Ace House, 111 Brougham St

Ace House built in 1906 for Alexander Gray

Ace House built in 1906 for Alexander Gray

This elegant house was built in 1906 for Alexander Gray, on part of what was known as the Gray Estate – the last major subdivision on Mt Victoria – and next door to his mother’s house. At the time, Alex had not long been married to Mary Nelson, whom he had wed in 1904.

The house was of a quality and status befitting such a successful and well-respected lawyer. It was designed by well-known Christchurch architect, Samuel Hurst Seager.

Samuel Hurst Seager, circa 1910, photographed by Herman John Schmidt. Alexander Turnbull Library 1/1-001927-G

Samuel Hurst Seager, circa 1910, photographed by Herman John Schmidt.
Alexander Turnbull Library 1/1-001927-G

When tender notices appeared in the local paper for its construction, James Walter Chapman Taylor put in a bid and was successful. The house was a classic Arts and Crafts masterpiece by Hurst Seager. ChapmanTaylor was not yet the well-known architect he would become and it was a chance for him to display his high-quality construction methods and building management abilities. Chapman Taylor was later to become famous for his own Arts and Crafts architecture, though it was influenced by a slightly different style, and this was no doubt part of the attraction in seeking the job.

By 1900 Seager had become recognised as a leading designer of large houses in the English Domestic Revival style and many such houses are found throughout Canterbury. He was also influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement and introduced the bungalow style to New Zealand. Seager was committed to the social role of architecture. In partnership with Cecil Wood (from 1906 until about 1912) he designed the worker’s dwelling which was built as part of the 1906 Heretaunga settlement in Petone. He was also a pioneering advocate for the preservation of historic buildings.

When Wellington architect, Martin Hill, visited the house in 2000 he commented “there is no sign today of timber movement in the extensive joinery and panelled walls, especially where concealed doors in the panelling still seem as new”.

Evening Post 03.01.9133, Alexander Turnbull Library

Evening Post 03.01.9133, Alexander Turnbull Library

Alexander Gray was born in 1860 while his family lived in New Plymouth. His parents and one son had arrived in 1852 and his father became Postmaster in New Plymouth. They moved to Wellington in 1870 when his father was appointed Inspector of Post Offices.

Alex was educated at Wellington Grammar School (which became Wellington College). His schooling ended when he was 14 years old, though, and he started work as a cadet in the Attorney- General’s office. He remained there for just two years before being articled to Francis Bell of Izard and Bell. Five years later, when he was admitted to the bar, he moved to the Wairarapa and became a junior partner in a Greytown firm. Then, in 1886 he returned to Wellington and founded a firm in which, with various changes in partners, he was still working at his death.

Alex married Mary Nelson, originally from Milton in Otago, in 1904 and they had two children.

Gray’s reputation grew over the years and in 1912 he was appointed a King’s Counsel. He was president of the Wellington Law Society, then president of the New Zealand Law Society from 1926. He took part in many important cases, notably the Auckland Hospital Inquiry of 1926, and was famous for his “cool, incisive mind, his wide grasp of the most complicated details and his patient and persuasive manner”. He was widely considered one of New Zealand’s foremost legal counsel and a man of “exceptional personal charm”. In 1933 he was knighted in the New Year’s Honours.

Alex Gray lived in this house until he died suddenly in April 1933. A service was conducted at his home and thousands of people lined the streets as his funeral procession of cars “several blocks long” passed through the city to Karori Cemetery. His wife, Lady Mary Gray, lived on there until 1938.

The house was then bought by a Mrs William (Isabel Joyce) Seater who had various boarders over the years until the last date we have researched, 1945.