University of Otago Staff Club

80 Union Street, DUNEDIN

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Perched on the edge of Ōwheo / Water of Leith, the University Staff Club is a picturesque building that was originally built as a Dental School in 1907. Designed by J.L. Salmond, its style was designed to complement the existing University complex that was established in 1874 and is the oldest of the New Zealand universities. It has architectural and historical significance. Both iwi history and archaeological evidence show Māori occupation in the Ōtākou / Otago region since the 12th century. Today, Kāi Tahu mana whenua is recognised over a large part of Te Wai Pounamu. Kāti Māmoe and Waitaha shared occupation are always acknowledged. The hapū Kai Te Pahi, Kāti Moki, and Kāti Taoka still maintain their presence and responsibility as kaitiaki in this region. The Ōwheo (the Water of Leith), a river that runs through campus, would have facilitated travel by waka from the coast to places further inland. The mouth of Ōwheo, known as Te Tutai o Te Matauira, was likely a valuable settlement area for accessing resources. Roberts (1909) states that Ōwheo, a Kāti Māmoe chief, resided on the bank of the river where Howe Street joins Leith Street. The Otago Provincial Council established New Zealand’s first university in 1869. By 1877 the University had outgrown that space and requested the government for use of the land assigned for botanical gardens, which was granted. The complex of university buildings built between 1878 and the 1920s, constitutes a major example of nineteenth and early twentieth century gothic in New Zealand. The University Staff Club was constructed of Leith Valley andesite, Oamaru limestone, Port Chalmers breccia, with a slate roof in the Gothic Revival Style and was originally built as a Dental School. The establishment of the Dental School was the direct outcome of the Dentists Act (1904) which brought the profession under university control. Plans and elevations were prepared in 1906 by architect J.L. Salmond, with 12 foot (3.65 m) deep foundations, and four well-finished elevations matching the style of the existing University buildings but with capacious windows. The floor plan was prepared in consultation with local dentists. The hospital opened for patients on 1 July 1907. Dignitaries described it as “commodious and well-fitted” with equipment equal to anywhere else in the world. The ground floor held the director’s office, a waiting room, examinations, anaesthetic department and mechanical laboratory. Above it was the “filling” room, the museum, and lecture hall. The staff and three students soon found themselves swamped by unpredicted demand. This demand from patients and the growing number of students in the 1920s pushed the building beyond its limits. University architect Anscombe and Associates designed temporary additions, but these were recognised as inadequate. By 1922 there was public outcry, particularly after a young girl died under anaesthetic. The building built for 25 students was housing 101 by 1926, and the Dean of the Dental School argued it would do nothing but bring “discredit and disgrace on everybody connected with it.“ After the application of much pressure to the government, the Dental School moved to a new building in 1926. The building was then converted to become the University Registry for the next 25 years. During renovations around 1950 the roof was entirely covered with orange tiles and the temporary work at the north end tidied up, the plaster being painted grey with white markings to imitate quoins. In 1966 the building became home of the Faculty of Law. Finally, the building became the Staff Club. It was used for both formal and informal gatherings, with a restaurant, Leith board room and billiard room downstairs, and the large café and dining venue upstairs, complete with a balcony overlooking the Water of Leith.

University of Otago Staff Club, Dunedin. [Cropped] CC BY Licence | Annie Li | 12/09/2023 | Annie Li
University of Otago Staff Club, Dunedin | S Gallagher | 12/08/2023 | Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
University of Otago Staff Club, Dunedin. CC BY-SA 3.0 Image courtesy of | Benchill | 19/09/2009 | Benchill - Wikimedia Commons



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

7th July 1988

Date of Effect

7th July 1988

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the part of the land described as Pt Blk LXXI Town of Dunedin, (RT OT299/36), Otago Land District and the building known as University of Otago Staff Club, thereon.

Legal description

Pt Blk LXXI Town of Dunedin, (RT OT299/36), Otago Land District

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