Espano is frequently thought of as the flawed pseudo-Hollywood masterpiece of Arthur Sinclair O’Connor, a Spanish Mission fantasia fit for the optimistic Auckland of the between-war years. Looming eerily in the gully of Myers Park, with its very own statue guardian (a knock-off of Michelangelo’s Moses), the building sits near the original spring of the Waihorotiu, the stream that now runs beneath Queen Street to the sea – and hence in indigenous Maori lore, home to the taniwha Horotiu.
Built in just a few months in 1927, Espano was originally to be one of a pair, yet the Great Depression scuppered those plans, leaving the next-door twin site to fester undeveloped for 90-odd years, until enough capital could be wrangled together to build anew. Originally advertised as “The Most Well-Appointed Apartments in the Dominion” – Espano proudly boasted Australian red cedar carpentry, Italian terrazzo flooring and mod cons like electricity, hot and cold running water and even the luxury of separate kitchen bins for plain and wholemeal flour – a telling reminder of how integral baking was to home life at the time.
Over the years Espano has been populated by jazz nightclub proprietors, actors from the Mercury Theatre, filmmakers, artists, writers, musicians and other denizens of the night. Careworn and offbeat, Espano retains many original features and has a character all its own, fitting in nicely to the always dynamic Karangahape Road neighbourhood.