Doctors’ Houses, 84-86 Symonds Street, Auckland Central
The Doctors’ Houses at 84-86 Symonds Street may look like one building now, but they were originally two houses, both belonging to doctors.
|Image: Marguerite Hill. 84-86 Symonds Street, 2019. Auckland Council Heritage Unit.
The ivy-covered building on the left, at 84 Symonds Street, was once the home and consulting rooms of Dr Eily Elaine Gurr (1896–1996), a medical practitioner with an interest in maternal and infant health. Gurr trained in obstetrics overseas (including at the renowned Rotunda Hospital, a maternity hospital in Dublin) and then established antenatal clinics throughout New Zealand with the Department of Health. She also oversaw the training of Plunket and St Helens Hospital (public maternity hospital) nurses. Gurr set up a general practice in Symonds Street in 1932 and had this house built in 1935-6. She continued to practice there for forty years. Gurr later became the first woman to be made an honorary fellow of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.
|Image: Pearl Freeman. Portrait of Eily Elaine Gurr, 1946. Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. Reference: C-025004-1/2.
Gurr was a major benefactor to the Auckland and medical communities: she endowed chairs of medicine at Auckland and Otago university medical schools, paid the salary of a veterinarian for the Auckland SPCA and supported St John Ambulance and the Salvation Army. She retired to Torbay and died there in 1996, a month or so after her 100th birthday.
|Image: Auckland City Council. Number 86 Symonds Street in the 1960s or 1970s.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 435-B5-186
The house on the right, at 86 Symonds Street, was built for Dr Alexander Henderson Kirker (1899-1970), another GP and Secretary of the Auckland Hospital Board. This house was built slightly later, in 1937, and was designed to accommodate Dr Kirker, his two sisters and his consulting rooms. Kirker served with the Royal New Zealand Medical Corps during the Second World War. During the war he met and married Joan Johnston, a New Zealand WAAF (Woman’s Auxiliary Air Force). They returned to New Zealand in 1950 and in 1955 they altered the house to accommodate their family.
The property continued to be used by doctors until the mid-1970s – the last doctor I have been able to track down there was a Dr Sullivan.
It was once common for doctors to have consulting rooms as part of their residences. Floor plans of the buildings show how separate the public and private aspects of the homes were kept. Dr Kirker’s property had a consulting room, waiting room and nurses’ room on the ground floor, with private residential areas to the back of the house and upstairs, out of bounds to patients. Kirker had a basement garage (and billiard room) downstairs – an early ‘man cave’, perhaps? Dr Gurr had waiting, consulting, examining, and dressing rooms on the ground floor of her residence. Her private quarters were to the back of the ground floor and upstairs. She had a separate garage for her car.
|Image: Malcolm Keith Draffin in uniform.
Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-2005-1-1.
Malcolm Keith Draffin designed both 84 and 86 Symonds Street. He also designed the alterations and additions to Dr Kirker’s property during the 1950s. Malcolm Draffin was part of the architectural firm Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, which is best known for the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Parnell Library and the South British Insurance Building amongst others. Draffin began his architectural apprenticeship in 1906 with J.W. Walker and in 1910 he joined Edward Bartley. He became a full partner in 1914 when the firm became known as Edward Bartley and Son and M.K. Draffin. He served overseas during the First World War and after the war he travelled and trained in Europe. Upon returning to New Zealand, he became sole partner in the firm of Edward Bartley and Son and M.K. Draffin. In 1922, he joined with H.C. Grierson and K.W. Aimer when they jointly won the competition to design the Auckland War Memorial Museum. They received the New Zealand Institute of Architects gold medal for the project. After this partnership ended in 1932, Draffin went into partnership with his son.
Draffin would have been at the peak of his career when employed by Gurr and then Kirker to design their homes. Their choice of architect would have emphasised their status as successful doctors working in an exclusive street. The two properties are neo-Georgian in style. Like the choice of architect, the style speaks to success and authority. In her report for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Elizabeth Cox notes that this style of architecture was ‘synonymous with upper-middle-class concepts of good taste during the inter-war period’.
Image: Unknown photographer. The properties at 84-86 Symonds Street in the 1980s, after they had been joined together for use by a law firm. A mansard roof has also been added to number 84.
In 1975, the two properties were joined together by a brick addition for the law firm Martelli, McKegg, Wells (sometimes called Martelli, McKegg, Adam-Smith). The properties were partitioned into numerous office and meeting spaces, although Kirker’s basement billiard room was retained as part of the staff social area. In 1979, a mansard roof was added to the 84 Symonds Street to provide more office space and an apartment for one of the partners in the firm.
The Doctors’ Houses are now occupied by a number of different tenants, including a café located in what was once Dr Kirker’s consulting room.
Margaret D. Maxwell. Women doctors in New Zealand: an historical perspective 1921-1986, 1990. Auckland: IMS, p. 125.
Philippa Mein Smith. 'Gurr, Eily Elaine', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Retrieved from Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
Rex Wright-St Clair (2003 and 2013) Historia Nunc Vivat Medical practitioners in New Zealand 1840-1930. Christchurch: Cotter Medical History Trust, p. 167.