Historic Place Category 1
Lot 1 DP 40976
This site has housed a hotel continuously since 1865. The first one was known as the Harp of Erin, then as the Borough Hotel from 1870 and, after its purchase by John Barrett in 1878, as the Barrett's Family Hotel. Barrett lost his publican's license in 1880 for two years after failing to stop a riot between the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society marchers, and the predominantly Catholic hotel patrons.
During this period W.B. Armson was commissioned to design a new building for the hotel, which is the one extant today. Armson was one of the foremost architects in nineteenth-century New Zealand and is noted for his design of many bank buildings around New Zealand as well as other public buildings such as the former Canterbury Public Library. A few years earlier Armson had designed another hotel for Barrett, which survives today as the much-modified Durham Arms.
Armson designed Barrett's hotel in the style of an Italian palazzo, an architectural form made famous by Sir Charles Barry's designs for two London clubs, the Travellers' (1829-1830) and the Reform Club (1837-1838). Features of this style can be seen in the block-like plan, the rusticated lower storey, the differing window treatments on the three floors, and the elaborate cornice.
From 1906 the hotel became known as the Excelsior. It provided accommodation as well as alcohol for most of its existence apart from a twenty-odd year gap between the 1960s and 1980s. This building is an important landmark feature in Christchurch and one of the few examples of Armson's work still standing. It remains on a site where a hotel has stood for over 100 years.
The Excelsior is one of the small number of nineteenth century hotels still remaining in Christchurch, largely in original condition. As a central city hotel, it has been an important part of the city's life for over 100 years.
The Excelsior Hotel is one of the smaller number of buildings designed by
W.B. Armson which have so far survived the pressures of redevelopment in central Christchurch. Together with Fisher's Building, High Street, (1880), Bell's Arcade, Cashel Street, (1881) and Harald's Building, Lichfield Street, (1881), the hotel is a remnant of the city's rapidly disappearing Victorian architectural heritage and evidence of Armson's significant contribution to that heritage. The Excelsior is a striking example of the Renaissance Revival style seen through the eyes of one of New Zealand's leading colonial architects.
The Excelsior Hotel is a pivotal building within the Lichfield/Manchester/High Street intersection and it makes a significant contribution to the architectural character of a portion of the inner city which retains a relatively large number of buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The quality and abundance of the ornamental stuccowork is a distinctive feature of the hotel building, typical of many buildings of its period.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (STYLE)09 Dec 2008
The hotel is a three storeyed building designed in the Italian palazzo style. Of the two principal facades the High Street elevation is the shorter and therefore the one that comes closest to the block like appearance of Charles Barry's influential Travellers' and Reform Clubs in London. Recent alterations have hidden the rusticated 'stonework' of the ground floor within this elevation, but the rest of the facade remains unchanged. The elevation is divided into six bays and is given a Palladian 'centre and ends' composition by the architect. On the first floor four sash windows, topped by segmental pediments, are flanked by two Palladian windows which project slightly beyond the plane of the building. Below all the windows at this level balustrades enliven the surface texture of the building and reinforce Armson's debt to Barry's models.
Beneath the cornice and parapet, the latter not a true characteristic of the Renaissance palazzo, the second floor is less decorative in its treatment. Smaller sash windows, grouped in threes within the end bays, light the bedrooms behind. Rosettes alternating with triglyphs are set within the cornice.
The Manchester Street facade differs in three main ways. First, the elevation is longer by four bays, and, as one bay appears to be a later addition to the south, the 'centre and ends' composition is somewhat disturbed. Secondly, the rustication is still extant on the ground floor and, together with the vermiculated quoins above each window and door at this level, introduces a further contrast in texture within the elevation. Thirdly, the first floor windows are alternately crowned by segmental and triangular pediments, creating a different compositional rhythm. In all other respects the Manchester Street facade echoes that of the High Street elevation in its general format, although minor differences engage the viewer's eye and enrich the architectural treatment.
- Original Construction: 1881 (circa) - 1882
- Modification: 1897 (circa)
- Modification: 1988 (circa)
Brick with stucco veneer on principal elevations. Stone parapet.
- Stephen Symons, 'The Watering Holes: Some historical notes on a selection of the old hotels and drinking venues of the city of Christchurch', Christchurch, 1996
- Robert McDougall Art Gallery, W.B. Armson: A Colonial Architect Rediscovered, Christchurch, 1983.
- The Press,December 19, 1977, p30
- Star Midweek,September 4, 1986, p9
- University of Canterbury,New Zealand Architects File, reference room.
- Canterbury Museum,J R Allison File
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
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