Current experts on quality architecture tell us that there is not much
it in Auckland city - that is, good modern architecture that creates
surroundings in which people can enjoy living and working. The city
setting is still breathtaking - the harbours and the topography of the
are still a wonderful asset but somehow the architectural planners
have lost the plot.
Years ago our city fathers knew the best vantage points in the city.
built the business area down near the wharves and then set about
elegant residences, churches and Government offices on the higher
with a fine view over the harbour. A number of these historical
buildings are still in use and if you have an hour or so to spare and
enjoy historical buildings of yesteryear I'm sure you will not be
disappointed at what you will find.
The Administrative Centre of Auckland about 1880
Our walk starts at Auckland University which now sits firmly on what
the administrative centre of Auckland - the area bordered by Symonds
Street, Wellesley Street, Princes Street and Waterloo Quadrant.
The land was originally bought from the Maoris of the Ngati Whatua in
1840, and gradually the early settlers began to make their mark.
Our first stopping place is the hall designed for the Choral Society
Symonds Street. Built in the 1870s it was the first hall in
for musical activities, balls, social events and even ladies' roller
skating. The wooden building has suffered three times from fire
the current building being completed in 1871. The Auckland
took it over in 1907 and early graduation ceremonies were held there.
Later it became the Science building.
Choral Hall, Symonds St.
Photo source Kate Methven
Behind the Choral Hall in the University grounds you can find the
of the barrack walls. Originally the British Army was housed at
Britomart (sited on Britomart Point which was manually removed to fill
Commercial Bay, Official Bay and much of Mechanics Bay between 1884
1886) When further regiments were sent out from Britain this site
became too small.
Around 1845 the Albert Barracks were built on 23 acres near the
Governor's residence to provide a secure base for the British troops
defend Auckland against Maori threats. The actual stone wall
the barracks which had quarters for around 900 troops, was built by
'friendly' Maori of the Ngati Whatua tribe who were terrified of the
attacking Ngapuhi. By 1871 the British troops had returned home
without any shots being fired at the barracks and so the area was
subdivided. Fifteen acres were set aside for what is now Albert Park
the rest were offered as 99 year leases. Later in the 1950s the
University gradually acquired some of the barracks land for its
Old Arts Building
>From a nearby quadrangle to the old barracks site you will get an
view of the Old Arts Building. This was designed by RA Lippincott
1922 in a near Gothic style (cf Tom Tower in Oxford). Lippincot
brother-in-law Burley Griffin (famous for his part in designing many
Camberra's buildings) were contemporaries of the Chicago legend Lloyd
Wright. Although a more recent addition the architect has certainly
created a design that blends perfectly with the other old homes and
buildings in Princes Street. Its distinctive clock tower still gives
students a focus as they scurry to lectures and the whole building
a perfect backdrop to the yearly outdoor Shakespearian plays that are
performed in the courtyard.
Over near Waterloo Quadrant stands the old Government House.
first house erected in 1840 was prefabricated in England and sent over
ship. Unfortunately it burned down in 1848 and its replacement,
present house was completed in 1856. The architect was William
who used some tricks like imitation stone blocks from Kauri wood and
quoin, to make it look dignified. One critic described it as 'a
building with a Palladian front - greatly disproportioned.' Another
'It is far from a good design - the elevation shows columns,
pediment as though it were a stone building in the Grecian style -
being but wood.'
Old Government House.
Photo source Kate Methven
A good building could have been designed which would have manifested
material and yet be an ornament to the place. However the building,
surrounded by fine trees and gardens, has stood the test of time so
can judge for yourselves whether it is an elegant sham or not.
After the first parliament established in Auckland in 1854, moved to
Wellington in the mid 1860s the house became rather a white elephant
.However in 1868, Queen Victoria's son Prince Albert, Duke of
came to New Zealand to convalesce from a gunshot wound. He stayed
around seven months in Auckland during that time the building was
refurbished and a ballroom added.
It was then hoped that the building would become part of Auckland
University College but while some of the grounds were utilised in the
university when it opened in 1883, it was not until 1969 that an
alternative Government House was found in Epsom and the building
known as Old Government House’ and the Senior Staff Common room.
The old Synagogue
Leaving Government House and heading past the old gate house on to
Street directly opposite where the former synagogue is cited. Built
1886 by architect Edward Bartley it ceased to be the Jewish centre in
It is now a commercial bank and if you go inside you will find the
beautiful ceiling decorations, fine glass and plaster work all
On the corner of Prices Street and Victoria Quadrant is the ivy
building which is now known as the Northern Club. Built on the site
the original Woods Hotel -later Royal Hotel for a period after 1867 it
used for meetings and also as a club for the officers from the
In 1869 it became a gentlemen's club which it has remained until the
introduction of membership for women.
Situated behind the club in Bankside St is an old cottage - probably
oldest residence in central Auckland on its original site and still in
today as a crèche. It is typical of the more modest homes on the
Site of the original St Paul's Anglican Church
At the harbour end of Princes Street there is a steep drop where the
excavations for the harbour filling removed Britomart Point to fill in
Commercial Bay, Official Bay and much of Mechanics Bay. The first
fort and Auckland's first church, St Paul's were lost in the project.
All that remains on the site is a monument to the Rev Churton, the
vicar, who died in 1853.
Heading back up Princes Street turn left into Waterloo Quadrant.
one of the original roads where many merchants built their residences.
One notable one is Bella Vista built in 1864 built for the Nathan
The design was copied from an English home and was built in stone
from Bath. David and Joseph Nathan had opened their first store in a
in Queen St in 1841 and soon became well known Auckland merchants.
house is now called Newman House and is the Roman Catholic student
Bella Vista - Home of the Nathan family in 1864.
Photo source Kate Methven
Supreme High Court
At the junction of Waterloo Quadrant and Symonds Street we find the
(High) Court. The oldest part was designed by Edward Rumsey and built
1867 in Gothic revival style with carved gargoyles added by a young
Prussian immigrant. It has recently been extended with a new wing and
huge entrance foyer, which you may or may not find aesthetically
Supreme High Court.
Photo source Kate Methven
St Andrews Church
Diagonally opposite the High Court in Symonds Street you will see the
first Presbyterian Church of St Andrew's. The rear part was built in
with blue stone quarried in the nearby suburb of Newmarket. In 1882
classical portico and tower were added displaying (from bottom up)
Ionic and Corinthian features.
As you stroll back towards our starting point at the Choral Hall you
pass a number of 19th century homes which the University has restored
use by some of its smaller departments. They certainly have more
than the monstrous new buildings that tower all around them.
I hope your walk will provide you with a feeling of pleasure as you
back at the beginnings of Auckland city - for me a much more elegant
tasteful portrait than the modern jungle we have now.
Interested in taking a guided tour?
Ring Diane Masters from the Historical Society on 09 528 7274.