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268-270 Cuba Street - Mowlem Building

Mowlem -Buildings

Building Details

Building Name: Mowlem Building (formerly Costas)
Address: 268-270 Cuba Street
Construction date: 1928
Architect:  C Tilleard Natusch & Son
Builder: Anderson & Williamson
District Plan Category: 2
Building number: 57
Heritage NZ Category: Nil 

Physical and Social History

For about fifty years this building was associated with the Para Rubber Company Ltd, while for about thirty years it housed a billiard saloon - for which the first floor was purpose-built. More recently the building has been used as various food outlets.

Prior History
Much of the prior history of this property is covered with the story of the other building on this property, namely the Mowlem Buildings-1925 at 161-163 The Square.

This building is on the former site of the Theatre Royal that burnt down on 22 February 1924. The c1912 photo Sq142 (taken from the clock tower of the old main Post Office) from the Photographic Collection at the PN City Library shows a large single gabled hall-like building on this site. It had begun as the back portion (possibly the main hall) of the Theatre Royal. In 1904, the Theatre Royal had been converted to shops, and by February 1924, the building on this site had become the Empire Auction Mart. The fire on the night of 22 February started in the centre of the block bounded by Cuba Street and The Square, and at the back of the Empire Auction Mart building.[1]

By the time the fire brigade arrived (from Coleman Place), the flames from this building were described as shooting some 30 feet above the roof of what was probably a two-storied building. The building was completely destroyed.

This Building

The architects for the replacement of the building at The Square end of the property were HL Hickson & AR Allen, their plans being dated 14 November 1924. Hickson & Allen also designed a two-storied building of compatible style for this site as part of the 1924-25 project. However, it is crossed out on the blueprints. The discarded plan shows the first floor as being as well lit as the present one in terms of windows, skylights, etc., and so it may also have been intended as a billiard room. While we can only speculate as to why the Hickson & Allen building was not proceeded with, it is noteworthy that Fred Mowlem died on 22 November 1925 - before the building in The Square was complete.[2]

The architectural firm C Tilleard Natusch & Sons was appointed by the Mowlem Estate to design this building, and its blueprints are dated November 1927. Its building permit (No 299) was issued on 25 January 1928 and the cost of the new building was £3,300. The builders were Anderson & Williamson, who the following year built the Elgin Buildings on the corner of Cuba and Bourke Streets, and which is also covered in this study. The 1927-28 Rate book records the £3,300 increase in value to the property for shops in Cuba Street. It also shows two sets of alterations apparently involving the 1925 building, which totalled £244.[3]

The plans show the ground floor as a large open room with a concrete floor. There were doors permitting pedestrian access on the left side of the building - one leading upstairs and one giving access to the ground floor room. The right side of the room had a pair of what were described on the plans as collapsible (folding) doors. These created a 12 feet wide opening through which to admit goods. This space is now the frontage of the Hawaiian Takeaways shop.

The first floor was a purpose-built billiard room that could accommodate six billiard tables. This room had a concrete floor and three large skylights - one above each pair of billiard tables. The room also had six sets of three electric lights, which were to suspend over the six billiard tables. The room also had an office and kitchen.

There was also a narrow ground floor passageway leading in the direction of The Square end of the building between the building's outer wall on the western side, and the western side of the large ground floor room. This is described as a fire egress passage in 1983 plans of the building during the Hawaiian Takeaways conversion. The 1927 plans also show the words Mowlem Building written across the upper front of the building.[4]

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 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.[5]

Street Address Confusions
The compilers of the WisesDirectories in the 1920s and early 1930s faced difficulties when recording the occupancy of this building. This possibly resulted from the street number (No 106) seemingly having been reallocated (by the Directories at least) to the next building along on the Rangitikei Street side after the 1924 fire. This was no problem during the four years where there was no building on this site. However, when this building was erected, there was no number available for it until the next renumbering of Cuba Street in the early 1930s. Note that Cuba Street was renumbered quite regularly then, as its numbering starts at the western end. This meant that every time the street was extended for a new housing subdivision, all the previously existing properties in the street needed to be renumbered. This dilemma is apparent with all the Cuba Street buildings covered in this study.

Another confusion that appears in the Directories is that they give the appearance that there were billiard rooms at both ends of this property. In reality it was almost certainly just one billiard room that had two street addresses. This again may have been influenced by the aforementioned street numbering problem in Cuba Street.

Adding to the confusion, one of the earliest tenants of this building (possibly the original ground floor tenant), the Premier Tyre & Vulcanising Co Ltd, was the neighbour of this building at the time of the fire. However, by 1931, the tyre dealership was certainly a tenant in this building. Its address was 106 Cuba Street in both the 1925 and 1927 Wises Directories when it was in the neighbouring building, and still was in the 1931 Directory when it was in this building. The billiard room had the street address 106a Cuba Street in that Directory.

The Premier Tyre & Vulcanising Co Ltd
At the time of the 1924 fire, the Premier Tyre & Vulcanising Co Ltd[6] was the immediate neighbour on the eastern side of the Empire Auction Mart. As a precaution, all its tyres and rubber goods had been quickly removed to safety. However, the building the firm then occupied was unharmed.[7]

The 1930 Wises Directory lists the firm (as Henry J Turner's tyre dealership) as being at 106 Cuba Street - however, it is not clear which of the adjoining buildings it then occupied. The firm clearly had moved by the 1931 Wises Directory, however. Henry J Turner was still proprietor of the tyre dealership when the 1933 Wises Directory was compiled. However, AJ Thompson was proprietor of what was again listed as the Premier Vulcanising Works by the time the Stones Directory was printed in November 1933. The relationship between this firm and the Para Rubber Co Ltd was not researched, although there very likely was one.

The Para Rubber Company
The Para Rubber Co Ltd started its Palmerston North business in about 1918 and then moved to Rangitikei Street in 1920. The shop moved to at least one of the buildings on this property - and probably both - in about 1934, with this building serving as its repair depot. This company's story is covered with the history of the  Mowlem Buildings-1925 at 161-163 The Square.

In 1983, the Para Rubber Company relocated to the former Salvation Citadel in Broadway (now the Barris shop) that was more than twice the size of this one. By that time it had been one of 30 Para Rubber Company branches throughout New Zealand.[8]

The building in about 1950 as the Para Rubber Company's repair department. Note the blinds in the billiard room windows. The skylights are not evident in the modern Geo-Guide photo of the building.  Photo from the Whites Aviation Ltd publication Palmerston North & District, New Zealand (Auckland, 1950), p2.

John G Fitzgerald's Billiard Saloon
The first floor of this building was a purpose-built billiard room, and the Wises Directory lists this business between 1930-1960, although it did not necessarily start or close at those times.

In addition to having two addresses in the Directories, there was some confusion in the 1930-1933 Wises Directories as to the name of the proprietor of the billiard saloon at its various addresses. Sometimes he is given as JD Fitzgerald, and other times he is Jno G Fitzgerald ('Jno' being the abbreviation of John in the Directories). However, JD Fitzgerald appears to be an error, as no-one with those initials was located in other sources around that time. The proprietor was almost certainly always John Garet Fitzgerald - the compilers of the Directories not having local knowledge and building plans to fall back on.

The 1931 Palmerston North Electoral Roll lists John Garet Fitzgerald, billiard parlour proprietor, of 16 Rangitikei Street. By the 1938 Roll he has married Alice Elizabeth and is living at 95 Featherston Street. The 1936 Stones Directory lists his billiard saloon as having addresses at 274 Cuba Street and 124 The Square. He had another second billiard saloon at 87 Devon Street East in New Plymouth. The 1940 Stones Directory also lists his businesses, although the street numbers had been changed to 276, 113 and 73a Devon Street West respectively. No telephone number for the billiard saloon was located in pre-1960s phonebooks, although the Fitzgeralds' home was listed.

The PNCC cemetery records list John Fitzgerald, billiard room proprietor, who died aged 88 on 28 May 1973. His headstone, in the Returned Servicemen's section of the Kelvin Grove Cemetery, indicates that he served as a private in the Otago Regiment during the First World War.

A pair of photos (ST114) from the PN City Library collection, which are dated c17 November 1982, show this building with semi-legible writing on the upper façade. This might be a word like Bella's, however, no such title appears in the relevant phonebooks. The sign might also have been left over from the billiard saloon days.

Since that time, the first floor appears to have been used for at least two decades as a restaurant - Manelito's around 1985, and then Costa's between about 1987 and about 2006.[9] However, it appears to now be unoccupied, with chairs visible stacked against the windows.

Hawaiian Café & Hawaiian Takeaways
C100/278 includes plans and alterations in 1983 for Pmuong Lam to fit out a takeaway bar in the old Para Rubber building in Cuba Street. This was to be named the Hawaiian Restaurant & Takeaway. It was also potentially to be joined in future with the Hatter's Restaurant, then at 196 The Square - which is the 1925 Mowlem Building. A permit was requested for further alterations in 1987. The Hawaiian Café & Hawaiian Takeaways is still present.

Wises 1929 - 106 Cuba St - Premier Tire & Vulcanising Co Ltd (?)
Wises 1930 - 106 Cuba St - Henry J Turner, tyre dealer;
Wises 1931-33 - 106 (& 270) Cuba St - Henry J Turner, tyre dealer
Stones 1933 - 270-272 Cuba St - Premier Vulcanising Works, AJ Thompson, proprietor
1934 - Para Rubber Co Ltd moves into building in Square backing onto this one.
Wises 1936-60 - 270 Cuba St - Para Rubber Co Ltd's repair depot.
1983 - Para Rubber Co Ltd moved elsewhere
1983-now - 274 Cuba St - Hawaiian Café & Hawaiian Takeaways

Wises 1930 - 124 Square John G Fitzgerald, billiard saloon
Wises 1931 - 106a Cuba St (as 'JG')/124 Square - as JD Fitzgerald, billiard saloon
Wises 1933 - 274 Cuba St/124 Square - JD Fitzgerald, billiard saloon
1933-36 - 274 Cuba St - John G Fitzgerald, billiard saloon (Stones & Wises)
Wises 1939 - 274 Cuba St/124 Square - John G Fitzgerald, billiard saloon
Wises 1944-60 - 276 Cuba St/113 Square - John G Fitzgerald, billiard saloon
1985 phonebook - 282 Cuba St - Manelito's of Mexico Restaurant
1987-2006 phonebook - 282 Cuba St - Costa's Restaurant
2010 - unknown

Architectural Description 

The building is designed in the Spanish Mission style, which was to become the most common style in Hawkes Bay following the 1931 earthquake.  The street façade is simple, but follows the general characteristic stepped parapet with parallel semi-circular headed windows and with continuous sill moulding above the verandah.

The below verandah has been modified from the original. 

The plan is described above.  The exterior is cement rendered.

Statement of Significance 

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

This building has high historic values for its uses, particularly as a billiard saloon.  This was one of at least five in this block over the years, and is one of two of these that are known to have been purpose-built.  The other is the nearby former Cosmopolitan Club building, which is also covered in this study.  The building also has high emotional values as an example of the male-orientated culture of billiard saloons in their day.

The building has highhistoric values as it's architect was, CT Natusch whose practice was one of the most significant of the first half of the 20th century in New Zealand.

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

The building has high design values as a rare representative example of the Spanish Mission style, pointing to the predominant style to be used after the Napier earthquake, with Natusch's firm designing a number in the city following the disaster.

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] The Empire Auctioneering Company and its premises, the Empire Auction Mart, are outlined in the history of 260-262 Cuba Street - the building that firm moved to after the 1924 fire.

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

[3] 1922-1935 Building Permit Register, Vol 3, PNCC 4/13/1; Hickson & Allen plans 14 November 1924, and Natusch November 1927 plans 530/196-198, PNCC 4/13/6, PNCC Rate Books between 1927 and 1935. Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library. Note also that the Heritage Trails booklet 'Undercover Art Deco Palmerston North', erroneously dated this building as built "around 1934".

[4] PNCC 4/13/6, Plan 530/196-198, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library

[5] 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.

[6] This shop might have been connected to the Premier Tyre and General Vulcanizing Company Ltd for which material is held at Archives New Zealand, Wellington. Ref: CO-W, W3445, 263*, 1923/8. This was not sighted for this study.

[7]Manawatu Daily Times 23 February 1924 7(4-6)

[8]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)

[9] Manawatu phonebook entries