Ghosts of Newton

I once knew some lads who lived in a house on Randolph Street in Newton, Auckland.

It was this house, in fact:

Randolph Street

Only back then it wasn’t so nicely done up. It was a bit run down, and they paid heaps in electricity due to the house being in a commercial zone. The neighbours were all businesses, in soild, sensible commercial buildings built in the mid-20th century onwards.

Because back in the ’90s, Newton wasn’t really a suburb where people lived. Though most of the people who did reside there inhabited rundown old villas.

But it wasn’t always like that.

Newton used to be a bustling inner-city suburb. It looked like this:

old-newton

There were lots of houses, businesses, schools and churches. It was, like neighbouring Ponsonby, a solid, working-class surburb.

Then in the 1950s, it was decided that Auckland needed a motorway, and the best path for it was right through Newton. The houses were getting old and run down, so it was easy enough to convince people of the need to pull down the slums and replace them with a big-arse motorway.

Why live in crappy old Newton when you can move out to a dry, spacious modern new house in the suburbs, commuting to work along the new motorway?

And besides, the threat of a motorway coming nearby is a pretty good incentive for a landlord to stop doing upkeep on an already rickety old house.

It took a few decades, but eventually the houses and streets of Newton were bulldozed and replaced with a big-arse motorway.

newton

And when you look at it on Google Maps, it looks like this:

motorway

Yet if you look between the motorway roads, you can still see the property boundaries of the old pre-motorway sections, as well as the gaps in between where the old roads went.

You can trace the invisible path between France Street and Mercury Lane, reunite West Street and West Terrace, loiter on the corner of Montague and Cobden Streets.

motorway3

The remaining bits of Newton soon turned from residential to commercial. The old houses were pulled down, replaced by commercial buildings.

Nearby Ponsonby survived. It avoided the motorway (and it was, at one stage, the preferred route from Newton to the Harbour Bridge). Ponsonby’s villas, like Newton’s, were old and rickety. But eventually Ponsonby’s inner city location got the better of it and people with money moved in, fixing up those old villas, plank by plank, until they were sufficiently nice.

The Motorway

Could a Ponsonby-like fate have awaited Newton if, by some miracle, the motorway had gone some other way? Could Newton be a gentrified inner city suburb now?

The few old villas that remain in Newton, including the one in Randolph Street, are getting fancied up, lived in by people with money.

Though on the K Road side, there are still a few old rundown villas, wedged between panel beaters and mysterious businesses in old unnamed buildings.

East Street

Of course, a few old villas are used for business purposes, such as the infamous Pelican Club on Newton Road. It’s had so much done to it to protect the privacy of its clients that it’s accidentally taken on a quirky postmodernist look, managing to disguise itself to avoid looking like what it is – a windowless sex box.

Newton Road

And Newton gives us the King’s Arms. A former corner pub (France St & Edwin St), serving the locals, it now divides its time between hipsters who come for the live music, and the old drunks who hang out in the unhip bar in the old part of the building.

France Street

While the motorway may have done its best to eradicate the old residential, suburban Newton, the ghosts of that Newton linger in the remaining villas, the street names, the old bluestone curbstones.

And a curious thing is happening. Slowly over the last 15 years, people have started living in Newton again. It’s not in villas, though. This time it’s in apartments and townhouses. The ghosts of Newton have reminded us that at its heart it’s an inner-city suburb and, actually, not such a bad place to live after all.

27 thoughts on “Ghosts of Newton”

  1. Robin Hyde’s Nor the Years Condemn is good on contemporary (1930s) life in inner-city Auckland, particularly Upper Queen Street and (I think, although I may recall incorrectly) Grafton.

    I also enjoy Paula Morris’s Queen of Beauty for the returning protagonist’s reaction to the gentrification of Ponsonby and the relocation of her family to the suburbs in the manner you describe above.

  2. Sometimes, I think I need only wait and my friends will write my thesis for me and provide me with a bibliography. This is one such time.

    My current reading is Tales of Anna Hoffman. about Auckland in the ’50s. Writing in 1998, she feels it necessary to tell her reader that central Auckland was an inhabited place back in the day.

  3. I have to tell you, whilst “Windowless Sex Box” is either a good name for a band, some kind of esoteric martial arts move or an unfortunate Native American name, I intend to somehow drop it into conversation somewhere, somehow. Hipster parties beware; I got the icebreaker for your small talk right HERE.

  4. Hey, I lived at the Star Newton, which was managed by my father. I went to Newton Central and then St. Paul’s. We used to play cricket in Gundry street and smoke Du Mauriers nicked from mum on the graves in Grafton Gully.
    City-Newton was the league team and the Avon was our picture theatre.
    Newton in the fifties was alive and kicking. And so were we.

    1. Thanks for sharing those memories, George! It makes me wish I could have experience Newton back then.

      Coincidentally, about 10 years ago I lived in the old Star Hotel building. It could have done with a bit more neighbourhood around it!

      1. Wow!
        You actually lived there. That’s pretty weird, how was it set up? I remember a big staircase going up to long spooky hallways and about a dozen rooms, a sitting room and two repeat two bathrooms. Luxury.
        Downstairs there was the Public bar, the Private Bar and the Ladies Lounge (cat’s bar).
        Underneath, the cellars with huge stainless steel tanks that were filled up by petrol tankers like vehicles. Pumping piss not petrol.

    2. Hi George, I was born at St Helens in Pitt St. We lived in Bute st that ran between Kirk and Waima St. I went to Newton Central between 1954 and 1955 but moved out West when they demolished our house to make way for the motorway. My teacher was Mr McCarthy. Our back yard in Bute St backed onto Newton Gully. The Lolloli’s lived next door, the Dempseys across the road and Jim and Gladis Jones around the corner in Waima St.
      Like you, my brother and i played for City-Newton too. Our training ground was at the bottom of Buchanan St in a huge old wooden shed laid with sawdust. Following training we used to go to Buchanan’s bakery and hoist a few loaves of bread (still cooling in the wind tunnel).. though to be fair the staff were always kind enough to fill our raincoats with buns and rolls etc if required. Our great moment were Saturdays when after our game the coach would shout us, win or lose, a broadway pie and drink!! A matinee at the Avon theatre that afternoon would top it off nicely. Ah they were the days! My brother and i continued to frequent our old home in Bute St until they eventually tore it down. Sad really. I remember Mrs Shine who owned the shop right at the very bottom of Kirk St, mainly for the big tins of boiled lollies she kept under the counter and i certainly remember the Star Hotel! Years later i worked for Newton Meat Co (Metzlers) just along the road. I also remember well Winston’s and DYC, trolley buses and Farmers Trading Co’s free buses. My Uncle James worked for Buchanan’s bakery delivering bread (by horse and cart!) and uncle Cec was the President of the ‘All Golds Club’ just around the corner from the Star hotel. Anyway..all the best to you George and all the other time travelers on this site. Good old memories.

      1. Hi Alan, My father was Jozef konik and he worked at Newton Meat company as well.My mother who is still alive owned the baby wear shop across the road. I was born in 1955 and can remember dad getting us to work in the Salami shop out the back with Johnny Podimack and Christmases delivering Hams in the back of one of the Volkswagon vans and Dad who has since passed away leaving us in the van and stopping at the Star for a few beers . Really good times, we like you moved out to the old Farmhouse in Te Atatu North in Kervil Ave.

        1. Hello Malcolm,

          I remember your mother’s baby shop well. I was employed as a driver for NMC in those days and yes they owned 3 Volkswagons…an old red one with sign writing on it, a later model light green one and the latest model that was dark green. I delivered a few Xmas hams it those vehicles too i can tell you and great vehicles they were, i have remained an adamant Volkswagon fan ever since. Your mother may remember they were parked every evening in the car park across the road on the corner of Karangahape and Newton Rd, next to her shop.

          Yes! the salami room out back i also remember well, chances are i knew your dad. There were many Europeans working there. The head foreman, a good man and my boss i knew as ‘Joe’ (from Hungary or Yugoslavia…i’m not sure) could be your dad Josef? He too used to have a few beers at the Star Hotel i remember. Also employed there were Polish (maybe Johnny Podimack?) German, Austrian, English, Australian, Kiwi folk and also a few Samoans who were moving into the district around that time, Mr Breeze the Manager (not sure of spelling), Mr Politzer the accountant and Betty the office lady (English)… all good people i recall.

          I now live in the Far North but occasionally return to Auckland to visit my children, a chance to reminisce about ‘the good old days’ but so much has changed as your mother will vouch for (and not always for the better!). I used to visit regularly the music shop just down from your mum’s shop, ‘Sydney Eddy’s’ i think it was called, connected to Lewis Eddy’s in Lower Queen St.
          Please pass on my best wishes to your mother, somewhere there in the past our paths would have crossed.

          1. Yes Joe (Jozef) was my father and he was from Slovakia, He passed away at age 52 of prostrate cancer. Mum 86 is in a rest home in Kumeu we moved her earlier this year and she is really enjoying herself. I see her once or twice a week so will let her know I have spoken you.
            All of the people you mentioned I remember well growing up , and not sure if you remember the wooden slide from upstairs near the spice room which my brother and I had a lot fun sliding down it.Its funny as you get a bit older and I am 60 now myself these were great memories. If you have any pictures would love to see them. You would be interested to know the building is now a vacant car parking space. Do you remember a big Samoan man named Sam? We have friends in Russell who run a bed and breakfast called “Tikitikiora” and we visit them regularly so we pay go a little further next time.Please keep in touch and it is lovely to speak with you , I will let my brother now I have caught up with you

          2. Hi Malcolm, It is sad to hear Jozef passed away,…i had no idea. He was such a fit, healthy looking man when i last saw him it seems unimaginable that he would pass away so young. My condolences for he was a good man especially to me and my brother Brian who also worked at Newton Meat Co. It is good to hear mum at 86 is doing well and enjoying life in Kumeu. Give her my regards please.

            I remember ‘big’ Sam very very well! He was once a professional boxer and taught me a lot about boxing as i was an avid fan of that sport too. We used to spar upstairs in the lunchroom with another driver Doug Eddington but you may not remember him as he was employed around the time i took up employment elsewhere.
            And oh the slide!…yes indeed i recall that so well as the many boxes full of condiments, herbs and spices came careering down conveniently landing through the slide door of the van. Unlike you though i never got the chance to test it out myself.

            Jozef would often say to me especially late on Friday nights as i was heading out the door to catch the bus for home… “Alan! i need you to ‘deli deli’ this to the ‘Cadorrra’ urgently (as he rolled his tongue!) you do for me this favour pleaze”!… and having done so he would show his appreciation by giving me a big parcel of assorted meats to take home. As i came from a family of 10 it was always gratefully accepted and appreciated. Today i can still see Joe’s face as clear as day. His dark swish-back hair, warm sometimes slightly ‘wry’ smile good looks and strong arms, no doubt from years of being in the butchery trade. So many other faces come to mind but names are hard to redress…the years dull the memory.
            Photographs regrettably i have to say i have none! It was not something we ever gave much consideration or thought to in those days. Today as a member of ancestry.com i could kick myself for not having done so and to that end make sure my children do not encounter the same oversight.
            Anyhow thanks Malcolm for replying to my comment…i had just about given up hope that anyone would be interested in my memoirs of such happenings and events in that era so cheers for that, and please keep in touch. I would really appreciate hearing your mother’s comments/reaction and even her own recollection of her days in Newton. Alan

          3. Alan, thanks for your quick reply, the mention of the upstairs lunchroom just bought back my memories on when we would help dad packing salami and having lunch upstairs in that little room with the windows at the end overlooking Gundry street and the church and Taxi Stand.FANTASTIC !!!.
            Memories of the large Red Doors to the smoker and the courtyard out the back on the way to the Salami room
            Just remembered Sams surname it was Tosso.
            The large steel drums of Povi Masi.
            Mr Politzer and Mr Breeze all people I remember.
            And every time we have La Vache Qi re “Laughing Cow Cheese I remember the big freezer and chiller behind the central work bench.
            All great memories and thank you for sharing them with me I will certainly pass your messages on to Mum
            Dad never talked about his life in Slovakia so three years ago I paid a private detective to find his family which they did and I flew to Slovakia to meet them. It was wonderful and the stories they had to tell were amazing. I was able to visit dad home which is still standing and met all my cousins etc and their families and I keep in touch with them via Facebook regularly. One thing they did give me was a copy of the Stasi (Russian Secret Police) and it turns out Dad was spying for the Americans after the war and they were following him with instructions he was to be killed, he was last seen entering the CIC (American Counter Intelligence) in Linz in Austria and was never seen again. He was offered either Canada or New Zealand as a new country to live and I presume whichever country was furthest away from the Russian in Slovakia. It now explains to me my father dislike of Communism and how he told us as children pray that communism never comes to NZ.
            I will see if I can find some pictures and send them to you or try and post them, Do you have an email .Keep in touch , what part of the far north are you living

          4. Malcolm, that is an extremely awesome story about Jozef!! Who would have suspected as much! Under such circumstances, that he had never mentioned his life back in the old country is quite understandable with a young family to care for and protect. Fortunately he chose the right place to settle… it’s just unfortunate that he passed away a relatively young man.

            Your trip to Slovakia would have been intriguing not only for what it revealed about your father but also the coming together of your own blood relatives. I am planning a similar reunion next year back to Britain then i plan to visit a good friend in France in the French Alps and hopefully a trip throughout Europe (a bit daunting though!) so i can appreciate where you are coming from to a certain degree. Nice one and good on you for having filled in those grey areas in your ancestry. As we grow older we develop a need to know who we are and of one’s provenance. You have fulfilled that. By the way, is your mother a Kiwi?

            I live app. 20km/s North of Mangonui in a place called Kaingaroa. My email address is alanroydudley111147bhb@gmail.com My daughter says it should be an address NOT an autobiography… cheeky!!

            I remember Gundry St i’m sure you dad Jozef used to park his car there sometimes! The last time i saw Jozef (i had left Newton Meat Co by then) was in Gundry St and i think he’d just been for a nip or two at the Star Hotel. I stopped and talked to him for a while. He was quite perky and he looked well at that stage. That is how i shall remember him. Cheers Malcolm and keep in touch. Alan

      2. Hi Alan
        My dad also delivered bread from Buchanans by horse and cart during the war. He used to take me with him sometimes and people used to give eggs and vegies, these were rationed during the war. I googled Buchanans as I am doing my dad’s family history. as you say ‘good old memories

        1. Hi Julie, thank you for your reply to my posting. I have a photograph of my Granddad Thomas Dudley standing next to his horse and cart (with sign writing advertising Buchanan’s fresh bread and buns on the cart). If you give me your email address i would be glad to send that picture to add to your Dad’s memoirs. It’s a very good photo considering how old it is.
          Granddad passed away in 1941 so he may have known your father briefly,who knows but it seems our paths certainly have crossed what now seems so long ago… but great to have shared a memory or two with you Julie. All the best.

          alanroydudley111147bhb@gmail.com

  5. Robyn,
    I am an old codger and would like to know if you can recall the Name of the Old Pub on the Corner of Newton Road and opposite that new service station beside the Water reservoir on the corner of Ponsonby road.

    1. I believe that was the Star Hotel that is mentioned above. I have no personal memory of it as the Star Hotel – it was just an unnamed retail/commercial/residential building when I lived there.

  6. Hi guys! 😀 oh my gosh thanks for the info! Its helped out with my project. I was just wondering if any of you have lived there or know anyone (old eps.) that use to live in Newton. I want to interview some people for my project. if anyones interested please email me. cheers!!

  7. Hey George Tinka! wow! awesome! are you able to email me what your dad thinks about Newton how it was before and now? sorry its random. i need this groups help 😀 it gets interesting!!

  8. Hey, I lived in Devon Street in the 50’s and my Uncle Jack used to drink at the Star Newton and the Kings Arms. I started school at Newton Central.

    All the kids had great times racing trolleys down Devon Street. I don’t even know if Devon Street still exists. My mother worked at Buchanans Bread factory

    1. Hi Frances. Thanks for sharing those memories! Most of Devon Street was gobbled up by Ian McKinnon Drive slicing through it, but there are little bits left at either end. The southern end is still called Devon Street and the northern end, which intersects with Newton Road, was renamed Piwakawaka (Fantail) Street.

    2. My husband Ronald Aukett used to live at number 14 Devon Street from about 1945 till they had to move because they demolished the house to make way for the motorway. He went to Napier Street, Beresford Street Schools, then Monticecelia during the war then Newton Central School. Loving reading all the posts on here.

    3. My husband Ronald Aukett who lived at the bottom house number 14 Devon Street, asks if you remember Barry Green, Billy Punchard, the Hills next door to him and the Rose’s. I am looking for a photo of Buchanan’s Bakery as he has fond memories of that time, he was one of the ones who used to race his trolley down Devon and Bright Street where they broke lots of cast iron trolley wheels because they didn’t like the hard road.

  9. Hi
    My grandparents rented in Devon Street for 27 years until the motorway sliced through the street and they were forced to move. I visited there throughout my childhood.My grandad used to go to the league at Carlaw Park and visit the King’s Arms on the way home. Suffolk Street was incredibly steep and scary to travel down, and going up was just as bad. My aunt was an asthmatic and used to spend a lot of time in hospital. She said as soon as she came back to Devon Street, she would become unwell again. She said the area was very damp and the steep walk in all directions made life difficult. Getting to Newton Central School and back was a challenge. She has lots of good memories of living there though.

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