Historical Significance or Value
The Church Street site has historic value as an area that has been associated with the police and justice services since the late nineteenth century. The purpose-built Police Station is representative of a break with the past that saw a move away for the Victorian-era wooden buildings to a robust, solid and large reinforced concrete structure that was considered a model station, and whose design was sought after by Australian Police Commissioners in the 1950s.
The building was constructed for a large sum that represented an investment by the First Labour Government in public buildings after the Depression of the 1930s had seen a decline in this type of expenditure. The building is representative of the commitment of the Government to construct facilities that reflected the modernisation of the police force. Of historic value is the foundation stone which was laid in September 1938 by the Honourable Peter Fraser, Minister of Police, during a special ceremony that also saw the insertion of a time capsule.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The Palmerston North Police Station (Former) is an important public building that occupies a prominent position on Church Street, in the commercial and civic heart of Palmerston North City. The building makes an important aesthetic contribution to the streetscape with its bold Art Deco features and Stripped Classical design that is not represented elsewhere in the city.
Architectural Significance or Value
The Police Station has architectural significance for its design by the Government Architect, John Thomas Mair. The modernist design emphasised the use of new materials like reinforced concrete and prefabricated metal joinery. Although the building was a substantial public structure, the exterior decorative elements are modest and limited to the street elevation. The building has architectural significance as an example of Mair’s Stripped Classical design that incorporated bold Art Deco features. Of particular note is the rare use of a Maori motif in the form of a kowhaiwhai pattern around the parapet and a hand modelled Royal Coat of Arms. The distinctive features of the original building, including its shape, form and materials are intact and can be read. The building makes an important contribution to the streetscape.
The floor layout recognises the functions of the building and there is a separation of space for the different activities that went on within a police station. The reinforced structure has meant that a number of internal walls remain. Interior modifications to the linings and joinery have been made over time but sections of original material which formed part of Mair’s design and specifications are still extant and evident.
Technological Significance or Value
The Palmerston North Police Station demonstrates both innovative and important methods of construction and design, and has the potential to contribute information about construction history. The building was constructed after the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake which prompted the increased use of structural engineers in the design of public buildings by the Office of the Government Architect.
original material which formed part of Mair’s design and specifications are still extant and evident.
Social Significance or Value
The Police Station has social significance as an important public institution that served the community for approximately 67 years and was occupied by the Palmerston North police for the longest period in their history. Its location, across the road from the present police station and in the vicinity of the city’s first police station also provides an interesting link between the past and present of the Palmerston North police.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The building is associated with the Government Architect, John Thomas Mair, and is an important and representative survivor of his work, featuring the use of reinforced concrete design with Art Deco features, including the rare use of Maori motifs on a public building. It is an intact and authentic example of his work and many specifications like the foundation stone, Royal Coat of Arms and the provision for a time capsule give the building significance.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The Police Station is held in high regard as a location of a vital public service. While the public view of police and police stations may fluctuate between extremes of nervous anxiety, the view of the Police Station as a nucleus of public safety remains prominent. Its central location is an important element in the public’s access to law enforcement services and the construction of a new police station further down the street is testament to the need for this.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The scale, design and layout of the building are informative of what was considered a ‘modern’ police station in the late 1930s and how the needs of policing were changing. The building was designed to accommodate these changes and succeeded in serving the needs of a modernising police force into the twenty first century. The station is able to contribute to awareness, understanding and appreciation of New Zealand’s police history. The location of the building in the city and the street is retained. The rooms and connections between them are intact and can tell the story of the activities that occurred. While the scale of policing has made a new building necessary and technological and policing procedures have changed, the policing activities of the twentieth century can be understood through the Palmerston North Police Station.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Palmerston North Police Station (Former) represents developments in the use of materials like reinforced concrete and prefabricated metal joinery and new techniques in construction. The inclusion of structural engineers in the design of the building shows the shift in the Public Works Department processes due to the experience of the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake. The purpose-built station was at the time the most modern in the Southern Hemisphere. Its design was enduring and its status as a model station was enhanced with the request by Australian Police Commissioners for the plans to help with the design of their stations.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Palmerston North Police Station (Former) is part of a cluster of important civic and commercial buildings that are located around or close to the Palmerston North ‘Square’. The building is located in a judicial and law enforcement precinct that has been occupied for over 100 years and is still the location of the Courts which front onto Main Street.
Settlement of the Manawatu
The Manawatu Region was settled by the iwi Rangitane who had migrated from the Hawke’s Bay and had settled a wide geographical area that included Tāmakinui-a-Rua (around present-day Dannevirke), Wairarapa, Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington), and Wairau in the south, and Manawatū and Horowhenua to the west. In the 1820s Ngati Toa, led by Te Rauparaha, conquered parts of the Manawatu but Rangitane retained their strongholds in the upper reaches of the Manawatu.
With the settlement of Wellington the New Zealand Company sought out further land for acquisition and the Manawatu was identified as suitable for settlement. Deals were struck with Maori but later investigations by the Spain Commission led to the granting of only 9,000 of the 25,000 acres claimed by the Company. The Crown was more successful in acquiring land in the Upper Manawatu with an agreement for the purchase of 25,000 acres for £12,000 in 1864.
John Stewart, Chief District Surveyor, was instructed to proceed with the preparation of a subdivision plan of the town and country sections. A town centre in the Upper Block was suggested and in 1866 the surveyors set up camp in a place known as the Papaioea clearing to lay off a township.
The original layout of the township was designed around a central square with the main streets running from this point. The Square is recorded as the site of the pa of the Rangitane ancestor Rakaumaui in the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) Site Recording Scheme. Located within the Papaioea clearing which extended from Cook Street in the west to Brightwater Terrace in the east and from Featherston Street in the north to Ferguson Street in the south. In the past hangi stones have been uncovered by earthworks in The Square and earthworks for the Inland Revenue Building on the corner of Ashley Street and Ferguson Street exposed ovens.
In a report to the Wellington Provincial Government Stewart referred to the Upper Block as the ‘township of Palmerston’ reporting that 160 town lots and 350 suburban and small farm lots had been surveyed off. The name Palmerston was in honour of the British statesman and Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, who had passed away in October 1865. The name was later changed to Palmerston North as the name Palmerston was already in use in the South Island. Sections in the Manawatu were sold off but it was some time before occupation and the construction of a town was achieved.
Law and Order for the Manawatu
With the acquisition of land came settlement and population growth within the Manawatu region. The need for law and order saw the appointment of Constable J. Purcell to police the Manawatu District in January 1867. However, he was stationed at Foxton where there was a courthouse and with an inability to police such a large area Palmerston North gained a reputation as the ‘most drunken and rowdiest town of the west coast’.
By 1871 Palmerston North had a resident policeman, W.C. Wilson, and a police station located on Main Street which consisted of a small cottage. In 1872 land had been gazetted in the Town of Palmerston North that would form part of the police and courthouse areas. In 1879 a new police station was built on Main Street and would later become a house for the sergeant when it was no longer used for that purpose. In 1893 land was set apart for a Courthouse and Police Station, this area was described in the Gazette Notice as Sections 660 and 661, approximately two roods. The sections bordered Main Street and Church Street and continue to be the present sites of the Palmerston North Court and the former Police Station.
With the construction of a new courthouse fronting Main Street the old court house was relocated to the Church Street site in 1895 and used as a police station. This wooden building was converted into a police station and served as such until the construction of the new Police Station in 1938. In 1908 The Cyclopedia of New Zealand described the police station at Palmerston North as ‘an old wooden building with a frontage to Church Street, and provides office accommodation and quarters for some of the police.’ At that time Sergeant M.D. Stagpoole was in charge of the station and his staff included a detective, a gaoler and seven constables.
Historic photographs show a number of outbuildings associated with the old wooden police station including a cell block and a paddock that accommodated the troop horse. In April 1938 the old station was demolished and parts salvaged and reused to convert the St Andrews Church Hall into a temporary police station while the new one was being built.
Palmerston North reached city status with a population of over 20,000 in 1930 and in 1938 the strength of the force was one inspector, one Senior Sergeant, one Detective Sergeant, three Sergeants, three Detectives and 45 constables. With the growth in population came the necessity for the police force to expand. It soon became clear the small wooden Victorian-era police station was inadequate to accommodate the needs of a modernising police force and plans were set in motion to erect a modern police station that would service the Palmerston North District. The then Minister of Public Works, Robert Semple, had condemned the old wooden building as a ‘disgrace’.
In 1937 the Architectural Branch of the Public Works Department, headed by the Government Architect, John Thomas Mair, supplied a concept drawing of the ‘New Police Station, Palmerston North’. The drawing was of the front elevation and envisioned a two storey symmetrical structure with a ground floor wing that extended out to the side. The modernism of the design was further invoked with billowing yet fast moving clouds sketched behind the building. It lacked detailing or ornamentation with only a slight embellishment along the parapet. The final design would only slightly deviate from this concept drawing.
Development of the site had already started in 1935 with the construction of a new cell block that lay at the back of the wooden police station. The design of the new police station was to incorporate this cell block in a seamless way that would not betray its earlier construction. The site plan delineates the existence of a rubbish dump that would need to be cleared away. Carter notes that in 1985 when contractors were excavating the present car park, material relating to this earlier occupation of the site was uncovered.
Laying the Foundation Stone and the Clouds of War
At a time when the war clouds were forming over Europe and the New Zealand press were following the daily developments of European militarisation, the laying of the foundation stone for a new police station at Palmerston North made the provincial and Capital papers. The Times, Manawatu Standard and Evening Post providing coverage of the event with The Times reporting that the station was being constructed at a cost of £30,000 and was to be the ‘most modern building of its kind in the Dominion’.
The Honourable Peter Fraser, the Minister of Police, attended the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone on 28 September 1938. With an impending election Fraser took the opportunity to make a public address at a meeting at the Palmerston North Opera House that evening. Fraser promoted the Social Security Act and information pamphlets describing the scheme were circulated at the meeting. The Labour Party had won the 1935 election under the leadership of Michael Joseph Savage, and swept to power following the widespread poverty of the Great Depression and discontent with the Liberal Government of the time. Under a radical social and economic agenda the First Labour Government undertook a number of projects including the implementation of Social Security and a number of public works including the Palmerston North Police Station. The Labour Party would go on to win the election on 15 October 1938 with Fraser as Deputy Prime Minister and later Prime Minister, after the sickness and passing of Savage.
At the time the site was awash with concrete foundations and soaring rods of steel. A platform was erected for the ceremony and it was held outside the entranceway with a large crowd gathering on Church Street. The laying of the foundation stone ceremony was attended by a number of other dignitaries including the Mayor, A.E. Mansford, the Commissioner of Police, D.G. Cummings and a number of Members of Parliament, Hon. M. Briggs, Hon. R. Mawhere and the Hon. Joseph Hodgens the Member of Parliament for Palmerston North.
The Mayor presided over the ceremony, remarking that the new building would be a ‘credit to the city and the public’. Comments were made about the state of the old wooden building and its inadequacy to accommodate the needs of an expanding police force in the district. It was described as an ‘eyesore’ and ‘disgrace’ by the electorate M.P. Mr J. Hodgens, who explained how he had been determined to have a new police station built.
The Commissioner of Police, Mr. D.G. Cummings commented that it was the first time that a foundation stone laying ceremony had been performed and that usually the police moved into a new building with no ceremony. For Mr Fraser this was the first time he had laid a foundation stone of a police station and he congratulated all those involved in the planning of the new building. He also commented on the need for the police to operate efficiently and it ‘was necessary for the country to provide them with good facilities for doing their work.’ The Palmerston North Police Station design represented a more progressive look to encouraging efficiency within the force with the provision of sleeping, dining and recreation facilities within the building. Changes in policing were happening with the introduction of new technologies and methods for the detection and prevention of crime. Comment was made by the Minister about the trialing of radio equipment in cars.
The laying of the foundation stone was to be the last official ceremony celebrating the building. With its completion in 1939 the focus of the country had turned towards Europe and the war effort. Policy at the time dictated the conservation of resources and no official opening was celebrated.
A Purpose-Built and Modern Police Station
The design of the Police Station was undertaken by the Office of the Government Architect under the leadership of John Thomas Mair. Mair was appointed Government Architect in 1923 and was the successor to John Campbell who had established Edwardian Baroque as the semi-official style for government buildings in New Zealand. Mair was to put his own mark on public buildings with a significant departure from traditional styles and instead there was a determined move towards the new architecture of modernism that embraced new construction methods that utilised concrete and structural steel.
After the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake the Government Architect was conscious of the need to construct buildings that would preserve life and property. The inclusion of engineers in the structural design of buildings as well as the use of new materials like reinforced concrete and prefabricated metal joinery were important changes in the construction of public buildings by the Public Works Department.
On 2 April 1938 the Minister of Works, the Honourable Robert Semple, released details of the new building:
‘It is to be a two storey reinforced building and an entire departure from the previously conceived plans for this type of building. The exterior is to be finished in textured plaster incorporating a certain amount of Maori ornament, and bronze and stainless steel are used for lamps, lettering on the façade. All the windows are of galvanized steel. The front of the building is to be set back 9 feet from the footpath and the main entrance is to be approached by steps giving access to a T shape hall. The hall and corridors are finished with coloured textured plaster with polished chromium plated dado cappings.’
The new building with its size and bulk allowed for the partitioning of the space into a number of rooms for various activities including public access, work, accommodation and recreation. Semple described the plans for some of the individual rooms including those for the Senior Sergeant, the Sergeant, the Constables, interview rooms, and the muster room. The cell block and detention areas were described, and the heating and lighting systems detailed. For station staff, the accommodations were noted:
‘A staircase adjoining the main entrance but separated by a doorway, gives access to the first floor containing the living and sleeping accommodation for constables. Also a billiard room will be at the southern end of the building.’
The tender contract for construction of the Palmerston North Police Station was won by the local firm of Bodell and Company for the sum of £28,477 and was completed in 1939.
The Palmerston North Police Station is a Stripped Classical design with Art Deco decorative elements that adorned the front elevation of the building. The station had an asymmetrical design with the symmetrical two storey main block being disrupted by a single storey wing that extended to the east of the front elevation. The windows were recessed with a ziggurat design on the edges. Other elements of modernist design included the flat fabric layered roof and metal exterior joinery. The addition of a second storey was made to the east wing prior to 1983 and the ornamental metal gates removed, probably for increasing access to the rear court yard.
The front elevation has a thick plastered surface over the concrete with imitation pointed stone joints. Historic photographs suggest that the original finish was coloured and brought out the imitation stone features. Bold exterior decoration was incorporated with the unique use of a kowhaiwhai pattern around the front elevation parapet. The motif was purposeful and is of interest as use of a Maori design on a public building was rare.
The name ‘POLICE’ was constructed of stainless steel finished with a high polish and affixed above the doors of the entranceway. Situated near the top of the building and in the centre was the Royal Coat of Arms was a specification by the Government Architect and was modelled in position in cement plaster. A retired sculptor, Jack Griffiths, was brought to Palmerston North at the request of the architect to finish the coat of arms. A porch was added in the 1990s and ramps constructed to give better access to the entranceway.
Mair was responsible for a number of important public buildings that were constructed not just in the main cities but also the provincial towns and cities. The Government Architect favoured the Stripped Classical style that was restrained in its use of highly stylised decorative features to create interest from the street and in many cases the design was reflective of the use of the building. Representative examples of his work are the Children’s Dental Clinic, Wellington; the Chief Post Office, Dunedin; Jean Batten Place Departmental Building; the Public Works Department Building, Napier; and his most important building the Stout Street Departmental Building in Wellington.
A design that endured
In 1950 requests by a number of Australian Police Commissioners were made for access to copies of the plans for the Palmerston North Police Station and Lockup. J. Smith, the Commissioner of Police, Queensland, during a visit to New Zealand in 1948 had visited the ‘model Station at Palmerston North’ and wished to use the plans to assist in designing police stations in Australia. Records show that the plans were forwarded on to the various commissioners who requested them.
The issue of accommodation for senior officers and their families was raised when it became apparent that the sergeant’s flat, located on the second storey, was not appropriate accommodation for a young family. In the 1950s there was a shortage of state houses in Palmerston North and the idea was floated to build flats on the vacant land next to the station. The final decision was that the area was too small to accommodate the flats and garages were constructed along the eastern boundary in the late 1950s.
In 1995 a survey plan was produced to separate the Police Station and Court sites. Section 2 Survey Office Plan 37467 was set apart for Police purposes and incorporated part of Section 661 and part of Section 489 Town of Palmerston North. A new certificate of title was issued.
A new home for police in the twenty first century
At the start of the twenty first century the Police Station had reached the end of its life as an active station due to an expanding work force and the need for accommodation of new technologies for law enforcement. The Palmerston North olice have maintained their link to the former station with the new station being constructed to the south east of Church Street and opened in later 2005.
With the police having vacated the building, the presence of a time capsule buried behind the foundation stone was brought to the attention of police authorities by police historian and former constable at the station, Ray Carter. A stone mason was employed to remove the foundation stone but was unsuccessful. A decision was made to break through from the inside and the copper box was removed from the reinforced concrete structure with little damage.
The time capsule was not opened until 28 September 2005, exactly 67 years after it was buried into the wall of the police station. The box contained copies of the Manawatu Evening Standard, The Times and the Evening Post which covered the proceedings regarding the laying of the foundation stone; various papers from the Public Works Department including copies of the architectural drawings and a photograph of men laying the concrete foundations and erecting the steel-work. Of note was a hand painted scroll that was signed by key persons involved in the project and the dignitaries that attended the foundation stone laying ceremony.
In 2006 it was reported in the Manawatu Evening Standard that the Palmerston North City Council was involved in negotiations for possible purchase of the building under the Public Works Act and the building being demolished for a car park. With news of an impending demolition a number of commentators discussed the various merits of the police station regarding its historical and architectural significance. Robert McGregor of the Art Deco Trust, Napier, wrote an open letter to the Mayor of Palmerston North City describing the building as a ‘rare example of Art Deco that incorporates Maori motifs’ and challenged their inability to identify and protect this important building. Concerns about the heritage values of the building saw the City Council withdraw from its plans and the building awaits an adaptive reuse.
The former Palmerston North Police Station fronts onto Church Street, approximately 50 metres west of the ‘Square’ which is the civic and commercial centre of Palmerston North. To the north and adjoining the police station site is the Courts complex which faces onto Main Street. On the eastern boundary is a one storey brick building, the Masonic Lodge. The Palmerston North Police Station dominates the northern side of Church Street and is in a very prominent location.
The Palmerston North Police Station is a reinforced concrete structure with prefabricated metal joinery. The building consists of a symmetrical two storey ‘T’ shaped block that fronts onto Church Street. To the east was a one storey block wing that was attached but stepped back, it lacked the decoration of the main block. At some stage, prior to 1983, a second storey was added that while distinctive in the use of different materials retained the symmetrical intention of the design. To the rear of the building were one storey blocks that incorporated the 1935 cell block and are seamless in materials and design. Second storey additions were also made at a later date.
The front elevation of the police station exhibits Stripped Classical features with distinctly New Zealand decorative elements that can be characterised as Art Deco. The original building is classically symmetrical in its presentation to the street with a central panel that projects slightly forward of the wings on either side. The central panel incorporates the entranceway with steps and ramps on either side allowing access. The foundation stone is set into the wall just to the right of the entranceway. Two sets of elongated windows are aligned symmetrically on either side of the main entrance. They are formal and direct and allow the impression of an array of vertical columns. The surrounds of the windows are given a decorative function with a ziggurat design that sets the windows back.
The front elevation has a thick plastered surface over concrete with imitation pointed stone joints which gives it an air of grandeur, formality and longevity that is characteristic of stone. Other important decorative features include the frieze around the entranceway and the modelled and hand sculpted Royal Coat of Arms that is near the parapet of the central panel. Originally a flag pole was affixed to the parapet and added to the symmetry of the building but it was relocated just to the right of the entranceway. In the 1990s the entrance was modified with an addition of a porch. The addition was designed to be compatible but could easily be removed.
The distinctive Maori motif featured in the parapet is a kowhaiwhai design which starts on the sides of the central panel and follows along the roof line and finishes just around the corners of the main block.
The building has a flat roof that is characteristic of modernist design and the other exterior walls of the Police Station are plastered and textured but are devoid of decoration.
All rooms proposed in 1938 are visible in 2010. The walls of textured plaster, apart from a couple of new openings, are generally unchanged in form and place as the reinforced concrete material has been difficult to alter. While there have been several additions, and many internal lining changes, the building is essentially complete and entirely legible.
A number of original interior surfaces featuring ‘new’ materials like coloured concrete and two inch wide chromium-plated brass strips for dado cappings are still present. The interior wall and floor linings and joinery have changed several times during 67 years of occupation. However, the original existing elements like coved ceilings and cornices of fibrous plaster and the use of native timber joinery are often visible.
The cell block consists of smooth enamelled walls with metal cell doors. The cell block is divided into female and male holding areas. The block has access points to an internal exercise yard.
Construction of the cell block
1938 - 1939
Foundation stone laid and construction underway; time capsule inserted
1980 - 1989
Addition of second storey on the wing of the front elevation
Construction of garages
1990 - 1999
Addition of cover for entrance
Reinforced concrete, metal and wooden joinery.
Report Written By
N. Naus; A. Dangerfield
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
Palmerston North Police Headquarters station, Church Street, 1935-1958, Agency P Series 1 Accession W2791 Item 50 Record 10/2/278, Part 1.
Police Station; Palmerston North, 1973-1985, Agency AAQU Series 889 Accession W3428 Item 603 Record 25/327.
Front Elevation drawing of the new police station, Palmerston North, June 1937, Agency AADU Series 574 Item 1*10 (1822) Record 29/24A.
New Police Station, Palmerston North, Specifications, January 1938, John T. Mair, Agency W, Series 32, Item 118*, Record 97796.
R. Carter, Beyond the Call of Duty; A History of the Palmerston North Police District, Palmerston North, 1988
Manawatu Evening Standard
Manawatu Evening Standard
26 September 2005; 15 November 2005; 22 April 2005; 10 May 2006.
Lewis E. Martin, Built For Us: The Work of Government and Colonial Architects, 1860s to 1960s, Dunedin, 2004.
Rosslyn J. Noonan, By Design: A Brief History of the Public Works Department Ministry of Works 1870-1970, Wellington, 1975
G. Petersen, Palmerston North; A Centennial History, Wellington, 1973
27 Sept 1938; 29 Sept 1938.
To ensure the long-term conservation of this place, the NZHPT recommends the building is listed in the Palmerston North District Plan.
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office
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.