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161-163 The Square - Mowlem buildings

Mowlem -Buildings

Building Details

Building Name: Mowlem Buildings (formerly Bares Buidling)
Address: 161-163 The Square
Construction date: 1925
Architect: HL Hickson & AR Allen, Associated Architects
Builder: Unknown 
District Plan Category: Street Character 28
Building number: 96
NZHPT Classification: Nil         

Physical and Social History 

The present property consists of two ground floor shops and office space upstairs, and is also closely associated in terms of ownership and shared history with the other Mowlem/Bares building on the property that faces Cuba Street. That building is also part of this study.

Prior History
This is one of the more historic sites covered in this study, albeit that this building follows on from the main historic events. This was the site of the two-storied Foresters' Hall, built by the Foresters' Lodge in about 1875. The hall was used as a lodge room and public hall, and many of the social events of the fledgling town occurred there. This status was enhanced further when local land agent, Frederick Mowlem, and his business partner James Linton, bought the property in 1884. They altered and added to the property and named it the Theatre Royal.[1]

The first fire to directly affect this property occurred on the 14 March 1895, when fire broke out at the Theatre Royal, destroying that building and also its neighbour on the site of what is now 164-165 The Square (see that study also).[2] The small pair of shops still on that site, were built in 1895 as a result of that fire. However, while that building survives today, the replacement Theatre Royal Mk. II, was not so lucky. It saw in the earliest silent movies around 1900, but by 1904, the Mowlem family (J. Linton having sold them his share in 1897) had decided that its time as a theatre was up. The Opera House was due to open in 1905, and so in 1904 it was converted into shops - part of which was leased, from 1 April 1904, to Arthur Hopwood to house his ironmongery business. Hopwood's four-year-old business had been sited a few doors down the road, however, the Clarendon Hotel fire (corner of the Square, Cuba and Rangitikei Streets) occurred on 28 January 1904, and although Hopwood's shop was protected by a brick firewall, thereby suffering relatively little, it was time for the firm to move on. The firm relinquished the lease on this building in mid-1919, however the firm's history publication states that it remained in this building until 1920, when it moved to the Main Street site where the Downtown carpark now is. This firm survives now as the local Mitre 10 Mega Store.[3]

The second fire to strike the former Theatre Royal Mk. II, which occurred on the night of 22-23 February 1924, was much larger that the 1895 fire. It started in the centre of the block, at the back of the Empire Auction Mart, which fronted Cuba Street and which had been the Theatre Royal's main hall. That building was entirely destroyed. The fire cleared a path through the block between The Square and Cuba Street, much like the nearby 1904 Clarendon Hotel fire had done. At the time, the Square frontage of the former Theatre Royal was occupied by Schneideman's millinery and tailoring shop, Stanley's drapery store, and Miss Finnigan's "Bobby's" confectionary store. It is not clear how these last three shops had been set up within this large former theatre building, however, they also were destroyed. The two brick Kerslake buildings alongside them also suffered badly, the two-storied Cuba Street building being gutted, while one of the two shops in the Kerslake building fronting The Square was also gutted. However, they were rebuilt and survive today.[4]

A few days later the Manawatu Daily Times reported that "The fire brigade desires to acknowledge with thanks a cheque for £5 from Messrs F and J Mowlem for services rendered at the recent fire." Mowlem Bros then invited tenders to remove the fire debris, with all debris to become the property of the successful tenderer.[5]

Given the recent fire, the 1925 Wises' Directory lists no entries between L Giorgi's shop (now 164 The Square) and King's Chambers - which for many years included the McKenzies shop, but since demolished. Although, one shop still listed as present in the King's Chambers building, that of Ernest D Wycherley's men's outfitters, had suffered damage during the fire.

The Mowlem Building - 1925

The architects for the replacement of The Square end of the property were HL Hickson & AR Allen, their plans being dated 14 November 1924. They had designed comparable buildings for each end of the property, but only the one at the Square end was built. The other one is crossed out on the plan, and the present Natusch building was erected on that site by the Mowlem Estate in 1928. However, the joining structure, which included toilets etc., was built, and in 1928 the two buildings were linked.

Noticeably absent from this building's present façade are the words "Mowlems Buildings," that were to be created as "V-cut lettering" in the flat space just above the centre upstairs windows. It is not known if they were ever constructed, although a 1986 photo of the building shows a something in this location, although it is illegible and shorter that what had been planned in 1924.[6]

The PNCC Building Permit Register records that a permit was issued on 10 February 1925, for this brick building, which was valued at £8,887. The (completed?) building was then inspected in December 1925.[7]

The 1925 Mowlem in about 1950, showing the little 1895 Kerslake building alongside, and the Union Building alongside that. Photo: Whites Aviation Ltd., Palmerston North & District, New Zealand (Auckland, 1950), p2.

Fred Mowlem's involvement with this property began when he and James Linton bought it in partnership in 1890. It was next transferred to James Linton alone in early 1895, and then back to the previous partnership a few months later. Then in 1897, when James Linton moved to Sydney, his share was transferred to Fred's brother James Mowlem - and this was the ownership in place at the time of the 1924 fire.

Later in 1924 (the resulting CT WN 316/200 is dated 12 September 1924) the property was transferred to Fred Mowlem alone. However, Fred did not live to see even the first of his new buildings completed. After a long and very significant contribution to the business and local body political development of Palmerston North, he died on 22 November 1925, aged 79. His extensive obituary commented that after the fire he had bought out his brother's interests in the property and decided to build a handsome two-storeyed building which, unfortunately, he was not destined to see actually completed.[8]

His wife Mary Emma Mowlem then died on 26 August 1926 aged 76. She had still owned the nearby Arcade building at 19-21 Coleman Place at the time of her death.

In 1926, this property was transmitted to Arthur Maxwell Mowlem, stipendiary magistrate of New Plymouth; Clifton Leslie Mowlem, land agent of PN; and Josiah Batchelor, farmer of Linton, as executors of Fred Mowlem's estate. The current CT (WN342/285) was first issued to them in 1927. These were the people in charge of the property at the time the Mowlem estate had the Cuba Street building erected in 1928 - and so they chose its architect and approved its design.

Thereafter, this building was owned by various members of the Mowlem and Batchelor families and their descendents, and others in partnerships with them, until 1967, when it was sold to Bares Buildings Ltd.

In 1981 it was transferred to the present ownership of John Bares, Irene Bares and Jim Demetre Bares owning one half share, and Jim Demetre Bares, Stella Bares and Peter James Bares owning the other half share.[9]

The shop with the known longest connection to this building to date was the Para Rubber Company, which took over the building in about 1934 and remained until 1983. Wise's Directories also indicate that the firm also used the Cuba Street end of the building as a repair depot.

Para Rubber Co Ltd was established by George Waldemar Skellerup, and Australian of Danish extraction, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1909. He had worked for the Dunlop Company in Australia, and once in Christchurch he started a rubber store marketing bicycle tyres and other rubberware imported from Dunlop Australia. He formed the Para Rubber Company in 1910, so named after a variety of rubber tree that grows in the Amazon jungle and produced high quality raw rubber.

The company started its Palmerston North business in about 1918 and then moved to Rangitikei Street in 1920. The shop moved to this building in about 1934, and its original manager, Gerald Prattle, remained in that role until 1946. He subsequently became a director of the Para Rubber Company.

Para Rubber Co Ltd's article, which was accompanied by the photo below, in the 1937 book From Swamp to City provides a snapshot of the company at that time:

Able to claim that they are the pioneer rubber retailing organisation in New Zealand, the Para Rubber Co Ltd, have a convincing record of expansion to their credit. The shop in Palmerston North is a branch of the well-known company which today operates sixteen stores in New Zealand, and was founded by Mr GW Skellerup, of Christchurch. To this day the firm is entirely owned in the Dominion.

It is nineteen years since the Para Rubber Co Ltd, opened their first shop in Palmerston North, nearly opposite the Empire Hotel. From there they went to Rangitikei Street, and after occupying three different premises there owing to the uninterrupted expansion of the trade, they moved nearly three years ago to their present shop in the Square. They have been fortunate in that Mr GD Prattle, who opened up the branch, remains today as manager and is a well-known figure in the community.

Among agencies carried by the Para Rubber Co Ltd, is one for the world-famous Seiberling tyres, while Palmer tyres and Minor Rubber Co's summer footwear and gumboots are among other distinguished lines, as is latex waterproof clothing. The firm, the largest in New Zealand engaged in retailing tyres and rubber goods, has made for its motto: 'We stock it, will get it, or it's not made of rubber.' To enter the shop and realise what comprehensive stocks are carried brings home that fact that that is no idle boast. The firm specialises, among other things, in rubber floorings, while the supply of milking machine rubbers is a business in itself.

Repair work of all kinds for rubber products is also undertaken, and among the enterprise shown by the Para Rubber Co is this and other avenues is justified by the steady record of progress which it can lay claim to. This is the age of skilfully-made secondary products, and in their distribution the firm plays a vital part.[10]

The Para Rubber Company acted as the retail division of Skellerup Industries Ltd, the products of which ranged from milking machine components, vinyl flooring, furniture, rubber footwear and salt. The salt production came about during World War II when the government of the day introduced stringent import controls on some products, including salt, from which some chemicals used in the rubber manufacturing process were derived. As a result, GW Skellerup (who was in due course knighted for his efforts toward New Zealand industry) decided to try to establish a homegrown salt supply and, along with Dr Marsden of the D.S.I.R., his firm began to develop the salt works at Lake Grassmere.

By the time the Para Rubber Company relocated to its next site in 1983 (the former Salvation Citadel in Broadway - now Barris - which was more than double the size), it was one of 30 branches throughout New Zealand.[11]

Shop closest to Rangitikei Street (161 The Square)
Wises 1927-28 - Albert G Richards, ladies outfitter
Wises 1930 - John Murray, tearooms
Stones 1933 - The Royal Dutch Ltd, luncheon & tearooms
1934-1983 - The Para Rubber Co Ltd
1983-1990 - Hatters Restaurant (phonebook)
1994 - Park Square Restaurant & Takeaways (CBD Heritage Inventory SQ20)
Now - Hana Mizu Ki Japanese Restaurant

Mowlem Buildings (162 The Square - upstairs tenants)
Wises 1927 - Wellington Publishing Ltd. Mrs E Matthews, hair specialist; H de Courvosier,Masseur
Wises 1930 - Wellington Publishing Co; HIMS. Runnicles, music teacher; Miss M Johansen, costumer
Stones 1933 - The Dominion (branch)
Wises 1936 - Wellington Publishing Co Ltd
Wises 1944 - The Dominion (branch)
Wises 1953-4 - A Christie, flooring specialist; Bruce Watt, photographer; The Dominion newspaper; Flooring Distribution Co Ltd; & Adele Wilson, dressmaker
Wises 1957 - Ms Isabel Stewart, dressmaker; Herbert A Seifert, journalist; The Dominion newspaper
Wises 1959-60 - The Dominion newspaper
Now - unknown

Shop closest to George Street (163 The Square)
Wises 1927 - L Noedl, fancy goods
Stones 1930-36 - Offers Ltd, footwear specialists (DG Walker local manager);
Wises 1944-60 - James Stenberg, boot retailer (possibly until well into the 1960s)
Last there 1986 - Broadlands Centre/Broadbank (photo Squire Circular Vol 2, No 1-phonebook)
1994 - Scotch Wool Shop (CBD Heritage Inventory SQ20)
2001-Now - Pompeii Gourmet Pizza Restaurant,

Additions & Alterations
PNCC Building Permit file T25/196-198 includes an application for a permit relating to Broadlands Finance, which had first floor accommodation above their existing retail shop. In 1983 an application was made for a permit for interior alterations for the Hatters Restaurant, while another was made for a sign for this restaurant in 1988. In 1987 alterations were to be done for a shop for Millers Ltd, by architect CB Wells of Christchurch. While in 1997 new entry doors were to be installed for the Players Bar at 196 The Square. A note in the file from 2001 said that this restaurant had now closed, but another had opened in its place.

File T25/196 covers the conversion in 2001 of a shop in the building to the new Pompeii Restaurant, which included the installation of a log-fired pizza oven.

Architectural Description 

The plans available from the PNCC Archives show elevations and sections, but no floor plans.  It appears from the cross section that the two storeyed building was divided longitudinally into two shops with central dividing wall with stairs either side of the central wall leading to the first floor from a central entry.  The first floor has a central light well with corridors either side.

The structure appears to be concrete encased steel beams with reinforced concrete façade and timber flooring and roof framing.  Windows to the above verandah street elevation are steel with oak framed shopfronts

Statement of Significance 

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

This building has moderate historic values in its historic associations with the Mowlem family who built it and who owned it for over 40 years.  

The building is also associated with its original architect, AR Allen, a  regionally significant Palmerston North architect of the mid twentieth century who designed buildings in Napier, Gisborne, and Palmerston North.

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 moderate design values as a representative example of the Inter- War Free Classical style, a not uncommon style for commercial buildings from the late Victorian period. 

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.

The exterior of the building has moderate levels of authenticity.

[1] Ian Matheson, 'The Birth of Palmerston North', Evening Standard Centenary Supplement, 13 March 1971, p96. (Note that some of these dates do not correspond with the CT.)

[2]Manawatu Herald, 16 March 1895 2(7) 'Fire in Palmerston North'. Note that this page was microfilmed without cutting the binding, meaning the right side of the item is hard to read due to the fold of the volume.

[3] CT WN27/123; Keith Goldsack, More than Hardware: Arthur Hopwood and the business he founded (Palmerston North, 2000) p23.

[4]Manawatu Evening Standard, 23 February 1924 5(2-4) 'Huge Conflagration from Cuba Street to Square'.

[5]Manawatu Daily Times 29 February 1924 4(5), 3 March 1924 10(5)

[6]The Square Circular, Vol 2, No 1, published in The Tribune, 6 April 1986. This copy from research file A 175/375 Architecture, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library. This erroneously gives Natusch as the architect of this building.

[7] Building Permit Register, Vol 3, PNCC 4/13/1,; also PNCC 4/13/6, Plan 530/196-198, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[8] Manawatu Evening Standard 23 November 1925 7(2)

[9] Sources: Certificates of Title and the 1980 Land Ownership study of this property by Victoria University students, as part of their work on properties in this block - Research File George Street - Cuba Street - Coleman Place A175/154, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library.

[10] 'Para Rubber Co. Ltd', Robert H Billens & H Leslie Verry, From Swamp to City (Palmerston North, 1937). Pages unnumbered.

[11]Manawatu Evening Standard 1 September 1983, p17 'New Para almost ready to bounce into action'; 21 September 1983, p13 'Firm's founder went from rags to riches'; 21 September 1983, p12 'Leisure display a feature'. See also: GW Crozier, If its made of Rubber: Para 75 Years, 1910-1985 (Para Rubber Co Ltd, 1985)