Poverty Bay Club (Former)

38 Childers Road and 53 Customhouse Street, GISBORNE

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The Poverty Bay Club building, situated on a street corner in Gisborne's central commercial district, is an imposing structure reflecting the importance of a major social institution that functioned in Gisborne for 129 years. Built in 1898 for the gentlemen's club founded in 1874 by the Resident Magistrate Sir William Nesbitt, the Poverty Bay Club's clubhouse is a local landmark that reflects the wealth and prosperity in the district. Many of the Club's members were prominent landowners, sheep farmers, businessmen and local body politicians; they used the male only club for social and business purposes. Facilities for members in 1898 included a reading room with current periodicals and newspapers, a card room, writing room, billiard room, bar and meeting room. It was serviced by a steward and other staff. Designed by local architect W.P. Finneran , whose work includes Opou Homestead (Historic Places Register # 7170, Category I), the former Masonic Hall (now Gisborne Amateur Operatic Society, Historic Places Register # 3524, Category II) and the band rotunda in Gisborne, the Poverty Bay Club building sits on two adjacent sections 2023msq in area. The main gateway sits diagonally to the intersection of Customhouse Street and Childers Road, with the front of the building facing Customhouse Street. The original building was a square, hipped-roof, two-storey colonial villa with ornately-decorated verandahs on three sides and with a single-storey gable-roofed extension at the rear. Within three years of completion, the first of many additions were made. Despite the extensions, enlargements and internal modifications, some of which were major, the building's integrity remains, as with each addition the core elements of the building's interior and exterior fabric that reinforced the 'gentlemanly ambience' of such clubs was retained. A separate single-storey cottage for staff, also built in 1898, was incorporated into these changes in c.1904 with an additional storey and linking rooms to the rear of the main building so that the cottage now forms part of the whole. Another local architect, Patrick H. Graham, designed the major addition, built in 1910, that forms the lower storey of half of the Customhouse Street elevation; the upper storey of this addition was designed by Burr & Mirfield and built in 1920, as an accommodation wing providing bedrooms for out-of-town members. Patrick Graham's work includes the Gisborne Club (Historic Places Register # 7648), his own house and other residences in Gisborne, and buildings in Wellington, the Hutt and Hawkes Bay. Local builder W.O.Skeet was employed by Finneran for the Poverty Bay Club and also for Opou and Whataupoko Homesteads; Skeet designed and built some of the early extensions to the Club building as well. Burr and Mirfield were also local architects of high repute and several of their Gisborne buildings are extant. Burr & Mirfield also designed the impressive billiard room, built in 1913, which features three large glass domes in its ceiling. The domes have stained glass leadlight around their lower edges and are back-lit by skylights in the roof above. The room, known as the Dome Room, was large enough for three full-sized tables. Billiards and snooker matches were key elements of the Club's activities with competitions between members and also between the other men's clubs in Gisborne. A further billiard room was built in 1954, to accommodate one more table. The Dome Room remained in use for its original purpose until 2003. Most of the building is clad in rusticated or bevelled weatherboards; it has a corrugated steel roof. The 1910 addition has a square bay window that reflects a shallower bay in the original front verandah; the 1920 roof includes a gable feature that reflects that of the original building. Indoors, stained timberwork contributes to the richness of the spaces. Rimu-panelled dadoes are a feature in the main rooms, as are Rimu mantelpieces and fire surrounds. All the main rooms have open fireplaces, with decorative tiles and cast iron registers. The original ceilings (1898) are board and moulded battens with decorative ceiling roses; the ceiling in the reading room (1910) features ornate plaster cornices; elsewhere the ceilings are soft board with battens, tongue and groove with Vee joint, or plasterboard. Cast iron and moulded ventilators are set into some ceilings and upper walls. The main rooms have moulded skirtings and architraves; the 1920 wing has plain architraves. Wooden archways are features of the 1898 and 1910 hallways and the main hallway is divided from the vestibule with a wooden and glazed screen with a pair of swing doors. The stairwell is lit by stained glass windows. In 1914 after pressure from several Club members, a squash court was built at the rear of the building. This is believed to be the oldest extant all-wooden court in New Zealand, and possibly the earliest squash court ever built in New Zealand. A private court is known to have been built in 1919 in Palmerston North, but as squash did not gain much popularity in New Zealand until the 1930s, other early courts date from that period. These include the Canterbury Club (c.1930), Timaru (1935) and Palmerston North (1936). The Poverty Bay Club squash court remains in excellent condition. The Club building has provided commodious surroundings for local businessmen and politicians, plus various visiting dignitaries and society figures. Membership initially was for managerial classes, but this rule was changed in 1963 to allow for men of sufficient standing to be nominated as members. Women were invited only for special functions such as the opening ball in June 1898, other balls, celebratory dinners and cocktail parties. Membership was opened to women in 1988, a development partly reflecting changing social customs and partly a bid to increase membership. Other drives to increase membership included modifying and enlarging the bar at various periods, installing a new bar upstairs with music suitable for younger people in the 1980s, offering lower subscriptions and joining fees, and lessening the subscription rate for country members. From 1920 the Club provided accommodation for long-distance members, the room bookings and related services being undertaken by the steward (later called manager) and part-time staff. In 1975 financial considerations associated with fire-proofing led to the closing of the accommodation wing. Staff provided lunches and dinners for individuals and for functions. Many of the Club meetings were preceded by dinners and formed part of the social intercourse for which the Club was renowned. The Club's association with the building ended in 2003 when the Club was wound up and the building sold. The name Poverty Bay Club has been retained as the name of the building. Witters Partnership, owners from 2003-06, undertook many renovations including re-painting the exterior and partial replacement of the roof. Interior changes included the installation of a large commercial-standard kitchen and the facilities for a small café in the former Strangers Room, bar and parlour (opened up as one room). Under their management, the Winston's Bar was opened, and the building and facilities leased for functions and for offices and meetings. The property was sold again in 2006, to local company Winston PBC Ltd; its use is under review but will entail revenue-earning activities including the continued lease of rooms as offices.

Poverty Bay Club (Former), Gisborne | J Blackburne | Heritage New Zealand
Poverty Bay Club (Former), Gisborne | T Hoskin | 15/06/2021 | Heritage New Zealand
Poverty Bay Club (Former), Gisborne | T Hoskin | 15/06/2021 | Heritage New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

6th June 2007

Date of Effect

6th June 2007

City/District Council

Gisborne District


Gisborne Region

Extent of List Entry

The registration includes all of the land in RT GS2C/596 being Sections 22 and 23 Town of Gisborne, and the buildings, their fittings and fixtures thereon.

Legal description

Secs 22-23 Town of Gisborne (RT GS2C/596), Gisborne Land District

Location Description

Southwestern corner of intersection of Childers Road and Customhouse Street.

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