The Eye of the Fish

May 5, 2017

Anvil House

My current favourite building. Old, definitely decrepit, but there is something about this building that I just really like. Is it the proportion? The colour? The fact the paint is peeling off? Or just the two iconic, muscular, male figures doing hard work over a stark white anvil?

I can only presume that this was once a house for the Unionists in Wellington, going purely from the sculpture (backed up by the colour, of course). Never been in here. No idea if it is an earthquake risk or not. It is clearly uncared for, but does that mean it is on the down and out list?
So much better than the mirror-glass monster next door (that honestly should be demolished immediately), Anvil House still seems to be on the radar as a home for creative companies. Best seen with the light glancing across the facade at about 3pm.

John H
5 - 05 - 17

Yes Anvil House has always been a good looker. IIRC, Trade Me were based there for a number of years before heading over to the Odlins / NZX building.
But, prey tell, where did “We need to speak about Jean” disappear to? It received hearty approval and many belly laughs from both genders within my office. Thankfully Mr Google has cached it for posterity…

6 - 05 - 17

John, any idea who the architect was of Anvil House, or when it was designed / built? In terms of time, I’m guessing it is more 1950s rather than 1930s, but I haven’t done any homework on it yet. In terms of architect – who could it have been? It’s not likely to have been a Toomath, Alington, Beard and Wilson building, not likely to have been a Structon number. It’s a quirky number – needs a quirky architect.

In terms of Jean, no idea. She just up and went.

6 - 05 - 17

Oi! just noticed that “We need to speak about Jean” has been cut. You losing the thread?

7 - 05 - 17

Oi Starkive! Ahoy there! You’ll know about this building, won’t you? There’s not much that slips past you.
It’s similar in a way to Congress House in London, which was designed in 1948 (by architect David du Roi Aberdeen, who I’ve never heard of either…) but only opened in 1958 (with a great sculpture outside). My guess is therefore that the NZ version of this would be late 40s / early 50s too. Re Jeans? Too many slashes, fell right off the pedestal.

Paul Aitken
7 - 05 - 17

Google tells me “Anvil House (archt: J. Lindsay Mair, 1952)” but doesn’t have early history of Smith & Smith that would explain picking the obvious blacksmith logo.

7 - 05 - 17

Thanks Paul – you must have a better google than me, as it didn’t tell me any of that. What is the reference to Smith & Smith? Were they the original tenants or something? Does that mean that I am reading the logo wrong? I’m picking up vibes of “the Worker” there, and hence thinking that this was a building for the Unionists – maybe I’m wrong. Or are you just meaning the literal: Two blacksmiths?

John Lindsay Mair was the son of John Thomas Mair (hmmm – unfortunate choice of first names) and JT Mair was:
“John Thomas Mair was the second Government Architect, and led the Architectural Division of the Public Works Department from 1922 to 1942.”

7 - 05 - 17

By Jove, you’ve got it – Paul Aitken whoever you are, I tried the National Library website and it says:
“Kelly & Mair, architects :Messrs Smith and Smith Ltd., “Anvil House”, Wakefield Street Wellington. 1951.
Ref: Plans-97-011-224/233″

and then: Ref: 114/272/03-G “The cleared site, on the corner of Cuba and Wakefield Streets, of the Smith and Smith building which was burnt down in 1950. Photographed circa 5 April 1951 by an Evening Post photographer.”

So, the reference of the bas-relief sculpture of the two blacksmiths really was (perhaps an in-joke) a Smith and Smith thing, not a Soviet Union era “Workers of the World Unite” sort of thing. Ha! I was completely fooled.

Another record at Nat Lib says : “Haughton, Son & Mair, architects :Proposed offices at Anvil House, Wellington. [1954?]” which is presumably a fitout only.

7 - 05 - 17

Although… Smiths bashing things red-hot on a big steel Anvil – that doesn’t go that well with the current purpose of Smith & Smith as primarily repairers of glazing. Which of the following doesn’t go together well with the others:
Big burly blokes bashing
Car windscreens.


8 - 05 - 17

“Anvil” was Smith & Smith’s paint brand.

scroll down to their advertisement
The logo has changed over the years, the above is from 1935, this one from 1937

and the building facade is different again.

I too have always liked that building, possibly because during some of the sixties my father worked upstairs in it.
Where the scooter shop is now was originally a loading bay, and that, along with the almost slit windows that could have come from a domestic dwelling gave it a purposeful but human scale look. And the glass blocks in the entrance, repeated as oversize ones up the stairwell are lovely.
It doesn’t appear on the WCC earthquake prone list released this month so there’s hope it has a future.

9 - 05 - 17

William – those references are fantastic, thank you! So, what I’ve also learned from them, is that Smith and Smith sold paint back in those days (no mentions of car windscreens back then) – paint for roofs, in two colours: both red and green Steelite paint.

I’m presuming that it was made of reinforced concrete, not brickwork, and so therefore it shouldn’t be on any endangered species list. Might well not be 100% of code, but at least it is not likely to be less than 33% NBS.

Paul Aitken
9 - 05 - 17

Appologies in advance if this doesnt for format. Was in a list of proposed heritage buildings in Arch Centre PDF
Building Anvil House (1951-1952) 138-140 Wakefield Street; cnr Pringle Ave and Wakefield Street
Factual information archt: J. Lindsay Mair
structural engineers: Edwards & Clendon
bldrs: Fletcher Construction Co.
client: Smith and Smith Ltd
Level of Protection exterior, structure, foyer interior (interiors yet to be fully assessed)
Significance The first inner city office building built in Wellington post World War II. An accomplished work by a significant firm of Wellington architects.
Other The building is on the site of Rhodes’ wharf, reputedly the first wharf in Wellington, and totara piles and moorings of the wharf were found during excavation for the building’s foundations. (ref: Evening Post (20 February 1952))
References “”Anvil House”, Wellington” Journal of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (October 1955) 22(9):185-189.
Kernohan, David Wellington’s Old Buildings (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1994) p. 178.

PS if you put in an alias why doesn’t it get used?

9 - 05 - 17

I recall their Cuba Street retail shop was on the East side, maybe the second up from the Wakefield St intersection. I think there was access at the back of the shop through to the loading bay of Anvil House.

A bit OT but searching the Evening Post via paperspast for “Smith and Smith” brings up many advertisements and other stories.
A mention of automotive glass from 1930

22/12/30 “Protect your family and your friends by having your car equipped with Duplate Shatterproof Plate Glass. Smith and Smith, Ltd., Sole Agents.”

3/3/44 Their Whangarei store was burnt, leading to
“irreplaceable oil, colours, glass, and ironmongery is a total loss”
which gives an idea of their range of business.

24/7/30 A sale on kettles.

25/6/37 “the Labour Department proceeded against Smith and Smith Limited, for an alleged breach of the warehousemen’s award.”

12/9/30 “On a charge of stealing a mirror, valued at 6s 6d, the property of Smith and Smith, Ltd, Bert Henry Tickner; aged 26, was convicted: and fined £5, in default fourteen days’ imprisonment…”

9 - 05 - 17

Without having read the whole of the above I notice this building is being scaffolded to one extent or another this morning

9 - 05 - 17

William – Fourteen days in prison for steeling a mirror…. harsh times back then.

And yes, Paul, of course I should have looked at Kernohan’s book first – where it says:
“Anvil House was the first inner city office building to be built after World War II. It is a plain, monolithic, concrete structure with little to commend it other than its clear lines and strong red colour. Nevertheless, the containment of its windows by emphasised boxed frames painted white, is a well-handled characteristic of the period, and the vertical ribbon of contained glass blocks directs the eye to the set back, balconied roof forms. Sadly, the building lacks any matching subtlety or detail at street level.”

Re your query about an alias – I’m not sure. The person who built the website has long gone and I don’t know how to change that – most people just put an alias in as the ‘Name’ but I don’t mind if you use an alias or not.

I’m going to try and find this on the Arch Centre website now that you mention it…

9 - 05 - 17

RB – if they are going to repaint it, I hope the colours stay the same…. that deep rich red chalky texture is particularly lovely…

28 - 05 - 17

Gone past today – building appears to be being painted white…. could be the undercoat, but that red has gone from the front face….

19 - 06 - 17

Its Red but a little less chalky. Looks good.