Old Choral Hall, University of Auckland

5-7 Symonds Street And Alfred Street, Auckland

  • Old Choral Hall, University of Auckland.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 18/09/2001.
  • .
    Copyright: Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Richard 001. Date: 30/11/2008.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4474 Date Entered 28th June 1990 Date of Effect 28th June 1990


City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Allot 3 Sec 6 City of Auckland


The former Choral Hall has strong connections with the development of civic and cultural life in colonial Auckland, being built in 1872. It was erected in the grounds of the former Government House by the Auckland Choral Society, which was the first to perform the works of Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Mozart and others in New Zealand. The brick and timber building replaced two earlier halls on the site that had burnt down, and was designed in a neo-classical style by Edward Mahoney. Mahoney went on to erect other prestigious buildings in the town, including St Patrick's Cathedral and the Auckland Customhouse.

The core of the original structure still survives and was one of the largest buildings in nineteenth-century Auckland. It sat 1,100 people and for nearly forty years acted as a concert chamber and main public hall for the community. Large gatherings ranged from religious meetings to the Industrial and Mining Exhibition of 1898. A ceremonial banquet held for King Tawhiao (?-1894) in 1882 was particularly notable as it marked an improved relationship between Pakeha and Kingitanga, or Kingite, Maori. Such events were transferred to the Auckland Town Hall, after it was opened in 1911. Located close to the University of Auckland, the Choral Hall has had a particularly long association with academic life. In 1877 it saw the graduation ceremony of Kate Edger (1857-1935), the first woman to gain a BA from a university in the British Empire. The building witnessed the inaugural ceremony of the University College of Auckland in 1883, and began to be used for teaching from 1888. Purchased by the University shortly before the First World War, two elegant Baroque wings were added as a science department in 1919 and 1925. The second of these was designed by the American architect Roy Lippincott, who oversaw the construction of a nearby Arts Building in the following year (see 'Old Arts Building, University of Auckland'). The additions reflected a commitment by the university to a site in the centre of town, consciously allowing working people easier access to higher education. The building continues to be used for teaching, although modified as educational demands have changed. The original hall has been subdivided into separate lecture theatres, while a mail room was added to the rear in 1982-1983.

The building is of national and international significance for its associations with the rise of women's education, both in New Zealand and the British Empire. It has important connections with Kate Edger, who took a prominent role in early women's movements including the campaign for suffrage. The building is valuable for its associations with the development of classical music in New Zealand, and other cultural activities. It was important to social life in colonial Auckland, offering an opportunity for people to meet. The building is connected with important personalities and events in New Zealand history, such as those involved in conciliation between Maori and Pakeha in the 1880s. It is significant for its long association with education and the development of the University of Auckland. The existing structure demonstrates changes in the organisation and philosophy of higher education over more than 100 years. It incorporates the earliest purpose-built university architecture in the city, which reflects the importance of science as an educational topic in the early 1900s. The building has additional significance for its associations with the architects Edward Mahoney and Roy Lippincott, who were prominent practitioners in the town. Its value is enhanced by its proximity to related historic buildings in the urban landscape, including the former Government House and Old Arts Building of the University of Auckland.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Since its construction in 1872 Choral Hall has been intimately associated with the cultural, civic and academic life of Auckland. Old Choral Hall with its additions is the earliest surviving building to be used for university purposes in Auckland and was the complex around which the present campus developed.


As first designed, Choral Hall was a well proportioned and restrained Classical design. The temple front erected in 1877 constituted a grand focal point.

The later Baroque wings contrast with the classicism of the original block, reflecting a change in architectural taste since its construction. The loss of the temple front reveals the baroque window and door detailing added during the 1919 additions to merge the old and new portions of the building in a more coherent way. The 1925 extension further mediates between these styles. As such this addition is a studied application to the existing building fabric which can only be understood in the context of the original Choral Hall and its Baroque wings.

As it remains, the Choral Hall complex is a collection of impressive and stylistically different buildings reflecting the early development of Auckland University College.


Although its presence has become less dominant in the last half century as larger University buildings have developed around it, the splendid corner site plus an unusual profile mean Choral Hall makes a significant contribution to this area of Symonds Street.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Cumming, William Arthur

Cumming (1860-1947) became a member of the Auckland Grammar School Board in 1903 and served as the Board's architect and property supervisor until his retirement in 1932. It was in this capacity that much of his work, including the designs for Auckland Girls' Grammar School in (conjunction with Goldsbro' and Wade, 1907), Mount Albert Grammar School (1922) and Takapuna Grammar School (1926 and additions 1931), was carried out. Cumming also designed the grounds at Auckland Grammar School and supervised the construction of the school's memorial library.

Although Cumming was involved with many educational buildings he designed a variety of other buildings including Flackson's Factory, Karangahape Road (1922), and St Kevin's Arcade (with Thomas Mahoney and Sons, 1923-26).

Cumming was an inaugural member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects formed in 1905 and a President of the Institute. He was the first director of the School of Architecture at Auckland University College.

Goldsbro, George Selwyn

Goldsbro' was born in Auckland. He studied architecture there under R Mackay Fripp during 1884-88 before travelling to Australia. He worked in Melbourne until 1891 and then in Sydney under Messrs Sulman and Power, Mr Howard Joseland and Mr Theo Kemmis.

On his return to Auckland in 1886 he joined Mackay Fripp in partnership. The partnership was dissolved in 1898 but during these two years Goldsbro' had been awarded second prize in the competition for the Auckland Stock Exchange and first prize in the competition for the Taranaki Club, New Plymouth. Several years later he established a partnership with Henry Wade and this firm was responsible for a wide variety of domestic and commercial buildings including the Terminus Hotel, Helensville (1906), Bishopscourt, Parnell (1906), Patterson Memorial Wing, St John's College (1909), Dalgety's Building, Customs Street (1912) and the Papatoetoe Orphanage (1922). He was awarded second prize in the competition for the Auckland Stock Exchange and first prize in the competition for the Taranaki Club, New Plymouth. Goldsbro' was an inaugural member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects formed in 1905. During the last two years of his life he was a partner in the firm Goldsbro' and Carter.

Lippincott, Roy Alstan

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. He became involved with the "Chicago School" of architects including H.V. Von Holst, Marion Mahoney and Walter Burley Griffin who were in turn greatly influenced by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

In 1912 Griffin won the competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra, and offered Lippincott a junior partnership shortly afterwards. They moved to Sydney in 1914 and to Melbourne about a year later.

Lippincott entered several design competitions with draughtsman Edward F. Billson and in June 1921 they won the competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building. Lippincott and Billson established a partnership and Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year.

The Arts building with clock tower is the best known of the buildings designed by Lippincott for Auckland's University campus. The Students' Association building (1921-1926), Caretaker's Cottage (1928-31) and Biology building (1938) were also to his design, as was the north-west wing of Choral Hall added in 1925. Other buildings designed by Lippincott during his time in Auckland were Smith and Caughey's Department Store building (1927-29), Massey University Science building, Palmerston North (1929-31), Farmers Trading Company Tearooms (1934-36) and St Peter's Preparatory School, Cambridge (1936-37).

He was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in both Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the field of architectural education. Lippincott remained in New Zealand until 1939 when he returned to the United States and practised in Los Angeles. He became a partner in the firm of Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers, Los Angeles, and retired in 1958 when he moved to Santa Barbara.

Roy Alstan Lippincott (1885-1969) was born in Pennsylvania, USA. Lippincott gained a Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University, New York, in 1909. Subsequently, he became influenced by the Chicago School of architects, who were a group of architects active in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. The group had parallels with the European Modernism movement and was amongst the first to promote the new technologies of steel-frame construction in commercial buildings.

In circa 1912, Lippincott was offered a junior partnership with Chicago School architect Walter Burley Griffin, who had won a competition for the design of Australia's Federal Capital, Canberra. He moved to Sydney with Griffin in 1914 and to Melbourne the following year.

In 1921, Lippincott and draughtsman Edward F. Billson won a competition for the design of the Auckland University College Arts Building - now known as the Old Arts Building, University of Auckland (NZHPT Registration # 25, Category I historic place). Lippincott moved to Auckland later that year and remained in New Zealand until 1939. In addition to designing the Old Arts Building, Lippincott designed several other buildings for Auckland University, including the Students' Association building (1921-1926), the northwest wing of Choral Hall (NZHPT Registration # 4474, Category I historic place) added in 1925, the Caretaker's Cottage constructed (1928-1931) and the Biology Building (1938). He also designed an addition circa 1927-1929 to Smith and Caughey's Department Store Building (NZHPT Registration # 656, Category I historic place), the Massey University Science Building in Palmerston North (1929-1931), the Berlei Factory in Auckland (1930-1931), the Farmers Trading Company Tea Rooms in Auckland (1934-1936) and St Peter's Preparatory School in Cambridge (1936-1937).

Lippincott was elected Associate of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1922 and a Fellow in 1924. He was actively involved in the Auckland Branch and National Council Affairs, particularly in the area of architectural education.

In 1939, Lippincott returned to the United States, where he became a partner in the Los Angeles practice Kaufmann, Lippincott and Eggers. He retired in 1958 and moved to Santa Barbara.

Mahoney, Edward

Edward Mahoney (1824-1895)

Edward Mahoney emigrated from Cork, Ireland with his wife Margaret and three children. The Mahoneys arrived in Auckland in 1856 where Edward set up as a building and timber merchant. In 1876 he established the architectural practice that later became Edward Mahoney & Sons, which for over thirty years designed and supervised construction of many Catholic buildings as well as churches for other denominations.

The Church of St John the Baptist, Parnell (1861) and St Mary's Convent Chapel (1866) are two of the earliest surviving ecclesiastical buildings designed by Edward Mahoney and reflect the gradual evolution from simple Gothic Revival structures to more ambitious and creative use of the Gothic form such as may be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Khyber Pass (1881); and St Patrick's Cathedral, the latter completed in 1901.

Edward Mahoney was a founding member of the Auckland Institute of Architects, attending the first meeting in December 1880 where he was appointed honorary treasurer. He became president of the Institute in 1883. His sons Thomas (1855?-1923) and Robert (1862-1895) joined him in practice in 1876 and the early 1880s respectively.

Upon Edward's retirement in 1885, Thomas and Robert carried on the practice. After Robert's death in 1895, Thomas changed the firm's name to E. Mahoney & Son. The Mahoneys designed a wide variety of buildings including the Auckland Customhouse, hotels, commercial buildings and houses, their best-known surviving domestic buildings being the Pah, at Hillsborough (1877) and the Dilworth Terrace Houses, Parnell (1899). Their ecclesiastical buildings included St Mary's Church of the Assumption, Onehunga (1888) and St Benedict's Church, Newton (1888).

The firm of Edward Mahoney & Son continued to practice for a short period after Thomas Mahoney’s death in 1923, but was eventually dissolved in 1926.

Source: NZHPT Registration Report for Bank of New Zealand (Former), Devonport (Register no. 4511).

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative


The Choral Society was formed in 1855. In 1868 the Society built a wooden hall on the present site. This and a replacement hall were destroyed by fire. The third hall, now the oldest part of the existing Choral Hall complex, was constructed in brick in 1872. Larger than its predecessors (it sat 1100 people), Choral Hall was of considerable cultural and social importance in Auckland in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was for 40 years the concert chamber and town hall for Auckland, and the venue for major public occasions.

From the outset Old Choral Hall has had close ties with the University of Auckland, being the setting for its formal inauguration ceremony in 1883. Prior to this the graduation ceremony of Kate Edger was held in Choral Hall in 1877. Taking advantage of facilities offered by the headmaster of the Auckland Boys' College and Grammar School, she graduated Bachelor of Arts, the first woman in the British Empire to do so.

In 1905-6 the University College was seeking to expand. Sir Henry Brett, part owner of the Auckland Star, bought the rights of the Choral Hall debenture holders, thus facilitating a transfer to the college. With the completion of the Town Hall in 1911, the Choral Hall became available for university use. Following an early association with the Department of Music (which upon its establishment in 1888 used a 'side wing' in the Hall for lectures), Choral Hall was rebuilt in 1919 to become the Science Department. New wings were added on both sides and the old hall was split into two lecture theatres. The present northwest wing was built in 1925. Since then, the hall and its additions have remained a part of the University campus, accommodating various uses.

Physical Description


Edward MAHONEY (1824-1895)

George Selwyn GOLDSBRO' (?-1925)

William Arthur CUMMING (1860-1947) for 1919 additions

Roy Alstan LIPPINCOTT (1885-1969) for 1925 addition


The Choral Hall comprises the early building and two substantial additions. Of the original structure, the hall frame and roof are still intact, despite being divided over the years into two floors to accommodate lecture theatres. The original front wall has a central gable which surmounts the main entrance.

The 1919 baroque additions flanking the hall are characterised by the end windows set in aedicules. The aedicules have rusticated pilasters and Doric columns which support an entablature and an open bed segmental pediment.

The 1925 northwest wing draws on Classicism to connect the Choral Hall with the Baroque additions. However, the closed pediment completing this gable contrasts with from the open bed structures of its counterparts.

Rectangular windows equally distributed along both sides of this brick and concrete building unify a complex that has seen many additions over the years.


1877 Concrete portico added.

c.1912 Single storey northwest wing added, west wall may have been extended.

1919 Central northern wing, northeast wing and south wing added.

1925 Northwest wing replaced by double storey wing.

1931 Concrete portico removed.

c.1950 Temporary building added over the front steps.

1974 Temporary building removed.

1975 Building upgraded.

c.1980 Roof overhang extended over the front steps.

Notable Features

Registration covers the structure, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The building is on the site of two earlier halls, which may survive as buried archaeological deposits.

1919 wing.

1925 northwest wing.

Construction Dates

1868 -
Site of first Choral Hall

1871 -
Site of second Choral Hall

Original Construction
1872 -
Construction of third Choral Hall

1877 -
Concrete Portico added

1912 -
Single storey northwest wing added, west wall may have been extended.

1919 -
Central northern wing, northeast and south wings added

1925 -
Replacement of northwest wing by double storey wing.

1931 -
Removal of concrete portico

1975 - 1982
Interior upgraded

1977 - 1978
Roof overhang extended over front steps

1982 - 1983
Mail room added to west side

Construction Details

Choral Hall: Timber framed side walls, south wall clad in longrun steel; brick end walls; timber framed roof clad in longrun steel; timber flooring, fibrous plaster lined, bluestone entrance steps.

Extensions: Reinforced concrete footings; loadbearing reinforced concrete and double brick walls; pitched roof clad in longrun iron on truss frame; concrete slab floors.

Completion Date

6th November 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star


24.9.1931 in File C37, Sheppard Collection, Auckland University Architecture Library



Boyd, 1990 (2)

Noni Boyd, Heather King, Heather McCauley, 'The former Choral Hall', Buildings Classification Committee Report, 1990 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory

Cleave's Auckland Provincial Directory, Auckland

Auckland, 1915 & 1925

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

Daily Southern Cross

Daily Southern Cross









Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Beryl Hughes, 'Kate Edger' in Claudia Orange (ed.), Vol.2 1870-1900, Wellington, 1993

Historical Society

Historical Society

'Auckland Historical Society Newsletter', 1961

King, n.d.

Heather King, 'The Old Choral Hall, Symonds Street, Auckland', undated ms. (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Leys, 1919

Thomson W Leys, Auckland University College: Its Claim to a Central Site and Adequate Buildings, Auckland, 1919

New Zealand Building Progress

New Zealand Building Progress

August 1917:1054

July 1919:558

New Zealand Gazette

New Zealand Gazette


New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.







1.10.1947:8(1) Obit.



New Zealand Building Record

New Zealand Building Record


New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal

New Zealand Institute of Architects Journal (NZIA)

September 1955, Vol. 22 (8), Wellington

Scholefield, 1940

G. H. Scholefield, A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1940

Sinclair, 1983

Keith Sinclair, A History of the University of Auckland, 1883-1983, Auckland, 1983

University of Auckland

University of Auckland

M B Bruce, 'Roy Alstan Lippincott: An American Connection', Undergraduate Thesis 1984, Auckland University Architecture Library

Weekly News

Weekly News





Fletcher, 1948

B. Fletcher, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method, London 1948

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.