One of the first public buildings built in Masterton was St Matthew's Church, built on the corner of the then unnamed main road, and a similarly unnamed side street, that eventually took its name from the St Matthew's - Church Street.
The first church, a small building, was opened for worship in January 1867, then 10 years later expanded by being split in half and attached to the sides of a larger central building. This wooden building served the parish until a brick replacement, further along Church St. In turn, it was damaged in the 1922 earthquake, and in turn replaced by the present St Matthew's.
The corner site, which stretched from Queen to Dixon Sts, was to see the erection of one of Masterton's finest commercial buildings in 1906, when John Turner announced he had taken over the ground lease for the site and was to start building immediately.
Turner was born in Yorkshire and came to this part of the world in 1893, first to Australia then to New Zealand. He lived in Nelson, where he built the School of Music and other buildings and served on the city council, being at one time deputy mayor.
He then moved to Wellington and was part of a firm of contractors, Paterson, Martin and Hunter, who built the present Wellington Town Hall.
He came up to Masterton shortly before he built the Academy Building, although he seems to have come north to take up farming as he was on electoral rolls as a South Road farmer. Before building the Academy, he built the Exchange Building, another extensive commercial building in Queen St, which was on the site of the Wairarapa Archives before burning down in the late 1940s. Older locals will recall it as the Hugo and Shearers building.
The first reference is to him leasing the ground and intending to 'erect a substantial building thereon' on August 9, 1906. Later that month it was reported he was to build 'commodious business premises at once' as he had secured the lease. Beale and Parton were engaged to do the plumbing.
In September the first two ground floor tenants were announced - the stationers McLeod and Young were to take over the corner section of the ground floor, with large show windows on both frontages. They were also to give their name to the building, as they were to their bookstore 'The Academy'. To the south, the other ground floor tenants were the sporting goods store King and Henry. The upper floor was to be let for office purposes.
The style of the building was 'Ionic', with double plasters on the Church St frontage, and single plasters on Queen St, each surmounted with an Ionic top and cornice to match. According to the Wairarapa Daily Times: There will be a pediment to each frontage with artistic enrichments, and the parapet will be composed of a neat design of open balustrades.
Work progressed quickly but not without incident. Part of the Church St parapet fell into the road in October, injuring a workman who fell with it! Hunter is reported as saying that 'the projections were being strongly built, with steel rods to give strength and coke used instead of gravel to give tenacity and lightness'.
By December it was reported that the building was open for business, with McLeod and Young displaying a great selection of organs and pianos in the window. The great size of the shop was a feature - it was 7m wide and over 20m long. Pressed steel ceilings with embossed patterns were a feature, the interior being lit with gas.
Over the years the bookstore remained on the corner, although it changed hands a number of times. The original owners, McLeod and Young, had a strong musical influence through F.W.G. McLeod, the conductor of the Masterton Band and a sometime composer. After he left Masterton he was a renowned bandsman in Queensland, Australia. His partner, Robert Young, was also a gifted trombonist and musical director for the Masterton Amateur Theatrical Society.
To those alive in the 1920s the intersection of Church and Queen Streets was the Academy corner - a generation later it became Pither's corner, as H.E. Pither ran the store. In the 1960s it was Stevens' Corner, as R.R. Stevens ran the combined bookstore and toyshop, while to others born later it became Bain's Corner.
The store's unusually long shape, and the chance of discovering new treasures at the rear of the store, where toys and "fancy goods' were displayed, kept successive generations of Mastertonians returning to shop.
In more recent years the store has given way to a variety of commercial customers.
Upstairs, a wide variety of clients have based themselves in the Academy - architects, lawyers, the Rotary Club, insurance agents, typists, accountants, music teachers, dressmakers and piano tuners. For a time in the 1940s, Billy Darvill operated a billiard saloon over the rear section of the building.
The Academy Building suffered extensive damage in the 1942 earthquakes, and like many Masterton buildings of the time, was shorn of almost all its decoration during restoration, which did not actually take place until the 1960s. The once ornate Ionic style was replaced by a more modern, and more severe, facade. However, the building was still not very safe and a recent survey showing it only reached 6 per cent of the building code compliance for earthquakes sealed its fate, the owners, Wairarapa Families Anglican Trust (WFAT), recognising it needed to be demolished.