The Herald is leaving home

12:56 PM Friday December 11, 2015 Anne Gibson

The Herald building from Queen St, 1880. Photo / Archives

The New Zealand Herald's 152 years in one Auckland CBD block may have set a record in a city where businesses rise and fall and shift premises relentlessly.

George Farrant, Auckland Council's central principal heritage adviser, said the length of time the Herald had operated from one block was unusual and perhaps a record.

"I can't, off the cuff, think of any CBD business that beats that. Closest might be Smith & Caughey, who have been in their Queen St/Elliott St site since 1880," Mr Farrant said.

Martin Jones, Heritage New Zealand's registration heritage adviser, said theHerald's position was "very unusual for a commercial ... enterprise in central Auckland and reflects a significant continuity of activity going back to the period when Auckland was New Zealand's centre of government and capital city".

"The business' current location demonstrates a traditional focus for Auckland's printing industry in the 19th century, which was centred on either side of Queen St: at Albert St to the west, and the Vulcan Lane, High St and O'Connell St district to the east - that is to say in the commercial and financial heart of the city," Mr Jones said.

"It became one of the city's first mass dailies, geared towards a larger and more diverse readership than previously," he said.

Ross Healy of heritage building investors Phillimore Properties said: "I am not aware of any business operating from the same area for that length of time. Pretty amazing record, I'd say!"

Brent McGregor, New Zealand senior managing director of property consultants and agents CBRE, said: "It is rare to see a commercial business survive more than a century, let alone occupy the same site for 150 years. With the continual growth of the company and the evolving landscape of media, the Herald has embraced the change and I'm sure the team will enjoy the newly built hub."

The Queen St/Wyndham St/Swanson St/Albert St block has been central to theHerald operations since its 1863 foundation, when it was edited by David Burn. Its first precise address is given in 1872 as being on Wyndham St, although it also occupied a tiny, extremely narrow Queen St premises, stamped with the paper's 1863 foundation date on the front.

One reader said the Herald was not in that building from 1863. The date was added later, she claimed, once the publisher had moved in. Whatever the exact date, this evening from 6pm, editorial staff start shifting from that Wyndham St block to NZME Central - a new, specially fitted out green-star rated premises at 151 Victoria St West.

The Herald was founded on November 13, 1863 and just two years ago celebrated 150 years of continuous publishing. Few at the time acknowledged the history of the buildings, where horse-drawn carriages once hauled printed editions out to readers.

Michael Horton, a former managing director of Wilson & Horton, which once owned the Herald, has vivid memories of the Queen St premises as a boy.

"I can still remember very well the building before the current Herald building and also the many rabbit warrens in the adjoining Herald building which had its main entrance in Queen St," he said.

"It looked chaotic, but it all seemed to work. Steaming vats of acid in the process department for the copper and zinc plates, boiling pots of molten lead for stereotype plates, the bashing and hammering of type chases, the clanking of linotypes chunking out a line at a time, green eye shades for readers and copyholders, a boy's magic land of smells, sights and mysterious industrial activities, everything leading up to the production of tomorrow's paper.

"Down in the dungeon were the pre-1961 Hoe presses installed before the war by Jack Green, whose family continue today in the printing industry throughout New Zealand and overseas," Mr Horton said.

The Herald building was a huge improvement on the rickety old wooden buildings that had occupied the site and which were a fire and occupational hazard for staff, he said.

"But the press room itself became quickly too cramped for the four Herald presses each churning out a maximum of 64 broadsheet pages.

"The growth in circulation and classified advertising also outstripped the capacity of the equipment. In the 1980s, the decision was made to move the presses out of Albert St and down the road to Ellerslie, a complicated and exacting task but absolutely necessary if the paper was going to survive.

"The empty press room was offered to the Government as an ideal drama theatre in one of the company's unsuccessful efforts to gain a licence for television transmission."

Mr Horton also remembers the growing pains - and staff in the buildings being stretched.

The building now known as the Herald Building was conceived, designed and built in the late 1950s to house the new printing presses for the New Zealand Heraldand Weekly News and the printing of the New Zealand Listener, he recalled.

"A substantial industrial building of its day, its location in Wyndham St reflected the continuing belief that newspaper presses had to be tied in as part of a continuing process flow from copy to cart dock.

"It was barely thinkable anywhere that the presses could be located many miles from the editorial heart of the newspaper," he said.

"So the heavily reinforced concrete structure emerged running from Albert St through to Mills Lane, where the newsprint came into the Albert St cart docks to where the newspapers were loaded on to Wally Leighton's trucks in Wyndham St for quick dispatch throughout the Auckland province."

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New Zealand Herald buildings on Queen St, Wyndham St and Albert St, circa late 1970s or early 1980s. Photo / Archives

Wayne Harman, a former Herald managing editor, has fond memories of the buildings. "I first started work in the old Queen St building as a photographer in 1966 and retired after a couple of breaks away in 2012.

"The photographers, photo library and process department - where pictures were etched on to metal for the printing presses - remained in the Queen St building for some time after the rest of the editorial staff, including the picture desk, moved further up Wyndham St," Mr Harman said.

"The main line of communication between the three departments was a pneumatic tube system which carried pictures to and from the picture desk and process department.

"It also carried a variety of other material - small animals, items of food, water bombs and the like.

"The weekly Friday night Vietnam War protest marches in the 1960s inevitably ended up at the Herald office and despite best efforts by the security staff, shouting protesters would occasionally get into the building. The solution was to build a metal portcullis at the bottom of the Wyndham St stairs and the plan was to lower the grate as soon as the protesters looked like getting close. The grating is, I think, still there but never used," Mr Harman said.

Paul Lewis, NZME director of editorial innovation, recalls staff living in the building and the sprinkler system never going off "even though the high-spirited reporters of the time had taken to a practical joke, setting fire to a copy of the Herald as you were reading it".

David Hastings, a former Weekend Herald editor, says the building's labels do not always describe their functions.

"If you go into the cart dock carpark and look up you will see embossed in giant letters on the wall words that describe what the building was originally used for - and it wasn't to house journos," Mr Hastings said of the building stamped "Herald Press Store".

Founder William Wilson is the great-great-great-grandfather of Matt Wilson, general manager of newspaper sales and circulation.

Bruce Morris, a former Herald deputy editor, remembers the Queen St office in the 1960s.

"Prime Ministers, ambassadors and captains of industry walked this way and, while they may not have been expecting red carpet treatment, probably went away wondering why some of the company profits weren't spent on a more appealing gateway to the country's biggest paper," Mr Morris said.

Roy Vaughan, deputy chief reporter when he left in 1989, remembers a non-hierarchical organisation.

"The owners regularly ate in the same dining room and knew many of the staff by name," he said.

Bob Pearce, a former sports editor, recalls a mighty rumble through the buildings: "While the presses were still in the basement of the Wyndham St building, there was no problem knowing when the first edition began to roll out at midnight. The whole building shook as the mighty Hoe Crabtree presses started up.

"Subeditors in the 1960s worked hard when they had to but also tended to have spells when there was no work. No problem. We used to go up to the roof where we played ping-pong and darts extremely competitively, arriving back at our desks dripping with sweat and fired up to knock out a three-column heading in 36pt Century lower case."

Jane Phare, a current staff member who was the first female Herald assistant editor, has fond building memories. "The Albert St building had a huge service lift, again with a sliding metal grill door. Martin-the-mailman, an elderly man who delivered mail around the building in a clothes trolley on wheels, also drove the lift. He sat on a stool with a plug-in two-bar heater in winter.

"He was our Phantom of the Herald because we discovered that he was living somewhere in the bowels of the building. He alternated between the Heraldbuilding and the Dilworth Building, where he knew the caretaker, at the bottom of Queen St."

Ms Phare remembers the days before stories were punched out on computers

"The typewriters were so old that the letters started to fall off the keys. A Lancashire man called Bill was charged with keeping them going. Deep out of the pocket of his grey overalls, he'd fish out a selection of typewriter letters, much like Scrabble pieces, and fish around until he found an 'n' or a 'p'.

"If he couldn't find the right letter he'd give you an alternative and tell you to turn it upside down."

Gavin Ellis, a former editor and editor-in-chief, has culinary memories.

"The Herald Caff - definitely not cafe - was nicknamed the Greasy Spoon and the standard of cuisine varied as cooks came and went. One 'chef' was obsessed with yellow food colouring. Rice was always bright yellow and anything else that could be dyed took on the same hue.

"Security at the Wyndham St building in the 1970s might best be described as 'benign'. The Sunday Herald, which was published in the 1970s, became a particular target for the city's more colourful eccentrics, including one man who appeared and sat down in the reporters' room to telephone the Pope.

"As well as the presses, the building accommodated typesetting and composition. It was the days of hot metal production and the lead and antimony from which type was cast on Linotype machines, combined with printing ink, produced a smell that was unique to newspaper buildings.

"Hot metal production gave way to computer compositions and then editorial systems that replaced the role of printers. In the days of hot metal there was a strict protocol observed by journalists on the production floor (confusingly known as the newsroom)," Mr Ellis remembered.

Journalists were not allowed to touch a piece of metal type - the sole preserve of printers - and we were told that to do so risked a walk-out by the militant trade unionists.

"Whether that was apocryphal or not, I spent most of my time on that floor with my hands behind my back."

Early next year, property owner Mansons TCLM will move on to the site and begin demolition works for 1 Mills Lane, a $675 million, 30-level office block, 125-room hotel and shops.