State housing in Remuera


Remuera has many excellent examples of State Houses built from the late 1930s when Labour governed for the first time and was determined to provide quality rental housing to returned servicemen and the working poor.

The Department of Housing Construction was formed in 1936 to build freestanding houses on generous sections conducive to suburban family life.[1] 19 state houses were approved for construction in Remuera in June 1938, and Fletcher Construction Company Limited awarded the contract to build the houses on Wiles Avenue and Benson Road.[2] Land for a further 29 houses was purchased in Remuera in October 1938 in Benson Road, Portland Road, Spencer Street, Walter Street and Ingram Road.[3]

[1] Carlyon, Jenny and Diana Morrow, A fine prospect: a history of Remuera, Meadowbank and St Johns, Auckland, New Zealand : Random House, 2011.

[2] New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXV, Issue 23063, 14 June 1938, Page 8

[3] New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXV, Issue 23157, 1 October 1938, Page 14

38a Spencer St Remuera R Washer Aug 2023

38a Spencer St Remuera R Washer Aug 2023

7 Hapua Street Remuera R Washer

25 Spencer St Remuera R Washer Aug 2023

Life in New Zealand was changing with a population explosion post WWII, new technology assisting households with many domestic tasks, the proliferation of car ownership and the resulting roading infrastructure development and urbanisation resulting in the mass land subdivision, creating new suburbs out of farm land such as Meadowbank east of Remuera.

Vacant land, often in low-lying streets such as Hapua Street, or adjoining motorways such as Lillington Road, was purchased to build clusters of community housing surrounded by existing freehold houses. Land was subdivided into smaller sections on many established Remuera Streets including Lucerne Road, Lingarth Street, Spencer Street, Portland Road, Bell Avenue, Wiles Avenue and Standen Avenue after being sold to the government.

Numerous solid, rectangular houses were built, with varying different styles of architecture and layouts, including semi-detached units, and different materials used to clad these humble dwellings including weatherboard, brick and plasterboard with clay or concrete tiles on the roof. Articles in the Herald newspaper in 1940 described the Remuera state houses as ‘ugly architecture’ and ‘with a plain square frontage broken by two lines of small windows and a curiously designed porch’[1] but to many tenants they were a perfect first home.

[1] New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXVII, Issue 23612, 23 March 1940, Page 15

18 Wiles Ave Remuera R Washer Aug 2023

74-76 Spencer St Remuera S Cooper 2023

The state housing initiative also provided employment and training. Remuera Round magazine stated in 1947 ‘Seven painters are giving the final colour to 17 unit houses (three being double) in the Lillington Road State subdivision! These men are ex- servicemen trainees. After four months at a school, they are given eight months practical work, after which they qualify to draw journeymen’s wages.’[1] A large portion of state housing was allocated to return servicemen to rent at reduced cost. In the late 1940s the National government encouraged banking institutions to offer favourable rates to state house renters to freehold the property.

The land surrounding the state houses was prized by many State tenants and ‘contests for the best State house garden (Scarborough Bros.’ prize), and for the State house garden where best results are shown in nine months occupancy or less (Mr Pass’ prize) were awarded’[2] and recorded in the Remuera Round magazine. 10a Dempsey Street was the winning garden in 1947, praised for its general layout, flowers, shrubs, vegetables, lawns and neatness, but it was noted ‘Gardens suffered through the stiffness of the path layout, the planting of shrubs without vision, such things, however, not the fault of the tenants.’[3]

Remuera’s State houses are highly sought after today, particularly for their large sections, solid construction and how adaptable they are to develop into modern dwellings. Many houses have been substantially renovated and expanded making them unrecognisable as State houses. Two State homes for sale on Spencer Street showed the potential to either retain the many attractive original features, such as casement windows and solid doors, and decorate, or completely renovate and expand them in to more modern attractive dwellings. Jeremy Salmond wrote ‘These houses were born of a desire to build well but not extravagantly’[4] and have certainly in Remuera stood the test of time.

[1] Remuera Round – Volume 2, Number 29 RR_19470626_1

[2] Remuera Round – Volume 2, Number 38 RR_19470828 1

[3] Remuera Round – Volume 2, Number 48 RR_19471113_1

[4] Salmond, Jeremy, Old New Zealand houses 1800-1940, Auckland [N.Z.] : Reed Methuen, 1986. p. 228.