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1-7 George Street & 236 Cuba Street 236 - Former RSA Building

Former -RSA-Building

Building Details

Building Name: Former RSA Building
Address: 1-7 George St & 236 Cuba St
Construction date: 1917
Architect: Ludolph Georg West
Builder: Rolfe & Dickel
District Plan Category: 2
Building number: 46
Heritage NZ Category: 2
Building number: 1269

Physical and Social History 

It is many years since this building ceased its role as the RSA clubrooms, however, the home front wartime heritage it represents maintains its historical significance. The online index of the Manawatu Evening Standard under the search word Anzac Club[2] brings up dozens of entries for fundraising activities throughout the First World War. The building undoubtedly gave an outlet to a wide range of people wishing to contribute to the support of our boys in such a time of international trauma.

Prior History
CT WN18/296, one of the two pre-1917 CT's associated with this property, was not sighted during this study. However, the 1914 Wises' Directory lists the occupant of the site then as William Thomas Baston's cycle depot. Next door in the relocated old pre-1910 fire station, was the Palmerston Men's Social Club and the Palmerston Museum. By the 1916 Directory, Baston had gone. However, the Museum and the Social Club were still present in 1925, along with this building.

In July 1916, Percy A McHardy, a wealthy local farmer, donated this section on the corner of Cuba and George Streets to the Patriotic Society and Anzac Committee, and the property eventually being disposed of by art union in aid of the club. This proved highly successful, and after accounts had been adjusted it was ascertained that the funds were sufficient to put the construction under way, the committee wisely arranging for the retention of the property as a site for the club.[3] The property was then issued with CT 250/69 to the Manawatu Patriotic Society Incorporated, under The War Funds Act 1915.

The Building

Plans began in 1916 to build a facility for returning troops who might be based in the military camp then at Awapuni, or who were passing through Palmerston North. Prior to its construction these troops had used a temporary facility at the Opera House.

The original plans were for a four-storey building with three large shops on the ground floor. The first floor was to contain a social room, a parcel room, and a club office. The second floor was planned to have a reading room, a billiard room, two writing rooms and a smoking room, while the top floor was to have a sitting room, a kitchen, dining room, a number of sleeping dormitories, two bathrooms and lavatories, and a caretaker's bedroom. Provision had also been made for a roof garden.[4] However, there was public concern at this ambitious scheme, with the editor of the Manawatu Evening Standard commenting that perhaps something more utilitarian might be preferable, given the number of men coming home injured - or not at all.[5]  There was also a concern that a club of the kind it was proposed to build in Palmerston would encourage men to hang about and live on the conveniences at their disposal.[6]

As a result of such views, the building was reduced to two floors, consisting mainly of social rooms. The amended plan eliminated the ground floor shops and substituted various social rooms.[7] Tenders were duly called for on 19 December 1916, and the successful tenderers were Messrs Rolfe & Dickel, at a cost of £5,980 in reinforced concrete, or £6,170 in steel. The £5,980 tender was accepted. The foundation stone was ceremonially laid on 28 February 1917, and the building was described then as going to be the most elaborate of its kind in New Zealand. [8]

A permit to erect a hoarding relating to the job was issued to Rolfe & Dickel on 29 January 1917. The permit to erect the building was then granted on 19 February 1917.[9] Harry Dickel, in his latter working years, was the builder in the partnership with bricklayer RE Kempson that built the Brick & Pipes Ltd office block in Featherston Street. Dickel's father (or possibly grandfather) had been one of the town's first builders.[10]

The Manawatu Evening Standard of 19 November 1917 published a description of the building, which was then receiving its final touches and about two weeks from occupancy: The building, which has a frontage of 50 feet on Cuba Street and 46 on George Street, has a substantial well-built appearance, and is a welcome addition to that quarter of town. The front elevation shows a design in fine Doric colonnade of the double order, finished off with a roofing in French tiles. The walls are of brick and the construction fireproof throughout. The main entrance is on George Street, where an eight-foot hallway reaches all the rooms of the ground floor. On the left is the billiard room, 33ft by 33ft, which will accommodate two tables, and when required may be heated by means of radiators. The walls are 12ft, giving a lofty, airy appearance, whilst the ceilings are nicely relieved with wood panelling. The other rooms on this floor are the reading room 38ft by 15ft, writing room 24ft by 18ft, office 20ft by 10ft, and parcels room 10ft by 10ft. In addition there are lavatories etc, and in the basement the boilers are located for supplying the hot water service and other heating arrangements.

A concrete stairway leads from the hall to the first floor, where the principal apartment is the social hall. This measures 48ft by 38ft and is thoroughly up to date with its appointments, being provided with a wood sprung floor over the concrete floor for dancing purposes, and there are ample lighting and heating arrangements. The ceiling has been tastefully finished off with a pretty steel design, and altogether the hall has a roomy and handsome appearance. From the hall, entrance may be gained to the 12ft balcony, which extends round both fronts of the building, 70ft of which is enclosed, and may be used as a lounge or anti-rooms. Convenient to the hall are the kitchen and refreshment counters, the former measuring 19ft by 12ft. This department has been equipped with the latest labour-saving devices for the quick and economical preparation of meals and refreshments, and the patent decolite flooring is an innovation that will be appreciated by those whose labours lay in this quarter. There is generous provision for ladies' cloak room, bathrooms and lavatories, the general appointments being up to date in all respects.

The building will be lighted by gas, but a wiring system has also been put through the structure for an electric installation at any future time. The foundations and walls have been substantially constructed, and will support another two stories should this be desired, while portions of the walls may be removed and shop fronts put in, which was the idea in the first design. Altogether the club appears to be excellently built and adapted for the purpose for which it was constructed, and there is no doubt it will fulfil a useful mission in the community.

The cost of the building was £6,500, and the upkeep has been largely provided for by the income from the balance of the funds in hand.

Among the contractors were Messrs A Clark & Co, who carried out the painting, while Messrs LG West & Son designed the building and superintended its construction.[11]

PNCC Building Permit file G 5/1-9 records that in 1945, alterations to the building were made for the Manawatu Patriotic Society to the value of £481. Specifications by Ernst V West, of the firm LG West & Son, dated November 1945, indicate that this work involved the removal of a brick partition in the existing library and wireless room, so as to allow for the enlargement of the billiard room. It also involved closing the bays at each end of the balcony (i.e. there had been two bays left open, one facing each street), so as to provide a reading room and card room. Also a brick partition and a basement were to form a store. A fire escape was to be constructed to seven feet from the footpath. Furthermore the work was to be done with as little inconvenience as possible to club activities, while any rubbish was to be cleared up daily.

The Returned Services Association
The RSA is understood to have used the building until its sale to Anchor Holdings in 1970. The RSA then moved to the former Manawatu Daily Times building in Broadway Avenue - a building that has only recently been sold.

Subsequent Owners
CT WN250/69 records the lease of part of the property (Lot 1) to Mathewsons Ltd for a term of 5 years from 12 May 1930. It then records the transfer of the property in 1970 to Anchor Holdings Ltd, and then to the PN City Council in 1974. A new CT (WN43A/714) was then issued in 1993, and this was duly replaced by the present CT (WN44A/81) in 1994. The property was transferred to Major Cole Enterprises Ltd in 1995, and then to No 1 George Street Ltd in 2004, before being transferred to the present owners, Richard Peter Alach and Alice Marrie Van Den Hout in 2007.

The RSA Building about 1950. The photo shows what appears to be striped barber's shop poles on the Cuba Street left frontage. This indicates the shop that in 1994 was incorporated into the café, now Café Cuba. A hairdresser named William N Potter was in this location in the 1936-39 Wises Directories. Frank Jones was listed as hairdressing in this location in the 1944-60 Wises Directories.  Meanwhile the 1950-54 Directories indicate that Wilson's' Furnishers may have been operating from the corner shop. Photo: Whites Aviation Ltd, Palmerston North & District, New Zealand (Auckland, 1950), p2

Additions & Alterations
In 1970, the Four Acres Restaurant applied for a permit for plumbing and drainage work. In 1994, a permit was applied for by Major Cole Enterprises to remove a partition between the corner shop and the shop on the Cuba Street frontage, in order to enlarge the café. The work was valued at $1,000. In 1995, the George Street shop was fitted up as a hairdressing salon.

An array of other internal alterations to such things as toilets, bathrooms, a shop entrance, etc, have also occurred since the mid-1990s.

The Building Permit file C100/248-250 also covers this building's Cuba Street perspective. This refers to the installation of a dishwasher and the relocation of a basin for the Prince Tandoorj Indian Cuisine restaurant, at 248 Cuba Street, in 1993, and this work apparently being signed off in 1995. The restaurant, however, is only listed in the 1994 phonebook.

Current Occupants
The corner shop, 236 Cuba Street, is now occupied by Café Cuba, while the shop at 7 George Street is now occupied by Yoo's Hair Sketch. The first floor occupancy is unknown.

Additional research is required in relation to the RSA's occupancy of and its departure from this building, and on the subsequent registration of this building on 2 July 1982 by the NZ Historic Places Trust.

Architectural Description 

The style of the building owes much to the new world Regency and later Georgian styles, as seen in Australia, India, and Singapore.  It is characterised by simple hipped roofs, flat dormer windows below the roofline, and colonnaded verandahs.  As with examples of this style of architecture in other countries, living areas were often created from the upper level verandah with the colonnade providing shelter over the footpath. The ground floor plan allows for separate retail tenancies, with the main social spaces of the building located on the upper floor via a generous stair and entrance off the south elevation. 

A 1994 plan of the ground floor shows two shops with angled ingos on George Street either side of the entry giving access to the first floor.  The corner shop is recessed from the street and has a diagonal wall separating it from the shop on Cuba Street. Toilets are located opposite the corner shop behind the stairs to the first floor. There are no plans available for the first floor.

Visible construction is timber framing and joinery with corrugated steel roofing, and cast iron posts.

Statement of Significance 

This building has high regional significance for historical and design values, representivity of building style and level of external authenticity. 

The building has moderatehistorical values in its association with the architect LG West, whose firm was responsible for a large number of Palmerston North's buildings.  Among those still standing designed by the practice are the Former Club Hotel (1905), the Manawatu-Kilwinning Masonic Lodge (1908), the Old Soldiers Club (1917), and the Church of Christ Scientist (1931) and Ward Brothers Building (1935). Ernst was a borough Councillor 1921-25.

The building has high design values as an outstanding example of a rare Regency style of building in New Zealand with contributes to the building a landmark in the George and Cuba Street streetscape.

The building is one of a number of buildings in the Cuba Street, George Street, Coleman Place and The Square area which, when considered collectively, form a coherent group of buildings of a similar age, general style, form, use, and scale.

The building's street façade design has a high level ofauthenticity

[1] PNCC Schedule of Buildings and Objects of Cultural Heritage Value

[2] This index is found on the website of the PN City Library

[3]Manawatu Evening Standard 19 November 1917 5(2)

[4]Manawatu Evening Standard 18 October 1916 5(1)

[5]Manawatu Evening Standard 18 October 1916 4(6)

[6]Manawatu Evening Standard 25 October 1916 2(3-4)

[7]Manawatu Evening Standard 11 November 1916 7(4)

[8]Manawatu Evening Standard 19 December 1916 8(7), 20 January 1917 5(1), 1 March 1917 7(4)

[9] Building Permit Register, Vol 1, PNCC Series 4/13/1, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library (Building Permit No's 2473 and 2485)

[10] See also Manawatu Evening Standard, 2/9/1910 1(1) & obituary 3/9/1910 5(1); and

Jim Lundy, Nine Thousand Bricks a Day: The Hoffman Kiln and the Brickworks of Palmerston North (Palmerston North, 2005), pp49, 50, 72

[11]Manawatu Evening Standard 19 November1917 5(2)