Council to mark 25 years in Miller's building
26 October 2005
City Council to mark 25 years in former Miller's building
Saturday 12 November marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Civic Offices in the former Miller's Department Store Building at 163-173 Tuam Street, when the Duchess of Kent officially opened the renovated building in 1980.
Originally designed by Christchurch architect George Hart to house the Miller's head office, factory and principal retail store, the building was the height of modern design with its glass curtain of uninterrupted steel-framed windows along its frontage, even wrapping around corners, and the South Island's first escalator.
The glass curtain had its origins in the Bauhaus director Walter Gropius's Fagus Shoe Last Factory of 1911. The Miller's building is an excellent example of the impact of International Style architecture.
The building is a Group 2 protected heritage item in the City Plan, having national or regional significance. The Historic Places Trust has also listed the building as a Category II Historic Place in its register, having historical or cultural heritage significance.
Miller's textile and apparel manufacturing had been established in 1921 by LB Miller and by 1939, was one of the largest retail and manufacturing firms in the country, with 23 branch shops. The company bought the Tuam Street site in 1934 and opened the new building in February 1939.
The building was designed so that the various business functions were arranged logically throughout to enable efficient flow of raw materials through manufacturing and sales. Raw materials were taken upstairs by freight lift, with the final produce making its way to the ground floor for shipping out or sale on the retail floors. Ground and first floors were for retailing and offices, second and third floors were for manufacturing, and the mezzanine originally housed a milk bar and tea lounge.
Miller's made thousands of uniforms and great-coats for New Zealand soldiers in World War 2 and in the 1920s the Miller's company was years ahead of its time as a responsible employer, claiming to be the most modern factory in New Zealand. Employees could work and play under the one roof in working conditions relatively rare in New Zealand then.
A dispensary with a qualified, full-time nurse attended to staff health and wellbeing, while areas in the building were used for staff recreation e.g. three tennis courts, three badminton courts, indoor bowls, table tennis, and basketball on the fourth floor. In the centre of the floor in the machine room was a continuously running fountain providing staff with cold drinking water and much attention went into providing adequate lighting and air conditioning for machinists.