I recently bought the above colourised postcard on TradeMe, one showing the Glenalvon boardinghouse, formerly Admiralty House. I hadn't realised until looking further into the story of the building that it wasn't the only Admiralty House Auckland had had. There had been a first. But the second was always the grander edifice. In order that Auckland should have a better traffic route, it was demolished in 1915.
The first Admiralty House was actually a house for a commodore, Sir William Wiseman, commander of the Royal Navy's Australian squadron. He was based at Sydney, but it was hoped that a purpose-built house here in Auckland might entice him to change bases. The house, at the western corner of Jermyn and Short Streets, was completed in 1864 by builder William Cameron.
The first Admiralty House (left), up on the slopes overlooking Official Bay and the harbour, before rail lines and factories blocked the view. Ref 4-2641, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.
It was described as a large 14-roomed dwelling for the commodore "and others". The house was apparently built under the orders of the Auckland Provincial Superintendent. Members of the Council though questioned the Superintendent into the early part of 1865 as to how this project actually came about. It came out that it resulted from a verbal agreement between the Government and the Superintendent, and had cost a total of £1738 5s 10d.
Trouble was, Auckland by that time was no longer the capital, and the commodore seemed vastly more interested in Sydney, so right from the start the Superintendent's house for the commodore seemed doomed to be a white elephant. By now, the building was called Admiralty House, and at least it proved to be living quarters for naval officers stationed here.
By the mid 1870s, the building began to fall into decay. The Colonial Secretary asked the city council in 1879 to put the building back in repair, as it was thought the commodore might stay there again. It was indeed renovated in 1880. Temporary use of rooms there was made by the University College from 1884. By 1890, however, the old building once again showed its age, run down and occupied only by a caretaker. Auckland offered the building back to the colonial government, so that they could do it up this time, making it fit for naval accommodation. The government fobbed it off, first by saying there were no funds for repairs, then by saying more or less "We'll wait to see what the commanding officer of the squadron wants." By January 1892, agreement had been reached, and the building was being spruced up again. In 1894, however, an impasse was reached in terms of funding furnishings at the house (the government wanted Auckland City Council to contribute). The government gave up on the idea, and decided to lease the building instead. From 1904, the building was used by the Public Works Department and the Department of Agriculture.
The first Admiralty House, 1909, when in use as a government departmental building. Ref 4-2687, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library
In 1897, there were complaints as to inadequate accommodation for naval personnel at Auckland. Despite the difficult experiences with the first Admiralty House -- plans began in 1897 to have a second house built. Whereas the instigator in 1864 had been the Provincial Superintendent -- now the Auckland Harbour Board led the way, contacting the government directly. A special Admiralty House Bill was drafted up in 1898, to enable the Harbour Board to build, furnish, and provide the house as naval accommodation. The bill passed in November 1898.
Property further down Jermyn Street was purchased by the Harbour Board by early 1899. Architects were invited to submit sketches of proposed designs in early 1900, and those of Charles Le Neve Arnold were accepted in February.
The siting of this new Admiralty House was questioned as being unwise by some commentators. Too close to the train lines for noise, too close to traffic, surrounded by factories ... The Harbour Board called for fresh designs in April 1901. Arnold resubmitted, along with Keal and Jacobsen. After all the fuss, the Harbour Board and C R Vickerman for the Public Works Department went for Arnold's design. The builder John Jenkin was awarded the contract for £4995 in June 1901. It was completed by early 1902.
In June 1902 -- the Harbour Board began to worry if this was going to be another white elephant of a project. As with the first house, there were disputes as to furnishing costs. In March 1903, however, Admiral Fanshawe "plainly and emphatically stated that he cannot live in Admiralty House himself, and that he does not see how the naval officer commanding on the New Zealand station could live there either." The NZ Herald called it the "Admiral-less House." The Admiralty House Act 1898 was repealed in November 1903.
"Willie Napier Shows the Admiral over Admiralty House and comes a Cropper," The Observer, 3 May 1902.
An advertised tender in April 1904 for a 14-year lease of the building attracted no offers. The Harbour Board were probably somewhat relieved to receive two offers in July for 5-year leases, however: from a Mrs Boult, £300 per annum plus rates and taxes to set up a "ladies' residential club", and for £312 per annum plus rates and taxes from Mrs Margaret Douglas Scherff, widow of Auckland merchant Franz Scherff, to set up a boardinghouse there. Mrs Scherff's offer was accepted.
The second Admiralty House, renamed "Glenalvon" (during the period when my postcard was made), narrowly escaped destruction for fire in November 1906. But it couldn't escape the plans for the realigning of Jermyn Street from 1915, the street almost totally replaced by Anzac Avenue which emptied straight out onto Customs Street, instead of using the dog-leg into Emily Place (that dog-leg, the surviving part of old Jermyn Street became part of Emily Place). Both Admiralty Houses were in the way. By the end of 1915, both buildings were gone. Mrs Scherff shifted to Waterloo Quadrant and the former home of David Nathan at number 16, "Bella Vista", renaming that building "Glenalvon". That name lasted through to the mid 1940s, until that building became part of the Catholic Diocese of Auckland in 1947.
Looking from the northern tip of the garden triangle which once existed between Emily Place and Shortland Street. The second Admiralty House on the right. Check out Map D14 of the 1908 City of Auckland maps on the Auckland Council Archives pages. Ref 4-182, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.