Topic: McGruer's Building/Smith & Brown's/Metro Plaza (1929/1936)

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Metro Plaza 

The drapery firm of McGruers Ltd was established in Invercargill by John Duncan McGruer in 1892 and by 1919 had grown to include 20 branches across New Zealand. In 1921 McGruer's opened their first New Plymouth store in an old two-storied wooden building located on the site of the present carpark at 105 Devon Street West (opposite the TSB Showplace). 

During 1929, McGruer's purchased the eastern portion of the site of the present building at 33 Devon Street West. At the time, a two-storied timber building constructed sometime following 1907 (when the railway line was deviated away from Devon Street) was located on the property. The old building being too small for the growing firm, they soon commissioned noted New Plymouth architects Messenger, Griffiths & Taylor (Frank Messenger, Horace Victor Griffiths & William Taylor) to design extensive reinforced concrete additions to the rear of the original wooden building. The 1929 additions form the present rear ground and first floor portions of the extant building and considerably enlarged the size of the store. A building permit for these additions was granted by the New Plymouth Borough Council on August 26th 1929; Frank Cooper is noted as the builder and the estimated construction cost was £3000.

By 1936 the original timber front portion of the store had outlived its usefulness, and along with a neighbouring timber building on the western portion of the present site (constructed during the early-1870s), was demolished and replaced with the current reinforced concrete structure. Contiguous with the 1929 portion, the 1936 additions were designed in the fashionable Art Deco/Moderne style by New Plymouth architects Griffiths & Stephenson (Horace Victor Griffiths & William Newton Stephenson). A building permit for this work was granted by the New Plymouth Borough Council on June 8th 1936; Jones & Sandford Ltd are noted as the builders and the estimated construction cost was £2200.

During the early 1960s McGruer's was acquired by retail furniture chain Smith & Brown's, who remained the principal occupants until 1984, when they relocated to a new store in Devon Street East (present site of Big Save Furniture, 300 Devon Street East).

During 1985 the Downtown Arcade was developed from existing buildings by the Downtown Development Co. Ltd. By May 1990 the firm was insolvent. The Arcade incorporates the former May and Arrowsmith Bakehouse at rear (constructed 1918), and allows pedestrian access to the downtown car parking building on Powderham Street.

The Downtown Arcade was later re-named the "Metro Plaza", with tenants including Subway, small businesses and charitable organisations.

Past occupants of the Downtown Arcade include:

  • Infocus (Photography outlet)
  • Powerplay Games
  • Club Tropix
  • The Miller Bar
  • The Outback Pub and Grub
  • The Phoenix Bar

The main structure and first floor of this building remains principally intact, although the ground floor, like many others in Devon Street, has been substantially remodelled. The first floor Devon Street facade is largely intact and a good example of the Art Deco/Moderne style, although the current paint scheme does little to highlight key details. Copies of the original plans for the 1929 and 1936 additions are held by Puke Ariki Museum (ARC2014-006).

The McGruer's building is part of central New Plymouth's most important group of Art Deco style buildings, which also includes the former National Bank, Whites Ltd Building and Deare's Ltd (all located on the South side of Devon Street West between Brougham and Currie Streets).

In August 2019 the New Plymouth District Council announced that it had purchased the site for re-development - the future of this important heritage building (and also of the circa 1918 May and Arrowsmith Bakery building at rear) is presently unclear.

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