Many original state houses were built by Fletcher Construction

State housing.

Auckland University College Arts Building

Auckland University College Arts Building.


The move of the company headquarters to Auckland in 1925 reflected James Fletcher's confidence in the pace of industrial and urban growth. He was now able to realise his dream of creating a vertically integrated construction company. Under his direction, Fletcher Construction set up a joinery factory, and between the wars it bought into timber mills, acquired a stake in brick-and-tile manufacturing, established concrete production, bought a marble quarry and moved into steel merchandising.

However, the difficult economy of the 1920s and the Depression that followed came close to driving the company under. Even though Fletcher Construction completed many notable projects including the 150,000 Auckland University College Arts Building (1926), Chateau Tongariro (1929, a troubled joint venture with tourism entrepreneur Rodolph Wigley), Auckland's Civic Theatre (1929), and the Dominion Museum (1934), it came close to bankruptcy in the late 1930s.

Sir James Fletcher snr, perhaps fearing the Fletcher Construction Co Ltd would be nationalised, took up the invitation of the new Labour Government in 1935 to prepare a scheme to build state rental houses. This was opposed by his brothers as too risky, and they were initially right. The houses proved much more expensive to build than first thought. This was because of the high building and design standards insisted on by the enthusiastic parliamentary undersecretary to the minister of finance, John A. Lee, who had no experience of building.

His scheme provided for most houses to be individual units and to be built from New Zealand-produced materials wherever possible. No two houses in an area were to be of the same design, and construction was to be of a high order. Lee also insisted that interior planning of all houses should conform to modern civilised standards. The New Zealand Institute of Architects' president considered the scheme expensive and inefficient and Fletcher himself claimed that civil servants had provided house designs and demanded standards of construction on "too lavish a scale".

The first house was built in 1937 and by March 1939 more than 5000 state houses were built or were under construction, and contracts had been let for 700 more. Residential Construction lost between 200 and 300 a house and survived only by virtue of a 200,000 government-guaranteed overdraft. It was one of several contractors, and by 1939 it had virtually withdrawn from the business.

In 1973, the firm returned to the mass-housing market, following the acquisition of Beazley Homes, later becoming part of Fletcher Residential.

Sir James Fletcher, snr in 1942 Sir James Fletcher, snr in 1942.

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