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37 George Street - Library/DIC building

Library -DIC

Building Details

Building Name: Library\DIC Building
Address: 37 George Street
Construction date: Stage 1: c1905. Stage 2: 1927
Architect: Stage 1: Unknown, Stage 2: AR Allen & HL Hickson
Builder: Stage 1: Unknown. Stage 2: McMillan Bros
District Plan Category: Street Character 23
Building number: 94
Heritage NZ Category: Nil

Physical and Social History 

This building is now the George Street entrance to the Palmerston North City Library, and it is linked both physically, as well as through its shared history, to the ownership of the main part of the library building - that part fronting The Square. It was built in two stages by the firm CM Ross & Co Ltd, more or less taking its present form in 1927-28 as part of the main construction work facing The Square.

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 it in 1992 for conversion to a new city library. The new Central Library was opened on 25 May 1996.

The Building

Lesley Courtenay's booklet, The House that Quality and Value Built: The CM Ross Co Ltd story, records that in 1905, the firm built a brick building behind the story that gave it a George Street frontage. A photo of that building dated c1908 is published on page 4 of the book. This shows a single storey brick building with a wide central entranceway, bordered by two large windows. This same single storey building is still present in a postcard on page 8 of the book, and dated between 1916 and 1926.

Plans showing the present building are located at the Ian Matheson City Archives. One set of these is entitled "George St Elevation - Showing Additional Storey". This plan shows this building, but with some different features. Plan No 9 of the Allen-Hickson (1927-28) set, shows the building's new façade, including the words "The CM Ross Co Ltd" to be written at the top beneath the flag pole, while three of the five first floor windows were recorded on the plans as being reused. In fact the central three windows were being recycled from their present situation  - which was at the other end of the building facing The Square, and from the part of the building that had been erected in 1915-16. Meanwhile those of either side of the recycled windows were to be new, but identical. Although the large central window has been replaced (like all of the same design on the neighbouring old tearooms building of the same vintage, which were gone by the 1980s), the other four appear very similar to the set installed here in 1927-28.

Plan 11 of this set, by architects AR Allen & HL Hickson, shows the ground floor of existing work. This goes from The Square to George Street and shows the George Street end to be a large showroom. The exterior walls were not to be disturbed, but all the other walls were to be removed.

In 1928, a building permit was issued to CM Ross Co Ltd, for a building in George Street, to the value of £8,000. The Building Permit Register indicates that it was of brick or concrete.[2] Possibly this was an adjoining building on the Main Street of this building.

At present this building is occupied by the city library, and also by the firm Bruce McKenzie Books, which occupies the ground floor shop at 37 George St.

Additional information on this block of buildings is located in the studies of the other three Rosco buildings covered here (those in Coleman Place and the main one facing The Square), and all four should be read in conjunction. Further research is required to clarify some matters relating to the chronology of this building, including its registration with the NZ Historic Places Trust on 2 July 1982.

Architectural Description

The alterations of 1928 modified the existing single storey building to the current two storey building to have a consistent style to the main C and M Ross store, Chicagoesque.  This was a style that came from the steel framed buildings of Chicago of the early 20 century which were faced with a façade using the architectural language of Classical architecture.  Consistent with the style, the Library exterior design is characterised by the exuberant use of Classical elements such as large cornices, and giant orders, but with a horizontal and vertical emphasis and large areas of glass, allowed for by the use of a steel frame.

The interior of the building was largely removed in the 1997 redevelopment of the library, leaving only the exterior walls.

Statement of Significance 

This entire library building has high regional significance for historical and design values, representivity of building style and level of external authenticity. 

This entire library building has high historic and emotional values in its historic 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.  The building has successfully been redeveloped as the city library, which retains the focus it once had as the premier department store. 

The building also has high historic values in its association with the architect of the 1928 alterations, AR Allen, a Palmerston North architect of the mid twentieth century who designed buildings in Napier, Gisborne, and Palmerston North.  HL Hickson, with whom Allen designed the building, practised for a period up until 1935 with Rotorua architect HE Goodwin.  It is also associated with the architectural firm, Athfield Architects Ltd, who designed the redevelopment and whose design was awarded a NZIA National award.

The building is 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 is largely authentic.

[1] PNCC Schedule of Buildings and Objects of Cultural Heritage Value

[2] Building Permit Register, Vol 3, p393, 1928, PNCC 4/13/1, Ian Matheson City Archives, PN City Library