Heritage Panel Map Reference 21 – Owd Trafford
Owd Trafford, more prosaically known as 17 Brougham Street, is one of most beautiful of a number of Art Deco apartment blocks in Mt Victoria.
It was designed in 1940 by Cyril Mitchell of the architectural firm Mitchell & Mitchell. At the age of eighteen, in 1909, Cyril was taken on at Atkins and Bacon as a draughtsman and became a partner in 1918. The 28 year-old Mitchell was left on his own in 1919, however, after Bacon left the firm because of failing health and Atkins died. Cyril built up the firm, and renamed it Mitchell and Mitchell when his brother Allan joined in 1932. Cyril Mitchell had roots in Mt Victoria, where he and his brother attended Clyde Quay School and on to Wellington College. He died in 1949, aged only 57.
Other Art Deco buildings by Cyril Mitchell are the Central Fire Station (1935), the Waterloo Hotel (1936) and the MLC Building (1940).
One of the current residents of Owd Trafford, Frank, has lived there since the 1950’s. He moved there with his mother when he was twelve and they rented one of the twelve flats. Frank remembers it as being very nice even though Mt Victoria then “was generally thought of as one of the lesser suburbs of Wellington”. He recalls that Jenkins & Mack Ltd, a well-regarded and long-established firm of engineers’ and plumbers’ merchants, were involved in its building. Since the 1960’s, when a company-share structure was set up and the flats sold individually, it has been owner-occupied. When MVHS talked to Frank in 2006, he felt this was one of the reasons there hadn’t been much change in the appearance of the flats, which retain most of their original features.
There were a number of architectural styles used between 1930 and 1950 in New Zealand, but Art Deco was probably the most distinctive because of its new colours, materials and decorations. Despite spanning the period of the great Depression and World War II, the style is notable for its vigour. Owd Trafford was, of course, designed and built during the War.
Art Deco was a style which arose quickly and ended quickly. It brought a new and distinctive decorative vocabulary to architecture and made the most of new materials such as stainless steel, plastic, chrome, vitrolite and neon. It was created mostly for big business, and was meant to be easily identifiable as “up-to-date”. It appealed particularly to companies wishing to project a new image.
Owd Trafford has strong elements of the streamlined style, a variant of Art Deco notable for its rounded edges, smooth surfaces and low, horizontal profiles. It was emblematic of speed and efficiency and picked up on the fascination with the machine that prevailed at the time. You can also see these characteristics in 123 Brougham Street and the building on the corner of Majoribanks St and Kent Terrace; and somewhat in Belvedere (82 Marjoribanks St) and St Malo Flats (53 Austin St).
From a heritage and design point of view, one of the unfortunate developments is the tendency to add additional stories to buildings to maximise rental returns, destroying the carefully crafted proportions of buildings such as the old City Hotel, above left. For the sake of one more floor, this Art Deco building, like many others, has lost something of the defining essence of its style.