Bank of Australasia (Former)

62 High Street, Blenheim

  • Bank of Australasia (Former), Blenheim.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Kiri Sharpe. Date: 30/06/2016.
  • Bank of Australasia (Former), Blenheim.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Kiri Sharpe. Date: 30/06/2016.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9301 Date Entered 20th August 2010


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 968 (CT MB6B/991), Marlborough Land District and the building known as Bank of Australasia (Former) thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Marlborough District


Marlborough Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 968 (CT MB6B/991), Marlborough Land District


The two storeyed brick building at 62 High Street in Blenheim, built in 1926, served as both a purpose-built bank on the ground floor and a separate town residence for its rurally-based owners on the first floor. The Bank of Australasia, with accommodation for the bank manager, was on the ground floor, and the first floor contained two flats, one for the use of the owners and the other by their various friends and family.

The building was constructed for B (Albert) Green to the designs of Scottish architect, Alex Stewart, who had his architectural premises at Temple Chambers nearby in High Street. Its sleek geometric design and neo-Georgian symmetry is representative of Art Deco styles of the period. Most of the exterior architectural interest is on the south façade, as the building was originally abutted by others immediately on its west and east sides. On the ground floor of the south front is a large centrally placed window with a semi-circular fanlight, flanked by doors on either side. The door on the left gives access to stairs leading to the flats above, and the door on the right gives access to the ground floor commercial building (formerly the bank). Above, on the first floor, is a centrally placed painted concrete balcony, which was originally open but is now enclosed, flanked by fixed light windows. Above is a stepped gable.

The building is notable as being largely authentic with few changes since the time it was built. Not only is it one of the relatively few historic buildings remaining in the central business district of Blenheim, but it appears to be an early example of a developer achieving tenant commitment, from the bank, prior to build. The designs clearly show that they were to be flats for the owner but that the Bank of Australasia would be the commercial tenant on the ground floor.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The building at 62 High Street is a variation on a trend of having inner-city apartment living above commercial premises, in that the building was specifically designed as a pair of flats on the first floor with the provision to lease to a bank on the ground floor. For around three decades, the ground floor served as a bank for the Blenheim community, and the pair of flats above provided inner-city living both for the owners when visiting from their rural base as well as their friends. The place contains physical evidence of activities related to both banking and residential living.

The historic core of Blenheim's commercial business district (CBD) has been drastically altered over time, with many buildings suffering demolition or considerable alteration as a result of sweeping efforts to remove earthquake damage risks and to allow for new development. The retention of the historical brick bank-cum-accommodation building in the centre of town is noteworthy as it is now one of the relatively small number of buildings remaining in the CBD from the nineteenth century and first part of the twentieth century.

Architectural Significance or Value

The building at 62 High Street has architectural significance in reflecting the characteristics of a typical architectural style of the period, Art Deco. Its features are expressed in terms of both application of general ideas associated with Art Deco in a manner that allowed for the specific use by a bank on the ground floor and a pair of flats above. The building reflects the trend of employing Art Deco for both residential buildings and commercial buildings such as banks, especially in the 1920s through until circa 1940.

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

The building at 62 High Street reflects aspects of New Zealand's banking history and concept of country folk requiring city-based accommodation.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

While bank buildings that combine accommodation are not at all rare in New Zealand, the Bank of Australasia (former) has a degree of rarity for Blenheim following the removal of much of the core of the historic CBD. It also appears to unusual in the case of the building at 62 High Street is it looks to be an early example of a developer achieving tenant commitment (from the bank) prior to build.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Stewart, Alex

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Wairau Valley is a wide river valley with rolling hills in the upper valley, opening onto the Wairau Plain, where Blenheim and Renwick are situated. The general area was a favoured place for Maori cultivating food plants and there were scattered hamlets or families dotted about the surrounding area. Tensions rose in 1843 when early British settlers from Nelson began surveying land in the Wairau and in June 1843 fighting erupted between colonial 'vigilante' settlers and chief Te Rauparaha and a group of Ngati Toa who were occupying land by the banks of the Tua Marina River in the Wairau Valley. Nowadays known as the 'Wairau Affray', it was the first serious clash of arms between Maori and the British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, with deaths resulting on both Pakeha and Maori sides. It was some time before official landholding by the new settlers began to be resolved, but by the early 1850s the small settlement of Beaver Station (later renamed Beaver Town and then Blenheim) had begun.

The site on which the town was established had been taken up as two rural sections in 1848 by Alfred Fell, who had soon cut up 300 acres of land into quarter-acre sections for sale. James Sinclair, a Scotsman, arrived at Beaver Station with his wife in 1852. Sinclair soon established a store there and came to be a leading businessman, credited with being the founder of the town that is now known as Blenheim. The site at 62 High Street (Section 95) was part a 1854 survey of the town of Beaver (Blenheim) and was purchased by James Sinclair's son, William Sinclair. There William Sinclair had a single storeyed timber solicitors office built. William Sinclair was for many years Crown Solicitor for Blenheim.

The property at 62 High Street was transferred to Stephen Brown-White, a ‘gentleman' of Nelson, in 1896 and in 1899 it was transferred to John James Winsbury White. The latter sold the property just over three years later, this time to Edmund Henry Eccles, a farmer of Spring Creek. Eccles leased the property to an ironmonger, Frederick William Adams, and in November 1922 Eccles sold to Annie Edith Bishop Green and Albert Green, who were farmers of Hilldersden in the Wairau Valley. They appear to have sold the rear section of the property, Lot 1 DP968, in 1923, as the Certificate of Title shows a transfer to Roy Patterson Furness.

Under the ownership of the Greens, the site at 62 High Street was radically transformed. The single storeyed timber building was replaced by a two storeyed brick building in 1926. Blenheim experienced one of its worst floods in May 1923 Blenheim and it is possible that this was the impetus for building up slightly and in more permanent materials.

The new brick building was designed in 1924-6 by Alex Stewart, who had his architectural premises nearby at Temple Chambers in Blenheim's High Street. It was purpose-built as a bank on the ground floor with flats above. The Greens appear to have entered into an agreement with the Bank of Australasia for the design and occupation of the property, with the bank on the ground floor and the Greens' town house on the first floor above. The town house was designed as two separate flats but these were flexible, insomuch as they could easily be combined into one larger town house. This appears to be a rather modern idea, since one flat was for themselves and the other for their various friends and family. The Greens were considered ‘a breath of fresh air' in Blenheim. Sociable, colourful, friendly and forthright, they enjoyed combining their farming life with time in the town. The flats were enjoyed by many farming friends.

The combination of bank and town house is an unusual liaison but proved successful through until 1951 when the Bank of Australasia amalgamated with the Union Bank of Australia to become the ANZ (Australia and New Zealand) Bank. The ground floor of the brick building was used by the newly named ANZ Bank for just over a year only, before moving to more spacious premises elsewhere in town in March 1953. Recent cleaning of the brick on the east elevation revealed an ANZ logo sign and behind that was signage for Bank of Australasia.

After the bank moved out, it is understood that the new tenant was the General Insurance Company, which utilised the ground floor without disturbing the original banking layout.

It appears that Albert Green died around 1948, and Mrs Green retained ownership until her death in January 1965. For the decade after Mrs Green's death, between 1965 and 1975 the first floor was rented out to various tenants. It is suggested that at one point during this time the place operated as a brothel. In 1975 Colin Dungey purchased the property and undertook some refurbishment, including inserting archways in the ground floor walls of the former manager's office. A W and D C Matthews purchased the building in 1978 and for almost three decades operated their optometrist business on the ground floor and retained the first floor as a town house. In 2005-6 the building underwent a careful programme of earthquake strengthening before it was sold to the present owners, who operate their franchise of Mike Pero Mortgages on the first floor and lease to a hairdressing business on the ground floor.

Many of Blenheim's historic buildings, especially those built of brick, were demolished in the 1970s when the Blenheim Borough Council implemented Building Act provisions to remove perceived earthquake danger. The present building is therefore relatively unusual as a surviving building of the 1920s within Blenheim's town centre.

Contextual Analysis: Banking and Bank Buildings

The history of banking in Marlborough dates back to 1860 when a branch office of the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) was opened in Picton and an agency was opened in Blenheim. In 1865, when the seat of Government was removed from Picton to Blenheim, the chief branch of the bank was also transferred to Blenheim. By 1877 Blenheim had the BNZ, the National Bank of New Zealand and the Colonial Bank of New Zealand. By 1890 Blenheim had the BNZ, Colonial Bank of New Zealand, National Bank of New Zealand and the Union Bank of Australasia. By 1900 these were reduced to the Bank of New South Wales, National Bank of New Zealand and BNZ in Blenheim. In New Zealand a visible change for banking was the amalgamation of the Union Bank and Bank of Australasia to form the Australia and New Zealand Bank in 1951.

Most nineteenth and early twentieth century banks in New Zealand appear to have had purpose-built premises, although some branches were housed in leased premises. While banks could be stand-alone, many banks, especially nineteenth century ones, have accommodation for the bank manager on the first floor. For example, Akaroa's Bank of New Zealand Building (Record 1710) was built in 1905 with a banking chamber on the ground floor with a commodious bank manager's residence above. Rangiora's former Bank of New Zealand building (Record 3089) was originally a two grand two storeyed bank and manager's residence, though only the upper storey survives and not in situ. In Westport, the two storeyed former Bank of New South Wales bank (Record 1706), 1901, incorporated the manager's residence at the rear and above the banking chamber. This connection between the living accommodation of the bank manager is the usual arrangement, whereas the building at 62 High Street in Blenheim appears to be more of an early example of a developer achieving tenant commitment (from the bank) prior to build.

There are a few buildings that were formerly Bank of Australasia banks registered on the NZHPT Register of historic places, historic areas, wahi tapu and wahi tapu areas. Probably one of the closest in type to the Blenheim one is the ANZ Bank in Ashburton (Record 1801), which was built in 1939 using reinforced concrete and brick. The Ashburton bank building, like the Blenheim one, is two storeyed and has the banking chamber and offices on the ground floor but it differs from the Blenheim building in that the first floor was also offices for the bank.

Physical Description

The two storeyed building is located at 62 High Street, on the north side of one of Blenheim's main central city streets, close to the junction with Market Street where a small triangular 'Market Square' is formed. It occupies 100% of the section site. Whereas once it formed part of a continuum of one and two storeyed buildings in this area, the brick building now stands out since its earlier neighbours were demolished. The east façade is now completely exposed showing an expanse of brick with no fenestration, with the exception of a light well set back toward the rear of that elevation. A modern low single storeyed building abuts the west façade. The north rear of the building is viewed from an open car park beyond.

Most of the exterior architectural interest is on the south façade. On the south front elevation there are two steps leading up to the interior of the building, possibly reflecting an endeavour to address the issue of known flooding in the area. On the ground floor of the south front is a large centrally placed window with a semi-circular fanlight, flanked by six-panelled doors on either side. The door on the left gives access to stairs leading to the flats above, and the door on the right gives access to the ground floor commercial building (formerly the bank). Above, on the first floor, is a centrally placed balcony, which was originally open but which was later enclosed to form an oriel window. This central window is flanked by a pair of fixed light windows. The gable above steps down at the corners, adding a geometric design typically found in Art Deco buildings. Plumbing for gas lines remain on the east exterior, reflecting the use of gas meters in the original building (in lieu of any hot water cylinders within the building).

The building retains much of what is shown in Alex Stewart's designs of 1924-6, noting that his design for wrought iron to the first floor balcony was never built. A photograph of the building in 1927 shows it with the curved stone balcony that exists today. Both the ground floor and first floor are relatively unchanged, with the exception of redecoration and some minor changes.

On the ground floor, a large front room (now a hair salon) was originally the bank proper. The core of its vault is located at the north-west corner. A separate room, centrally placed on the plan, was originally the bank manager's office. Beyond, towards the rear of the ground floor, is a similar sized room (originally the manager's bedroom) and passageways incorporating cooking and washing facilities.

The layout of the first floor rooms reflect the original drawings, which show a front drawing room, bedroom, bathrooms and kitchen occupying almost two-thirds of the first floor. A smaller sized flat is at the rear, containing a living room, kitchenette, bathroom and bedroom at the rear. The interior of the first floor is largely unchanged from the original design except for the some minor redecoration and removal of an L-shaped wall behind the hallway. This small wall was probably at the time when large windows were added on the west elevation. Previously the Marlborough Express Building was located immediately to the west of the building and its removal in circa 1975 would have created the opportunity to add windows on that west elevation. These later windows on the west elevation are fixed and top-hung casement windows. Fireplaces have been stripped back by the present owner, revealing that some are brick and others are a grey concrete-like stone.

In 1995 the timber framing of the first floor balcony window was replaced with aluminium framing, although the present owner intends to restore the window to its original appearance. Probably around the same time a low balustraded wall was added in front of the centrally placed ground floor window, but this has recently been removed by the present owner.

In 2005-6 the building was upgraded, with minimal intrusion to the original fabric, to meet earthquake requirements of the Building Act 2004. This work involved bracing the beams and walls discreetly from within the ceiling.

Architectural Style

The building at 62 High Street is essentially Art Deco in style. Art Deco was commonly employed in the inter-war period, reaching its height in popularity between 1920 and 1940. Part of the movement involved favouring sleek forms instead of heavy decoration. It focused on simplified ornamentation and geometric decoration, implying modernity. Stripped Classicism, a form of Art Deco, pared back typical features and motifs of Classicism yet retaining the imposing grandeur associated with Classical buildings.

The building at 62 High Street contains neo-Georgian classical features, a tendency found in many Art Deco buildings, and is akin to other more celebrated Art Deco examples such as Wellington's 107-109 Customhouse Quay (1930).

Construction Dates

1924 - 1926

Original Construction
1926 -

1995 -
Window installed above the balcony.

Construction Details

Brick, timber, glass, metal.

Completion Date

7th May 2010

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Auckland Savings Bank, 1947

Auckland Savings Bank, Auckland Savings Bank Centenary, Auckland, 1947

Broad, 1892 (1976)

L. Broad, 'Jubilee History of Nelson', Nelson, 1892 (reprinted by Capper Press, Christchurch1976)

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1906

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 5, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, 1906

Eldred-Grigg, 1980

Stevan Eldred-Grigg, A Southern Gentry: New Zealanders Who Inherited the Earth. A H and A W Reed, New Zealand, 1980.

Butlin, 1961

S T Butlin, History of Australian and New Zealand Banking Group, 1961

Hawke, 1984

GR Hawke and D K Sheppard, 'The Evolution of New Zealand Trading Banks Mostly Until 1934’, Working Papers in Economic History 84/2, Victoria University Wellington, March 1984.

Ross, 1977 (2)

J E Ross, Focus on Ashburton, Ashburton, 1977

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.