Early European settlement initially centred on the foreshore and grew southward; the rising ground and marshy land in this area was about the town limits. The first gaol was sited at the intersection of Queen and Victoria Streets. However, as the commercial area grew and the city prospered retail and entertainment enterprises were built in this part of the city. In 1873 the city markets relocated from down- town to a large building approximately on the site of the Aotea Centre.
Imposing two and often three-storied masonry retail and warehouse buildings were at the Queen Street, Wellesley Street crossroads. On the north-west corner was the United Services Hotel, now the Civic Hotel and London Bar.
The Fullers Opera House was situated on the corner of Elliot and Wellesley Streets. By the last two decades of the nineteenth century opera, vaudeville and hotels were thriving in the area and with the introduction of film even more so.
The intersection of Queen Street and Wellesley Street was an early transportation hub with trams from Karangahape Rd and Ponsonby intersecting with transport down Queen Street. The first horse-drawn trams from Wellesley Street to Ponsonby began in August 1884. Two horses drew the tram with a third ridden by a boy in the front to assist with the steep incline up Wellesley Street West. Reaching Hobson Street, the boy rode down again to wait for the next tram. Electric tram services started in the early 1900s.
Major civic amenities developed in this area between the 1880s and 1910s when the city's first purpose-built Art Gallery and Library and the Town hall were constructed. These functions have remained and expanded over time. This upper part of the central city remains a vibrant focus for theatres and cinemas, civic administration, Auckland's main public library and the Art Gallery.
Start at the corner of Victoria Street and Queen Street.