Wellington.Scoop » Everything changes on the Quay


by Lindsay Shelton
When David Jones closes this week it will be the first time there has been no department store on this side of Lambton Quay in over 150 years.

Kirkcaldie and Stains started its business on the quay in 1863, and it moved to its site between Brandon Street and Johnston Street five years later. The building whose facade survives today was begun in 1897, largely designed by William Turnbull.

old kirks Kirk in 1909

Renowned as Wellington’s leading quality department store, Kirks remained in its iconic building until its closure in 2016. The interior of the building was later refurbished and re-opened as David Jones, the UK’s largest department store chain. most famous in Australia.

But after less than six years, David Jones gives up and closes on Sunday. DomPost reports that the owner of the building, Bob Jones, is negotiating with three or four Australian retailers to occupy the space on the ground floor. The second floor will be occupied by a variety of smaller retailers, while the top floor will become offices.

Quotes from the NZ Herald JLL Sales and Leasing Manager Jim Wana said it’s likely there will be multiple tenants in the building, with the ground floor accommodating up to seven, “which effectively means potentially seven new retailers, giving you seven different reasons to come to CBD.

Kirks 2010 Kirk in 2010

In his book Wellington’s Old Buildings, David Kernohan writes:

The redevelopment of Kirkcaldie and Stains by Morrison Cooper and Partners in 1989 poses a vital question for the preservation of historic buildings: is facadism enough? If the 1906 facade is preserved, a large part of its charm, its horizontality, is lost. Inside, three floors have been compressed into the original two, destroying the spatial quality. The 13-story twin towers rest incongruously on the fabricated podium, with symbolic shaping of the pediment detail, the towers’ only concession to their context.

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On the block next to the old Kirks is Harbor City Centre, built as a department store in 1928 for the Drapery Importer’s Company known as DIC. David Kernohan writes:

Its classic stripped-down appearance owes much to the “Chicago School” that set the standard for department store design in the 20th century… Identified as an earthquake hazard in the mid-1970s, the decision to remodel rather than demolish was courageous and imaginative and his manner of execution admirable. This involved building structural steel diagonal members into the existing steel frame while the building remained in use. At the same time, a major store reorganization was completed – Warren and Mahoney designed a two-story mall with a variety of stores in the area that was once the DIC’s main shopping floor.

james smiths James Smiths Building in 2015 – COE photo

Wellington’s third department store was James Smiths, on the corner of Cuba and Manners Street. Like Kirkcaldies, James Smiths was also founded in the 1860s, but it did not move to its Cuba Street site until 1920. It is made up of five buildings. David Kernohan writes:

Despite many modifications and extensions, the original Cuba Street building from the 1920s still exists inside – 3 stories with cast iron columns, steel beams with wooden floors and brick walls. The 1934 building on Manners Street has five stories, a steel frame and concrete cladding with reinforced concrete slab floors. The additions of 1963 have an anonymous face and contribute little to the coherence of the whole.

The James Smith department store, a traditional meeting place for Wellingtonians, closed in 1993.


In Cuba Street, the facade of the Farmers department store has recently been restored as part of a new Willis Bond development, but the old building behind has been demolished and rebuilt, with a cluster of shops and offices facing the street (including the Regional Council) behind and above them. Built in 1914, it was designed by the architect of the town hall as a large family store known as C.Smith. It was purchased by the farmers in 1960 with additions taking it to Victoria Street.

Wellington’s only remaining Farmers store, opposite the soon to be closed David Jones on Lambton Quay, survives as the capital’s only department store.


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