St Elmo Courts

Built in 1930, St Elmo Courts was an Art Deco apartment complex situated at 47 Hereford Street. 

St Elmo Courts
St Elmo Courts. Photographer (pht): Cafe Cecil, Contributor (ctb): Cafe Cecil. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This apartment building at 47 Hereford Street was erected on what was originally part of Town Sections 416 and 418. These two sections were bordered in the south by Hereford Street, while section 418 was bordered in the west by Montreal Street.

Initially the sections were owned by Edward Richardson and in 1890 they were transferred to Henry Menzies. They were later transferred to Emelia Georgina Maria Tribe, a widow, in 1894. The executors of the estate of Emelia Georgina Maria Tribe transferred the property to Samuel McMurray, a timber merchant, in September 1917. In that same month Samuel McMurray transferred the property to Frederick Josiah Murray who also operated the St Elmo boarding house on the corner of Worcester and Montreal streets.

Murray was retired by April 1929 and his properties were advertised under the name of St Elmo. The sections on Hereford Street were described as ‘suitable as a site for a modern hotel’.

By July 1929, a group of Wellington and Christchurch businessmen formed St Elmo Courts Limited and called for investors. They intended to construct what would be, at the time, the largest apartment building in Christchurch. In October 1929, the southern parts of Town Sections 416 and 418 which faced onto Hereford Street were transferred from Murray to St Elmo Courts Limited.

The Christchurch City Council granted approval to the company to construct the apartment building on 2 December 1929. The contractor was W. Williamson. Designed by architect and structural engineer, B. J. Ager, the building made use of the stripped classical style of Art Deco to accentuate its height.

The exterior of the ground floor was rusticated and was topped by a frieze featuring trigylphs and metopes. Set above this was a dentil frieze and cornice. This separated the ground floor from the five upper floors. The fifth floor was topped by another frieze and cornice which separated it from the sixth floor. The frieze and cornice was repeated on the top of the sixth floor, accompanied by a balustrade. The roof was flat and set atop it was a penthouse to accommodate the building’s caretaker.

Upon entering the building on Hereford Street, there was a vestibule which opened into a corridor. Directly opposite the vestibule entrance was a lift. Next to the lift was the staircase that led to the upper floors. The ground floor featured six apartments while seven apartments were situated on each of the upper floors.

By November 1930, the construction of the building was nearing completion and in February 1931 the applications for the apartments were being advertised.

In the 1950s the building was converted into offices, and the caretaker’s penthouse was altered and extended to become office space in 1955. The last resident left the building 1957.

By 1964, companies such as Shell Oil New Zealand Limited, Hartford Fire Insurance, the Transport Department, and Scientific and Industrial Research Department (DSIR) had their offices in the building. The penthouse was used as an observatory by the DSIR.

The building was registered as a Category II historic place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1981.

In 1982, the building was purchased by Richard Ashton Owen and his wife, Mary Penelope Owen. Following this purchase a new penthouse was designed by Peter Kent.

The building was damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes and subsequently demolished in 2011.