Stout Street Precinct

  • The Stout Street Heritage Area is entirely sited on land reclaimed from Lambton Harbour by the government from the mid-to-late 1870s. Centred around the western end of Stout Street, the area includes a nationally significant collection of heritage buildings spanning the period from 1879 to 1940.

    The first building constructed here, in 1879, was the Supreme Court, the country’s most important court. Other buildings followed, including those built for important government agencies, such as the Public Trust (1908) and State Insurance (1939), as well as the Departmental Building (1940), constructed to house the expanding pre-World War II civil service. The area also includes two significant private buildings - the Missions to Seamen (1903) and Wellesley Club (1925) which have played notable social roles in the area. 

    The key buildings in the Stout Street heritage area are characterised by their high quality of design, construction and materials, and their relatively low scale. In conjunction with the nearby Parliamentary precinct, these attributes confer a distinctive low-rise townscape quality to the north east of Lambton Quay, a quality enhanced by the many nearby towers of the ’high city’.


  • close Physical Description
    • Setting close

      Stout Street Heritage Area, although a relatively small area, has a wide range of settings. At the western end, the gateway buildings – State Insurance and Public Trust – are a strong presence on Lambton Quay, which is in turn a major influence on the setting at that end of the area. The enclosed canyon of the western portion opens on to the lower and more expansive eastern end of the street. There are long vistas down Stout Street to the Wellington Railway Station, and down Whitmore and Ballance Streets to Lambton Quay and Featherston Street. 

      Further afield, the hill of Parliament Buildings, and behind it Tinakori Hill, are landmarks. As befits this part of the CBD, tall office buildings are omnipresent without necessarily being directly in view. 


    • Streetscape or Landscape close

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    • Contents and Extent close

      The extent of the heritage area is shown in the District Plan, Chapter 21, Appendix 16.

      This heritage area takes in the western end of Stout Street, between Whitmore Street and Lambton Quay (plus the Wellesley Club on the corner of Maginnity and Whitmore Streets), focussing on the most important remaining heritage buildings in the vicinity. There are seven buildings contained within the area, of which five are significant heritage buildings. Justice Park, on Lambton Quay, the former site of the Central Police Station and Magistrates Court, is very closely associated the courts and so is also included in the area. It is also a place of potentially high archaeological value.

      Along with the nationally important collection of heritage buildings, the area is also notable for its key vistas which remain much as they were in the 1940s. The longest view, from Lambton Quay, terminates at the Railway Station and forms an interesting conceptual link with the area’s long history of public service and its intimate association with the development of Wellington as a centre of government.

      The key buildings in the heritage area decrease in scale and increase in age towards the eastern end of the area – an important transition. The oldest buildings, the former Supreme Court and the Missions to Seamen provide a link in age, scale and streetscape quality with the nearby Parliamentary precinct and reflect the initial pattern of development in the area. The most recent heritage buildings, State Insurance and the Departmental Building, connect the expansion of government with the commercial development of the north end of Wellington city and are of a scale that relates well to the surrounding high city area.


    • Buildings close

      Stout Street contains a nationally important collection of heritage buildings. The area is notable for its key vistas which remain much as they were in the 1940s. The longest view, from Lambton Quay, terminates at the Railway Station and forms an interesting conceptual link with the area’s long history of public service and its intimate association with the development of Wellington as a centre of government.

      The key buildings in the heritage area decrease in scale and increase in age towards the eastern end of the area – an important transition in the townscape of the northern city. The oldest buildings, the former Supreme Court and the Missions to Seamen provide a link in age, scale and streetscape quality with the nearby Parliamentary precinct and reflect the initial pattern of development in the area. The most recent heritage buildings, State Insurance and the Departmental Building, connect the expansion of government with the commercial development of the north end of Wellington city and are of a scale that relates well to the surrounding high city area.

      Supreme Court

      The most significant and oldest of the buildings along Stout Street is the former Supreme Court building at the eastern end, which is also the earliest of the several buildings in the area that were the original occupants of their sites. The first major masonry structure to be built by the government in Wellington, it was completed in 1880 on newly reclaimed land and remained in continuous use as the country’s premier court for 113 years, superseded only when the High Court transferred to a new building in Molesworth Street in 1993.

      Designed by P.F.M. Burrows in a carefully correct and quite elegant Palladian neo-Classical style, the former Supereme Court has a strong sense of the formal buildings of 18th century England in its appearance. It is constructed in traditional load-bearing masonry with a plaster render, a significant expression of permanence and strength appropriate to its sober function.

      It has a well-balanced composition, enhanced by well-designed additions of 1906 and 1913, consisting of a T-shaped plan with a two storey main block rising above flanking pavilions. The detailing is rather severe and formal but is carefully composed and elegantly executed. The lower storey is strongly rusticated above a low plain plastered base and features round-headed windows with prominent keystone details, a mid-level string course and an openwork balustraded parapet above a projecting cornice. The second storey is more ornamented with a regular composition of Composite-order pilasters framing square-headed windows with triangular pediments supported on corbels. A strong cornice line with dentils and consoles is all that remains of the original triangular pediments, which were removed when the roof line was altered in 1956 to a hipped configuration from its original gabled arrangement. A clumsy addition was made to the west elevation in 1981 to accommodate the Judge’s office.

      While both the exterior and interior of the building were altered and added to over the 112 years of court use, the building retains a high degree of authenticity, particularly in the interior which has some work of exceptional quality(especially in the main courtroom), and it retains very high heritage values. The building was repaired / restored in c.2006 - 2009 and strengthened with a system of base-isolation.

      Due to its plan form, the building is surrounded with a rare degree of open space on its site and this, coupled with its low scale, careful massing and elegant detailing, gives it very high townscape value, particularly in its relationship to the nearby Parliamentary precinct. This building is perhaps the most important in the heritage area.

      While the elevation to Stout Street is a lesser one, it contains one of the building’s main entrances and still contributes significantly to the character of the streetscape and to the important visual transition from the taller buildings at the western end to the much lowerscale government precinct beyond.

      Missions to Seamen

      The former Missions to Seamen building, opposite the Supreme Court, was built in 1903 and it was also the first building on its site on the reclamation. Although it has now been converted into apartments it originally included fine, large internal spaces (now subdivided).

      A two-storey masonry construction, the Missions to Seamen building was designed by the well-known architectural firm of Chricton & McKay in an eclectic blend of Romanesque and Classical styles. The building sits on a prominent corner site opposite the former Supreme Court.

      It has two principal façades, each symmetrically composed, with the main entrance on Stout Street. The elevations are characterised by tall pediments, each containing a round-headed window, which relate to the steeply pitched and complex roof form behind. The intermmediate bays have square-headed windows. The building is only lightly decorated with details worked in to the plasterwork, including a variety of Romanesque and maritime motifs.

      The building was converted to unremarkable apartments in 1994 with the loss of its special internal spaces, although some original interior fabric has survived this change. One of the major visible consequences of this alteration is the change of roof material from the original Marseilles tiles to a pink pressed metal roof, which, combined with a drab olive brown wall colour detracts somewhat from the architectural finesse of the building.

      Nevertheless, the building has high heritage values and its strong presence in the streetscape makes an important contribution to the qualities of the heritage area as a whole.

      Western End

      At the western end of Stout Street, the principal entrance to the street, are three important buildings related to the government –  the former Public Trust building (1908), the former State Insurance building (1939) and the former Departmental building (1940) –  which form a special triptych in the townscape and define the most important vista down the street.

      Public Trust

      The Public Trust building was opened in 1909 and remained the head office of that organisation until 1982. This flamboyant Beaux-Arts Baroque building is perhaps the best known work of Government Architect John Campbell. Behind its exuberantly detailed stone, brick and plaster façades and fine finishing materials, it has an innovative steel structure designed with the lessons of the 1906 San Franciso earthquake in mind.

      The building is an important Wellington landmark that takes great advantage of its spectacular corner site with the extraordinary lantern dome and drum, flanked at right angles by the two main façades. Both façades are heavily articulated, most notably with the large segmental-arched pediments at roof level supported on giant-order Corinthian columns. The heavily rusticated base of the building is finished in Tonga Bay granite and has arched openings. The moulded plaster architraves of the windows in the main body of the building are heavily blocked and contribute a great deal of texture and contrast to the façade particularly against the red brick body of the walls. The overall effect is one of great three-dimensional vitality.

      The main entrance at the centre of the drum is gained up a flight of radiating terrazzo steps which lead in to the foyer, resplendent in mosiac tiling and richly moulded plasterwork. While the interior has been altered many times, a reasonable amount of original building fabric remains and the building retains a high degree of authenticity.

      1.2.2         State Insurance

      The State Insurance building forms a very interesting contrast with the apposite Public Trust building. One of the few new buildings constructed in the city during World War II, it was designed by prominent architects Gummer and Ford and is as interesting for its original state-of-the-art engineering design and technical fit-out as it is for its distinctive architecture and fine materials. Originally eight stories high with an underground car-park (the first in Wellington), the building is supported on a reinforced concrete frame, and was originally fitted out with technically sophisticated lighting, mechanical ventilation and fire protection systems and high-speed elevators.

      An important early New Zealand modernist building, its most distinctive architectural feature is the unique corrugated façade which wraps the building very elegantly around the corner site. This architectural device gives the building a lively appearance in the street and emphasises its very carefully controlled composition. The elevations are articulated around the street corner by the flat façade at the entrance which is set across the angle of the corner and which rises to the top of the building interrupted only by a balcony at the eigth floor. The entrance is is marked by a double height portal worked in to the base material of the building and a tall pair of columns surmounted by rampant bronze lions. The flanking façades are corrugated on either side of the entrance, back to a plain wall panel at each far corner. The windows follow the corrugations with curved frames and glass. Simple and spare detailing emphasises the building’s clean lines which are further enhanced by the fine materials used – Coromandel Tonalite on the ground floor, with quartz sand plaster render abve and bronze doors and windows.

      Some important original features survive on the interior, including the Te Wharo marble (with relief sculpture) in the entry foyer and the main stair lined with marble and glass blocks and a handrail of bronze, glass and walnut, as well as parts of the general manager’s office on the sixth floor which retain original timber panelling, joinery and hardware.

      A large and somewhat incongruous three storey rooftop addition, designed by Athfield Architects, was constructed in 1998 by the new building owners, Norwich Union, to capitalise on the relatively valuable airspace above the building.

      Departmental Building

      Once the largest office building in the city, the Departmental Building has eight principal stories and covers the greater part of its block. It was designed by the Government Architect John Mair in a streamlined but restrained Moderne style that is highly compatible with the adjoining State Insurance building. It is supported on a reinforced concrete primary structure and finished with a flat roof terrace above which simple profiled metal forms contain lift overruns and mechanical equipment. The visual bulk of the building is greatly ameliorated by the plan form which has a recessed central bay on Stout Street contained between two curved “book-ends” at either corner of the building.

      Although the design is essentially very functional and is quite uncompromising for that, it is has architectural distinction for its careful proportions, highlighted by the gracefully rounded “book-ends” and the sleek horizontal lines generated by the interleaving of the long unbroken spandrels and the regularly spaced bronze windows which follow elegantly around the curves. The base is faced with granite, the upper parts with modern composite stone panels; this use of materials reflects the palette of materials on the neighbouring State Insurance building.

      The main entrance is in the centre of the building is highlighted with a tall sculpted pediment feature rising above the roof level and centred on the façade (designed to be seen from afar). Some original internal features, including stairwells, remain. The Departmental Building forms a prominent and significant part of the Stout Street streetscape.

      Wellesley Club

      Backing on to the Departmental Building –  but not on Stout Street itself –  is the Wellesley Club, a dignified masonry building constructed in 1926 for one of Wellington’s most prestigious gentlemen’s clubs. The building retains its original use today, 80 years later, although in a rather less exclusive manner. It is the only building outside the immediate boundary of Stout Street included in the heritage area, but its dignified presence and longstanding association with the civil and judicial services makes an important contribution to the qualities of the heritage area.


    • Structures and Features close

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    • Other Features close

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  • close Historic Context
    • Housing the Government

      In 1865 Wellington received what many citizens had long considered its birthright, the mantle of political capital. In moving from Auckland the New Zealand Parliament was re-established in the Wellington Provincial Council Building on the Government Domain. The New Zealand Company had set this aside in 1840 in the expectation that their settlement would be chosen as the centre of government. When Governor Hobson chose Auckland instead, Wellingtonians were both dismayed and outraged, spending the next 25 years lobbying to have the perceived wrong put right.     

      Initially the shift had little effect on the town. Provincial Governments were still the main players in the political scene; the scale of central government was relatively small. Following the abolition of Provincial Governments in 1876, the role and importance of central government increased, necessitating more space for an enlarged civil service. The Fox Ministry had anticipated the change in the early 1870s by extending Parliament House and drawing up plans for a large building to accommodate government departments. With no suitable site nearby, the new Government Buildings was erected on a square of land reclaimed from the sea at the northern end of Lambton Quay, opposite Parliament. The four-storey building was designed in a Neo-classical style, after similar civil service buildings in Whitehall, London. Tenders were called for both masonry and timber construction, but the high cost of concrete saw the structure erected in timber, albeit fashioned to look like stone.

      If the Executive and Parliamentary arms of government were now happily housed, conditions for the third arm, the Judiciary, were far less comfortable. The existing Supreme and Magistrates Courts were located in a neo-Classical wooden building at the southern end of Lambton Quay (opposite Hunter Street). Built in 1862 and described by one critic as ‘heavy headed monster frowning with overhanging brows’, the two-storey structure was considered too small and unbecoming as the seat of the colony’s Judiciary; a more dignified pile was called for.

      The Supreme Court Precinct

      A new location was found opposite the new Government Buildings at the other end of the Quay. The land formed part of a reclamation initiated by the Provincial and Central governments in 1873, creating 51 acres of land south from Pipitea Point to Waring Taylor Street and east to Customhouse Quay. Much of this land was subsequently acquired for government purposes, with Waring Taylor Street marking a rough border between the government precinct and the city’s commercial and financial district.

      The Supreme Court site was bounded Lambton Quay, Ballance, Stout and Whitmore Streets, with the main frontage to Stout Street. The new building was designed in a Palladian neo-Classical style – conveying notions of tradition, strength, and stability – but unlike its predecessor it was constructed of brick and concrete rather than wood. This made it the first major Wellington building to be erected in permanent materials since the 1855 earthquake, when wood became the preferred building material (it was better able to withstand shaking). To ensure the new building was as safe as possible, a forest of piles was driven below sea level into firm ground. In December 1879 a large ceremony – attracting 2,000 people – was held to unveil the foundation stone; the four-courtroom building was opened 16 months later in March 1881. As well as the Supreme Court, the new building also housed the Magistrates Court and Court of Appeal.

      Inside, the two-storey main courtroom was lined and furnished with rimu and kauri timbers, giving the room a warm glow when sunlight entered the lantern windows. Even so, there were soon complaints about the poor acoustics and confusing layout. The first fault was resolved by the hanging of heavy cloth across the windows and dais; people got used to the second fault.  

      Meanwhile, at the other (Lambton Quay) end of the site, a new Wellington police station had already been completed. Opened in 1880, the two-storey masonry building was designed in a similar style to the Supreme Court. Together, these ornate and well-proportioned buildings made an impressive and fitting contribution to the emerging government precinct. However, by 1910 the police had outgrown the building and in 1918 moved into a larger building in Waring Taylor Street – of which only the façade remains today. The old police station was then taken over by various government departments, the Department of Justice being the longest resident.

      In 1903 a new Magistrates Court was constructed next to the former Police Station; the building also housed the Patents and Copyright Office. Twenty-five years later a new Arbitration Court was erected on Whitmore Street in a space between the old police station and the Supreme Court. With bulk of the Wellington’s judiciary now working in one or other of these buildings the area became the hub of legal life in the city. Lawyers relocated their offices to be nearer to the Courts’ precinct. The law library – in the Supreme Court and open all hours – became a popular place for case research and socialising, often late at night and into the wee hours of the morning.

      The State Expands

      For the first decade or so after its completion, the Supreme Court had few neighbours. Thomas Ward’s City Map of 1891 shows a few small shops on the eastern side of Lambton Quay, between Ballance and Waring Taylor Streets, and a Garrison Hall in Maginnity Street, but most of the rest of the reclaimed land surrounding the Court was empty. The Long Depression of the 1880s and early 1890s was the main barrier to building. This changed when the Liberal administration came to power in 1890. It initiated a further period of state expansion; new departments were created and existing ones increased in size. Government Buildings was unable to accommodate the growth, forcing civil servants into other buildings and necessitating the erection of new structures.

      Among the first to go up was the Public Trust Office, at the southern apex of a triangle of land bounded by Lambton Quay, Ballance and Stout Streets. The government had established the Public Trust Office in 1872 to manage and prevent misappropriation of trust funds. Plans for a building to house the Office began in 1899, but it was not until 1909 that it was finally opened. Designed in an Edwardian Baroque style, the five-storey building was the first in the city to be built with a (earthquake resistant) steel frame. By 1915 space in the building was at a premium and it was renovated to make more room. Five years later neighbouring buildings were bought to accommodate more staff. By this time the triangle was fully built and comprised a collection of public and private buildings; occupiers included the Government Publicity and Public Works Departments. At the northern apex, opposite the Magistrate’s Court, was the Occidental (later De Brett’s) Hotel. Built in 1903, the four-storey masonry structure became a favourite drinking haunt for lawyers and court reporters. It was demolished in the 1980s, although the name survives in the bar that occupies the ground floor of the new building on the site.

      Missions to Seamen and Armchairs for Lawyers 

      Meanwhile the block of land east of the Supreme Court – on Stout Street – was also under development. In 1904 the Governor General Lord Plunkett opened the Missions to Seamen Building, on the corner of Whitmore and Stout Streets. The Mission had been established in England in 1856 to minister to sailors. It came to Wellington in 1898 when the Rev James Moore began a local chapter. He found a benefactor in Mary Anne Williams, the widow of a William Williams, who had run a harbour ferry service. She gave him land and money to erect a Mission building that would also serve as a memorial to her husband. It housed a hall, library, tearoom and chapel. The building became a popular social nexus for local and visiting seamen, but the Mission was forced to leave in 1975 when the government took the land and building.

      As the Mission to Seamen Building was being erected a third block of land was being built on, bounded by Stout, Ballance, Maginnity and Waring Taylor Streets and Lambton Quay. The Garrison Hall on Maginnity Street was converted into a government store, later extended to Stout Street. Next to this stood the Arcadia Hotel; a flamboyant six-storey structure designed in a French Renaissance style. In 1919 the government erected the State Fire Insurance Building, on the corner of Waring Taylor Street and Lambton Quay, an impressive eight-storey building that well illustrated the state’s increasing role in the financial sector. Back around the corner in Maginnity Street, The Wellesley Club initiated plans for a new building on a site intersecting Ballance Street. The Club had begun in 1891 as the Junior Wellington Club, an offshoot of the Wellington Club, and its membership included politicians, businessmen and pastoralists. To avoid confusion between the two, it changed its name to the Wellesley Club in 1898. The Club erected a building in Featherston Street in 1907, but it soon proved too small, leading to the acquisition of the Maginnity Street site. Here they erected a four-storey Georgian Revival Building, which opened in 1927 and is little changed today.

      Labour Thinks Big

      The election of the First Labour Government in 1935 resulted in further expansion of the state and civil service. To accommodate this growth it built the Departmental Building and an extension to the State Fire Insurance Building, on the Government Stores and Arcadia Hotel sites respectively. Completed in 1940 the Departmental Building was the largest office building in the city, providing room for several government departments and agencies. The State Insurance extension was opened in 1942 and, as well as accommodating the overflow from next door, it housed the State Advances Corporation. These height-limit buildings were erected in proto-Modernist styles. Nearly 70 years later they still seem strikingly modern.

      Saving the Government Precinct

      In the late 1970s and early 1980s many of the buildings mentioned here came under redevelopment pressures. In the late 1970s the initial (1919) State Insurance Building was replaced by a new building; plans to erect a companion building on the State Insurance extension site were shelved by a public opposition to the proposal and the 1987 stock market crash. In the mid-1990s a (stylistically-unsympathetic) large addition was constructed on top of the building. It is now the head office of Te Puni Kokiri. In 1981 the Public Trust Office was also saved from demolition by public protest. It was subsequently sold and sensitively renovated. It housed Creative New Zealand and some private tenants until the mid- 2010s and is currently being strengthened and refurbished (2015). State plans to demolish the Mission to Seamen’s Building in the mid-1980s provoked a huge public outcry, with hundreds protesting to save the building. At the eleventh hour the government finally relented and agreed to keep the structure. Several years later much of the interior was gutted and turned into apartments.


      Perhaps learning from these experiences, in 1989 the government restored the façade of the Departmental Building and modernised its interior. By this time the Defence Department was the sole occupier, the building has recently been renovated and is now home to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (2015).

      The nearby former Supreme Court has also recently been renovated.  In 1981 the Court of Appeal had moved out to a new building in Molesworth Street. A decade later the Supreme (now High) Court followed suit. With a new District Court constructed across the road in Ballance Street, the Magistrate’s Court and former Police Station were demolished to create a park in 1992. The government recognised the heritage values of the High Court and it remained in place. Various options were canvassed for a new use for the building – including an art gallery – but they all fell through. In 2003 the government extinguished the right of appeal to the Privy Council in Britain and established a new Supreme Court instead. In 2006 it further announced that a permanent home for the new court would be constructed in front of the old High Court on Justice Park.  The old (Supreme) High Court has since been restored and forms part of the new Supreme Court complex.



  • close Cultural Value
    • Significance Summary close
      Stout Street contains a nationally important collection of heritage buildings. 
    • Aesthetic Valueclose
      The Stout Street Heritage Area has high streetscape value with several key vistas remaining relatively unchanged since the 1940s, particularly the southern entrance to the street and the long view from Lambton Quay to the Railway Station. This is one of the few places in the city that has remained relatively constant, as demonstrated by its use in numerous ‘period’ TV commercials and films. It is an established visual feature in the townscape of the northern end of the city, familiar to generations of Wellingtonians. The key buildings form an important transition of scale in the urban setting between the condensed “high city” of Lambton Quay and The Terrace and the comparatively low and open Parliamentary precinct. The heritage buildings in the heritage area represent the work of a number of important architects and are architecturally notable for their innovative construction and uniformly high quality of design, materials and workmanship. Many of the materials and the craftsmanship employed in these buildings are irreplaceable. The interplay between the richly detailed old buildings and the rather more austere modern buildings enriches and enlivens the streetscape and gives it a very distinctive character. The area has a strong cohesiveness of purpose, building quality and history.
    • Historic Valueclose
      The Stout Street Heritage Area is of particular importance to Wellington as it contains a nationally significant group of heritage buildings, most of which were built by central government. The key buildings have very high historic significance for their longstanding association with the government and for their role in Wellington’s economic, financial, legal and political history. The area is historically important as it demonstrates the role of central government in Wellington’s transition from provincial to national capital in the 19th century. It shows how government helped drive the city’s progress and physical formation through reclamation and then the steady development of that land for various governmental purposes, including the courts, civil service and other agencies. This activity established the pattern of this part of the central city and it remains largely the same today, although the government does not build new inner-city office accommodation anymore and a number of Government buildings are now in private hands.
    • Scientific Valueclose
      The heritage area is set on land created by pre-1900 reclamation and is likely to have high archaeological value.
    • Social Valueclose
      The Stout Street heritage area is of particular importance to Wellington as it contains a nationally significant group of heritage buildings, most of which were built by central government. This means that the area is a focus of regional and national identity. The buildings also have social and economic significance for the government’s past and present role as the city’s major employer. The area is likely to be held in high public esteem, for its association with New Zealand’s central government and judiciary. The individual heritage buildings in the heritage area have date from the late 19th to mid-20th century and contribute to the sense of place and continuity of the Wellington CBD.
    • Level Of Cultural Heritage Significanceclose
      The heritage area contains a unique collection of buildings that are associated with New Zealand’s government, administration and judiciary. It has a high degree of heritage integrity and there are buildings that have retained their original uses, such as the Wellesly Club and Departmental Building, and others that have retained a relatively consistent use, such as State Insurance or the Public Trust building, which are still largely used by government agencies.
    • New Zealand Heritage Listclose
      {64DC70B4-B5DA-4CC2-A689-12F017851E91}
  • close New Zealand Heritage List
  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 3/17/2020 9:14:41 PM