Sign in or register
for additional privileges

How Convenient are our Conveniences? The demise of the underground facilities in Dunedin 1910-1980s.

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Chapter Three: Demolitions 1960s

Investigations into potential new city conveniences began in 1957 and by 1960 Dunedin City Council was committed to replacing the old underground conveniences with new modern structures at ground floor level, with a change in policy.

The 1960s saw a wave of architectural changes in Dunedin, with a major redevelopment of the southern central business district where many public conveniences were located. Victorian style buildings were becoming undesirable and costly to upkeep. Many government and local government buildings in Dunedin were demolished in this decade (the most infamous being the Stock Exchange building) and in their place, new architectural multi-storied buildings were built. 

The underground conveniences also came under criticism and were viewed by Council as being “old fashioned” and antiquated. The subterranean spaces were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. It was thought that new above-ground concrete block conveniences would be more accessible for the public and more cost effective for Dunedin City Council to operate, clean and maintain. Council adopted the general policy of building above ground for any new conveniences.

As significantly, along with a change in Council policy, there was a change in attitudes from the public towards the conveniences.  No longer was there a public need to have conveniences out of site, underground or hidden amongst shrubberies. One of the main complaints was that the conveniences were difficult to find and therefore needed to be in more prominent places. Council also decided that the conveniences would be better above ground, in view of the public as a way to deter vandalism and anti-social behaviour, which was becoming costly and made the areas unsafe.  

In 1957 Chief Sanitary Inspector Stokes wrote a report to Council that advised that they should be planning for long term options around sites and structures of future conveniences. These issues around conveniences included eliminating the underground sites. Stokes believed that it could be possible to attach conveniences to new buildings as they are being proposed and planned, rather than to build separate expensive structures. He argued that separate above ground conveniences on valuable land in the centre of the city was uneconomic, but “in a bright well lighted situation of the City in a building at footpath level, supervision would be easier with the possibility of a reduction in the present tendency to misuse and vandalism”.1 

Modern facilities

The City Engineers had identified the building space occupied by The Pix Cafe, in Bond Street, and Council purchased it on their recommendation in 1960. The Engineers started designing new modern conveniences for the city as a matter of urgency. The accommodation would include an 8-urinal stall, 3 water closet’s and wash basin for men and 3 water closet’s and 2 wash basins for women. Women would also have a rest room measuring 18 feet by 14 feet.


The Council had established these new toilets across the road from the site of the Custom House Square underground conveniences. The new facilities proved challenging to the City Engineers as they had to design a rather complicated drainage system in a restricted space. The space was also designed to ensure that the men’s side was as vandal proof as possible. The Chief City Health Inspector suggested a whole raft of improvements, which he believed would counter the vandalism including stainless steel fittings, concrete stands, and low-down cisterns placed behind walls with only a press button visible. Special locked toilet fixtures were fitted to prevent stealing of toilet paper or depositing of pans, traps or drains that could cause blockages. Fluorescent lights were to be in wire caging to protect the lights from being smashed and they were to be left on in the men’s side for 24 hours a day and the women’s side the lights were controlled by the attendant who opened and closed the premises each day.2 

However, the new stainless steel caused complications. The City Health Inspector reported to the Town Clerk saying that stainless steel did not resist uric acid to the same extent as smooth glazed porcelain and all the stainless steel urinals stalls throughout the City were more or less stained and carried an ugly film in places, which the public complained about.3

An electric hot water system was installed in the Bond Street men’s side after a year as it was shown that the stainless steel was not in good condition with no hot water to clean it.4  It took until 1964 for the provision of hot water to be available in the conveniences. Spaces with full time attendants had hot water using both gas and electricity as a source of heat. The unattended conveniences had thermostatically controlled electric heaters.


The First Closures

Custom House Square

The first men’s undergrounds to close were the busiest in the city and had caused the most issues for Council in terms of vandalism and damage (as well as assaults on attendants and messes from men undergoing “bar treatment”). The Custom House Square site facilities were officially closed on 1 February 1961, four months after the Bond Street conveniences opened. The University of Otago’s infamous singing group The Sextext penned a song about the closure of the Customhouse Square conveniences. The humorous lyrics decried the closing of the undergrounds but also of the Council decision that the Monument should also be demolished. It mentions how the ghost of Cargill will haunt the new Bond Street seats and laments the removal of the “famous spot” of Cargill’s grot.



The discussion of the demolition of these undergrounds was tied to the larger discussion of the development of the Exchange area. The Cargill’s Monument, which the undergrounds were located underneath was also part of the larger demolition discussion. The Monument was deemed as an issue to traffic flow and Council planned to replace the whole site.  GK Armstrong, City Engineer, noted that the monument was an eyesore and a traffic hazard. Most councillors were against removing the structure and Departmental Heads had been asked to put forward their views, and these were to be incorporated in a scheme to be drawn up by Mr Armstrong. The scheme was then to be examined by all departments concerned and altered if necessary. The public argued through the local newspapers about the heritage value of the monument and the General Committee later changed its mind on the future of the monument. “Now that it no longer shares a civic setting with a men’s convenience it will doubtless draw more appreciative attention than during the years of the singularly ill-devised “partnership”.5 “Whatever else is done to improve the Exchange area there is no need to demolish or remove to another site a memorial strongly linked with the settlement of Otago”.6 

After this public outcry and the Councillors views were taken into consideration, it was decided the monument would remain in place. In 1962 the underground space of the conveniences was filled in and the monument was steam cleaned with the bottom step filled in. The road was realigned to flow around the flower bed and monument.


London Street

The next underground to close was the London Street site. A small site with urinals only, it suffered from regular weekend vandalism and misuse. By the late 1950s, the drains were frequently blocked by vandals and the roof leaked from a fracture in the roof. The Works Department found it increasingly difficult to keep water out, especially in the wet weather. The Health Inspector explained that the structure was “very old and unsuited to the present needs of the area” as it was located near a bus terminal at a busy intersection.7 There was a demand for water closets to be provided for men in the area and the current space could not be extended sufficiently. He argued for an above ground convenience with accommodation for water closets in the area for men.

Consideration by the Council City Engineers was given to the replacement of the underground site, with options of rebuilding the facilities in the present location or providing a new above ground building on another site. The Chief Electrical Engineer wrote to the City Engineer stating that it will be necessary to provide a transformer in the area in the near future and the subterranean space may be of use for this.8 Possible plans forward for the conveniences included building an underground in conjunction with the convenience building or it could be possible to modify the existing underground building for use as a site for a substation with the electricity transformer.

Different Council departments had varying views on what should happen with the facilities. The Finance Committee considered that it would be quite feasible to build above ground on the present site without interfering in any way with traffic flows. The Public Works Committee were concerned that until detailed consideration had been given to the solution of traffic problems involved at the intersection of George, Frederick, Pitt and London Streets, permission should not be granted for the erection of structures “on street” in London Street. The General Committee were still in favour of “abandonment of the present underground facilities”.9


The above ground facilities on top of the site of the underground convenience was not favoured. A structure could be built over the space, but the internal layout would be very constrained.10 The building entrance would be at ground level, but it would be buried to half its height at the other end, and the City Engineer advised it would be difficult without constructing a fence of wire netting or other fence on top of the upper end of the building to prevent children and others from climbing on the roof. The cost of this proposal which included a four-stall urinal and 2 water closets would cost £2100.

The London Street urinals were marked for closure after this discussion in the early 1960s. Before potential demolition, the space was offered to other Council departments for reuse. The Electricity Department took up the offer for the transformer that was needed in that area of the city. The Electrical Department expanded the space slightly, and at some point, the contents and interior fittings were removed, and a substation fitted. The substation is still located there today and run by an energy company. 


A replacement above ground toilet was provided for men adjacent to the women’s toilet on a site owned by the Otago University Council in Frederick Street. The women’s convenience was built in 1954 in agreement with Otago University Council to site it on their land. In May 1962, the Otago University Council also granted permission for Dunedin City Council to draw up plans for a men’s convenience on the same site.


As in previous decades, neighbours complained about the siting of a public toilet. The North End Dealers objected strongly to Council locating the toilet by the only access way into their building. “The majority of their customers are women and we feel it would be a natural consequence of the erection of a men’s convenience in so close a proximity to the shop premises that the women customers will refrain from using the entrance”. This they concluded would have a detrimental effect on their trading.11 


The Town Clerk wrote back to the business’ lawyers stating that the Committee was unable to share the opinion of the business owners. They argued that there had been women’s conveniences alongside for some years and the only alteration being made was the addition of a new entrance and the provision of facilities for men behind the existing building. “Modern standards of construction and a high standard of maintenance” would ensure the premises would be keep in an hygienic condition and there would be no reason for any offensive smells coming from the conveniences, argued the Town Clerk. 

After the difficulties of securing a site for men’s conveniences in the area to replace the undergrounds, the proposed site of Frederick Street with the consent of the University Council solved a very difficult problem. One business owner was not to stop the greater good of a convenient location for men’s toilets in the busy shopping area.12  The men’s conveniences did go ahead for £900. The London Street underground was shut to the public in 1964.


Changing Architecture

The early 1960s saw the Council investing more finances into the City’s conveniences. A three-year programme was undertaken in 1962 to renovate all eighteen City conveniences. In addition, the Octagon restroom was altered, and interior renovations were carried out on the latest restroom in South Dunedin to provide better facilities for the public and enable the staff to give improved service. “The modern trend is to provide such facilities above ground” stated the Town Clerk in 1962. The Bond Street conveniences, which replaced the Custom House Square undergrounds, were the first modern style toilets in the city and the other modern facilities followed suit.


After the Custom House Square and London Street undergrounds had closed, one site remained in the city – the men’s undergrounds in the Octagon. As the women’s underground convenience in the Octagon was permanently shut in 1950, discussion has arisen for some years around what to do with the remaining men’s side of the Octagon undergrounds.  

Chief Health Inspector Stokes wrote to the Town Clerk in August 1961 “I beg to report that the Men’s Underground Conveniences are leaking again from the roof, despite extensive repairs some two years ago, while the age and general deterioration of the structure, with its ancient design and fittings, render it unfit to be used much longer without considerable expense”.13

In 1962 the City Engineer was asked to prepare plans and specifications for a new public convenience for men in the Town Hall basement off Municipal Lane.14 The Committee had approved the broad principle of locating public conveniences at ground level and the City Engineer noted “most people today would whole-heartedly endorse the decision”.15 The public were happier with above ground facilities that were accessible and easy to find.

However, the City Engineers Department advised against locating a public convenience in Municipal Lane since the building was desperately short of space and there were better uses for the space. There was a concern from the City Engineers that the appearance of the conveniences and the 4” ventilation pipe on the side of the Town Hall would detract from the building. There was also a concern that women would be put off going near areas where men’s toilets were located for fear of unpleasantness and anti-social behaviour. The City Engineer reported that it could attach a “stigma” to Municipal Lane and the building “and sensitive women might be discouraged from using the lane”.16

A Notice of Motion (1825) was put forward to Dunedin City Council on 18 September 1962 to “Construct public conveniences at Municipal Lane in lieu of existing public conveniences in the Octagon”. The motion was later moved to be rescinded by Councillor H Tohill as the City Engineer department warned against this site. This enabled the General Committee to consider renovating the existing underground or perhaps choosing a better site.17 

Consideration was given to the possibility of completely rebuilding the existing convenience and extending it by making use of the adjacent disused women’s conveniences. This was the original idea put forward by the Chief Health Inspector in 1957, but this proposal was not favoured by the General Committee. Extensive and costly drainage renewals would be involved, and the total expenditure would exceed £5,000. The General Committee Report to Council stated, “it is Council’s policy to provide new conveniences above ground, where it has been found they are less prone to vandalism and misuse” and therefore the remodelling and retention of the old conveniences was contrary to the Council’s policy of abolishing all underground conveniences.18 

Further discussion continued between the Sanitary Inspector and the General Committee over whether to remodel the undergrounds. The widening of the stairway from 3 foot width to 4 feet, 6 inches would increase the public’s accessibility, and the stairs and the general run-down appearance could be overcome by a major remodelling scheme involving the combining of the men’s section with the disused women’s part. The two stairways would be retained but they would be rebuilt to make the grade easier, the walls retiled, and all new fittings were to be provided with easy draining cleaning facilities. The roof skylights were to be removed and covered with grass. The remodelled plan was designed with vandalism prevention in mind and the new space made it easier for police to supervise the area quickly. The plans ensured all areas of the space (except the interiors of the cubicles) were visible from the foot of the stairs to enable a visiting police officer on duty to quickly assess the area.19 

A proposal for an above ground modern facility to be built on top of the old underground site was put forward as an option. An above ground structure would have the benefit of louvered windows, which would negate the need to have mechanical ventilation and artificial light. This would also enable two entrances to be possible.20 However, this proposal met objections, mainly due to the obstruction of the view down lower Stuart Street towards the picturesque Railway Station and a convenience in this position was considered to be too unsightly.

In 1963 Dunedin City Council were gifted £5,000 by the Evening Star newspaper to build a fountain in the Octagon to celebrate the newspapers centenary. An allocation of £6,900 had been made within the Council budget over two years in 1962 for upgrading the underground toilets, but by 1965 this was still not spent, as City Architectural staff were busy with the larger projects. The fountain project deliberated for some time over the location for the fountain and it was decided to locate it right above the men’s conveniences in the lower Octagon. This altered the earlier proposed plans for the undergrounds. 

The Municipal Lane site proposal was dropped due to the City Engineers concern over space and appearance to the Municipal buildings. Even though it was against Council policy of building only aboveground, the urgent need for central city toilets meant the Council decided on the early renovation and remodelling of the undergrounds to keep these going for the public and the cost was lower than building a whole facility.21 


The 1964 plan of the siting of the fountain, showed that the entrance to the men’s undergrounds touched the edge of the fountain, so it was decided to redraw the plans to better incorporate the conveniences with the fountain. The Engineers decided to remove the current main men’s entrance and the old women’s entrance steps and incorporated them into the main entrance. It was considered necessary to widen the stairs, remove the existing combined ventilator and lamp standard from the middle of the building and substitute mechanical ventilation and remove all roof lights so the lawn can be extended completely over the top.  “The only evidence of the convenience would then be the steps down, with a modern lamp standard and a sign”.22 Although Council policy had changed to building above ground, there were still signs of relief from the City Engineers that the conveniences could be hidden away.

The remodelling involved using the maximum space available so that five WC’s and 17 urinals would be provided. The entrance and egress were to be moved to the southern end of the premises and the old access would be closed. In addition to removing the stairway near the proposed fountain, the new layout would permit the lawn surface of the Octagon to be “altered to give a more pleasing appearance".23 The Parks and Recreation department were responsible for the roof and upper walls of the toilets as part of the Octagon Reserve. The turf and plantings were removed from the roof slab area, and the material excavated from the top of the slab and then reinstated once work was completed. The iron railing surround was also removed at this time to give the whole area “a more modern appearance”.24

Kerridge and Sim Ltd were awarded the contract of remodelling the men’s undergrounds for $5,038. The toilets were to remain operational throughout the period of the renovations and the work schedule fell behind as the contractors had to stop work many times due to the civic activities that regularly occurred in the Octagon reserve.

The remodelling involved removal of most of the original interiors. The floors and steps of the public areas were tiled with Richard Duroprave ceramic floor tiles. All the walls exposed to the public area from floor to ceiling were tiled with 6”x6” x ¾” glazed wall tiles in an ‘approved’ colour of pastel blue and white.

The toilet pans were heavy gauge stainless steel of approved design with plastic seats, replacing the previous porcelain ones. Copper-lined cisterns were mounted in the service duct at the rear of the toilets, away from the reach of any users. The flush toilets also had their press button in a metal tube built into the wall to prevent damage to these. The urinals were stall type in stainless steel. Four large size copper cisterns were fitted into the ceiling space and were set to flush at pre-determined intervals. All piping to the urinals was concealed. As hot water became installed in the modern conveniences, the water heaters were concealed in the cleaner’s cupboards. New fluorescent lights were fitted into all the light fittings. 

Penny in the Slot systems were also retired during this decade. The city only had one toilet with this style locking device by 1965 in the Octagon site, and it was intended to be out of use by end of 1966 to avoid the complexity of the changeover to decimal currency.25 All public toilets had become free to use, further increasing accessibility.

The Star Fountain, as it became known after its installation in 1966, was a popular attraction in the Octagon, with synchronised lighting, music and water displays, which played at regular times of the morning and evening.  The tape deck and other controls were fitted into the underground men's space. The remodelling was considered a success by the Council and in the 1966-1967 Departmental Report the Health Inspector stated that the “re-modelling of the men’s convenience in the Octagon was also completed and we now have a facility which can compare with any provided elsewhere.”


Changing Policy and Combating Vandalism

City Chief Health Inspector Stokes wrote in his 1957 public convenience report that he was personally opposed to underground conveniences as “they are difficult to ventilate efficiently, they are cold and damp for the attendants in winter, while they invite vandalism, misuse, and certain undesirable practices owing to their situation and difficult supervision”.26 They had served the city for over 50 years but the stairways were narrow, the steps dangerous for elderly men or persons with disabilities, and some of the fittings and amenities are outmoded. Overall, he stated these were a very uneconomic way to run public conveniences and felt Council should be doing everything to situate them above ground.27

Council adopted this policy to provide toilets above ground in the 1960s and was largely driven by the need to prevent costly vandalism and damage to the facilities. The Chief Sanitary Inspector’s annual reports repeated the effect vandalism was having on the budgets and the exasperation the staff had in trying to maintain the facilities. The Town Clerk suggested that providing some type of installations would minimise vandalism. The City Health Inspector wrote back to the Town Clerk in 1960, stating that it was “impossible to change the general system of plumbing and drainage as controlled by Government regulations”.28  It was suggested that the demolition of the undergrounds with their antiquated equipment would counter the vandalism to a large extent. The Town Clerk agreed that it was the “modern trend” to build conveniences above ground.

The City Council went to great lengths to design the new conveniences to be as vandal proof as possible. The City Engineer stated when presenting the plans for new toilets at the Botanic Garden that “a design which will aesthetically pleasing and suitable for the site, and at the same time be vandal proof as possible has been aimed for”.29


The modern facilities of the 1960s had flush pipes hidden behind walls, iron pipes partly hidden in tiled or plastered walls to prevent them being forced away from their brackets. Service pipes were also hidden in the chambers behind walls. Toilet fixtures were provided that had special locks attached. The stall doors would be 4 feet high to allow easy inspection by Police Constables. Lights had thick glass covers to prevent breakage and stealing and stainless steel fittings were attached to concrete stands for wash hand basins. The cisterns were situated down low and hidden behind walls with only the press button visible. 

All these new features were included in the Bond Street conveniences, yet the toilets suffered from vandalism from their second week of opening. “Filthy writing on the walls is common, even obscene words cut out of adhesive tape have been in evidence, and as fast as the attendant cleans the walls down the writing is renewed, sometimes by scratching with a nail file or a hair clip.30

The abuse of water closets and obscene writing on the walls and doors was almost a daily occurrence at most public conveniences in the early 1960s. Bond Street toilets had doors sheathed in stainless steel and the Council increased the daily cleaning operations to twice a daily as way to combat this. Mrs Duckworth, one of the long serving attendants, believed teenagers were responsible and said it was impossible to catch them as one of their group were always on watch. She was very proud of her cleanliness but was fed up of the abuse of the spaces. The police did manage to catch a group of youths in 1962 and for a time after this the vandalism stopped. 

The cost of the maintenance began to soar. Abuse of the fire alarm heads was a frequent and costly occurrence. Council could not afford to pay for the numerous call outs from the fire brigade. Manor Place suffered major vandalism in 1963 when a 5-gallon porcelain supply cistern was wrenched from its supports allowing it to smash to pieces on the floor. As it fell it also broke a cast iron bracket and damaged copper sparge pipes. Mailer Street, Mornington was redecorated for £100, and in less than a week the “walls have been defaced by writing and fixtures have been removed”.31

The Octagon undergrounds in 1965 “suffers continuously from vandalism and apart from its defective drain, it is difficult to maintain” reported the Health Inspector. The Town Clerk stated “it does not surprise me that you have vandalism in these conveniences, because they are so badly illuminated”.32 

It was noted that vandalism was especially bad in the school holidays, the conclusion was it must be school children. However, several instances investigated showed other culprits at work. These included disgruntled trolley bus employees who were caught deliberately vandalising some suburban toilets by throwing paper towels over the floor every day. It was thought this was because they were aggrieved at not getting their own exclusive conveniences after their Union complained that the public ones were always untidy and were never cleaned.33


By 1961, the conveniences were serviced and cleaned by two cleaners, each taking on half the city conveniences and working alternate weekends cleaning the main centre conveniences. Council had struggled to attract and employ suitable staff since the 1940s and the staff who remained in the early 1960s had worked in the positions for 18 years and 5 years respectively. The cost for 19 conveniences to be cleaned each day was £1900 per annum wages with bus fares added of £150. Not all conveniences were cleaned every day, but the four main ones were cleaned every day of the year. Commercial cleaners had approached Council that perhaps it would be cheaper, and the work would be more thorough, if Council employed contract cleaners, which would be better than “the old system”. The Chief City Health Inspector stated that at present the system worked well but if Council lose the current staff and are unable to find suitable replacements then they may have to go to out to contract for the service. In a February 1962 meeting, the General Committee decided that the past system of employing staff to clean the men’s conveniences was not the most economical method and that savings could be affected by having the work done by contract. 

The following year after the decision to discontinue the practice of employing staff to clean the men’s conveniences throughout the City, a contract was let to Mr Allan Georgeson. He was to carry out the work for £119 3s per month. It is estimated that the savings to the Council as a result of the change would be in the order of £800 per annum. 


Public Demand

Public demand for more and improved toilets continued. They wanted easy to find and accessible toilets, in areas that felt safer than being hidden underground. In the city centre there was still demand for women’s toilets, especially around Manor Place facilities. The Dunedin branch of the NZ Labour Party (Women’s Section) put forward a proposal requesting a women’s convenience in the location of Manor Place, but they were declined.34


Work started in 1965 on the installation of a women’s conveniences at the corner of Rankeilor Street and Hillside Road. This was planned to be opened when the adjoining rest room was closed, providing toilet facilities for women which were available 24 hours a day, in the area.

Dunedin Rotary Survey 1968

In 1968 a survey on the local conveniences was undertaken by the Civic Affairs Committee of the Dunedin Rotary Club and presented to Council reviewing the public’s experience using the facilities.35 Several of the organisation members visited 18 men’s and 14 women’s public conveniences in Dunedin and investigated their provision, as well as rating them on areas such as cleanliness, privacy, maintenance, location and signage. 

Most of the women’s facilities scored very high on freshness, lighting and privacy and general appearance. As a contrast, most men’s conveniences scored low on freshness, had poor lighting, dinginess and inadequate privacy.  There was a general lack of signposting for all facilities and Rotary were concerned people could not find where they were, especially for those visitors to the city. The use of the word “toilets” was now in general practice in Britain and was becoming the familiar household work in New Zealand as well. The report recommended that the public would welcome it as shorter and more acceptable than ‘public lavatories’ or any other term on signage.36

The stall doors were criticised for being too short and many had no working locks. The penny in the slot system had gone with the new “modern” style of toilets, which led to what was reported as inadequate privacy. One observer noted that “the vision of a row of half-mast nether garments is not a very elevating site for the casual user”.37 Rotary suggested frosted glass or an attendant on duty would help this issue.

Hand washing had become a focus in wider public health bulletins and public radio broadcasts. This survey certainly paid attention to the hand washing facilities provided to the public. Three men’s conveniences surveyed had no wash basin, soap or towels. Within the women’s toilets, five did not have soap or towels. Seven out of nine women’s toilets had rusty tins or decrepit kitchen tidies for sanitary towels. There were only three facilities that provided for children out of fourteen toilets.

It was noted that vandalism was more marked in the men’s toilets, especially those without supervision. It was reported that “well maintained premises suffer little”. The damage was not extensive in women’s - “just some scratching reported on some doors and walls”. Facilities were increasingly having interiors reduced to a bare minimum to prevent vandalism. 

Regarding cleanliness, many toilets were untidy in many instances and showed lack of regular servicing. Windows, walls and ceilings were often dirty, and floors were reported as most dirty. “In their appearance, lack of amenities and low level of cleanliness, they must create a poor image of this city in the minds of visitors and travellers”.  It was noted in the report that a cleaner arrived while the survey was being conducted – the cleaner took out her broom, swished it around and departed within five minutes “still with her hat on!”.38

The report stated that the immediate need was for adequate hand washing and drying facilities and the introduction of liquid soap and paper towels. The report also recommended demolition for any conveniences that could not be brought up to standard and that more regular supervision was required.

The Council Health Inspector met with the Rotary Club to discuss the report. The difficulties Council had regarding the provision of vandal-proof equipment were outlined to the Committee. Council agreed to provide more adequate hand-drying facilities and hot water would be provided in the main unattended conveniences if the equipment was available.39 

The Civic Affairs Committee responded that they were very strongly of the opinion that a basic range of equipment in the facilities should be provided in the city. They agreed that there was a regrettable record of vandalism in the facilities and accepted that a programme to fully equip all the public toilet facilities in the city area would be foolish in these circumstances. However, such a “negative acceptance of such a situation is not good enough”. Several members of their Committee in several New Zealand cities during 1968 and early 1969 had observed adequate fittings provided in public toilets in the cities of the country. They argued Dunedin should not be content to offer sub-standard facilities and that a special effort was justified. The Civic Affairs Committee strongly recommended that at new sites chosen for public facilities, basic equipment should be installed in each of the men’s and women’s toilets. They regarded wash basins, mirrors, soap-fittings and hand-drying equipment (either paper towels or warm air drier) as essential basic items. They would be present in each of the men’s and women’s toilets and “we find it somewhat surprising that their presence or absence at the moment, even in these few new structures is so varied.” 

In regard to supervision they appreciated that full-time attendants are out of the question, and continuous supervision in any form could not be undertaken. Nevertheless, at a few main sites, the facilities were located beside main roads and were lit from the adjacent streets. The Civic Affairs Committee argued it should be possible to have these sites policed, inspected and serviced adequately. These main sites should be regarded as quite important facets of Dunedin’s tourist images, as well as locally oriented facilities. “New Zealand people are more than ever active travellers in these days, and it is necessary to be prepared for this side of the citizens’ life”.40


At the same time, rest rooms were being renovated and continued to open in the city. With the opening of the new Tea House at the Botanic Gardens in 1966, it was decided that the old Rest Rooms at the Botanic Gardens were no longer necessary as the new Tea House building incorporated both modern toilets and rest room facilities on the ground floor for the use of the general public. The old rest room building was handed over to the Reserves Department as surplus.41 The women’s convenience at the corner of Hillside Road and Rankeilor Street was completed and was to be open when the adjoining rest room was closed. 

Within the Exchange area of the city (formally the Custom House Square), major planning and development work was happening in the 1960s. In Dunedin’s main business area many buildings were being demolished, which posed a problem to Council on where to supply suitably located toilets. The Stock Exchange building, where the Bond Street conveniences were located, was marked for demolition on 30 September 1968. Council had been given adequate warning that the Bond Street facilities would have to be moved but Council struggled to secure land within the Custom House Square area. 


There were three options available to Council. The first was to build a convenience on the site of the cleared Stock Exchange building. This was “at best a possibility”. On principle the City Engineer stated he would oppose the temporary structure as they had a habit of becoming permanent. If by the time the building was demolished, there were no other options and the Ministry of Works were agreeable, the City Engineer reported it could be possible to roof over and face up the walls of the present structure. 

The second option was to build a convenience within a planned carparking building on a High Street piece of land where another building was recently demolished. The Chief City Health Inspector suggested it could be possible to build permanent toilets within the new carparking building. The City Engineers warned that this would have to be planned into the carpark plan right from the beginning and could be very restrictive to the planning of the toilet space. 

The third option was to build facilities in the newly developed Broadway area (where original buildings were planned to be demolished and the area redeveloped). The City Engineers saw this option as being suitable for both short term and long-term women’s toilets.42


The City Engineer offered one further option for location of women’s conveniences, in the basement of Edinburgh House building behind the Stock Exchange site, which had leasing potential. The Chief City Health Inspector did not support this option as “underground conveniences are not for infirm persons or for people with prams”. The City Engineer also noted that due to the other facilities already available in the city, he did not deem it necessary for a replacement of Bond Street for men.43


The Broadway buildings were scheduled for demolition in early 1970 so this led to further urgency for placement of the toilets. The only women’s conveniences available 24 hours a day in the main area of the city were at South Dunedin, Broadway and Frederick Street, so it was seen as essential to provide temporary conveniences in the Exchange area until a more suitable site could be chosen and built upon after the demolition of the Broadway buildings. It was considered that a vacant room in the basement of the carparking building in Dowling Street could be converted for the purpose as it was easily accessible from several main streets. There was, however, no budget allocated as the dates of the demolition had not been made at the time Council had set their budgets the year before. If the space in Dowling Street was not considered by Council as an option, the Health Inspector felt that the women’s conveniences in the area were out of consideration. The Health Inspector suggested if Council could staff the Octagon restrooms for 24 hours, 7 days a week then this could go some way to fill the need.44

The public were notified that there was to be a five-six month waiting period till new public facilities were provided in the Exchange to replace those demolished and that new toilets were being built as a temporary structure on the corner of the Dowling Street carpark.45 In 1970, new temporary men’s and women’s conveniences were completed on a site in the Dowling Street carpark, near Queens Gardens to replace the old Stock Exchange toilets.46 


The 1960s saw a commitment by the Dunedin City Council to replace the old underground conveniences with new modern structures at ground floor level. The Victorian style conveniences were becoming undesirable and costly to maintain. This was part of a wider movement of architectural changes in Dunedin, with a major redevelopment of the southern central business district where many public conveniences were located. There was also no longer a need to have conveniences out of site, underground or hidden amongst shrubberies, as the public’s and council’s attitude changed. In fact, it became Council's policy to build above ground to mitigate vandalism and misuse and keep these rising costs down. The last remaining underground site in the Octagon survived this decade but it was a shadow of its former architectural design. 


Comment on this page

Discussion of "Chapter Three: Demolitions 1960s"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Introduction, page 7 of 12 Next page on path