Union Fish Company Building

116-118 Quay Street; Tyler Street, Auckland

  • Union Fish Company Building.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 18/09/2001.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 666 Date Entered 27th July 1988 Date of Effect 27th July 1988


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 369895 (RT 321638), North Auckland Land District, and the building known as the Union Fish Company Building thereon, and its fittings and fixtures.

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 369895 (RT 321638), North Auckland Land District


The Union Fish Company Building is a former office and workshop associated with the development of motorised transport in twentieth-century Auckland, especially cars and shipping. A two-storey brick structure of ornate design, the building was one of a number of light industrial structures located beside the main shipping wharves during the early 1900s. The structure was erected in 1905-1906 for the engineering firm of W. A. Ryan & Company, who imported motor cars from overseas. The company had been formed in 1894, when it was considered to be at the forefront of engineering technology in New Zealand. The firm maintained this reputation with the early importation of cars, which were luxury items requiring specialised mechanical support. The earliest such vehicles had been imported to Auckland in 1900, with nearby Queen Street being the earliest asphalted road in the city in 1902.

The Free Style architecture of the building included banded brickwork and a basecourse of stone, while prominent arched windows used alternating keystones and brick. Free Style was previously used in Britain as an attempt to fuse commercial and institutional buildings with the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which emphasised the nobility of artisan labour. Its employment was unusual in Auckland, and in this instance may reflect the innovation and craftsmanship associated with early motor cars, and by extension the Ryan company. The original building was four bays long with large windows lighting the ground floor workshop inside. A vehicle entrance was located asymmetrically near one end of the structure, while offices were located above. After being gutted by fire in late 1906, the building was immediately refurbished and extended with two additional bays in an identical style. It was taken over by the United Repairing Company (URC) in 1912, when marine engineering became the major focus of activity. The URC was jointly owned by the Northern Steamship Company, whose headquarters were immediately next door to the workshop (see 'Northern Steamship Company Building'), and the Union Steamship Company, the largest private employer in the country. Demolition of the two-bay extension by 1962 can be linked to the decline in local shipping as the roading network improved. In the 1970s the original bays were converted into a bar and restaurant, latterly known as the 'Union Fish Company'. The building is an integral part of the Quay Street Historic Area, and survived plans for its demolition in the 1980s.

The Union Fish Company Building is significant as possibly the oldest surviving structure in Auckland linked with the importation of cars, heralding important changes in road transport. It is connected with technological innovation in New Zealand, particularly through its association with W. A. Ryan and Company. The building reflects the importance of engineering in the early twentieth century as the combustion engine took over from horses, sailing ships and steam. It is one of the few engineering workshops to survive in central Auckland that dates from the very early 1900s. The building is a valuable reminder of the once substantial working-class involvement in dockside life, and the diversity of activity beside the wharves. It is particularly important for its connections with the adjacent Northern Steamship Company Building, as together they provide a comparison of white- and blue-collar working environments. The building is significant for its association with New Zealand's role as a consumer of imported goods, and Auckland's function as a conduit for overseas trade. It has considerable value as one of a group of buildings along Quay Street that demonstrate Auckland's maritime and commercial past.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Union Fish Co. Building housed a number of industries which were a part of Auckland's heritage as a maritime city.

The building was first occupied by W A Ryan and Co, a firm of engineers. The firm was established in 1894 and was involved in importing and introducing oil engines to NZ, along with other machinery, particularly that connected with marine engineering.

The connection established between the shipping industry and the building was continued by subsequent tenants. The Northern Steamship Company and the Union Steamship Company were the two major steamship companies of Auckland, and both held the lease on the building, probably using it as a repairs workshop. United Repairing Co. Ltd another engineering firm was here for thirty years. In 1977 the Missions to Seamen Society were the tenants. Over the last twenty years the building has been used by various businesses as a restaurant and nightclub. It is one of the few city restaurants right on the waterfront.

The shipping industry was always vitally important to Auckland and Northland. Auckland grew up around coastal and overseas trade. The Union Fish Co building was built just as the shipping industry was recovering from the economic collapse of the 1880s and coincided with the industry's revival at the beginning of the century. It has long been a part of that industry which was so crucial to Aucklands growth.


The attention paid to detail on the façade of this workshop is unusual, as essentially it is a utilitarian building.

The Queen Anne revival architects were influenced by the Arts and Crats movement, in particular the work of William Morris and Phillip Webb. The principles of the movement concerning the working environment and the importance of handmade detail were illustrated by the design:

'these included the use of a variety of building materials: stocks enlivened by bands of grey-purple brick, while the arches featured good quality yellow bricks and Portland stone dressings. The simple but striking expression of window forms, careful internal arrangement and the selection of style to suit a buildings' purpose all characterised the Arts and Crafts architecture'.


This building forms an important part of the brick warehouses which give character to Quay Street. It contributes considerably to the dockside atmosphere.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


The façade consists of alternating red and buff brick courses. The three centred arch and window surrounds are of red brick, alternating with keystone which are connected by a continuous hood moulding.

The upper floor is divided into bays by vertical members some of which once extended to include a gable/pediment detail.

This (now removed) gable detail, the banded brickwork, the keystone and hood moulding details are all features of the Queen Anne style used by the English architect R Norman Shaw (1831-1912). Some of his work was published in the Builder.


Four bays were originally constructed and these are the four which remain. Two more bays were added in the SE side and these have subsequently been demolished. The façade once had 4 pediments, one above each end bay, and 2 side by side in the centre. These, and the top moulding have been removed, some of the archways once extended to the pavement.

The interior was modified to form a restaurant in the mid 1970s. Some of the windows on the back façade have been bricked up and a cart dock has been added.

Notable Features

Registration covers the building, its fixtures and finishes. It also includes recent modifications. The building lies on nineteenth-century reclaimed land in Commercial Bay, next to the original Britomart Point and close to the site of the Gore Street wharf.

Construction Dates

1879 - 1885
Reclamation of land

Original Construction
1905 - 1906
Construction of W.A. Ryan & Company Building (later United Fish Company Building)

1906 -
Fire damage

1907 -
Refurbishment and two-bay addition

Demolition of two-bay addition

1974 -
Internal modifications

Construction Details

The brick workshop was constructed in 2 stages. The basecourse is stone and the decorations plaster. The pale bricks are probably those made from the white clay deposits in Avondale.

Completion Date

15th August 2001

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Apperley, 1989

Richard Apperley, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds, A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture: Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present, Sydney, 1989


Clough, 1996

Rod Clough, 'Britomart Transport Terminal Project: Archaeological Assessment, Site R11/1379', Auckland, 1996 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Cooper, 1988 (3)

Mary Cooper and Noni Boyd, 'The Union Fish Company, 16 Quay Street', NZHPT Buildings Classification Committee Report, Wellington, 1988 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Wises Post Office Directories

Wises Post Office Directories

McLean, 2001

Gavin McLean, Captain's Log: New Zealand's Maritime History, Auckland, 2001


New Zealand Herald

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

2/10/74 & 26/10/74

Salmond Architects, 1995

Salmond Architects, 'Britomart Heritage Assessment: An Analysis of Heritage Values Relating to Existing Buildings in the Britomart Development Project', Auckland, 1995 (held by NZHPT, Auckland)

Sinclair, 1990 (2)

Keith Sinclair, (ed), The Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand, Auckland, 1990

pp. 148-149

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.