Colourful life for historic Palace building

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 13:00 19/11/2010
Historic Auckland building the Palace Hotel was demolished overnight.
PHIL DOYLE/Fairfax Zoom
The demolition of the historic Auckland building the Palace Hotel.

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It might just be time, dodgy design and a bit of God's wrath at prostitution, but the end of the Palace or Aurora Hotel in downtown Auckland was somewhat inevitable.

That's the view of historian Lisa Truttman who has charted, among other things, the life and times of what was once a glorious pub trade on the western ridge overlooking Queen Street.

"It's a sad moment really, but it had to happen, it couldn't have stayed."

The whole thing, she said, was a patched-up array of lean-to buildings, additions and changes which would probably be outlawed these days.

It started out, she says, as a small corner hotel but in the 1890s there was a population and worker boom in Auckland. Rooms was added on where ever they could be, in an effort to increase the cash flow.

Truttman who blogs on Auckland history, said it was perhaps appropriate that the pub came apart just as it was being prepared for yet another population boom - Rugby World Cup men wanting to visit a brothel.

She said many old and even new building exteriors cracked but she did not know what bought the Palace down.

"It could be anything really, vibration from the road, age, anything."

For a large period of its recent life, the building had been neglected and received little maintenance.

The original hotel was wooden, dating back to around 1852.

A famous Irish publican, Paddy Gleeson, said to have fought in the battle of Eureka Stockade in Australia, took it over and bowled it.

He owned many of the bars on the ridge, including the upmarket Empire Hotel, the bar of choice to the stars of television.

Truttman has the original agreement Gleeson signed with the original owner in which it was agreed that at Gleeson's "expense, own cost and charges erect build and complete for occupation and use upon the said parcel of land ... a two-storey messuage or Hotel in substantial accordance with the plans elevations and specifications already submitted between the said parties hereto ..."

Messuage is not a typo of massage; in those days "messuage" usually meant a dwelling house complete with land and outbuildings.

It was two storeys - then it somehow became three.

Gleeson leased the hotel to Moss Davis in 1891, so it followed from there that it became a Hancocks Hotel, later in the name of the Captain Cook Brewery from 1898.

Dominion Breweries leased the hotel from 1936.

Patrick Gleeson died in 1916, but it wasn't until around 1961 that the family finally relinquished title to the site.

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Truttman says the building has had various owners and leaseholders since then, and various names including Paua Palace, the Palace Casino and The Palace.

In 1990 Peter Shaw in Metro charted the history of the city bars.

"The Aurora is in a sad state today.... The walls of its public bar are a nicotine-stained dirty cream colour and decorated with greatly enlarged, out-of-focus rugby photographs left over from the era of six o'clock closing....

"The Aurora's two upper floors are almost derelict except for a thin layer of white paint which has been splashed along one corridor where a few staff members have their rooms.

"The top floor is unfit for human habitation and there appears to be no plans to make it so."

What's left of the Victorian era corner pubs of Auckland?

The Albion is still there, across the road from Sky City on Hobson Street.

The Empire stands on Nelson Street, and the Shakespeare, which in the 90s was pink, is on Albert Street.

The grand Naval and Family Hotel is on Karangahape Road and the Edinburgh Castle is on Symonds Street.

Then there is the Birdcage - once on a corner near Victoria Park. At vast cost it has been put on rollers and moved from what next year will be the entrance to the Victoria Park tunnel.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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