Khandallah Automatic Telephone Exchange (Former)

Onslow Historical Society, K.A.T.E, 86 Khandallah Road

86 – 88 Khandallah Road, Khandallah, Wellington
Map
  • Constructed

    1918 - 1922

  • Builder(s)

    Unknown

  • The former Khandallah Automatic Telephone Exchange is a good representative example of a functional, utilitarian public building with a well designed decorative façade. It was designed by the offices of the Government Architect, John Campbell, who was better known for the development of an Edwardian Baroque style for much public architecture during the first two decades of the 20th century. 

    The building is the second oldest surviving automatic telephone exchange in New Zealand, and is the only remaining automatic exchange in substantially original condition. Given the importance of the telephone in the development of communications from the 1880s to the present day, this building has high historic value. 

    The building is held in high public esteem by the local community and this can be seen by the efforts of the Onslow Historical Society to obtain and maintain the building after it was scheduled for demolition. The building remains in use as a ‘Historical Centre’ and has amenity value for the local community.

  • close History
    • The first telephone exchanges in New Zealand were established in Christchurch and Auckland in 1881. Dunedin followed in 1882 and Wellington in 1883. The first exchanges were manual. The first automatic equipment was installed in Auckland and Wellington in 1913, and was successfully used, but at this time it was simply intended to augment existing manual equipment.

      More equipment was ordered but World War I intervened and it was not until 1919 that the first fully automatic exchange was built in Masterton. Others had been planned but were not opened until after the war. In any event relatively few stand alone exchanges were ever built; most were housed within existing or proposed post office buildings.

      Khandallah’s first Telephone Office and Bureau opened on 14 May 1892. The Khandallah Automatic Telephone Exchange was designed in 1918 by the office of Government Architect John Campbell and the building was completed in 1919. The exchange, however, did not open until 30 July 1922 and the delays were partly due to problems in obtaining machinery. The new exchange was operated by the Post and Telegraph Department; it had 40 lines and was powered by a 48 hour battery.

      In 1925 there was a general change-over of all Wellington’s telephones from the manual to the automatic exchange system. A new addition was built to the south of the Khandallah exchange and this allowed the switchboard to expand to 600 telephone numbers. The designs were completed by the office of the new Government Architect, John Mair. Demand never ceased, and in 1951 a new exchange was designed and built alongside the existing building. It operated in tandem with the older buildings.

      By 1985 the introduction of computerised technology rendered the old automatic equipment redundant and the original building (1918 & 1925) faced demolition. Local residents, in particular members of the Onslow Historical Society, attempted to save the exchange. As part of their campaign, the society took over occupancy of the building, convinced it would make an ideal headquarters and archival repository. In 1991 Telecom (now Chorus), the Post Office’s successor, agreed to strengthen the building to local authority earthquake risk standards and signed a lease with the society at a peppercorn rental. The building reopened in 1994 as the Onslow Historic Society’s ‘Historic Centre’.

      By 2012 the former Khandallah Automatic Telephone Exchange was one of only two remaining automatic telephone exchanges of its era to survive in New Zealand. The other is located in Hamilton (1916) and the building has been altered extensively.


    • Modifications close
      • 1918
      • Building design commenced
      • 1922
      • Building opened
      • 1925
      • Rear extension constructed
      • 1951
      • A new automatic telephone exchange was constructed adjacent to the original building and both exchanges operated in tandem.
      • 1984
      • The equipment was superseded by an electronic exchange system and the building vacated.
      • 1980
      • The 1918 & 1925 sections of the building were threatened with demolition
      • 1991
      • Telecom agreed to strengthen the 1918 & 1925 sections of the building
      • 1994
      • The 1918 & 1925 sections of the building re-opened as the Onslow Historic Society’s clubrooms, archives, exhibition space & venue.
    • Occupation History close

      Not assessed

  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      1918 building & 1925 addition

      The (former) Khandallah Telephone Exchange is the oldest surviving automatic telephone exchange in New Zealand. The original building, which is largely intact despite later additions to the side and rear, was designed to imitate a small Georgian meeting hall and was clearly intended to be a feature building in Khandallah. The main facade facing Khandallah Road is symmetrical, with two large, twenty-light windows set into metal frames. Plaster architraves, simple label moulds and sill details outline the windows with a modest dignity. A round feature window has been set below the apex of the gable.

      The front gable is the most striking feature of the building. This has been treated (freely) as an open-bed pediment, with classical dentils below a well-modelled cornice. A gabled parapet above hides the line of the roof. The ends of the gables are supported (decoratively) by stylised corbels which suggest Art Deco motifs. The name and date of the building are detailed in moulded lettering above the front windows.

      The gable on the main facade is repeated in a plain fashion on the 1925 extension to the west elevation, in which two masonry walls were removed from the original switch-room. The switch-room, now a gallery, contains some of the automatic rotary equipment from the old exchange.

      Construction is load-bearing brick masonry on reinforced-concrete foundations. The floor is concrete; the roof is timber-framed and clad in corrugated iron.

      1951 addition

      The 1951 extension was built onto the south and east of the original building. The extension has the largest floor area of any of the buildings on site, and appears to remain in use as a functional semi-industrial building. It has its own street frontage and entrance, and the north (street) elevation has been set back from the older buildings as a secondary element in the composition of the main façade. The front driveway has been divided by a non-descript timber fence that appears to mark the division between the ‘Historical Centre’ and the remaining telecommunications building. The 1951 addition is a secondary element that has less immediate visual appeal than the original building, but is a visual reminder of the development of the site, the suburb and of New Zealand’s telecommunications industry over the past 90+ years.

    • Materials close

      Concrete: Foundations and floor

      Cavity brick walls, rendered

      Corrugated mild steel roof on timber structure

    • Setting close

      Although it is one of the largest public buildings in Khandallah, the former telephone exchange is located at some distance from the suburban town centre, and set within an area of suburban housing that dates from about the 1940s onwards.

      The original 1918 building is surrounded by later additions including the 1925 wing to the rear (south) and the much larger 1951 addition that wraps around the older buildings at the east and south. The 1951 addition is a secondary element that has its own separate street entrance, and although a well-designed composition that is typical of its time, has less immediate visual appeal than the original building.

      The building has townscape value as a prominent local landmark located on the main transport route from Johnsonville, through Khandallah and Ngaio through to Crofton Downs and Wilton. The building is visible from Khandallah Road, but is concealed from the suburban commuter railway by a row of mature trees.

  • close Cultural Value

    The former Khandallah Automatic Telephone Exchange is a good representative example of a functional, utilitarian public building with a well designed decorative façade. It was designed by the offices of the Government Architect, John Campbell, who was better known for the development of an Edwardian Baroque style for much public architecture during the first two decades of the 20th century.

    The building is the second oldest surviving automatic telephone exchange in New Zealand, and is the only remaining automatic exchange in substantially original condition. Given the importance of the telephone in the development of communications from the 1880s to the present day, this building has high historic value.

    The building is held in high public esteem by the local community and this can be seen by the efforts of the Onslow Historical Society to obtain and maintain the building after it was scheduled for demolition. The building remains in use as a ‘Historical Centre’ and has amenity value for the local community.

    • 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?

        The former Khandallah Automatic Telephone Exchange is a good representative example of a functional, utilitarian public building with a well designed decorative façade. It was designed by the offices of the Government Architect, John Campbell, who was better known for the development of an Edwardian Baroque style for much public architecture during the first two decades of the 20th century.

      • 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 was designed as a key public building for Khandallah and continues to be one of the most distinctive in the suburb. It has some townscape value for its highly-visible location on a busy suburban transport route.

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important historic event, theme, pattern, phase, or activity?

        The building is the second oldest surviving automatic telephone exchange in New Zealand, and is the only remaining automatic exchange in substantially original condition. Given the importance of the telephone in the development of communications from the 1880s to the present day, this building has high historic value.

    • Scientific Value close
      • Archaeological

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

        Unknown risk

      • Educational

        Does the item have educational value for what it can demonstrate about aspects of the past?

        The building has educational and technical value for the collection of automatic rotary equipment that is housed in the old switch room.

      • Technological

        Does the item have technological value for its innovative or important construction methods or use of materials?

        The building has educational and technical value for the collection of automatic rotary equipment that is housed in the old switch room.

    • 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?

        The building has had few intrusive modern alterations or additions (with the notable exception of the 1951 wing) over the past 90+years and makes a contribution to the sense of place and continuity of suburban Khandallah.

      • PublicEsteem

        Is the item held in high public esteem?

        The building is held in high public esteem by the local community and this can be seen by the efforts of the Onslow Historical Society to obtain and maintain the building after it was scheduled for demolition. The building remains in use as a ‘Historical Centre’ and has amenity value for the local community.

    • 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 building retains almost all of its original built fabric from both the 1918 building and the 1925 addition.

      • Local Regional National International

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

        The building is of national significance as an early, and well preserved example of an automatic telephone exchange. 

      • Rare

        Is the item rare, unique, unusual, seminal, influential, or outstanding?

        The building is a rare surviving example of an automatic telephone exchange from the years immediately after WWI. That some of the original automatic rotary equipment from the building has survived on site is unusual and significant.

      • Representative

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

        The building is a good representative example of a functional and utilitarian building of the early 20th century, albeit one concealed by a fine, well designed façade.

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number

      21/ 177

    • Legal Description

      Sec 1 SO 26390

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      1/Historic Place 4425

    • Archaeological Site

      Unknown risk

    • Current Uses

      unknown

    • Former Uses

      unknown

    • Has building been funded

      No

    • Funding Amount

      Not applicable

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      Not Earthquake Prone

  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 24/10/2017 11:16:32 p.m.