News & Events

10-15 The Square - Commercial Building

Commercial Building

Building Details

Building Name: Commercial Building
Address: 10-15 The Square
 Construction date:  1926
Architect:  C Tilleard Natusch & Sons
Builder:  Unknown
District Plan Category: 1
Building number: 5
NZHPT Classification:  Nil

Physical and Social History 

This substantial building appears to have been constructed in stages over a two-year period between late 1925 and mid-1927 when a permit was finally requested to build the shop fronts.  It was also built around an existing shop that was  - or is - near the Main Street end of the building.

Prior History
This building gets its name from the Commercial Hotel that once stood alongside it. Notes on the back of a photo of this building state that the original hotel there was known as Walkley's Hotel in the 1880s, Ryan's Hotel in the 1890s, and then as Child's Commercial Hotel, until the new one, known simply as the Commercial Hotel, was built in 1935.  That hotel was, in turn, demolished some years go.[2]

Photo Sq193d from the Photographic Collection at the PN City Library, shows about four single storey shops on this site in 1913-14 - three appearing very similar - with Fuller's huge His Majesty's Theatre seemingly looming over them from the far side of George Street. Names on the shops include (from left) obscure #1; obscure #2 (due to a tree in The Square); A De Luen & Co, tailors; ND Stubbs, Hepworth; and 'Capstan', suggesting a tobacconist. The 1914 Wises Directory lists these as (from left) Henry Billens, photographer; Richardson & Co, bootmakers; Ravenhill & Co, land & insurance agents; de Luen & Co (Arthur), tailors; Norman David Stubbs, watchmaker; Herbert Hepworth, chemists; and Frank Mowlem, tobacconist.

CT WN 15/102 (first issued 1878 and owned by William Coombs since 1900) records John Hepworth leasing a shop site on the property in 1900. This lease was transferred to Herbert Hepworth in 1907. Herbert Hepworth, a pharmacist, built a new shop in 1917 (now a listed building known as Steeles after a later occupant) near the BNZ bank. The partnership of Edgar Barnaby Pearce and George Wright Ravenhill also leased their property in 1900, as did jewellers Patrick O'Connor and Frank George Tydeman, who in turn had links to ND Stubbs.

The 1925 Wises Directory lists the businesses on this site just prior to the construction of this building. At the time, the local landmark of this block (other than the Union Bank of Australia on the corner of Coleman Place) was the old Commercial Hotel, then run by Mrs Annie Clark. Shops that probably were on the site of the future Commercial Building, however, were those of Miss Mary Billens, photographer; Albert Edward Hansel, pork butcher; Bodelia & Co, fruiterers; and Crawford & Neal, tailors. Of these, Hansel's shop (and perhaps a 'small goods factory'?) is likely to be that referred to in the Natusch plans mentioned below, while Crawford & Neal were to go on to occupy a shop in the new building until the 1940s.

The Pam Phillips Papers, which list the activities of architects in Palmerston North between 1900 and 1950, record that a tender notice for a brick factory (site not recorded) designed by R. Thorrold-Jaggard for AF Hansel, was published in the Manawatu Evening Standard on 8 July 1926. It is not known if there is any connection between Hansel's 1926 factory and the 'small goods factory' that was once behind the Commercial Building.[3] CT WN342/286 (1927) states that his sublease on this property was due to run out on 31 December 1928. The sublease of a second tenant, Hilton Thomas Strawbridge, was also due to run out then. These two had sublet their premises from William Henry Payne, who had in turn leased part of the property from Alice Coombs for a 21-year period starting 1 January 1908.[4] It seems likely that these two subleases influenced the decision to build their premises into the new building.

The Building

The original plans for this building, drawn up by C Tilleard Natusch & Sons variously in July or August 1925, are held in the Ian Matheson City Archives. These state that the three-storey building was in part built around "existing shops" near the Main Street end of the building, and whose walls and ceilings were to remain intact. A 'small goods' factory at the back of the building (directly behind the 'existing shops') was also to remain intact.

The new work included 13ft 5ins added to the Main Street side of the 'existing buildings' (which in turn was 25ft 11ins wide), and 50ft 11ins added to the Coleman Place side of it - a total of 91ft of road frontage (including walls).  The main entrance hall was at the centre of four shops, and this led to the space for the lift, the meter room and the stairs, behind which was a strongroom.  A bicycle shed and three toilet blocks protruded from the new parts of back of the building, and were of brick - the 'existing' building's layout not being defined.  Part of the new area protruded out the back to match the length of the existing small goods factory, and the plan of the first floor shows that this contained three of the floor's nine offices built to that time.  Again the 'existing' area (and its 13ft 5ins extension) was not developed fully at that time, with the area having a note "No ceiling finish to this portion of the building." Thus only a little over half of the first floor was to be completed as offices from the start. The partitions between the offices were to be of brick, and, as well as doors onto the main passage, most also had doors that opened onto one of the adjoining offices. The second floor had a further ten rooms (excluding toilets etc), and these were all evidently developed from the start. A few of these rooms also had interconnecting doors.

The PNCC Building Permit Register records that the Coombs Estate applied for a permit for this building in November 1925. It was to be built of concrete at a cost of £16,083.[5] Natusch & Sons advertised on 10 August 1925 seeking tenders to building an unidentified block of shops and offices in Palmerston North, in reinforced concrete and brick. Tender notices were to be sent to the architects care of the offices of Clifton Mowlem, a land agent who was executor of the Mowlem Estate, however, the date doesn't coincide with the Mowlem shops and offices covered in this study[6] Although this tender notice post-dates the Commercial Building's plans, it was still three months prior to the council issuing the building permit. Pam Phillips' records of the tender notices published in the Manawatu Evening Standard, lists no other Natusch tender notices between this one and the March 1926 one that does apply to this building.[7]

On 20 March 1926, Natusch & Sons advertised in the Manawatu Evening Standard seeking tenders from electrical engineers to undertake electrical installation work, and also to install an electric elevator and a goods lift. They added that these were required for the "building in the course of erection for the Coombs Estate" in the Square.[8]

The 1925 plans also noted that no shop fronts had been included in the original contract. Accordingly, the Building Permit Register records that the Coombes Estate applied for a permit to build the shop fronts in July 1927, to a value of £900.[9]

In May 1948, R & W Thorrold-Jaggard drew up plans for a bulk food store on the property for Wilson's Small Goods Specialists.[10] This will have been for AS Wilson, who had a delicatessen in the building, his shop then being numbered 98 The Square.

Photo Sq 267, from the PN Library photographic collection, shows this building around 1930-32, dwarfed by the new Rosco building (the present library), but towering over the old Commercial Hotel, which was duly replaced in 1935. Photo Sq284 (1937) shows the newly built hotel. The title "Commercial Buildings" is not visible on the façade of this building in the photo - just as it is not shown on the original plans. The title is, however, present on photo Sq217, taken around 1971. This photo identifies the shops as from left: Gerald Taylor Ltd, Williams Saddlery, John's Meat Market, Gerrands Jewellers, British Office Supplies. The building was, however, referred to as the "Commercial Building" in the 1933 Stones Directory.

The PNCC Building Permit file on this building (T25/14-19) includes information on the alteration to its shop fronts. The first of these was for WA Knight & Son, in plans dated January 1960. This shop had access to the strongroom behind the staircase and so the firm must have replaced Turnbull & Jones. WA Knight & Son Ltd had previously occupied one of the shops in the Norfolk House building in Coleman Place between about 1953 and 1960. Another shop front was replaced in early 1980, this time for Leader & Watt's Retail Showroom alongside the (then) DIC. A third was replaced in mid-1981.

The Building Permit file also records that the Medici Italian Restaurant occupied most of the second floor by 1980, and the phonebooks indicate that it was there until about 1986. The building was re-roofed in 1996.

A Geo-Guide view of the Commercial Building from the PNCC website. In the original plans, the 'new' office wing and the 'small goods factory' wing (which was about where the number '14' is) extended back to approximately the same distance from the road. The photos below give a different perspective. The pre-1926 small-goods factory site is now a carpark, although the ground level building with the windows, shows signs of previously being attached to some other building

The Coombs Estate

The Coombs family owned a significant chunk of the land at the Main Street end of the block where this building stands. Some of this land is now occupied by the library buildings.

The book Colonial Homes of Palmerston North states that William Coombs had farmed a large property at Linton before taking up a considerable block of land at Tukituki, near Havelock North. There he built a 20-room homestead, only to die soon after. Mrs Coombs then returned to Palmerston North and bought land in Featherston Street, Terrace End, where she had a replica of the Tukutuki house built, and she remained there for the rest of her life.[11]

William Coombs died on 14 September 1907 aged 65, and the PNCC cemetery records describe him as a grazier of Tuki Tuki, Hawkes Bay. Born in Gloucester, England, in 1842, he had migrated to New Zealand, via time in Australia, and then settled in Wanganui, where he was proprietor of a hotel. He later owned land in Fitzherbert (Linton) and Aorangi, which he eventually sold, and then "invested largely in property in the Square, which he retained up to the time of his death." About eighteen months before his death, he bought property in Hawkes Bay and moved there. However, that was resold about two months before his death - which, due to long-standing health problems, was not unexpected.[12] He had been married twice, and at the time of his death, in Hastings, his eldest child was about eighteen years old.[13]

Although the historical CTs for this property were not sighted during this study, others from the set involving the library property show that a number of CTs for land in the vicinity were issued to William Coombs in 1881[14], and that he was described as a settler of Palmerston North. The CTs further record that in 1907, his property was transmitted to his widow, Alice Coombs of Tukituki.

In 1921, Alice Coombs transferred the property to her four children. These are Alice Elizabeth Collins (married woman of Hawera), William Alfred Coombs (clerk of PN), Nina Edith Coombs, and Ella Mavis Coombs (both spinsters of PN) as tenants in common. In 1926, notices of marriage were added to the CTs for Nina Edith Coombs, who had married John Elliot Lindsay Gardner, a local land agent; while Ella Mavis Coombs had married William Blair Tennant, a dentist. Members of the Coombs family appear to have remained owners of the property until at least the early 1950s.[15]

Ella Mavis Coombs, the youngest daughter of the family, had married William Blair Tennant on 11 August 1925[16], and his dental surgery was to be based in this building until the 1950s. He also served as Member of Parliament for Palmerston North (1949-1954) and later Manawatu (1957-1966).

There is a belief referred to in the Historic Places Trust (Manawatu) file for this building that Natusch came to design this building as a result of a marriage between one of the Natusch sons and a relative of the Coombs family. The marriage in question occurred on 19 May 1914 between Charles Aleck Natusch, eldest son of Mr and Mrs C. Tilleard Natusch, of Wellington[17]; and Georgina Isabel, fifth daughter of Mr and Mrs Robert Gardner of Palmerston North. The Gardner home, 'Te Karina', was at Terrace End.[18] Thus Ella Gardner (nee Coombs) and Charles Aleck Natusch were married to Gardner siblings.

Alice Coombs, widow of William Coombs, and herself owner of the future site of the Commercial Building for over a decade, died at her home 'Birchanger', in Featherston Street, Terrace End, on 9 January 1940, aged 82. Her obituary recorded that she was born in Essex, England, in 1857, and came to New Zealand in 1887. She then married William Coombs, who at the time was farming at Fitzherbert. She was described as "of outstanding character and marked ability, (and who) always took an active interest in religious and social welfare wherever she had lived and particularly has Palmerston North benefited by her activities. Her outstanding work on the Patriotic Society during the Great War and later her untiring work as president of the Plunket Society will not be forgotten. Many will mourn her passing in addition to her own immediate family circle."

Alice Coombs is also remembered for her large home in Featherston Street - one of the surviving Terrace End 'big houses', known nowadays as 'Hillcrest'. However, contrary to popular belief, during the Coombs family's occupancy the house was named 'Birchanger'.[19]

Turnbull & Jones Ltd

Turnbull & Jones Ltd advertised themselves in the 1937 book From Swamp to City as 'The Electrical Firm' that provided 'Everything Electrical for the Home'. This included Moffatt electrical ranges and refrigerators, Washmaster electric washing machines, and a wide range of other domestic electrical 'labour-saving devices. The firm had arrived in Palmerston North about 1929 and for the first six years was based in King Street. It moved to The Square in the mid-1930s. The firm undertook wiring installations etc. as well as retail. Among Turnbull & Jones' industrial work was the electrical fitting out of the Palmerston North Electric Power Station itself, in Keith Street, in 1923-24.

The firm's shop in the Commercial Building was present until about 1960, and had been joined by their workshop on the first floor by the early 1940s. The photo below shows their shop front in 1937 from the aforementioned publication. Presumably this one was typical of the shop fronts built in 1927, however, all have since been 'modernised'. [20] This shop front was apparently replaced in 1960 when the jewellery firm WA Knight & Son took over this shop.[21]

The Art Cabinet Co Ltd

The Art Cabinet Company occupied the shop closest to the present library building for about 25 years.  Its entry in From Swamp to City, states that the shop opened in The Square in October 1935. However, the firm had been operating in Wellington for some thirty years before that. In its first two years, its business had done so well, that its floor space had trebled, and its staff had also. The firm stated that "having absolute faith in the future of Palmerston North, the Art Cabinet Co today has a modern and spacious showroom, carrying complete stocks of furniture of all descriptions, including bedding, carpets, upholstery, soft furnishings, etc. There is no doubt that an increasing number of Palmerston North homes will in time come to reflect the discrimination always exercised by the Art Cabinet Co Ltd." The article was illustrated with a view of a well-furnished 'modern' sitting room.

Shop 1 - nearest Main St
Stones 1933-44 - 106/96 The Square - Crawford & Neal, tailors and costumiers (& Wises)
Wises 1953-4 - 96 The Square - WM Sexton Ltd, drapery
Wises 1957-60 - 96 The Square - Fraser Munro Ltd, Drapers
Photo Sq 217 c1971 - Gerald Taylor Ltd,
Now - 14 The Square: DTR, 14 The Square  (incl shops 2 & 2a)

Shop 2 -  that predated 1925
Wises 1925 - Albert Edward Hansel, pork butcher (his lease to at least Dec 1928)
Stones 1933 - 108 The Square - Mrs Jean Page, mens and boys footwear (& Wises)
Wises 1936 - 107 The Square - William Whaley, grocer
Wises 1939-60 - 107/97 The Square - Schneideman & Co, tailors (Also UFSD Bdg, Square)

Shop 2a - Shop 2 subdivided?
Wises 1939-57 - 108/98 The Square - Mrs AS Wilson, delicatessen
Wises 1959-60 - 98 The Square - Wilsons Delicatessen, LA Mitchell, prop, crumpets, pies, small goods manufacturer

First Floor
Stones 1933 - 109 The Square - Miss Annie Cottom, hosiery repairer; First Church of Christ Scientist (Reading Room); William Blair Tennant, dentist; Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Soc Ltd; W Wilson, inspector

Wises 1936-39 - 109 The Square - William B Tennant, dentist; Colonial Mutual Insurance Co Ltd.

Wises 1939-44 - 99 The Square - William B Tennant, dentist; Hollywood School of Dressmaking; Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Soc Ltd; Ms Frances E Revere, music teacher

Wises 1953-4 - 99 The Square - Turnbull & Jones (works); William B Tennant, dentist; Hollywood School of Dressmaking; Mrs FM Anderson, piano teacher; WA Waters, construction engineer; J Mrs Robinson, dentist; Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Soc Ltd.

Wises 1957 - 99 The Square - Turnbull & Jones (works); Antoinette Dressmaking Salon; Mrs FM Anderson, music teacher; Hong & Robinson, dentists

Wises 1959-60 - 99 The Square - Turnbull & Jones (works); Antoinette Dressmaking Salon; Mrs FM Anderson, music teacher; JM Robinson, dentists

Now - Unknown

Second Floor
Stones 1933 - NZ Express Co Ltd sample rooms
Wises 1939 - Child Bros sample rooms
Wises 1944-60 - Dept of Agriculture
About 1980-86 - Medici Italian Restaurant (Bdg Permit files & phonebooks)
Now - Unknown

Shop 3
Stones 1933 - 110 The Square - John Aitchison Ltd, grocers (branch)
Wises 1936 - 110 Ms Kitty Emden, milliner
Wises 1939-60 - 110/100 The Square - Turnbull & Jones Ltd, electrical engineers, latterly as Head Office
c1960 (Bdg Permit files) - WA Knight & Son (jeweller ex-Norfolk House, Coleman Pl) 
Now - 11 The Square: Asset Finance,

Shop 4 - nearest Coleman Place
Stones 1933 - 111 The Square - Mrs Elizabeth Croucher, art needlework specialist.
Wises 1936 - 111 Mrs L Croucher, draper
1935- Wises 1960 - 111/101 Art Cabinet Co Ltd, house furnishers
By 1980-1991 - Leader & Watt retail showroom (Bdg Permit files & phonebooks)
Now - 0 The Square: NZCU Baywide, MidCentral,

Some of this building's historic Certificates of Title, needed to clarify its succession of owners since 1953, were not sighted in the course of this study.

Architectural Description 

The building is designed in the Inter-War neo-Georgian style, which is a related style to the Stripped Classical style where the composition is Classical with limited, stylised Classical detailing. Georgian is a more simple interpretation of the Classical style and, as with this building, is symmetrical with modest detailing.  The building is three storied with ground floor central entry, a piano nobile, and attic storey.  The street façade (east) has nine bays with the central seven bays projecting slightly forward with pilasters dividing the bays.  Above each of the pilasters and windows are roundels.

The ground floor plan is 'U' shaped and has four shops and central entry, which leads to a central lift and stair, which wraps around the lift.  The first floor has an open space to the southern half of the building with an east/west central corridor from the stair landing.  Off the corridor are offices facing the street.  The central corridor turns at right angles along the north wall with further giving access to further offices, which overlook a central open area.

The second floor has matching corridors to the first floor but with larger rooms access from it.

Construction is reinforced concrete floors and frame with brick internal walls. 

Statement of Significance 

This building has high local significance for historical and design values, representivity of building style and type andlevel of external authenticity. 

This building has high historic values in its connection to the Coombs family, who were substantial property owners in the Hawkes Bay and Manawatu, as well as the Turnbull and Jones Ltd, an electrical business that occupied a shop in the building for over 30 years.  

The building's architect, CT Natusch whose practice was one of the most significant of the first half of the 20th century in New Zealand contributing a high level of historic values.

The original and later ownership and tenants reflects a moderate level of continuity as a typical pattern of similar commercial buildings throughout the city.

The building has high design values as an excellent and rarerepresentative example of the Inter- War Neo-Georgian style.

The building has high design values as  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.



[1] Note that three c1920's CTs that cover this property all state that the subsequent CT dated 11 December 1953 was WN605/92, rather than "/95". These three prior CTs are WN328/291 (1925, its own prior CTs including WN15/102), WN342/286 (1927) and WN344/9 (1927). However, WN344/9 appears to apply to the (two?) shops in the Commercial Hotel building and property behind part of the Commercial Building. Among the leases referred to in that building are (from 1946) are Boniface Bros Ltd's 'Pink Cake Shop' in Shop 5 (Boniface Bros, which is covered elsewhere in this study, opened this once well-known shop in 1935) and Leary's Pharmacist Ltd, which was next to the Commercial Building.

[2] Photo Sq217, Photographic Collection PN City Library

[3] Pam Phillips Papers, 'Palmerston North Architects 1900-1950: Tenders in order of Architect's names', Vol 4, p47, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[4] Albert Edward Hansel, described as a company director, died 30 May 1972, aged 79. William Henry Payne might be the same as William Payne, a gardener who died on 9 September 1932, aged 85. (Ref: PNCC cemetery records)

[5] Building Permit Register, Vol 3, p384, PNCC 4/13/1, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library.

[6]Manawatu Evening Standard, 10 August 1925 2(2)

[7] Pam Phillips Papers, 'Palmerston North Architects 1900-1950', Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[8]Manawatu Evening Standard 20 March 1926 2(1)

[9] Building Permit Register, Vol 3, p389, PNCC 4/13/1, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[10] Pam Phillips Papers, 'PN Architects 1900-1950: Plans held at Palmerston North Archives', Vol3, p21, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library.

[11] Eileen Revere Wright & Edith Doretta Woodhouse, Colonial Homes of Palmerston North (Wellington, 1973), p30

[12] An online research stream in the genealogical website Rootsweb states that William Coombs owned Tukituki Station, and that a report of his sale of the property appears in the Hawera and Normanby Star of 1 August 1907, p5. The same online stream states that the original homestead on the property burnt down in the early 1990s. This matter has not otherwise been researched.

[13]Manawatu Evening Standard 16 September 1907 5(1)

[14] Note that the number of these involving this block that were first issued in 1881 might suggest something other than that the purchase occurred in 1881. For example, the Union Bank of Australia's CT for example, was issued to Sylvester Coleman, after whom the street is named, the same day in 1881 that it was issued to the bank.

[15] Sources viewed are CTs WN 26/136 (Main St.) and WN25/174 (cnr George & Main Sts). These CTs and others were combined in 1953 as WN 605/92. The Commercial Building's prior CT is WN605/95, suggesting that it dates from the same time.

[16]Manawatu Evening Standard 12 August 1925 9(1)

[17] See also: Guy K Natusch, 'Natusch, Charles Tilleard, 1959-1951' in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Vol 3 (Wellington, 1996), pp. 356-7

[18]Manawatu Evening Standard 20 May 1914 6(3)

[19] The house is referred to as 'Birchanger' when the Tennant-Combs wedding occurred there in 1925, and also when Alice died there in 1940. The source of the subsequent name 'Hillcrest' is unknown, and the house's architect is also unknown. Manawatu Evening Standard 12 August 1925 9(1), 10 January 1940 11(4).

[20] 'Turnbull & Jones Ltd.', Robert H Billens & H Leslie Verry, From Swamp to City (Palmerston North, 1937). Pages unnumbered. Also PN Electrical Power Station Inc. history per VA Burr (Secretary, PNEPS Inc.)

[21] PNCC Building Permit file T25/14-19, Durrant & Cantlon, Jan 1960 plans.