The single storey building on the south-eastern corner of Remuera Rd and Clonbern Rd, at 367 – 369 Remuera Road is often referred to as the L J Keys Store or the “Clonbern Store” of Leonard John Keys.
The well-known photographs of c1910 and c1912 show a striking similarity to the present day streetscape, when viewed from the same vantage point. While extensive modifications have altered the original building interior and the exterior cladding is largely replaced or altered, the original shape is retained, particularly that of the roof structure. A side access door on the Clonbern Rd frontage, probably a loading point, can still be seen. (1)
A public road, named Clonbern Road, was created in 1906, following the 1905 subdivisional Plan of Clonbern. In April 1907, a 7-year lease was granted to Leonard John Keys by the owner, Frederick Stubbs.
While the first businessman in the Remuera township was probably Robert Skelton, a carrier, L J Keys’ “Clonbern Store” is one of the oldest local commercial buildings still standing. It was operated by L J Keys for only 7 years, but continued as a grocery store until the mid-1960s, with the 30 year period from the mid-1930s as Marriott’s. Albert White, the father of pioneer New Zealand aviation photographer Leo White, ran the grocer’s store for Keys while also growing and selling flowers from an ‘impressive garden’ at home in 4 Woodbine Road in Greenlane. (2)
Leonard John Keys (1880 – 1958) was born in Patea, brought up in the Thames district and then served an apprenticeship in the grocery trade in Auckland. In 1903 he married Sarah Marjory McMaster; the Keys had 3 children, Stan, Basil and Alison. (3)
Mr Keys is remembered particularly for his development of early passenger transport in Auckland’s eastern suburbs. The initiative to move into passenger transport may have evolved from the necessity to deliver goods as part of his grocery business.
Oral tradition says that as a grocer Mr Keys had adapted his delivery vehicle to accommodate both goods and passengers. By installing removable seats, he could ferry passengers going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening, but still use the van for delivering goods during the day. In 1915, having moved to St Helier’s Bay, he established a bus service, the first vehicle being a Chase. Known as the “K” buses, the business later became L J Keys Ltd and eventually expanded to a fleet of about 40 buses, which was bought 34 years later in 1949, by the Auckland Transport Board. (4) (5)
Mr Keys participated in a number of sports including bowls, representing New Zealand at the 1934 British Empire Games in London, England. He was a member of a number of societies, including the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows while in the grocery trade and, later, amongst other interests, he was a life member of the Auckland Institute and Museum. He is remembered in St Helier’s Bay in the naming of Keys Terrace.