longwhitekid

A Trail Goes Creamy and Cold

In Alpine Ice Cream, Apex Ice Cream Company Limited, Cornelius J Van Dongen, Eldora Ice Cream, Fonterra, Frozen Foods, G.E. Patton Ltd, Gager's Electric Belt, General Foods Corporation (NZ) Ltd, George Edward Patton, Hellaby's, Ice Cream, Lone Star Cafe, McAlpine, Newjoy Ice Cream Co, Perfection Ice Cream Co, Peter Pan Frozen Foods Ltd, Peter Pan ice cream, Prestcold refrigerators, Robinson Ice Cream, Sunshine Ice Cream, Supreme Ice Cream, Thomas Gager, Tip-Top, Wall's ice cream, Wall's Ice Cream Ltd on May 7, 2013 at 10.46

Apex Ice Cream Board recreation  copy

A recreation I’ve made of a rare metal and wood sandwich board, designed to advertise Apex outside on the footpath in front of a dairy.

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Apex is yet again a brand about which very little is known; it was Christchurch-based and lasted around forty years or so. I don’t even have a name for a founder or owner. However this almost complete lack of information  gives me a chance to delve into the lives of various names that were at some time associated with the brand and the property. a

Airds Dairy & Cake Shop Papanui shows Apex Ice cream and Ernest Adams Cakes edit

Airds Dairy and Cake Shop, showing Apex on sale as well as Ernest Adams cakes and Queen Anne chocolates, year unknown. Image courtesy of the Gordon Shields Collection via Kete Christchurch, File ref PHG25GS

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Apex Ice Cream Old Enamel  Sign 91 x 38 cm 1 edit  copy

Painted tin Apex advertising. The logo and slogan were fairly standard although the dimensions varied.

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Apex seems to have been established in 1933 at 25 Manchester St, Christchurch – but by whom I do not know. Records show the company was granted a building permit on 11th of  September that year. The builder was George Edward Patton (born 1885), whom by this time had already been in business locally for a decade; in 1923 he had founded G.E. Patton Ltd at 188 Barbadoes Street, Christchurch, not that far away (now renumbered to 194, it is next to  Henry’s beer wine and spirits). This building still stands although it looks somewhat different with a remodelled facade  and is quite dishevelled today.  a

25 Manchester Street, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand 1

Above and below: The first  Apex building built 1933 by Patton, at number 25 Manchester Street, on the corner of Dundas.

25 Manchester Street, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand 2

Patton were refrigeration specialists that went on to produce commercial fridge cabinets – the type for nicely displaying drinks, snacks and treats that need to be kept chilled – obviously ice cream being one product. We can surmise that Patton, through his commercial refrigeration work – had the equipment and know-how to easily set up such an operation with the machinery it needed. A photo of 1940 of the Barbadoes showroom shows their range is very well-established. They manufactured for McAlpine  (Prestcold refrigerators), amongst others and then eventually moved into purely design/wholesale products for huge businesses like Hellaby and Fonterra. They now have a number of branches all over  New Zealand as well as in Australia, Thailand and India and major international clients. a

DSC07603 Apex Ice Cream 1960s NZ edit

The original version of the sandwich board I’ve recreated at top. Image courtesy of  www.brentz.co.nz

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By 1936 Apex were offering family blocks as well as supplying bulk deliveries to dairies and parlours as exemplified in the couple of simple ads I have found in publications. This building still stands today on the intersection – now painted lurid orange and green and houses Printstop in two thirds and a cycle store in the remainder. a

G E Pattons 188 Barbadoes Street today edit

Above: The old G. E. Pattons showrooms, 188 Barbadoes Street, Christchurch, today. Below, the Pattons staff in the 1950s, courtesy of the Pattons website. 

Patten edit

It’s  possible Patton was from the Mount Somers area west of Christchurch as there is a mention in 1916 of someone by that name enlisting. He was part of the 13th C1 draft, and spent a spell serving in WWI. He married Ethel Laura Bundy (1894-1994) in Canterbury, year unknown. This may explain why there does not appear to be any marriage record – it’s indicated that they married between 1931-1945. It does not appear they  had any offspring or if so no records are publicly available due to privacy restrictions. That’s about all I know about him to date. He died in 1973, and was described as an engineer living in Opawa.a

APEX ICE CREAM STAMPS TO COLLECT Ellesmere Guardian, 1 October 1937, Page 1 edit colour copy

An advert for an incentive to buy Apex ice cream, Ellesmere Guardian, October 1937. Presumably a larger picture was made from individual stamps that were collected (probably not an image of an actual radio, but a picture of a radio star or show) and then once fully assembled you got your money. I doubt I’ll ever see one of these turn up – and if it did – the set wouldn’t be complete anyway.

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It may be worth noting that another major ice cream business of the time, Perfection, was further down the same street at numbers 300 and 304 over time, and in April 1940 Patton was also tasked with building at least one of those premises for them.a

Lone Star Cafe - 26 Manchester St courtesy Lone Star Cafe FB page

The second Apex building built 1940 by Van Dongen, Number 26 Manchester Street, directly opposite the 1933 premises on the intersection of Dundas. This became the first of a chain of 25 Lone Star Cafes. Image courtesy of  their Facebook page, and appears to have been taken in the early-mid 1980s.

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Previous occupants at 25 Manchester street, in whatever building had been there before – were both tailors (I am sure there were others). Thomas Gager is advertising an “Electric Belt” with supposed curative properties, in the late 1880s. As it turns out he fancied himself a bit of an inventor and there are a few references to his registering of patents. It seems he was in situ from at least 1882  until 1893 when there is a notice of his stock being bought for sale, after he went bankrupt – and he moved down the road to number 95. In the 1910s-1920s, Geoffrey Madden, another tailor and fitter,  is calling from the same address for men with unwanted war costumes to sell for fancy dress use.

Apex Ice Cream 25 Manchester Street - Opawa Public Library Carnival booklet 1930s edit orange

Apex advertisement from an Opawa Public Library Carnival booklet, circa 1936.

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On the 29th of May, 1940, permission was again granted to Apex Ice Cream Co. to build on the corner of Dundas and Manchester Streets, Christchurch, showing the construction was done this time by  a C. J. Van Dongen. Cornelius Jozepfus Van Dongen (b 1885) was presumably a Dutch immigrant given the provenance of his surname. He enlisted for  service  on the 5th of  August 1918, and was passed as fit on the 13th.  Details mention his profession as carpenter and residence in Tenysson Street, Sydenham,  at the time.  He was recorded as a “builder” by profession,  by the time he died in Christchurch, in 1966. The only other snippets I could dig up on his background was that he married to Ethel May Van Dongen (b 1886) who passed away in 1918. They had lived for some time in Hawkes Bay during the 1910s. They had a daughter Gladys Sybil Petronella born 1907 (later married a Francis Joseph Ashworth, 1928).  In 1923 he married a Sara Rubena Westwood Ritchie.

Apex Ice Cream tin sign from Australian site Roadside Relics edit  copy

Painted tin Apex advertising from outside of a building. Image courtesy of  Roadside Relics, Queensland. I had a question to the retailer about how this ended up in Australia – and apparently it was purchased  from the owners of  a pub named Pump in Maryborough in the 1980s-1990s, who were originally from Dunedin and had it decorated with a collection of signs they had brought with them. 

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Presumably this new Apex building was an additional premises, directly opposite 25 Manchester street on the intersection. This building was for many years, until recently, the original Lone Star Cafe  which eventually became a successful chain of twenty five venues. It was unfortunately destroyed in the 2010 earthquake and subsequently demolished. Apex Ice Cream Co. Ltd., was granted a Goods Service License under the Transport Act, 1949, Christchurch sometime between 1953-1962, showing that besides selling locally, they were by this time distributing far and wide.a

APEX ICE CREAM - CONTACT MAGAZINE Volume 3 No  2 Jan Feb 1943 Page 64 and 65 crop copy

Apex advert, from Contact: The National Magazine of the Royal New Zealand Air Force,Volume 3 No  2 Jan Feb 1943, Page 65. 

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 Over the last five years three or four hand-painted tin or wood Apex signs have come up for auction – all with similar layout and slogan – although varying dimensions. The only exception has been this red dairy footpath sign (that I recreated here with some modifications) which has been for sale from a Christchurch dealer for some time now. I’ve previously contacted him through both his website and Trade Me with personal sales inquiries for items and all times I have attempted my questions have remained unanswered  yet I noticed he’s very keen to provide answers when he auctions  five or ten dollar items so…winning sales technique there. Ergo I haven’t even bothered to contact again and find out anything about the provenance of this item. Given that apparently he is not interested in making any serious money – he certainly won’t be answering questions when none at all is on offer.

Lone Star Cafe - demolished

Number 26 Manchester Street, The original Lone Star Cafe, now a danger from earthquake damage, comes down.

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Data indicates that Apex was still running into the early 1970s at least (Christchurch Planning Tribunal/Environment Court case files are on record for 1971) – but it was eventually bought out by Tip-Top along with other companies like Supreme, New Joy, Robinson, Perfection, Eldora, Sunshine,  Peter Pan, Alpine, and Wall’s. By 1964, Tip-Top had finally achieved national distribution by gobbling up all the smaller (frozen) fish. Closed company files  indicate Apex may have changed hands in 1956, then again in 1964, which may be when Tip-Top stepped in and took over – since they were on a roll at the time buying out smaller brands in their bid to get to the top – they bought out Eldora in 1964 and Supreme in 1963. The final Closed Company Files for Apex were lodged sometime between 1964 and 1979. The only employee I’ve tracked down also commenced working for Apex in 1960 and finished up in 1964, so all the dates converge to some telling event. Unfortunately I was not able to talk to the person in question before publishing this article – but I am sure there is more to be added to this story in future. Perhaps someone trawling the web will come across this and be able to pass on some vital information that fills the gaps, like they did with the Peter Pan Frozen Foods saga.

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THOMAS GAGER TAILOR Star , Issue 5812, 29 December 1886, Page 2 edit

Above: Gager, had been just one resident business owner  in the days before Apex. From the Star, Page 2, 29 December 1896. He moved to 95 in 1893, but he was already hawking his own patented invention of electric accessories from his former address at 25 Manchester Street in the 1880s. Below, an ad from the Press, 15 November 1893, Page 7.

THOMAS GAGER'S ELECTRIC BELTS  Press, Volume L, Issue 8640, 15 November 1893, Page 7

 

Credits: Thanks to Dave Homewood, from Wings Over Cambridge,  check out their collection of great Contact magazine covers online here.  Also thanks to  Chris Newey from Foodworks online – the  New Zealand Food & Beverage Directory,  for some research pointers.

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All content of Longwhitekid copyright Darian Zam © 2013. All rights reserved.

Addendum mid-Jan 2014: I’ve added this amazing, extremely rare image of an early piece of Apex advertising. This was sent to me by Nick Boblea, a hard-core veteran of enamel sign collecting. He has an amazing accumulation from what I’ve seen – and was kind enough to contact me after reading this article and offer a picture of this one. I’m guessing it dates from the earliest days of the brand.

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Addendum mid-March 2014: Reader Carolyn Catt kindly sent in this  image of  one of two Apex signs stashed in her garage, that she acquired twenty years ago in the Christchurch area.

Apex sign c Carolyn Catt copy smlveteran of enamel sign collecting. He has an amazing accumulation from what I’ve seen – and was kind enough to contact me after reading this article and offer a picture of this one. I’m guessing it dates from the earliest days of the brand.a

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  1. Well researched as always. I love that advertisment from Leeston! Good finds!

  2. Thanks Lemuel. Truly, I did a lot with a very little…it’s economy history!

  3. Another great piece Darian, you really make me feel inadequate as a researcher….. such a shame with hindsight not to have you in the new book! Well done, enjoyed this piece. Peter

  4. i have a very early apex enamel sign from the 30’s in my collection, how do i load a photo

  5. Hi I worked for APEX in CHCH from about 1961 and then with them as they went on to gobble up other companies until about 1969. If you want a chat
    Cheers

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