Tuesday, September 16, 2014

From gothic skyscrapers to Hathaway cottages

Dotted around Auckland are a number of residential and commercial buildings designed by Canadian architect Sholto Smith (1881-1936) which are now part of Auckland’s architectural heritage. While researching Auckland’s War Memorial libraries for the Our Boys website, I discovered Smith was noted as the designer of the gorgeous, little Albany War Memorial Library - although there is some controversy over whether it was Smith or his business partner, Thomas Mullions who played the bigger part in the design.

Ref: Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean, Albany War Memorial Library,
about 1986, from nzhistory.net.nz
Smith arrived in New Zealand in 1920, when he was 39 years old, and joined the architectural practice of TC Mullions and C. Fleming McDonald.  He became partner after McDonald’s death and together with Mullions went on to design both residential and commercial properties. Among them the Shortland Flats in downtown Auckland which the pair owned as a venture to generate income. The flats have been described as Auckland’s smallest example of the gothic skyscraper style.

Ref: James D. Richardson, Shortland Flats, 1925,
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-1708 
Another highly visible building is the Lister on the corner of Victoria and Lorne Streets, a design influenced by the Chicago style of modern, simplified architecture dominant in skyscrapers of the early twentieth century. It was named for British surgeon and medical scientist, Sir James Joseph Lister. Interestingly, a letter to the editor of the New Zealand Building Record, dated 15 April 1924, laments the wording on the building as ‘The Lister Bldg’ not ‘Building’: “Who has not gazed with a feeling akin to awe at some recently constructed building and felt with an expression of pride that that building belonged to Auckland; when our eyes have alighted upon the name of the building, and we see emblazoned forth “Lister Bldgs” or some such name. Evidently the architect or designer has run out of lettering…”

Ref: N. M. Dubois, Lister Building (right),  about 1973,
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 786-A030-2 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Recently, an advertisement from a page in a journal, displayed in the current Sir George Grey Special Collections exhibition: World War 1914 -1918, made me look closer. The product is soap and the accompanying illustration is not unusual or incredibly striking. It was the text which made me pause, as it reminded me of scenes in Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. In particular, the lives of a group of munitionettes, who provide an insight into an element of home front life during the First World War.

Ref: The sphere. Vol. 76, no. 995. London: Illustrated Newspapers, 1918.
Munitionettes were British women employed in munitions factories during the First World War. These women worked with hazardous chemicals on a daily basis with minimal protection. Receiving an injury or getting killed by an explosion were always possibilities.

Many munitionettes worked with TNT, which after prolonged exposure, would turn their skin a yellow colour -- leading to the name 'canary girls'. Possibly not the type of woman with "dewy freshness and charm of skin and complexion" described in the advertisement above.

Below is a photograph showing a British shell-filling factory, covering an area of nearly ten acres.

Ref: Auckland Weekly News, 'The war of munitions...',
29 March 1917, AWNS-19170329-43-1