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Newsletter for the Point Chevalier Historical Society

No. 61 October 2018

The Dazzling Dixieland – Pt Chevalier’s Jazz Centre by the Sea (Part 2)

by Lisa J Truttman
(Continuing from last issue)

Dixieland vs. Auckland City Council, part 2: The swimming baths saga
On 7 February 1927, while still in the midst of his appeal against the previous year’s court conviction, Frederick
Rayner wrote to Capt. Atwood, the Marine Department’s local superintendent, and applied for permission from the
department “to construct a Bathing Pool on the Beach at Point Chevalier.” By “beach”, Rayner actually meant the
rocky foreshore just north of the Dixieland’s seaward aspect, on the other side of the part of Pt Chevalier Road that
separated the Dixieland from the council reserve. He described (and illustrated with a sketch) a 300 ft X 100 ft rec-
tangular enclosure just below the cliffs on the western side of the reserve, basically just a simple salt-water bath
with rocky bottom where the tide would wash in and the water drain back out again. The walls were to be 4 feet
high, with fencing around the top a further 10 feet high. The proposal included staging at both ends, and on the cliff-
side of the baths, with the Dixieland’s bathing sheds providing the changing area. Rayner’s argument in support of
the proposal was that “owing to tidal conditions on this particular beach, where the tide goes out half a mile,” bath-
ers needed to wade out
“through deep mud to bathe.”
Auckland Star 13 May 1927 Rayner told Atwood that the
proposal had the support of
local residents, and the chair-
man of the Auckland Harbour
Board – and that he had every
intention of conducting the
baths exactly as the City
Council conducted theirs, at
Shelley Beach and Parnell.
He asked for a period of ten-
ure of some years, given the
estimated cost of construction
(£7000 to £8000).

Atwood immediately headed

out to Pt Chevalier to check
things out – and wrote in a
memo to his superiors in Wel-
lington on 9 February that “I
am of the opinion that the
construction of a bathing pool
will be a great convenience to
the public … I have made

All meetings 10.30 at 990 Great North Road, Western Springs (Horticultural Centre)
18 October 2018 - Julie Benjamin on "Gladys Cunningham-a serious amateur photographer"
15 November 2018—Tim Carter on "The flu epidemic of 1918 and its effects"
Pt Chevalier Historical Society department dated 17 February saying that Sir Maui
Minutes of meeting Pomare had apparently written a letter supporting
Rayner’s plan. How and why Pomare became briefly
Thursday 15 August 2018 involved in a Pt Chevalier matter isn’t known, and it
Auckland Horticultural Council Rooms appeared to be confusing to the department, with the
question asked at the bottom of the memo, “Can you
Meeting started at 10.30 am. Present: 33 people say from whom this letter came?”

Henry Greathead Rex (HGR) Mason, local MP for

Apologies: Eric Allen, Dot Tasker, Lisa Truttman Eden at the time, became involved, sending telegrams
to the department in March 1927 seeking more info. At
that point, Rayner had sought approval from the
President: Auckland Harbour Board, and received it by unani-
mous agreement – “although, one wowser on the board
Congratulated Lisa on producing an excellent edition of remarked,” Rayner later wrote to Minister of Marine
the Point Chevalier Times to celebrate our tenth anniver- that month, “that he hoped that there would not again
be a repetition of the Dixieland trouble.” Rayner went
sary. on to say that he was aware that the Marine
Department consulted Auckland City Council, the
matter “dealt with by a committee of four, every one of
Thanks also to Helen Pearce for her excellent article by whom are known wowsers and joy-spoilers, who had
on John A Lee. previously dealt with the Dixieland controversy,
respecting the night we turned out premises over for
Thanks also to Heather Hannah for her continuing spon- charity purposes. Naturally they were against the pro-
sorship. posal, and should not be taken any notice of.” Rayner
stated he had the complete backing of the local
community “who are, after all, the only ones that
Treasurer count,” and made the offer to allow two days free use
of the pool per week for local school children.
Kiwi Bank are now charging $2 / statement so it has
been decided that only the President will receive one. The City Council firmly opposed the idea of the
Dixieland baths. In April, they told the government
that they objected on the grounds that the “Council
Guest speaker caters for bathing on all beaches” and they proposed
building their own facility off the coastline of the re-
Mr R Stone spoke about Logan Campbell and reasons serve art Pt Chevalier. The Public Works department
everybody should consider writing their own memoirs. were cautious in their advice to the Marine department.
They noted the Council’s strong opposition, and also
Meeting closed at 12.15 added that while a strong swirling current made swim-
ming in the harbour near the proposed site of the baths
dangerous at times (so the baths would be a help), the
Next meeting: 18th October. Julie Benjamin will talk baths themselves might change the currents so that the
about Gladys Cunningham-a serious amateur photogra- swirl shifted southward, posing a hazard to beachgoers
further along. They advised that Rayner confer with
pher the Council to reach an amicable arrangement – which,
of course, was unlikely to happen as the sides contin-
ued to polarise.

Godfrey from the Marine Department wrote to Rayner

in May, saying his department had no issues with the
From page 1 application, provided the walls of the swimming baths
enquiries and I am satisfied the building of a pool or were of a strong enough construction to withstand the
bath is required on this beach, perhaps even more so flow of the tides. The Order in Council granting Dixie-
than Shelley Beach or Parnell, as it is frequented by land the lease of the foreshore site was issued – and the
more people.” At some earlier point, there had been a City Council immediately applied for, and obtained, a
proposal to have that part of the foreshore vested with court injunction.
either the Council or the Harbour Board, but the depart-
ment apparently declined. Atwood, therefore, did not The Auckland Amateur Swimming Association sup-
consult either the Harbour Board or the Council over ported the Dixieland proposal, saying that anything
Rayner’s proposal. promoting safe swimming skills was a good thing. On
the other hand, the Pt Chevalier School Committee
The Secretary for the Marine Department, George passed a resolution stated their objection “to the rights
Crosbie Godfrey, received a memo from within the of the people being handed over to private enter-
Marine Department staff photographed the
surrounds of the Dixieland in the late 1920s,
including these images of the buses turnaround at
the end of Pt Chevalier Road.

From M1-590, 4/2051, R19981032, Archives New

Zealand (Wellington)

prise” (despite that fact that, by conditions of the Order who worked on the Grafton Bridge. Council’s Parks
in Council, their school was allowed the two days free committee were aghast, and demanded a public inquiry
use per week). The Point Chevalier Sailing Club pro- into the matter. They sent around to all local MPs, to
tested to the Department, only to be informed “Inquiries the Prime Minister, the Minister of Marine and HGR
showed that the portion of the foreshore on which the Mason copies of their resolution where they emphasised
baths are to be erected is not used by bathers or yachts- that Pt Chevalier beach was now far too important as a
men …” beach area to muck up with a privately-run swimming
baths, seeing as both the Harbour Board and the
In September, the Supreme Court case was heard re- Railways department had “deprived the public of a
garding the injunction, where the Council asserted their number of beach areas close to the city.” By this, they
riparian rights to the foreshore beneath the cliffs, and meant the Eastern rail line extension via Orakei and
their case was upheld by Mr Justice Herdman. The Hobson Bay. (During a statement given at a later com-
Council’s legal team claimed that the Dixieland pro- mission of inquiry into the Dixieland proposal, see be-
posal stopped them possibly building boat sheds there, low, the Harbour Board blamed the Council in turn for
possibly building a swimming baths of their own there failing to create a proper salt-water lake at Judges Bay,
… in reality, though, it was very much, as a number of so their opinions on the matter would seem to have been
observers described it at the time, a “dog in the manger” at odds anyway.)
attitude. The Council simply did not want the Dixieland
to extend their activities, and to have a private swim- Questions were asked in Parliament within days. Mason
ming bath enterprise that might do better than their own in particular wrote to the Minister of Marine, expressing
(which, at Shelly Beach and Parnell were running at a his opposition to the new site for the baths, and stating
loss, and had additional troubles involving water filtra- that he had previously advised those who had contacted
tion costs). The moral aspect was there as well, with him before in protest that they should leave it up to the
those who recalled the “cuddle cubicles” case fearing Council and their injunction. But, Rayner’s new pro-
that more jazz age impropriety was likely if the baths posal had circumvented that. The new position inter-
went ahead. fered with “the fine sport of sailing and rowing”, and it
was likely to interfere with the patterns of silting at the
Rayner let the cliffside site idea go, for the moment. In beach, he wrote. The Pt Chevalier Sailing Club wrote a
October 1927, he put forward an alternative plan for the letter of protest to the Prime Minister, Gordon Coates –
baths, to be placed directly in front of the Dixieland but Rayner had sent a three page letter to him as well.
complex itself, at a right angle to the foreshore and con- In it, he once again emphasised what an asset the baths
nected by a bridge. This was approved by the Marine would be for public recreation at the point. His letter
Department, and a new license granted. The bridge revealed another gripe he had with the Council; that
plan was designed by Robert Forbes Moore, designer of they “have seen fit to intimidate and obstruct the
the Mangere and Panmure Bridges, and one of those Company in every conceivable way, refusing to grant
permits for various games until compelled by threat of (Above) The plan sent in by Rayner to the Marine Depart-
legal proceedings, and further allowing pedlars of ice ment for the second option. From M1-590, 4/2051,
cream and soft drinks, which is contrary to the sanitary R19981032, Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
by-laws, and at the same time taking this business
away from the Company who pay heavy rates and tax-
es …” Rayner paid the Auckland Star to publish his
statements on the matter as advertisements, to put his Auckland Harbour Board, the Auckland Swimming
side of the story in the face of the opposition to his Centre, and the NZ Life-Saving Society.
plans. By now, Norman William Loveridge had been
installed as the latest manager of the Dixieland. The Civic League felt the Dixieland’s proposal would
set a precedent, taking away beaches from women and
The Minister of Marine responded, in November 1927, children. They opposed taking away any part of the
to the whole thing by setting in place a commission of foreshore. Maj Gordon said she was “jealous of Point
inquiry, before G C Godfrey from the Marine Depart- Chevalier beach” and objected to the proposal because
ment, and L C Campbell from Public Works. The the Council wouldn’t be in control of the baths. Godfrey
Minister determined that the inquiry was open to both questioned the women who presented their submissions,
the public and the press; it was held in the Govern- asking if they were aware that the Dixieland’s second
ment Buildings, Customs Street. It was rather quick proposal only involved a small part of the beach. They
for a public commission, especially considering the replied that they would object even if it involved only a
contentiousness of the issues; it opened on 18 Novem- foot of space. When Godfrey asked how they’d feel if it
ber and concluded on 22 November – as that included was a Council proposal instead, someone spoke up:
a weekend, everything was brought to a decision with- “That would be all right. We’re part of the City
in three days. Council.”

The Council and Dixieland Ltd each had their legal The Council’s representative stated that their objection
representatives present. Objections to the baths pro- was based on danger to the sandy covering of the beach
posal were heard from the Council, Civic League, – and that the proposal was for private baths, not pub-
National Council of Women, Auckland Women’s licly-administered. They might have to “pay in a way
Temperance Union, YWCA, Pt Chevalier Sailing that might not be desirable … the proximity of the baths
Club, Pt Chevalier School, the local branch of the NZ to the cabaret would not be in the best interests of pub-
Labour Party, the Council of Christian Congregations, lic welfare.” They preferred that baths be erected to the
and the women’s probation officer for the Salvation north-east of the peninsula’s reserve. Godfrey asked the
Army, Maj Annie Gordon. In support were engineers representative whether, if left in Council’s hands, they
Frank Edward Powell & Robert F Moore, A J Bar- would go ahead and construct baths there. The lawyer
trum, a lecturer in geology at Auckland University replied that he did not know. Council did not feel that
College, the Auckland Harbour master, the Auckland the matter was “pressing,” as they already had the baths
Centre of the NZ Swimming Association, the at Ponsonby and Parnell.
On being questioned by the Dixieland’s legal repre- allow the Dixieland to proceed.
sentative, the YWCA reps there at the hearing said they
objected to baths in the area because they “might en- On 19 September 1928, the results came in, and the
danger the morals of the girls.” When asked further if it loan proposal was lost. Rayner declared this to be a
was because the proposer was the Dixieland, there was “crushing blow” to the Council in a letter he wrote to
a chorus of noes and they added that they opposed any Godfrey of the Marine Department, and asked for his
private-run baths in the locality. licence to build the baths back at the first position.
Rayner approached the Council to have the injunction
The first assistant master of Point Chevalier School withdrawn – and was firmly declined. A public petition
said he doubted, after the alcohol court case, that the was started by an Auckland resident, begging the Ma-
Dixieland could manage the baths properly. The rine Department not to renew the order in council
Council of Christian Congregations, while agreeing granting the Dixieland their space for the baths. The
that the situation before the Dixieland’s bathing sheds Prime Minister Gordon Coates, on 7 December 1928,
was not a good one, involving bathers changing in the expressed the view in a memo that a promise to grant a
nearby ti-tree groves, still remained adamant that any- licence to Dixieland made in a telegram of 1 October
thing privately-run was bad, publicly-run was good. that year should be honoured. However – 7 December
(The Harbour Board would later give evidence that on 1928 was the day he lost of a motion of confidence in
80 occasions they had permitted private and semi- Parliament, and within days his government came to an
private use of the foreshore without any protest eventu- end.
ating in those cases.)
That appears to have been the end of Rayner’s plans for
City Engineer Walter Ernest Bush stated that in his baths at Point Chevalier. Bishop Cleary wrote to the
opinion, the demand for night bathing was limited, and Marine Department in June 1929 about rumours he’d
unless the baths were well lit, there could be a risk of a heard that the Dixieland were trying again – but the
drowning accident. As well, he stated that the baths Department said no, and added that at that point they
were a risk to the beach’s sand, despite the overhead were involved in the process of vesting the foreshore in
bridge connecting it with the main building. He was the City Council.
backed up with regard to the sand issue by the engineer
for the Harbour Board. The Dixieland Pontoon: 1928-1929
During all the saga over the swimming baths, Rayner
It did come down to the fact, however, that the took up another opportunity to enhance the swimming
Council’s main objections rested on the fact that it was experience for visitors at the Point. Early in 1928, a
the Dixieland that would operate the baths. One mem- pontoon used as part of the vehicular traffic wharf at
ber of the Parks Committee who submitted said that Devonport was put up for sale, and Rayner snapped it
he’d “seen things” at the cabaret, without elaborating up, arranging for it to be towed across the harbour in
exactly what he had seen that made him have such a February and mooring it just to the north of the Dixie-
firm opinion. He considered that the morals of young land, while he and the directors waited for the vote re-
ladies would be in danger, bathing at night. When sults of the Council’s swimming baths poll. The news-
Dixieland’s counsel put to him that there had once been papers claimed (possibly based on exaggerated infor-
night bathing at Parnell Baths, with no lights, the city mation provided by Rayner) that the pontoon could
councillor failed to see the relevance. hold “about 1000 people” and would be “fitted with
ladders, diving boards and chutes and would be electri-
The decision of the commissioners in December was cally illuminated.” It came into use on 23 February
that baths at Pt Chevalier was extremely desirable, giv- 1928.
en the fast developing locality, the statistics of 10,000
to 15,000 visitors to the beach on fine weekends and The evening before the pontoon was ready, “The con-
holidays, and that in the immediate catchment area venient nine o’clock tide and the oppressive heat last
there was already a population of 20,000. They recom- evening resulted in an unprecedented crowd bathing by
mended that the Dixieland directors revert to the origi- the light of the two Dixieland floodlights of 4000 can-
nal plan, but shift the baths further away from the fore- dle-power each. There were over 2000 people in the
shore, and that ultimately the foreshore (excluding the water and thousands of spectators thronged the ap-
baths) be vested with the Council to guarantee their proaches to the beach.”
riparian rights.
Unfortunately in April that year while swimming with
The Council responded by announcing in January 1928 his family at Point Chevalier, Arthur Ernest Clark, a
that they would seek ratepayer approval in a poll for a carpenter from Mt Eden, drowned near the pontoon.
£22,000 loan to build their own baths (and fix things up After reports that he’d last been seen on the diving
at their baths at Ponsonby and Parnell). To some, this stage of the pontoon, a rope was dragged underneath it,
was seen as a vote for or against the Dixieland pro- but to no avail. The search for the body lasted into the
posal, with some commentators in the newspapers (and night, with staff from the Dixieland serving those
Rayner himself) under the impression that a loss would involved coffees up to 3 am. Clark’s body was found at
mean the council would withdraw their injunction and 10.30 am the following day, 50 yards from the pontoon.
He was 30 years of age, married with two children. (Above) The “Pontoon Menace” off Pt Chevalier
Police blamed the pontoon for blocking the sight of
Clark from those on the beach. The coroner’s inquest Auckland Star, 22 January 1929.
agreed – and Rayner had the pontoon sunk so it rested
on the sea bed. This, though, was still not a solution that interior refit, said to be run “on Continental lines”. The
satisfied everyone. In January 1929, accusations were dances of the time featured the tango, and “the 1932
laid that the pontoon was damaging the beach by creat- quickstep”. In 1933, briefly, a “Dixieland Life-Saving
ing new silting patches with the currents, while parts of Club” was supported, with one feature being a six-mile
the beach were laid bare, revealing black mud, papa swim from Pt Chevalier to Te Atatu and back by the
rock and the stumps of mangroves. club’s secretary, Miss Doris Elliott.

The Marine Department sent men out to survey the New management once again for the Dixieland in
damage, and agreed that the pontoon should be either 1933, now under the direction of M A Nassoor. At the
anchored to rise with the tides, or removed. The former reopening, “Patrons will be the guests of the manage-
option, of course, was that for which the pontoon was ment at supper and cigarettes will also be distributed.”
criticised in the first place – so only the second option A free taxi service was on offer on some of the caba-
remained. Rayner agreed to remove it in February 1929, ret’s nights. After another closure for redecoration, the
and it was towed to a position off the eastern side of the Dixieland opened again in March 1934.
point, near the Council’s reserve. There it remained, in
use, until it collapsed and was scrapped sometime Then, on the night of 7-8 September 1935, it came to
during 1934. an end. The greater portion of the cabaret, the seaward
side, was destroyed by fire during the night, leaving
The end for the Dixieland by the Sea £3500 in damages, including the musician’s instru-
ments. The famed, and infamous, ballroom, along with
Frederick Rayner died in 1931. His fellow longest last- the bathing sheds, were gutted. The place was well-
ing director for the Dixieland business, Alexander Ec- alight by 3.30 am when the manager at the time Vin-
cles, died a year later, in 1932. The company continued cent Herbert Trask, who lived next door with his fami-
on with new directors, among them noted builder Noel ly, was roused by the sound of “the roar of the flames.”
Cole, but as the Depression wore on business was really
just ticking over. The Jazz Age had passed, the music The fire was attended by engines from Pt Chevalier,
had changed, and the energy behind any challenges to Central and Avondale stations, but as it had broken
social mores of the time seemed to have fizzled out. through the roof soon after the Trasks raised the alarm,
there wasn’t much the firemen could do except prevent
In 1932, the original Dixieland in Queen Street was re- the spread of the fire. Fortunately for everyone that
fitted as a roller skating rink. A little later that year, the night, the winds were blowing towards the west.
Dixieland at Point Chevalier was re-opened after a peri- “An inspection of the cabaret yesterday revealed a
od that included a change in site management and an scene of confusion. The wall on the seaward end,
where the building consisted of four storeys, had fallen
out. Little remained of a residential flat and offices on
the top floor. In the ballroom on the next floor what
was not destroyed by fire was damaged by heat. On the
bandstand instruments that had provided music for sev-
eral hundred dancers only a few hours before, were de-
stroyed. The value of the instruments, as estimated by
Mr Trask, was £400. Much of the light wooden trellis-
work around the cubicles had been destroyed, while
other decorations had also been consumed.

“A lump of baked earth in the bottom of hanging bas-

kets was all that was left to indicate that ferns had for-
merly grown there. Several carpets that remained were
scarcely recognisable. The dancing floor was covered
with charred timber and sheets of twisted corrugated
iron from above. At the seaward end, where the floor
had collapsed, several steel girders 18in. in width lay
bent in a curve with the intense heat. (Above and left) Two images from the set of photos taken
by Marine Department staff for the investigation into the
“On the next floor the dressing sheds, capable of ac- allegations of damage to the beach caused by the Dixieland
commodating over 700 bathers, were gutted. Of the swimming pontoon.
skittle alley on the floor below there was little to be
seen. The front portion of the building, which consists From M1 597 4/2279R19981093, Archives New Zealand
of only one storey, occupied by the tearooms, was dam- (Wellington)
aged by smoke, but was saved from destruction by a
brick partition wall at the entrance to the ballroom.
Some of the stock was damaged by water. Fire-fighting 1939, managed by Norton Hammond of the Arts Hall,
equipment in the building could not be reached on ac- until August 1942, when they were required to vacate
count of the heat.” the premises. This, though, does not appear to have
been connected with Rayner’s dream business, aside
The cause of the fire was uncertain, but Trask theorised from using what was once his property.
that someone may have left a lit cigarette burning on
one of the couches, where it smouldered before burst-
ing into flame.

That was it for the Dixieland at the Point. The remains

were sold and removed from the site, and the company
came to an arrangement with the Council whereby the
latter bought the property and incorporated it into the
reserve, as it remains to this day. The company itself,
Dixieland Ltd, liquidated and wound up in 1938.
Briefly, there was another Dixieland, sparking up back
at the original Queen Street site and operating from
The remains of the Dixieland lounge, ballroom and bathing sheds after the fire. NZ Herald 9 September 1935

Next issue due out November 2018

Contact Lisa Truttman (editor) : 19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600, phone (09) 828-8494
or email

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