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2-6 Coleman Place & 31 George Street - Former Rosco Tearooms

Former -Rosco -Tearooms

Building Details

Building Name: Former Rosco Tearooms
Address: 2-6 Coleman Place & 31 George Street
Construction date:  1915-16
Architect:  William Fielding, of Wellington
Builder:  Unknown
District Plan Category: 1
Building number: 9

Physical and Social History 

While the Coleman Place façade of this building remains intact, the back three-fifths of the building was sheared off in the mid-1990s as part of the conversion of the old CM Ross Co Ltd (and successors) department store, into the present library complex. The upper floors are now accessed from the alleyway between The Square and George Street that leads to the library's main entrance part way between the two. The street address to the upper floors is now 31 George Street.

Prior History
George F Roe purchased this property, as Section 331 of the Township of Palmerston, from the Crown in 1867. Its CT prior to 1880 was probably WN8/199. The portion of George Street between Main Street and Coleman Place was then created from Section 331, with the land on either side of the street becoming Deposited Plan 27. AGS Bradfield, in Forgotten Days, credits Roe, a building contractor, as the source of the name 'George Street'. Roe subdivided the Main Street end of the street in 1875 (DP27), while the Cuba Street end (DP155) was subdivided in 1979.[2] Thus this property became Lot 8 of DP27. Lots 3-6 of DP27 (at least) were bought by William Coombs in 1880 and 1881 (see the Commercial Building in The Square re the Coombs Estate). CM Ross also leased his original George Street property (Lot 7 DP27) in 1905, but owned that by 1928. That property's 'prior CT' is WN19/167, which corresponds with Lot 6's WN19/170 (1880) owned then by William Coombs. By late 1914, however, this property was in the hands of CM Ross.[3]

The business that became CM Ross Co Ltd, began as John Fowler's Bon Marche drapery shop in The Square. Scottish immigrant Charles Macintosh Ross arrived in the town in 1883, and purchased the Bon Marche business. Thus from those relatively small beginnings, the present set of Rosco buildings eventually grew. In about 1905, the firm built a single storey brick building fronting George Street, which gave the building a second street frontage, and also allowed furnishings to be added to the firm's product lines The George Street building was given a second storey in 1927-8, thereby taking on its present form. The company was incorporated on 4 September 1914.[4]

The Building

The tender notice for this building was published in the Manawatu Evening Standard on 23 December 1914 - the architect, William Fielding of Wellington, seeking tenders for a steel-framed brick building to be built for CM Ross & Co Ltd, in the Square.[5] The Building Permit Register records that Permit No 1998 was issued for this building on 16 February 1915. The permit covered both this building and a new one facing The Square (Sections 255/6 and 331 Pt 7 & 8), and these were to be of brick and were to cost £10,000.[6]

As preparations to erect the new building progressed, there was still the matter of the attractive two-storied house, with an upstairs balcony for enjoying the afternoon sun, which was already on the site.[7] Accordingly the Building Permit Register lists Permit No 2007, dated 23 February 1915, which was issued to CM Ross & Co Ltd to remove a building from Coleman Place and to take it to Pt Section 645 in Main Street. The value of the building was given as £130. Then on 26 April 1915, Permit No 2050 was also issued to the firm. This was to reinstate the building on Section 645 in Main Street using timber, and the end value of the building was £300. The house had gone to a property close to where Marece Court (574 Main Street) now is, but clearly it is now long gone.

The Manawatu Evening Standard of 19 April 1916 reported the following description of the Rosco premises as they were at that time - and as they would be until the next major upgrade just over a decade later. Some indication of the impact of the First World War then raging, is also apparent:

The CM Ross Co Ltd - Fine New Premises
Shortly after the CM Ross Co Ltd, acquired the old-established business in Palmerston North of CM Ross and Co, the directorate was faced with the necessity of enlarging the premises, the business having grown to such proportions that it was found it could not be handled satisfactorily under the old conditions. Accordingly, the sections at the corner of George Street and Coleman Place and a strip of land fronting the Square between the then existing buildings and the Union Bank of Australia were acquired and arrangements made for the erection of additional suitable buildings. These have now been completed, making a fine structure of steel frame with reinforced concrete, with imposing frontages to the Square and George Street. The portion fronting the Square is two-storeys, while that with a frontage to George Street and Coleman Place is three storeys. Right throughout the buildings, everything has been carried out on a generous scale, giving a maximum of display space, and that important matter, light for the interior. The floor space is very considerable, being in all very near equal to an acre.

Entering through the four handsome arcade windows from the Square, the Manchester department is reached, this having now been in use for a few months. A panelled stairway leads to the flat (floor) above which is given over to that important part of the company's business, dressmaking. The workrooms facing the Square are lofty and well lit, and occupy the greater portion of this flat, a suite of fitting rooms and ladies' waiting rooms also occupying a considerable amount of room. Along the corridor from the Manchester department, and passing the commodious office the furnishing department is reached, this department having also entrances from George Street. Panelled and beamed ceilings, white plastered walls, and the latest and best in composition flooring, with plenty of light and space, make this a most desirable room in which to select furnishings. A handsome staircase leads to the second flat, which will at a later date be used as a tea room.

The third storey is for the present to be used to store the large reserve stocks the company is carrying. The firm, having command of ample capital, was able to place extensive orders for all classes of drapery goods prior to the recent increases of price, and they are thus in the fortunate position of having large stocks of goods that at present can only, in some cases, be obtained at a large advance in price - and in some cases cannot be obtained at all. In this connection the large space at the company's disposal will be of extreme benefit, as it will enable it to carry exceptionally large stocks, and give their customers the benefits of advantageous buying. Apart from the possibility of supplies in many cases being unprocurable consequent on the number of workers withdrawn from their manufacture at Home on account of the war, a very serious position is threatened, as in many cases famine prices are likely to prevail.

Considerable alterations have been made to the interior arrangements of the existing buildings, the display windows of which have been modernised, and with their richly panelled backgrounds present a handsome appearance. The boot department has been enlarged, and is now better lighted, thus affording better opportunities for displaying the goods.

The departments that cater for the etceteras of a lady's toilet, laces, gloves, hosiery, neckwear, etc, have been brought together, and are all handy to the main entrance. The dress department occupies three sides of a square, and in this spacious, well-lighted room, ladies will be able to make their selections in comfort. Alongside is the ladies' underclothing and children's section, compactly arranged, yet sufficiently roomy. The showroom, which has an entrance from George Street, is a most attractive quarter of the premises. Carpeted and panelled in brown, it presents a pleasing appearance with its fine display of millinery, costumes, coats, etc.

A special feature about the firm's premises is the ample space afforded for window displays. These are particularly large, giving opportunity to make displays that are both striking and artistic. In all the company has for the display of their goods some 18 windows that are tastefully dressed and enhance the general appearance of the building. That full advantage is taken of the space is evident by the fine result of the window dressers' efforts.

The firm at present employs about 100 hands in the various branches, and from time to time it is necessary to increase the number as business increases -this also being the reason for the large additions to the premises that has lately been made. The firm is now in a position to satisfactorily display their wares and deal with their steadily increasing business.

The firm invites the public and visitors to Palmerston to pay a visit of inspection to their new premises.[8]

Lesley Courtney, in her book, The House that Quality and Value Built, writes that not long after the new buildings opened, a tea and luncheon room was established on the first floor of the new Coleman Place building. This room not on a grand scale, but was convenient for shoppers and could be hired for functions. The tearooms were not a great success, losing money from the start. This was blamed on poor management, but changing that in the early 1920s did not resolve the problem. In 1922, the tearooms were re-equipped and re-established. When the new building facing The Square was complete in 1928, the new Rosco tearooms were on the second floor of the building overlooking The Square. The old tearooms then closed, and a week later - on 13 September - reopened in their new location as the Rosco Luncheon and Tea Rooms.[9] However, the old tearooms soon had a new tenant that remained for the next five decades.

Manawatu County Club Inc
On 28 November 1928, the Manawatu Evening Standard's reporter, writing under the non-de-plume Germaine, wrote in her column Women's World of a new club that had arrived on the local scene:  For several weeks past an energetic and well organised committee has been working and planning and forming a club for women under the name of The Manawatu County Club, and at last their labours have nearly reached completion. The clubrooms are situated in the huge, well lit room that was formerly the CM Ross Co's tea room, with its entrance on Coleman Place. This has been divided so as to form a lounge and reading room, tea room, rest room, card or tearooms, and big entrance lobby where members can read the latest periodicals, entertain a friend to afternoon or morning tea, or while away an hour in comfortable idleness. A big membership is already making the committee's effort worthwhile and naturally, as the membership grows, so will the comforts and advantages of the club keep pace.[10]

The following day, the club held its first meeting, the report duly featuring in the newspaper the day after: At half-past two yesterday afternoon the Manawatu County Club held its first general meeting in its newly established clubrooms, Coleman Place. A big muster of members turned up and everything helped to make the occasion a great success. Mr WL Fitzherbert kindly presided at the meeting and at the end auctioned the periodicals for the ensuing year.

After the meeting the president and committee of the club entertained the members and friends at an afternoon tea and the clubrooms were most beautifully decorated for the occasion. The entrance lobby is done in blue and gold, with all woodwork stained dark walnut, which shows up the curtains of gold striped silk and the chair cushions of gold. Three small card rooms and a tea room open off the lobby which has a big blue and rose Malabar rug on the floor. The tea tables this afternoon were dainty with Iceland poppies and bowls of yellow irises and antirrhinums were placed on tables and ledges to complete the colour scheme.

Swing doors lead from the lobby to the lounge which has large Malabar rungs in soft shades of pink and maize and blue. Comfortable chairs and roomy sofas have cushions of blue and gold and the softest pink and the curtains of maize coloured net at the windows match the colouring of the long cretonne ones. Here, artists in floral decoration had placed large bowls of pink and white Watsonias, blue delphiniums and larkspurs, catmint and lupins and roses, and again roses.

The article then went on to describe in detail the clothing worn by the president (Mrs Putnam), the vice-president (Mrs Fitzherbert), the Treasurer (Mrs Davis) and the six committee members. In addition to adding that the rooms were filled almost to capacity, and that the daughters of the committee members served the afternoon tea, the report named some 128 women who were present, before finishing the list with the words "and many others".[11] The club was duly incorporated on 5 December 1928.[12]

Club members accessed the clubrooms through the entrance on the left side of the building's Coleman Place façade. At the top of the stairs, they turned right to the club, or left to visit the various tenanted offices in the Norfolk House building. If they needed to use a lift, they used the department store lift to the first floor and came into the clubrooms through the back way.

Noticeable amongst those present at the first general meeting in 1928 was Mrs JA Nash, owner of the Nash Building across the street in George Street. Also present was Mrs Relling, who five years later bought the (yet to be so named) Norfolk House building. It must have been with some relief that the women found they now had some control over future tenants of that building, and therefore whom they might meet in the staircase. For example, this study has shown that there were probably enough billiard parlours in the immediate vicinity already.

Local historian Noeline Penny, who has been a member since the 1950s, said that country women would spend time at the clubrooms when they came to town with husbands who were going to stock sales, or to conduct business, etc. A 1992 article on the club said that it was originally formed after several women had felt the area had a need for a women's social club. The resulting club had been based on an English idea in which members took part in circles or interest groups. At that time, the circles included bridge, arts and garden circles.[13]

Plans dated February 1967 in the PNCC Building Permit file for this building, are for alterations to the Manawatu County Club's rooms. At this time, the room inside the bay windows transformed from a library to being a powder room, with two toilets being installed there. Meanwhile a small lounge became an enlarged office and the new library. The kitchen was also upgraded and the old toilet area was remodelled into a small lounge. Thus the clubrooms now had two toilets, instead of previously just one.[14]

The Manawatu County Club occupied the first floor of this building until 1980, when the building's current owners required the space for themselves. The club had learned that it was to lose its home in 1979, and the following year, after almost 52 years in the building, it relocated to the Grand Hotel building. A short time later it moved to the Manawatu (men's) Club on the corner of Linton and Church Streets. The club stayed there until 1992 when it purchased its present rooms, the former Salvation Army Hall on the corner of Fitzroy and Main Streets.[15] At present the club is in the process of compiling its history by taping interviews with older members for eventual deposit in the city's community archives. [16]

The CM Ross & Co Ltd department store, popularly known as Rosco's, became Milne & Choyce in 1959, and then the DIC in 1966. The DIC group was sold to the Arthur Barnett firm in 1987, and then in 1989, the building was rebranded as an Arthur Barnett store. The store closed in August 1991, and the Palmerston North City Council then purchased the property in 1992 for conversion to the present city library. The new library opened on 25 May 1996.

Following the subdivision of the former Arthur Barnett store property, this property (Lot 1) was sold, while the balance (Lot 2) is now the library land. Lot 1 is now owned by Valmont Ltd.

Additions & Alterations
Leaving aside the dramatic library alterations to the back of the building (these being covered in PNCC Building Permit file C70/10-16), a noticeable change is to some of the building's first floor windows. The bay window and left side window appear to be the same as original, however, the pair of triple windows on either side of the bay window had an upward rise at the centre of the cross bar below the fanlights. This rise affected the middle panes only. The first floor windows on the George Street façade of this building were identical, as was the main window above the George Street entrance (now the library's George Street entrance). The latter window and the two side windows closest to it (of four, the remaining two being new) were recycled from the 1916 building in The Square during the 1927-28 rebuild. The windows in the building being studied here were still present around 1950, but were gone by the 1980s, and different ones still are there now.[17]


The above 1916 article refers to the other George Street entrance (now the library's George Street entrance) as being the main one to the store from that street, and it is unclear as to activities on this building's ground floor. Early photos of the building only show signage for the tearooms. By the 1980s it housed the DIC's home appliance department.[18]

Ground Floor
Now - Angkor Family Restaurant, (4 Coleman Place)

First Floor        
1916-1928 - Rosco Tearooms
1928-1980 - Manawatu County Club
Now - 31 George St - Black Sheep Design

Second Floor
1916 - Rosco storage space for stock
Now - Unknown

Directories (Coleman Place entries only, some certainly in the next building)

Wises 1922-25 - CM Ross tearooms; CM Ross & Co Ltd, drapers (branch)

Stones 1933 - Rosco Buildings: John King Watchmaker etc; Bradfield's Florist Studios (Miss Joan Bradfield, manageress); Grover & Whitehead (Frank G & Miss Elsie W), pram & seagrass furniture; Williams & McKegg (Amos R McKegg & OH Williams), dentists (who are understood to have been upstairs in the Norfolk House building, but using the staircase in this building); Manawatu County Club (Mrs Madge Harman, secretary); CM Ross & Co Ltd, furnishing depts.

Wises 1936-54 - 10 Coleman Pl - Williams & McKegg, dentists; Manawatu County Club; CM Ross & Co Ltd, furniture dealers

Wises 1957 - 10 Coleman Pl - Mrs HM Foster's dressmaking service depot; McKegg & Andrews, dentists; Manawatu County Club; CM Ross & Co Ltd, furniture dept

Wises 1959-60 - 10 Coleman Pl - HM Foster Ltd, dress accessories; First Floor: McKegg & Andrews, dentists; Manawatu County Club; CM Ross & Co Ltd, furniture dept.

Only limited CTs were sighted relating to this building - during this study of what is a complex collection of library-land CTs prior to the current ones. For the purposes of assisting future researchers of this site, some additional background detail has been supplied above. When the history of the Manawatu County Club is compiled and/or deposited in the Ian Matheson City Archives as is planned, it should contain some very useful social history relating to the club's time in this building. CM Ross & Co Ltd records held by the Te Manawa Museums Trust, would also add to the story.

Architectural Description 

The building is designed in the Inter-War Free Classical style where Classical elements and details are used in the elevation design in a non-academic manner.  Above the verandah is an asymmetrical façade design including a parapet with pilasters, a curved pediment with apron panel with AD 1915 inscribed, an exaggerated cornice with dentils, giant ordered pilasters with panels and brackets in an Art Nouveau style, and a bay window with a half domed roof in an Arts and Crafts style. 

The ground floor shop fronts have been modified significantly.

The description of the planning and construction of the building are given above.

Statement of Significance 

This building has highregional significance for historical and design values, and representivity of building style. 

This remaining building has highemotional and historic values in its association with the CM Ross and Co department store and its successor, Milne and Choyce.  The store was regarded as an institution in the city.  The 1927 building was the firm's crowning achievement and at the time the grandest department store yet erected in Palmerston North. It is also associated with the Manawatu Country Club a tenant for over 50 years

The building is also historically associated with its architect, William Fielding, who maintained a successful practice in Wellington in the first half of the twentieth century.

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

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 building's above verandah street façade design has moderate levels of authenticity.  

[1] An early CT connected to this property was WN8/199, which predates 1880.  However, none prior to 1996 were sighted for this study.  The 'historical CT' of WN48B/603 was also not sighted in relation to any ownership changes that might have occurred between 1997, and Valmont Ltd's ownership of it.

[2] AGS Bradfield, Forgotten Days (PN, 1956), p167

[3]Wellington Provincial Government Gazette 1867, p19. Section 331 was purchased for £25 and measured 1 acre, 1 rood. The remaining CTs referred to are from the other library properties covered in this study.

[4] Lesley Courtney, The House that Quality and Value Built: The CM Ross Co Ltd, Story (PN 2008), pp 4, 6

[5] Pam Phillips Papers, 'Tenders in the Manawatu Evening Standard', in PN Architects 1900-1950, Vol 5, p58, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[6] Building Permit Register, Vol 1, Permit 1998, PNCC Archives 4/13/1, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[7] This house appears in Photo St10 in the Photographic Collection of the PN City Library, and on page 4 of Lesley Courtney's book The House that Quality and Value Built.

[8]Manawatu Evening Standard 19 April 1916 6(2)

[9] Lesley Courtney, The House that Quality and Value Built, pp 8, 11

[10]Manawatu Evening Standard 28 November 1928 11(4)

[11]Manawatu Evening Standard 30 November 1928 8(5). Also 1 December 1928 18(2)

[12] Companies Office website. No 215589

[13]Manawatu Evening Standard 2 September 1992, p14

[14] PNCC Building Permit file 'C70 County Club'

[15]Manawatu Evening Standard 2 September 1992, p14

[16] Personal interviews with Judy Yates (current president) and Gregor Yates, 6 March 2010, and Noeline Penny, 5 March 2010.

[17] Lesley Courtney, The House that Quality and Value Built, pp.12, 35

[18] Lesley Courtney, The House that Quality and Value Built, pp.12, 35