The former Devonport Power Station was built in 1914-15 to provide the first public electricity on Auckland’s North Shore. Designed in a Free Classical style, the brick building is a rare surviving example of an early electric power station in Auckland. The building reflects the general rise of reticulated electricity schemes in early twentieth-century New Zealand, a growth that transformed the lives of many citizens. Created by the Electricity Supply Corporation (NZ) Limited, it particularly demonstrates the involvement of private enterprise in such schemes before regional electricity boards were established by central government after 1918.
Devonport was an early centre of Maori settlement, which became a British naval station after formal colonisation in 1840. Later developing as a prosperous seaside resort and suburb, Devonport’s reticulated power was initially derived from gas produced locally by the Auckland Gas Company. In 1913, Devonport ratepayers accepted a proposal by an Auckland-based entrepreneur, David M. Davis, to provide rival electric power for lighting, cooking and heating. Davis’ company, the Electricity Supply Corporation, erected an electric power station on Church Street to generate reticulated electricity for up to 1600 homes.
The power station was constructed as a large brick building with a slate roof. Incorporating a distinctive Free Classical façade, it is said to have been designed by W. Robinson. Its interior evidently contained a large central area with flanking rooms on either side, accommodating imported plant from Europe that was initially delayed in its arrival by the outbreak of the First World War (1914-18). It may have been operational by September 1915, when the company provided free electricity to an event to raise money for the Devonport Convalescent Home for wounded soldiers.
Production relied on a DC (direct current) generator powered by reciprocal gas engines, which were in turn powered by coal gas. Subsequent expansion of provision included street lighting for the Borough (1916) and electrified sewage pumps (1917). In 1922, Devonport ratepayers voted to allow the Borough Council to purchase the business and install further plant. Two years later, however, creation of the Waitemata Electric Power Board (WEPB) across the broader region facilitated the supply of AC (alternating current) power from the state grid at a much cheaper cost. The WEPB purchased the Devonport Power Station from the Council for use as a standby in 1927, and closed it down the following year. In 1932-3, the building was used as a kitchen and depot by the Devonport Welfare Association, providing relief to the needy during the Great Depression.
From 1933 to circa 1980, the structure was re-used as a laundry. Initially occupied by the Marine Bagwash Company, it was used by the Northern Laundry Company and the North Shore Dry Cleaning Company from 1941. While men worked in a washing department, women undertook machine ironing in an ironing room. In the late 1980s, the building was converted into apartments through the insertion of internal partitions and some modifications to the earlier fabric. The building remains (2013) in private residential use.