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304 Church Street - Theosophical Hall

Theosophical Hall


Building Details

Building name: Theosophical Hall
Address: 304 Church Street
Construction date: 1924
Architect: AR Allen
Architectural Style: Edwardian Baroque
District Plan Category: 1
Building number: 23
Heritage NZ Category: Nil

Heritage Values

The building has significant spiritual values as a place to study philosophy, religions, and spirituality.  The meditation room, in particular, has been described as having a sense of calm ideal for its purpose.  The building has emotional values for members and visitors who have used the building for their own enlightenment.

The Society was formed in 1911, a relatively short time after the movement's establishment in 1882, with which it is intimately associated.  The building is approximately 80 years old and has some age value in a city, which has a relatively recent history and is a measure of changes in building forms, styles and types over that period.

The building was the first to be purpose designed for electricity in Palmerston North. 

The building is located on Church Street which also has many of the city's religious organisations such as the nearby All Saints Anglican, the Manawatu-Kilwinning Lodge, the former Baptist Union Church, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, and the First Church of Christ Scientist. 

Architectural Design

The building is designed in the Edwardian Baroque style, a style popular in the Edwardian period particularly for large civic and governmental buildings.  The style was known as English Renaissance at the time and was seen as a truly national style in England and her Empire.  It was a style that was adopted by the serious architects who considered Gothic architecture as irrelevant and old fashioned, and the Classical Beaux-Art architecture of France as 'foreign'. 

The original and its revival is characterised by exuberance, movement, curvaceous forms, theatrical illusionist effects and cunningly contrived and complex spatial relationships often involving centralised planning, syncopation of elliptical plans, and startling use of colour and modelling so that sometimes it is difficult to see where the three-dimensional architectural details ends and painted illusions begins.[2]

The English precedence of Sir Christopher Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawskmoore was significant in the new revival and important English architects who practised the style from the 1880's included Eden Nesfield, Norman Shaw, John Brydon and Edwin Lutyens. Art Nouveau architect, Charles Macintosh and Arts and Crafts architects such as Edward Prior also used the style. 

The use of Baroque in New Zealand was largely influenced by the works of Government Architect, John Campbell, in Parliament Buildings and the many post offices throughout New Zealand in the early part of the twentieth century.  Visible features in New Zealand are exaggerated, highly ornate classical details such as over size columns, pilasters, cornices and decorative architraves around openings.

The Theosophical Hall front elevation maintains this general style, although on a small scale.  The building is symmetrical about the front façade with quoined giant order pilasters, wide pedimented cornice and cartouche style ornamentation around the Theosophical symbol and the main entrance window.  The entrance has smaller plain pilasters on the same base as the main body of the building.

The remainder of the building is largely unornamented. 

The building is constructed of timber framed roof with corrugated steel roofing over the hall and rear.  The entry and new toilets are roofed with flat galvanised sheet and corrugated steel.  The principal walls are constructed of plastered brickwork with timber framed and clad flooring.

The plan is simple with (originally) a symmetrical entrance, hall and kitchen and meditation rooms behind the hall.  The store and toilet are housed in a lean-to at the rear.  The symmetry of the front has been modified with the new toilets added in 1962.

The main hall floor remains sloping as the original use of the hall was as for lectures.

Arthur Robert Allen was the architect of the building.  His obituary in 1963 stated that: The late Mr Arthur Robert Allen, FNZIA, who passed away in July, was a prominent architect in Palmerston North for the past 40 years. Born in Napier 76 years ago, he spent his early life there and practiced his profession with the late Mr Leslie Hay of that city.  He played a large part in the rebuilding of Dannevirke after the great fire there.

Coming to Palmerston North, his first building was for the CM Ross Co, the premises now occupied by Messrs Milne and Choyce. He also designed many other buildings, houses, shops and churches around the city and was responsible for the Hutt Valley building scheme for the Government. His last works were the seed testing station in Church Street and the Izadium.

He was a Freemason and a member of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. He leaves a widow and a grown up family and an elder brother, Mr WJ Allen, of Feilding.

Herbert Alexander Westerholm[1] 
AR Allen's partner was Herbert Alexander Westerholm.  Herbert Alexander Westerholm, an architect who assisted with rebuilding following the 1931 Napier earthquake, possibly worked in the Dannevirke area before entering a partnership in 1932 with Napier architect, Walter P Finch.  The publication Discovering Art Deco: a guide to the Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture of Napier and Hastings (p13), describes Westerholm as the more progressive of the two partners, and as a versatile architect who designed freezing works, wool stores, commercial and domestic buildings.  He was possibly responsible for Spanish style buildings such as Napier's State Cinema and the Provincial Hotel, which Finch & Westerholm designed.

Statement of Significance

The Palmerston North Theosophical Hall is significant as one of a group of religious buildings located in Church Street, which still retains its original spiritual function and is designed in a style, although diminutive, enhances the streetscape.  The building is associated with the electricity industry being the first building to be designed for its use.

[1] Mosquitoes & Sawdust: a history of Scandinavians in early Palmerston North & surrounding districts by Val Burr (Scandinavian Club of Manawatu, Palmerston North, 1995, p158)

[2] JS Curl, Encyclopaedia of Architectural Terms, Donhead, London, 1992, page 41.