. The upstairs rooms of both the original southern and northern tenancies incorporate some timber board and batten ceilings. Some ceiling roses survive. The exposed, sarked roof of the raised storey to the brick western addition is a notable feature at this level, as is an elaborate internal doorway to this space. The bases of back-to-back brick chimneystacks are visible in the basement.
Brick and timber additions at rear
Brick replacement of earlier timber extension and extra storey to pre-1900 brick addition, north tenancy. Also two-storey verandah incorporated into house on north side.
Alterations during conversion into four flats, including relocation of external north steps
Internal alterations to form doctor's rooms ground floor southern tenancy
Balustrade removed from roof of front portico
Alterations (see registration report for details).
Alterations including repartitioning, filling in of arch between hall and second front room south side ground floor/
Reorganisation of partitions, addition of kitchen, bar and toilet facilities
Partition of rooms in basement into small spaces to accommodate tank room, toilets, offices
Construction of new space with ablution facilities to southwest end of building first floor
Alterations including repartitioning, filling in of arch between hall and second front room south side ground floor
Timber, asbestos slate roof
Public NZAA Number
8th November 2007
Report Written By
N. Easdale, Five Gentlemen's Residences in Princes Street Auckland: The Occupants and Their Enterprises 1875-1900, Auckland, 1980
A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office.
Management of the place is governed by the Auckland Improvement Trust Amendment Act 1973. Section 4 of the Act provides constraints on use and modification.
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.