As a small child back in the 1980’s, with my hand firmly inside my mother’s, we would dash across Cathedral Square in all kinds of weather, usually heading towards the five story, art deco designed building that housed the women’s restrooms. If we were going south across the Square, my eyes would always stray to the stairs that led to the underground men’s restrooms, always wondering why my pit stop was in a boring old building and not mysteriously underfoot. I was always so intrigued.
What that little girl didn’t know was that there were once women’s loos underground, both of these facilities opening in 1908. With the sudden increase of women and children flooding into Christchurch for shopping or to take in a Picture Show (see a movie), these toilets were soon inadequate. The Christchurch City Council chose to purchase the old ‘New Zealand Insurance Company’ building which sat empty in South West corner of Cathedral Square.
In 1870 – six years after a devastating fire destroyed that entire city block and fifteen businesses – a three and a half story brick building was erected. It housed the ‘New Zealand Insurance Company’ (whose frontage was on Hereford Street) and the ‘Lyttelton Port Board’ which fronted onto the Square. When the C.C.C. organised to have the building remodeled for the future use of women’s restrooms, office space and a crèche (one of New Zealand’s first), major structural problems were uncovered. Designs were soon drawn up for an entire new structure, which opened for business on 1st July 1932. Many of us will remember this building being between Strand Lane and the old Chief Post Office.
I still remember the huge old elevator, big enough to hold a pram or two. To get to the toilets, you would go through the grand ‘parcel room’ which to me had a Victorian Era feel to it – with its fine wooden benches, cushioned seats and full length mirrors. And to make this unusual place even more memorable was the single smaller toilet, made just for children.
This building disappeared into history after its closure on 13th January 1992. The current toilets in the same location were opened in 1994.
* Photo courtesy of the Christchurch City Libraries – http://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com – Photo File Reference CCL Photo CD 17, IMG0082