Morgan’s Buildings

197-199 Cuba Street and 149-151 Vivian Street (State Highway 1), Te Aro, WELLINGTON

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Morgan’s Buildings, located on the corner of Cuba and Vivian Street, was designed by architect Llewellyn Piper and built in 1922 by Fletcher Construction Company Ltd. It has architectural significance as a good example of the transitional stripped classical style of the inter-war period, contributing to the heritage values of the Cuba Street Historic Area (List No. 7209). It also has historical significance for its long-standing use as a commercial building as well as its role in the development of Wellington’s red-light district the 60s and 70s. Te-Whanganui-ā-Tara has a long history of Māori settlement. Early inhabitants of the Wellington area were primarily iwi of Kurahaupō waka descent. By the late eighteenth century, Ngāti Ira of Hawke’s Bay had migrated south and intermarried with Ngāi Tara. Upheaval in the 1820s and 1830s saw Taranaki, Taumarunui and Kawhia iwi leading taua (war parties) south into Wellington. Iwi associated with these heke include Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Toa, and Ngāti Tama. In 1824, Te Aro Pā, from which this area gains its name, was built on the foreshore by Ngāti Mutunga, with Taranaki iwi and Ngāti Ruanui subsequently occupying it. This land was not included in the original 1839 Port Nicholson Purchase, however, in 1844 a deed was signed which effectively brought Te Aro Pā into the New Zealand Company’s procurement. Cuba Street itself is located on what would have been cultivation land for the Te Aro Kāinga. The street, named for the New Zealand Company Ship which arrived in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara in January 1840, began to be developed in the 1840s. Morgan’s Buildings was built in 1922 for Mr H. Morgan, on a site previously occupied by the National Bank, which opened new premises across the road. The building is an example of stripped classical architecture. Stylistic features include minimal ornamentation on the spandrels and parapet as well as a dentil detail above the top floor windows. In 1928, a fire left the second and third floor with extensive damage to the interior. The windows are not authentic but were replaced close to their original appearance while the building was undergoing seismic strengthening in 2012. The top two storeys retain much of the original 1922 style whereas the ground floor has been renovated to accommodate a new shop front. Morgan’s Buildings was built to accommodate three shops on the ground floor and a billiards hall located on the upper floors. It was bought in 1923 by F.R. Cooper, director of F. Cooper Ltd, one of the earliest seed merchant and nursery businesses in New Zealand. Upon his death in 1925, the ownership of the building passed to the Cooper Building Co. Ltd. Various tenants proceeded to occupy the space, until it was sold in 1937. A long-term tenant of the building, occupying the ground floor retail space from 1937, was Janis Hairstylists and Tobacconist. The business remained in the premises until the 1980s. The building also had strong ties to the Vivian Street Red Light District. The second floor was occupied by Club Exotic, a strip club later renamed The Club Exotique, from the 1960s to the early 1990s. This was owned by Emmanuel Papadopoulos, who employed trans women at the club. These included the important Māori, LGBTQ+ and sex work activists Carmen Rupe in the 1960s and Georgina Beyer in the 1970s. As of 2022, Venetian-style restaurant Ombra occupies the ground floor with the upper floors holding office space.

Morgan's Buildings, cnr Cuba and Vivian Streets, Wellington | Chris Horwell | 13/12/2021 | Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga
Morgan's Buildings, crn Cuba and Vivian Streets, Wellington | 04/03/2009 | Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 2


Private/No Public Access

List Number


Date Entered

8th August 1991

Date of Effect

8th August 1991

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Sec 128 Town of Wellington (RT WN115/100), Wellington Land District and the building known as Morgan’s Buildings thereon.

Legal description

Pt Sec 128 Town of Wellington (RT WN115/100), Wellington Land District

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