Historic city synagogue for sale

5:02 PM Friday March 9, 2018 Colin Taylor

University House at 19A Princes St and Trish Clark Gallery at 1 Bowen Ave. Photo / Supplied

An Auckland CBD landmark historic building dating from 1885, which was the focus of Jewish religious life in the city for almost a century, has been placed on the market.

The 627sq m Grade 1 Heritage-listed building, at 19A Princes St on the corner with Bowen Avenue, served as the Jewish Synagogue for 84 years until it was deconsecrated in 1969.

Now called University House, it is home to the University of Auckland’s Alumni Relations and Development office.

“This sale presents prospective buyers with the chance to add an important part of Auckland’s cultural history to their portfolios,” says Cameron Melhuish of Bayleys who, with colleagues Mike Houlker and Sunil Bhana, is marketing the property on Auckland Council leasehold land for sale by tender, closing at 4pm on Thursday, April 12, unless it sells prior to that date.

Included in the sale is a 249sq m adjoining building at 1 Bowen Avenue occupied by Trish Clark Gallery, one of Auckland’s leading contemporary art spaces.

Together, both buildings generate an annual net rent of $262,351 plus GST.

“University House sits at the entrance to Auckland University campus and visitors cannot help but be impressed by its architecture,” Melhuish says.

The interior of the former synagogue was meticulously restored in the late 1980s and is a blend of Arabic and Classical styles featuring: ornate stained-glass windows and stained-glass dome; an elliptical staircase; a decorated barrel-vaulted, wood-panelled ceiling supported by graceful Arabic arches and columns; and ornate plaster work. The building has a Grade B Building seismic rating.

The building is one of only two 19th Century synagogues still standing in New Zealand and was designed by noted Auckland architect Edward Bartley who built it using concrete at a cost of £3000.

Bartley’s work had a lasting impact on Auckland’s cityscape and architecture. His other notable designs include the Auckland Savings Bank Building, on Queen St; St John's Church, on Ponsonby Rd; and the Kings Theatre, now Mercury Theatre, on Mercury Lane.

The building, which could seat a congregation of 375, was Auckland’s main synagogue and meeting centre for the city’s Jewish community.  

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An aerial view of the Princes St-Bowen Ave property (at bottom) on land owned by Auckland Council. Photo / Supplied

In 1967, the congregation moved to a larger, newly built synagogue on Greys Avenue, overlooking Myers Park and ownership reverted to Auckland City Council following the building’s deconsecration.

Left vacant, the building slowly deteriorated over the next two decades, until it was given a new lease of life as a branch of the National Bank in 1989 when Salmond Architects was charged with undertaking a restoration.

Melhuish says the project involved extensive structural and strengthening work and sought to redevelop the interior spaces for office use.

“Painstaking attention was given to the revitalisation of the building’s unique character attributes, including the Romanesque and Eastern decorative motifs and stained-glass windows.”

The conservation project won Salmond Architects the inaugural Auckland City Heritage Award and a New Zealand Institute of Architects National Award citation in 1990 for successfully reconciling the tenant’s commercial requirements with the need to conserve one of Auckland’s significant landmark buildings.

Melhuish says the adjoining building on Bowen Ave was built in 1986. “It was initially used as a theatre workshop and has housed the Trish Clark Gallery since 2014,” he says. “The gallery is run by Auckland art dealer Trish Clark and exhibits noted New Zealand and international artists.”

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The ornate interior reflects its origin as Auckland’s first Jewish Synagogue. Photo / Supplied

The entire property is zoned Open Space – Informal Recreation under the Auckland Unitary Plan and has a ratings valuation of $4.9 million encompassing the two buildings:

• 19A Princes St - including two car park spaces, generates $202,351 plus GST in annual net rent, from its lease to the University of Auckland that runs until June 2020 with two three-year rights of renewal; and

• 1 Bowen Ave – with one car park space which generates $60,000 plus GST in annual net rent, from its lease to Trish Clark Associates until April 2020, with one six-year right of renewal.

Both buildings sit on 1125sq m of land owned by Auckland Council in perpetuity. The ground rent, which is payable by the tenants, is currently $93,000 plus GST a year and is reviewed every seven years, with the next review due to take place in 2022.

The ground lease term is 21 years from June 1, 2008, with a further 21-year right of renewal, and is perpetually renewable thereafter. Its structure differs notably from that of a typical ground lease with the ground rent growth likely to be limited by unique provisions within the lease, including the building's historic classification and zoning constraints.

The property is located in the heart of Auckland’s education precinct and is surrounded by buildings leased or owned by the University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology.

It is within a short walking distance to Queen and Symonds Sts - both well served by public transport services and has easy access to the motorway network.

Melhuish says the property’s appeal is bolstered by the high level of amenities in the education precinct and the CBD.

“The area comprises one of the city’s premier shopping locations with a wide range of cafes, restaurants and bars. Nearby is Aotea Square, the city’s main entertainment and arts precinct; along with the Auckland Art Gallery and several theatres.”

Melhuish says the property is, “a masterful piece of Victorian architecture and an intrinsic part of Auckland’s history which continues to play an important role in the city’s cultural and educational life.

“It is fully leased to established tenants, providing an attractive cashflow to investors looking for something special and valuable to add to their property portfolio.”

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Cameron Melhuish of Bayleys