Standing the test of time

The 1926 opening of the Tekapo Buildings on the eastern side of Stafford St was hailed with much descriptive writing in the Timaru Herald. Eighty-three years later, many of the original features of the building remain.

March 13, 1926 – Standing out conspicuously among the commercial houses of the town, Tekapo Buildings form a striking architectural feature of Timaru, just as the turquoise blue lake, after which they were named, forms an arresting and pleasing spectacle in the Mackenzie Country.

It had become a habit at one time to suppose that the northern end of Stafford St on the sea side would never be required for shops, but that conclusion is now well disposed of, the erection of Tekapo Buildings having given its final quietus. Now, the part of the town under notice presents as busy a spectacle as any other part, and the business people are kept as busily at work there as anywhere.

Tekapo Buildings are of commanding appearance and show something for the money which they and the section on which they are erected cost. Rising to a height of 42ft, the building contains 171,000[sq]ft of floor space in their three storeys, in addition to which they have a roomy basement. Erected in brick and ferro-concrete, they are nothing if not substantial, and as ferro-concrete improves rather than deteriorates with age, they promise always to maintain their present appearance of solidity and endurance.

The buildings have a frontage of 94ft to Stafford St north and a depth of 50ft. They are divided into five shops, each shop having a basement for storage purposes, and the shops are all on the ground floor. The second and third floors are all devoted to offices, of which there are 30 in all, every one fitted up in the best possible way. There is also a caretaker's basement, where the lift machinery and the heating plant are located.

The street elevation has been successfully treated in the Italian style in one order of Ionic columns, with entablature and frieze on top, the whole order being raised upon a bold string course above the veranda roof. The design has been kept strictly to classical models, with the frieze, mouldings and dentil course moulded medallion course to complete the whole design.

The facade is divided into eight bays of Ionic columns, the main entrance being located between two of the bays. To the visitor, it immediately conveys the idea of a structure of more than ordinary parts – as it certainly is.

The veranda is of the cantilever type, running the entire length of the front; and without any posts to obstruct the footway, it is supported by a rod from the base of each of the columns on the first floor. The veranda is made of steel work and is finished with a handsome ceiling of moulded fibre plaster.

The whole building is a striking example of substantial modern construction, the external walls being built of reinforced concrete, the roof of asphalt, and the window frames of steel.

Leading from the ground to the upper floors is a spacious stairway of easy tread. The marble dado of the stairway is done in panels of rouge and vein-grey marble from Australian quarries and polished locally.

The woodwork of the main corridor up the stair is of figured rimu and solid English oak panels. The woodwork of the shop fronts and entrance doors is of Australian blackwood, stained and French polished.

The various suites of offices have been designed to especially suit the requirements of those who are in them. They include, on the top floor, a photographer's studio with a large south light roof, dark rooms, waiting rooms and high-power electric equipment for night photography.

On going upstairs the splendid lighting of the offices is at once noticeable, and it is also seen that the American method of using glass partitions in the main corridors has been adopted, thus allowing the light to pass freely in all directions. These corridors have been designed with a panelled dado 3ft 6in high, with leadlights above, and a heavily moulded cornice, which is supported upon pilasters, spaced 12ft apart.

The shops are especially well lighted by a fanlight from the top of the cantilever veranda and by ventilating windows at the tops. The shops are connected at the back of a passageway which joins a right of way leading on to the main street. All the plaster work is finished in Keen's cement and has a surface as smooth as glass, and in appearance is as white and clean-looking as new paint.

The buildings will be flood-lighted outside and will be the first of their kind to be treated in this way in Timaru. All the lamps will be located on top of the veranda and they will throw the massive columns and rich cornices into high relief.

The entire buildings are heated by hot-water radiators. There is a radiator in each office and two in each shop. The heater for the hot-water system is of the Ideal type made in Nottingham, and is capable of being either coke or oil fired. The water system is what is known as "overhead" system; the offices have one system and the shops a separate one.

The upper floors are, of course, served by an elevator. This is of a specially heavy type, electrically driven, and can be controlled either by hand or by automatic button pressed by the passengers.

In business hours a lift attendant will always be in charge. A special feature is seen in the apparatus which causes the lift to stop during its passage up or down, if either of the lift doors open by accident. The lift is of English manufacture and is of the same type as is at present being installed on English battleships – the Smith Major type. The lift cage is of bronze and the protecting grille work in front of the cage is also of bronze.

Throughout the big building, the construction work leaves no room for improvement, and reflects credit on all concerned.

The building was designed by Mr Herbert Hall, who also supervised its erection and WJ Harding and Co were the contractors for the main construction; DJ Doyle did the painting and plumbing and installed the heating plant; Young Bros put in the electrical lift; and GJ Rush, the lighting installation.

It is intended to throw the buildings open for public inspection at an early date on some Friday afternoon and evening.

The Timaru Herald