Apartment Building

251 Cuba Street, 253 Cuba Street

251-255 Cuba Street, Te Aro, Wellington
  • Constructed

    1932 - 1932

  • Architect(s)

    Dawson & King

  • Builder(s)


  • This understated modern art deco mixed-use apartment/commercial building has kept much of its original design and materials. The building makes a distinct contribution to Cuba Street’s sense of place and the Cuba Street Heritage Area. 

  • close History
    • This building was designed by the architectural firm J.M. Dawson and King, and built for the Downes family. The permit was issued in February 1932.

      The original plans show three shops on the ground floor and two flats on each of the upper floors. The layouts of the flats are mirrored on each floor, and are repeated over the two floors. A small laundry was built on the south corner of the roof.

      The Downes siblings (George Alfred, Ada Rotermind and William Stacey), for whom the building was built, owned and constructed many buildings in the Cuba Street vicinity. Their father, Samuel Stacey Downes, emigrated from England to Wellington in 1852. In Wellington he made his money in the hotel business, first with the Crown and Anchor Hotel on Lambton Quay, and then the Pier Hotel.

      Brothers George and William Downes were both dentists. George, the older brother, became a dentist in 1891 and went into a practice with Richard C Bulkley on Willis Street. In 1894 Hubert John Eames joined the partnership. William became a dentist in 1899. Shortly after this in 1901, the brothers went into partnership and had a dental surgery built on Cuba Street which they practiced from until the 1930s. This building still stands at 201 Cuba Street. Other buildings known to be owned and built by the Downes family include: 143-147 Vivian St (1900), 241-243 Cuba Street (1909), and “Cuba Court” apartments at 267-273 Cuba St (1941).

      The Downes family Estate owned this building until 1972. Since this time the building has been sold multiple times and in 1991 was unit titled. Many retail and residential tenants have passed through the building over the years.

      The building has been subject to various alterations since it was constructed, particularly to the shop fronts. Despite these changes the façade of the building (particularly the first and second floors) remains much as it was designed with a high level of original fabric and detailing. The rear of the building retains a reasonably level of authenticity, despite alterations including a small roof built over the stairwell in 2006.

    • Modifications close
      • 1932
      • Building constructed (00056:126:B11461)
      • 1973
      • Shop alterations (00058:838:C37490)
      • 1974
      • Shelter (00058:900:C39922)
      • 1991
      • Additions and alterations – upgrade four flats on level 1 (00059:480:E23128)
      • 1991
      • Business additions and alterations – shop (00059:508:E24117)
      • 1998
      • Shop alterations (253 Cuba Street) (00078:763:40183)
      • 2006
      • Roof for exposed exterior stairwell (00078:1600:71011)
    • Occupation History close
      • unknown
      • 4 flats at 251, Long-term tenants include:
      • 1945 - 1951
      • Aubrey Diment, watchmaker (Stones 1945, Wises 1950-51)
      • 1961 - 1972
      • Jonathan Fergusson, labourer (Wises 1961-62, 1967-68, 1971-72)
      • unknown
      • Tenants not listed after this time.
      • 1945 - 1951
      • Unison Piano Service (255) (Stones 1945, 1950-51)
      • unknown
      • New Zealand Music Supplies (1961-62, 1967-68, 1971-72)
      • unknown
      • Various shops changing frequently after this time (Wises 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990).
  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      The building is an understated, but carefully scaled, three storey apartment block with a Moderne influence evident in the graceful sweep of the upper floor balconies and an Art Deco cornice trim at the parapet.

      The cast-iron railing of the two shallow balconies, designed as fire escapes, is the main element of interest. The plain parapet has a simple pattern of moulding on its top edge, influenced by Art Deco. The double-hung windows are regularly spaced, with shallow segmental or triangular hoods. These hoods do not appear on the original drawings and may have been added later. They are stylised, almost abstract elements, and the juxtaposition of the two over the same storey reads as a mildly playful gesture on the part of the architect.

    • Materials close

      The construction is reinforced concrete on concrete foundations and piles. Reinforced concrete beams support concrete floors on all levels and the concrete roof.

    • Setting close

      The building sits among a row of old and modern buildings of varying scales and architecture on Cuba Street between Vivian Street and Abel Smith Street.

      To the north the building is adjoined by a temporary-looking modern single storey building. To the south the block ends with a car yard fronting Abel Smith Street.

      On the other side of the road is a group of small Victorian timber buildings, one of which is occupied by Fidel’s café. This is joined to the north by the Wellington Trawlers complex, which includes a small modern single-storey street-front shop and a parking area and several other unremarkable modern commercial buildings set back from the street front.

  • close Cultural Value

    251-255 is an understated Moderne/Art Deco mixed use apartment/commercial building. It has architectural value for the retention of original design and building fabric.

    The building has historic value for its association with the designer, Wellington architectural firm Dawson and King.

    The building makes a distinct contribution to the townscape of Cuba Street, and contributes to the sense of place and continuity of the Cuba Street Heritage Area.

    • Aesthetic Value close
      • Architectural

        Does the item have architectural or artistic value for characteristics that may include its design, style, era, form, scale, materials, colour, texture, patina of age, quality of space, craftsmanship, smells, and sounds?

        251-255 is an understated Moderne/Art Deco mixed use apartment/commercial building. It has architectural value for the retention of original design and building fabric.

      • Townscape

        Does the item have townscape value for the part it plays in defining a space or street; providing visual interest; its role as a landmark; or the contribution it makes to the character and sense of place of Wellington?

        The building, with its Moderne facade, makes a distinct contribution to the Cuba Street Heritage Area.

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important person, group, or organisation?

        This building has historic value for its association with the designer, Wellington architectural firm Dawson and King.

    • Scientific Value close
      • Archaeological

        Does the item have archaeological value for its ability to provide scientific information about past human activity?

        The building is located in the Central City archaeological site, reference NZAA R27/270.

    • Social Value close
      • Identity Sense Of Place Continuity

        Is the item a focus of community, regional, or national identity? Does the item contribute to sense of place or continuity?

        This building is part of a group of historic buildings of varying ages and purposes on Cuba Street which contribute to the sense of place and continuity of the Cuba Street Heritage Area.

    • Level of Cultural Heritage Significance close
      • Authentic

        Does the item have authenticity or integrity because it retains significant fabric from the time of its construction or from later periods when important additions or modifications were carried out?

        The facade of the building is in reasonably authentic condition with a high level of original detailing, despite modifications to the ground floor shop fronts.

      • Representative

        Is the item a good example of the class it represents?

        The building is representative of 1930s apartment blocks influenced by Moderne and Art Deco design.

      • Importance

        Is the item important for any of the above characteristics at a local, regional, national, or international level?

        This building is of local importance, as it contributes to the Cuba Street Heritage Area.

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number


    • Legal Description

      Lot 6 DP 19320

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      2/ Historic Place 5364

    • Archaeological Site

      Central City NZAA R27/270

    • Current Uses


    • Former Uses


    • Has building been funded


    • Funding Amount


    • Funding Details

      March 2015 - Grant of $15,000 awarded towards seismic strengthening project.

      Funding Type: Seismic Strengthening.

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      124 Notice

  • close Additional Information
    • Sources close
      • Bowman, Ian. 1950’s Buildings: Lower Hutt City’s post-war modern movement buildings. (Hutt City Council, 2002). Accessed October 15, 2012,
      • Cyclopedia Co. Ltd, “Downes, Samuel Stacey,” in The Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Wellington Provincial District (Wellington: The Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1897), accessed October 16, 2012,
      • Historic Places Trust, “Dawson, Joseph McClatchie.”, Professional Biographies, accessed 4 September 2012,
      • Historic Places Trust, “King, Cook and Dawson - Architectural Partnership,” Professional Biographies, accessed October 16, 2012,
      • Kelly, Michael, and Russell Murray. Cuba Street Heritage Area Report. Wellington City Council: Unpublished report, prepared for Plan Change 48, 2006.
      • Wellington City Council, “255 Cuba Street,” Wellington Heritage Building Inventory 2001: Non-Residential Buildings. (Wellington City Council, 2001), CUBA 35.
      • Wellington City Council, Cuba Street Heritage Area spreadsheet (block 5). (Wellington City Council: Unpublished report, prepared for Plan Change 48, 2006).
      • Newspapers: “Ordinary Meeting”, Evening Post, Volume XLI, Issue 66, 19 March 1891, Page 3
      • Newspapers: Evening Post, Volume XLII, Issue 81, 2 October 1891, Page 2
      • Newspapers: Evening Post, Volume XLVIII, Issue 96, 20 October 1894, Page 4
      • Newspapers: “Death of Mr S.S. Downes,” Evening Post, Volume LV, Issue 114, 16 May 1898, Page 6
      • Newspapers: “Dental Examination”, Wanganui Chronicle, Volume XLIII, Issue 15000, 18 December 1899, Page 2
      • Archives: “Upper Cuba Street, surgery,” February 6, 1901, 00053:69:4237, Wellington City Archives.
    • Technical Documentation close
    • Footnotes close

      Not available

Last updated: 28/06/2018 4:11:25 a.m.