BNZ Façade

"We stand cringing opposite the unburied corpse of this bank at 125 Queen Street for two reasons, the centrality of the Bank of New Zealand to our early business history and the importance of this site." The original architect was Melbourne based Leonard Terry. 

Bastardised banking flagship

Do not bother crossing the road for this one — in fact, you can only fully appreciate the true awfulness of this travesty from the eastern side of Queen Street. It confirms American historian Mike Wallace’s warning that calling façadism preservation is like saying that you can preserve polar bears as rugs. The best that can be said of this pointless perversion is that it is not nearly as silly looking as the Queen’s Head Tavern, up past the Town Hall — that really is the heritage equivalent of tossing a severed horse’s head into your enemy’s bed. We stand cringing opposite the unburied corpse of this bank at 125 Queen Street for two reasons, the centrality of the Bank of New Zealand to our early business history and the importance of this site.

The bank began in leased premises in 1861, four years before the directors miffed local architects by commissioning Australian Leonard Terry to design this unusual palazzo— (upper stories)-cum-Greek Revival (lower) composition in Tasmanian sandstone. Construction began in 1866. The bank extended its building northwards from five bays to seven in 1882, going to the extent of re-opening the Tasmanian quarry that had supplied the original stone and preserving the symmetry by moving the original doorway. Architectural historians still rate that severed façade highly.

Lawyer, financier, one-time politician and speculator Thomas Russell was the driving force behind the BNZ. He was as important to Auckland as the more ostentatiously philanthropic John Logan Campbell the city now prefers to remember.

The bank went bust during the 1890s, was bailed out by the government and was run from Wellington while publicly owned. Russell, described tactfully by Russell Stone as ‘a man who never lacked enemies’, probably would have relished the property and shares boom of the 1980s that produced tiresome towers such as the one behind Terry’s façade.

© 2002 Original text – Gavin McLean.