Of late my interest in toilets has come out of the closet, joined Tinder, swiped right and made sweet sweet love to my interest in history and other ‘cool old shit’. The bastard love child of this union will be laboriously birthed into being in the form of a piece of research examining Central Auckland’s heritage toilets. Due to the mild retardation of my own photographic abilities I hope to be joined in my pursuit of hidden toilet joy by acclaimed travel and rock climbing photographer Joshua Windsor (it’s in print now Josh, no turning back!)
The most obvious difference and one of my favourite features of the early 20th Century convenience is that most of them are or were below ground. You must venture beneath the surface of the street like a common bridge troll to gain access to many of these Edwardian facilities. Once upon a time Central Auckland had plenty of examples; top of Newton Road, Howe Street, Wakefield Street, Victoria Street West and Wellesley Street but most have been sealed off and paved over, never to see the light of day or drunk people’s wees ever again. The few remaining examples, many retaining some of their heritage features, are in danger as the new Britomart-Mount Eden underground will pretty much obliterate them as it drills through the ground under the CBD to traffic commuters and school children from rock to hard place.
My cunning plan is to get in there and record them before they are reduced to rubble, followed by a wave of stainless steal and automatic flushers. I’m hoping if I nice-talk some council men they might let me into the locked underground loos on Wellesley and Customs Streets to document their down cast beauty, tiling and any other industrial features which will be chopped up like an old mutton carcass to be sold off as dog meat and fertiliser.
Durham Street. It’s a funny little dead-end which obviously used to lead somewhere but unfortunately development has made almost obsolete. When walking down Albert street towards the wonder that is the Wynyard Quarter, you might look over the lip of the road to the right and see the remaining segments of the bluestone wall which was one of the earliest pieces of road construction in Auckland. There has been a men’s bathroom on this site since the 1880’s which by New Zealand standards is very fucking old indeed (I know 135 years isn’t very old around the world when it comes to buildings and such but here in little ol’ NZ we started pretty late with the whole colonial European vibe)
As you might be able to make out from these pictures, some of the lovely original features are still present, the stair rail and lamp post (just out of shot on above he doorway) were crafted specially for purpose. The pressed iron screens are present in this and another example of Auckland’s heritage bathrooms at Three Lamps in Ponsonby.
This plaque would have once stated information about the bathroom, possibly the cost (a penny back in the day, hence the term ‘spend a penny’) and the opening hours.
I have a bit of a thing for tile work so I was happy to see that this bathroom still retained it’s tiles though to me they don’t look original but they still relate nicely to the age and pedigree of it’s original construction.
Sadly many of the original features have been ripped out and replaced as is so often the case. The porcelain sinks have been replaced with robotic miserable looking creations which would look more at home in a prison cell.
I didn’t venture in to the stalls, partially because it is a men’s bathroom and I was very concious that I shouldn’t be in there in the first place and also because someone was using one of them making me fell very nervous and not wanting to stick around and have them worry that we were listening. The last thing I would want to do is make someone else’s anxiety worse.
Cleanliness: 8/10 The council do a decent job but I long for the by-gone days of attendants and a well taken care of facility. Having said that during my first research trip to the Auckland Council Archive I came across hand written complaint letters from a disgruntled gentlemen claiming the bathrooms were not up to the expected standard, in 1908. I guess some things never change.
Interior: 8/10 Points given for the features retained, points deducted for the features removed and replaced with totally ridiculously not-in-keeping-with-the-theme items such as the horrid sinks and the flooring.
Exterior: 9/10 Hobbity and cute, it is positioned somewhere that is very central but if you didn’t know it was there you would likely never come across it, unless you frequent the weird karaoke bars and parking buildings leading up to the doorway.
Safety: 4/10 Yeah it felt pretty stabby, really rather ‘homeless people huff paint in here’ feelings coming from the whole area.
Snugglitude: 7/10 15+ points given for the original features and the history but most of those have been negated by the stabbiness and lack of love (not that kind of love, thought I’m sure it gets plenty of that. Eww let’s not go there) our heritage gets here in Auckland.