Wellington Trades' Hall Building

Trades' Hall, 124 Vivian Street, 126 Vivian Street

124-128 Vivian Street, Te Aro, Wellington
  • Constructed


  • Architect(s)

    William Fielding

  • Builder(s)

  • The Wellington Trades Hall building has architectural value as a good example of mid-1920s neo-Classicism. 

    The building is historically significant for its direct association with the union movement and efforts to improve the welfare of workers. It has specific connections to events such as the 1951 Waterfront Dispute and it was the site of the 1984 Trades Hall bombing, which killed the building’s caretaker. The building also has historical connections to the New Zealand Labour Party. 

    The building remains the symbolic and sentimental home of Wellington unions, some of which still use the building. 

  • close History
    • Unions were first legalised in New Zealand in 1878 and many British and Australian immigrants who came to New Zealand in order to work in the growing industries brought with them their own union traditions. During the depression of the 1880s, craft unions formed trades and labour councils and offered support to those candidates of the House of Representatives who they felt would represent the needs of the working class.

      During the late nineteenth century the construction of trades halls overseas led the Trades and Labour Council in Wellington to search for a suitable location for their own building. However because union fees were kept low (in order to be accessible to workers) the fundraising for a trades hall was slow. In the 1920s workers eventually allowed for fees to be docked from their wages to go towards the construction of a trades hall.

      Even before the Wall Street crash at the end of the decade, the 1920s had been a time of economic downturn for Wellington. The 1920s was also the decade when union membership was at its strongest. During the inter war period, the newly formed Labour Party worked to win the support of the trade unions.

      In 1923 a site on Vivian Street was purchased and plans were drawn up by architect William Fielding. The founding stone was laid by the then leader of the Labour Party Harry Holland and the building was finished in 1927.

      Originally the building housed private sector unions, many of which did not require more than one room for an office. Unions such as the Federation of Labour and Tramways Employees Union had rooms in the building. To the rear of the office building, connected via a bridge, was a separate assembly hall building. The building also functioned as an institution of higher learning for working people, and contained classrooms for the Workers’ Educational Institute. In addition to this, the hall also functioned as a publishing press where the Labour journal ‘New Zealand Worker’ was printed.

      In 1929 a caretaker’s house was also built on the roof of the office building.

      The Labour government’s election in 1935 meant that unionism was once more strengthened through the introduction of compulsory membership. During the 1951 Waterfront Strike the building acted as the starting point for protest marches.

      In 1961, when the Labour Department was no longer responsible for enforcing union membership there became a need for more union officials to represent workers. This resulted in changes being made to the building, with extra offices being built and the glass roof being covered.

      The 1980s saw further changes being made the buildings. The first was the result of the 1984 Trades Hall Bombing. On 27 March a suitcase containing a bomb was left in the building’s foyer, killing Ernie Abbott, the building’s caretaker, when he accidentally moved it. The perpetrator of the bombing and their motive still remains unknown.

      The damage caused by the blast resulted in changes to the foyer, including a security lobby and concierge booth. In 1988, as a result of the development boom, the original assembly hall was demolished and the bridge removed.

      Although the late twentieth century has seen the decline of unionism and with many unions now choosing to locate elsewhere, the hall is still occupied by groups such as the Manufacturers and Construction Workers Union and the Bakers Unions (as of 2010). 

    • Modifications close
      • 1927
      • Building (00056:44:B4341)
      • 1942
      • Air raid shelter (00056:277:B22351)
      • 1957
      • Building alterations (00058:43:C2193)
      • 1957
      • Reinstate verandah (00058:44:C2238)
      • 1977
      • Business additions and alterations (00058:1084:C46926)
      • 1984
      • Reinstate foyer (00058:0:C65350)
      • 1990
      • Demolition of office building (00059:361:E19433)
      • 1991
      • Building additions and alterations (00059:479:E23126)
    • Occupation History close
      • 1927
      • Wellington Trades and Labour Council
  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      The Wellington Trades Hall is a neo-Classical building in design, but it is something of a transitional design in that Stripped Classical influences are also evident, which give the building an austere appearance, particularly in the upper floors of the middle section. The building was constructed in two parts, joined by a concrete bridge at first-floor level, although the rear building has now gone.

      The three storey Vivian Street facade is fairly intact with only minor ornamental detail, such as acroteria and plaster mouldings, removed. Both the base and the flanking ‘wings’ are rusticated with recessed spandrels below the upper windows and a plain entablature capped by a shallow parapet.

      The main feature of note is the handsome detail around the central entrance. The doors are set into a semi-circular arch which is rusticated and extends to form a plinth for the window detail on the floor above. This window has been designed as an aedicule, with flanking Doric columns supporting an open-bed triangular pediment and stylized keystone. The dado has a crest bearing the letters ‘1929,’ and below it these words are engraved: ‘LABOR OMNIA VINCIT,’ ‘Labour Conquers All.’

      Despite its relatively plain style, the building has been designed to reflect the status of the Labour movement and the solidarity of the working man.

      An important internal feature is the central light well and staircase in the front building. Some of the shop fronts have retained their original fenestration.

    • Materials close

      Reinforced concrete walls

      Steel columns, stanchions and beams

      Timber roof structure

    • Setting close

      The Trades Hall building is located on the northern side of Vivian Street on the block between Taranaki Street and Marion Street. It is surrounded by an eclectic collection of buildings of various ages and styles. Adjoining the eastern side of the building is the Briscoes store, a modern low lying building which occupies the corner of Vivian Street and Taranaki Street. On the western side of the building there stands a 1960s era office building which has been refurbished to contain apartments. Across from the hall, on the southern side of Vivian Street and the corner of Knigge’s Ave, stands a modern apartment building. The small park in front of the Massey University Schools of Architecture and Design building (situated to the south west of the Trades Hall) allows for an open space to view the building.

  • close Cultural Value

    The Wellington Trades Hall building has architectural value as a good example of mid-1920s neo-Classicism.

    The building is historically significant for its direct association with the union movement and efforts to improve the welfare of workers. It has specific connections to events such as the 1951 Waterfront Dispute and it was the site of the 1984 Trades Hall bombing, which killed the building’s caretaker. The building also has historical connections to the New Zealand Labour Party.

    The building remains the symbolic and sentimental home of Wellington unions, some of which still use the building.

    • 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 Trades Hall is a distinguished if austere three storey neo-Classical building. The essential decorative elements are simple and restrained with the exception of the elaborate aedicule window over the central entrance door.

      • 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 size and breadth of Trades Hall and its Classical facade dominate Vivian Street in the vicinity of the Taranaki Street intersection.

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

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

        The building has significant historic value for its association with the Trade and Labour Council, the New Zealand Labour Party and the many unions that have used its facilities since 1927. The building was, for many years, the heart of union activities in Wellington and is still largely used for its original purpose. 

      • Association

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

        The building was constructed during the 1920s, a time when union membership was at its strongest, and the building demonstrates the confidence and ambition of the labour movement in Wellington during this period. The building has been the site of many union related disputes and played a role in the 1951 Waterfront Dispute. The building was also the site of the 27 March 1984 Trades Hall bombing which killed the caretaker Ernie Abbot. 

    • 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?

        The many years the building has stood as the home of Wellington’s labour movement has given it a strong identity to unionists. Its continued presence in Vivian Street maintains that connection amidst the considerable changes in workplace relations in the past 40 years.

      • Sentiment Connection

        Is the item a focus of community sentiment and connection?

        Along with union members who have sentimental connection with the building, it was also the site of the unsolved murder of Ernie Abbott, an event that many unionists perceived as an attack on the labour movement, although no motive was ever uncovered. The building is a permanent shrine to the scene of the bombing.

      • Symbolic Commemorative Traditional Spiritual

        Does the item have symbolic, commemorative, traditional, spiritual or other cultural value for the community who has used and continues to use it?

        As the spiritual home of the local union movement, the building is of symbolic importance to members of the various unions that have used the building over its history.

    • 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 has retained a significant amount of its original fabric therefore it has authenticity.

      • 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 important on both a local and national level due to the role it has played in the history of the union movement (in both Wellington and wider New Zealand), as well as for its association with the New Zealand Labour Party. It was the site of a bombing that killed one person, a very rare event in New Zealand history.

      • Rare

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

        The building is rare to the extent that it is the only trades hall in Wellington.

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number

      16/ 321

    • Legal Description

      Lot 2 DP11349

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      Not Listed

    • Archaeological Site

      Central City NZAA R27/270

    • Current Uses


    • Former Uses


    • Has building been funded


    • Funding Amount

      Not applicable

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      124 Notice

  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 12/21/2016 1:01:56 AM