D.I.C. 1909 – ‘An up-to-date Emporium’


DIC building, Cashel Street, ca. 1910. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004335-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22528384

DIC building, Cashel Street, ca. 1910. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004335-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22528384

The New Premises of the D.I.C.
Cashel and Lichfield Streets, Christchurch

From the ashes of the conflagration which ravaged the business heart of the city a year ago, there has arisen a wonderfully spacious and thoroughly up-to-date emporium, designed for the occupation of the extensive business undertakings of the Drapery Importing Company, firmly established in public confidence everywhere under the familiar title of the D.I.C. All the enterprise and modern ideas could suggest for the convenient carrying on of business has been incorporated with the internal arrangements of the new building, a most pleasing feature being the fact that wherever possible artistic touches have been applied to charm the eye and to beautify that which might easily otherwise have been permitted to stand in bold, utilitarian unloveliness.

The height of the new warehouse (which consists of three storeys and extensive cellar accommodation) is 62 feet. The Cashel street frontage has a width of 70 feet, and the Lichfield street frontage a width of 80 feet. The floor area totals 80,400 square feet, and the cellars contain 6050 square feet. There is a flat roof, covered with Neuchatel asphalte, having an area of 27,000 square feet.

The Ground Floor

The Cashel street frontage of the building presents most pleasing architectural effects, these having been secured by the artistic alternating of red and white stone. The verandah is a distinct novelty. It is constructed of iron, with a stamped steel ceiling underneath, painted white. By this means grateful shade from the hot sun will be afforded, and at the same time ample light will be reflected upon the immense stretch of show windows. The dangers common to the ordinary glass verandahs are also obviated. The show windows provide immense space for display purposes, and the most has been made of the room at command by doing away with the heavy wooden partitions. The various entrance vestibules are paved with marble, and the company’s well-known trade mark is artistically carried out in the same stone. The doors are of handsomely figured walnut and bevelled plate glass, while in the fanlights cathedral glass is used with charming effect. The entire building is divided into two distinct parts at the centre by a heavy brick wall, extending from the foundations to above the roof, this being pierced on each floor by double doors on either side, protected by fire-proof panels for use at night-time.

Photograph taken by the Steffano Webb Photographic Studio, c. a 1910. Reference Number 1/1-004335-G. Steffano Webb Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Detail from photograph above taken by the Steffano Webb Photographic Studio, c. a 1910. Reference Number 1/1-004335-G. Steffano Webb Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Entering the main doors from Cashel street one gained the impression of an immense chamber flooded with light, with walls and ceilings of gleaming white, throwing the dark polished fixtures and the massive walnut counters into high relief. At the time of our reporter’s visit everything was in a whirl of bustle and activity – everybody was preparing with restless energy for the opening day. This was the portion of the building dedicated to the drapery departments, in the centre of which are accommodated such airy trifles as ribbons, lace, and needlework, etc., while on the right, looking towards Lichfield street, is the Manchester department. A large amount of floor space, carpeted and cosily furnished, is set aside for the dress departments further along.

Display of woollen fabrics at DIC store, Christchurch, 4 May 1912. Webb, Steffano, Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-003992-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23172006

Display of woollen fabrics at DIC store, Christchurch, 4 May 1912. Webb, Steffano, Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-003992-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23172006

On the left-hand side of the building, a separate entrance from Cashel street gives access to a new department, fully stocked with men’s and boys’ clothing, mercery, etc., and at the rear of this the men’s boot department is located. The separate ladies’ boot department is in the vicinity, being well-equipped and tastefully appointed. At hand and readily accessible from all parts of the building is the passenger lift, communicating with all the floors, and which is one of the largest in the Dominion. Passing through the double entrance leading to the second half of the ground floor, cut off by the fireproof wall, one comes upon a wonderfully spacious series of show rooms, 90 feet long by 40 feet wide, beautifully furnished, and replete with all the latest fittings to ensure the effective display of the daintier articles dear to the feminine heart. Some idea of the extent of this immense enclosure may be gained from the fact that 700 yards of carpet were required to cover the floor. Thorough-out the establishment, the shelving has been kept at a moderate height, permitting light to enter from a row of windows on all sides, the interior illumination being further augmented by four light wells carried right up to the large expanse of skylights in the roof. The counters, as has been stated, are of solid polished walnut, while in many places plate-glass topped counters are effectively used for display purposes. Two staircases communicating with the floor above are provided on each flat. These have handsomely carved figured rimu balustrades, with jarrah treads. The staircase windows are specially designed in cathedral glass. Under the ground-floor staircase nearest the Cashel street entrance, the sub-manager’s office is situated, thus ensuring effective supervision.

Passing through the fire-proof entrance to the Lichfield street half of the building, on the left hand side, the visitor stands in the midst of an attractive department filled to overflowing with delightful examples of art crockery, glassware, china, and pottery. Beyond this is the furnishing ironmongery department, which leads on to the furnishing drapery department – blinds, art coverings, curtains, etc. Close by is a large linoleum department, and on the right of this a carpet-room, having a floor-space of 45 by 35 feet, upon which carpets of any size may be planned and cut. At this end of the building, as in all other parts, the company’s staff was busy receiving and marking off good just arrived from Home. The Lichfield street frontage is carried out in cement work, the verandah and show windows being similar in design to those in Cashel street. Retracing his steps, one discovers a short flight of stairs leading out of the crockery department into the packing and parcel delivery room. This is divided into different departments for handling town and country orders, and the receipt and delivery of goods. A comprehensive system of interior telephones has been installed throughout the premises, in addition to which there are the usual connections wit the city exchange.

The Second Floor

The staircase nearest the Cashel street entrance leads into the musical instrument department, and from thence to the fancy goods, toy and games department. Although a very large amount of space was devoted to this particular purpose in the former building, the department last named has been spread over double the original area, and every square foot is effectively employed.

DIC tea room interior, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004346-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23229906

DIC tea room interior, Christchurch. Webb, Steffano, 1880?-1967 : Collection of negatives. Ref: 1/1-004346-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23229906

The Tea Rooms

The tea rooms occupy the most commanding position in the whole building, overlooking, as they do, Cashel street from the second floor. This spacious apartment is beautifully lighted by three immense oriel windows and three large plain windows from the front, while at the rear the partition is practically all plate glass, surmounted by a delightful frieze in cathedral glass. The highest artistic taste has been lavished upon the appointments of the tea rooms. The walls are papered a charming tint of golden russet, and at either end of the room is a quaint open fireplace with a richly-carved mantelpiece. The lamps are fitted with green-beaded shades, while the floor is covered with a specially manufactured green inlaid linoleum. A tiled server is adjoining, while on the next floor the kitchen is located. This is fitted up with all the modern devices for the preparation of dainties, the company having engaged Miss Woodward to do all the cooking on the premises. The tea rooms will be placed under the experienced care of Miss Knight, from Wellington.

The comfort and convenience of the firm’s customers have been further secured by the provision of retiring rooms, handsomely appointed with tiled walls and tesselated marble floors.

The Counting House

The managerial offices and counting house on this floor are spacious and convenient. To the rear of the typewriters’ office are the general manager’s, manager’s, and secretary’s office, all in communication with each other and with the counting house. Figured red pine, flat varnished, has been used with admirable effect in the interior construction and fittings of this important suite of apartments, which includes, also, the central cash desk. Lamson’s pneumatic despatch tubes have been installed all over the building, and the cash is conveyed by means of these from the counters to the central desk. In all there are 22 stations, the whole system involving the use of 7584ft of drawn brass tubing.

The remainder of the first floor is occupied by the furniture show-rooms, in which are displayed useful and beautiful articles, ranging from humble kitchen chairs to drawing-room suites fit for a palace.

Looking down Cashel Street towards Colombo Street intersection, Christchurch. Photographer: Radcliffe, Frederick George. Showing Wardell Bros and Co., Bank of Australasia, D.I.C. Drapery and General Importing Co of NZ Ltd, Beaths Co Ltd - drapers, Hallenstein Bros. Ltd. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R394.

Looking down Cashel Street towards Colombo Street intersection, Christchurch. Photographer: Radcliffe, Frederick George. Showing Wardell Bros and Co., Bank of Australasia, D.I.C. Drapery and General Importing Co of NZ Ltd, Beaths Co Ltd – drapers, Hallenstein Bros. Ltd. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R394.

"From the thickest carpet to the most delicate fabric, including walls, upholstered furniture, bedding, mattresses, tapestries, pictures, and walls, cleaned by  THE FAMOUS VACUUM CLEANER. NO DUST. NO DISCOMFORT. MODERATE COST" The Booth's Patent Vacuum cleaner, on display outside DIC by The Vacuum Cleaning Co, was so large it had to be pulled by a horse. Photo by Steffano Webb, 1910. Source: Ref: 1/1-021833-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22713623

“From the thickest carpet to the most delicate fabric, including walls, upholstered furniture, bedding, mattresses, tapestries, pictures, and walls, cleaned by THE FAMOUS VACUUM CLEANER. NO DUST. NO DISCOMFORT. MODERATE COST”
The Booth’s Patent Vacuum cleaner, on display outside DIC by The Vacuum Cleaning Co, was so large it had to be pulled by a horse.
Photo by Steffano Webb, 1910. Source: Ref: 1/1-021833-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22713623

The Third Floor

On the third floor there is a series of ladies’ waiting-rooms, all tastefully furnished, and four well-appointed dressmakers’ fitting-rooms. There is also a large room for occasional exclusive displays of goods from different departments. The dress, mantle and millinery work-rooms are approached by a long corridor, the walls on each side being covered with asbestos sheeting. There are two dressmaking rooms, each 70 by 32 feet, splendidly lighted and admirably ventilated. All of these rooms are connected with their corresponding departments on the ground floor by means of telephonettes. All of the work-rooms are heated by gas radiators, and no expense has been spared to secure the comfort and healthful surroundings of the staffs so engaged. In the centre of this flat there is a large well-furnished dining room for the use of the work-room operatives, and facilities are also provided by means of which they may obtain hot water for their tea and washing up. An iron fire-escape runs the full length of the works on the outside of the building, with doors leading from each apartment, and an iron staircase leading to the ground.

The Lichfield street half of this floor is set aside as a bulk goods department, and at the time of our reporter’s visit a large staff was busy opening out goods from 750 cases just received from Home. All of these different articles had to be checked, sorted out, and prepared for the shelves of the retail departments in different parts of the establishment.

The Lighting and Heating

The lighting of the establishment which is almost entirely by incandescent gas, was entrusted to the Christchurch Gas, Coal, and Coke Company, and the work done reflects the greatest credit on the staff of that institution. The installation is chiefly by means of the four-light Humphrey lamps, and one hundred and fifty-seven of these lamps of various designs have been fixed. There are altogether 350 lighting points involving the laying of 9100 feet of gas piping, and the total quantity of light emitted by the various burners and lamps is equal to 101,983 candles. The lamps have been fixed at an average distance of 20 feet apart, and the result is undoubtedly excellent, there being an entire absence of shadow. In connection with the lighting of the building, there is a system by which every gas burner in the building is lighted electrically. Some of the apparatus is manufactured in America, but the details of lighting the Humphrey lamps have been wholly worked out in the Gas Company’s factory in Worcester street. Pilot lights are entirely dispensed with, as the lamps are lighted by an electric spark instead of the usual pilot. In future the use of matches and tapers will be dispensed with for lighting gas in the D.I.C., and this, we are informed, is the first instance in the history of gas lighting in which this end has been achieved successfully. The installation of this new gas lighting system has necessitated the running of 9500 feet of electric wiring. All the cooking of the pastry, etc., for the tea rooms is done by a jacketed gas cooker, which was manufactured at the Gas Company’s factory at the works. In the scullery are some more of the Gas Compay’s manufactures, which comprise a very complete system of quick water heating, the details of which have been well thought out.

Detail from Burton Bros. image taken in 1924. Image: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Ref. No. O.019282. See full image: http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/ObjectDetails.aspx?oid=423933

Detail from Burton Bros. image taken in 1924. Image: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Ref. No. O.019282. See full image: http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/ObjectDetails.aspx?oid=423933

Photograph taken by the Steffano Webb Photographic Studio, c. a 1910. Reference Number 1/1-004335-G. Steffano Webb Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Photograph taken by the Steffano Webb Photographic Studio, c. a 1910. Reference Number 1/1-004335-G. Steffano Webb Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Other Features

It might be mentioned that 1100 yards of carpet with the company’s initials woven into the fabric have been laid on the floors in various parts of the premises. Steel girders to the length of about a mile and half were used in the construction. The building is equipped throughout with Grimmell’s patent sprinklers, which discharge sprays of water in any particular spot whenever the temperature exceeds a certain fixed point, thus ensuring prompt fire extinction. In addition, in the event of fire, and alarm bell in the right-of-way would be automatically rung. The sprinklers are attached to an 8000 gallon reservoir on the roof. The premises are also fitted with numerous fire plugs, which will be connected in due course with the city high pressure supply. Nearly all the windows except those on Cashel and Lichfield streets are of wire-glass fitted in iron frames. Others have gauge shutters, and some are fitted with the Kinnear patent shutter, thus diminishing the danger of fire from without. The walls throughout are covered with asbestos sheeting, while the ceiling is plastered with fibre beams, communicating with the outer walls, thus ensuring perfect ventilation. Lavatories have been provided on each floor for the use of the employees.

The architects were Messrs England Bros., the contractors Messrs Moore Bros., and clerk of works Mr J. G. Maclachlan. The show windows, counters, and show cases were furnished by Mr T. Southworth, and the shelving and general fittings by Messrs Gavin, Watson and Son. The work was started on May 18th, last year, and has been completed within the contracted time. The entire establishment stands as a monument to the enterprise of the company and is probably one of the best and most comprehensive of its kind in Australiasia.

Source: The Weekly Press, February 24, 1909. Page 48 and 79.

Source: Weekly Press, 7 May, 1913. Christchurch City Libraries, Heritage Newspapers Collection.

The Renault Chassis for the fine cars illustrated above were specially imported for the D.I.C. by Messrs A. W. Smith and Son Ltd., Christchurch Agents for Renault Cars, and the bodies were built by Messrs Boon and Co., the well-known Carriage Builders of Lower High street, Christchurch. The style, finish and general appearance of these bodies is proof positive that the locally-built article can more than hold its own with the imported. The Cars are finished and ready for the road, have a most striking and handsome appearance and are a credit alike to the importers and builders, as also to the D.I.C., who believe “that the best is always the cheapest in the long run.” Photo by Steffano Webb. Source: Weekly Press, 7 May, 1913. Christchurch City Libraries, Historical Newspapers Collection.

>> Part 1: D.I.C. Opens for Business in Cashel Street
>> Part 2: Fire Eats Out Best Block of Christchurch 1908


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