Remembering Sydney’s Lost Buildings – In Pictures

The view north-west from the State Office Block construction site in about 1964.
Photograph: City of Sydney Archives

Over the past two centuries Sydney’s architectural landscape has been continually transformed and many buildings have been consigned to dust. A new exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, Demolished Sydney, which opens on 19 November, remembers the city’s lost buildings from the Garden Palace to the ‘Black Stump’

The bank, pictured here in the 1950s, was torn down and replaced by the Colonial Centre in 1985, despite vehement opposition from 7,000 Sydneysiders. The building was an important element in the harmonious art deco streetscape of Martin Place, where a number of commercial buildings complemented one another in style and size. The campaign to save the Rural Bank galvanised a new appreciation of the city’s art deco architecture and saved many buildings in the central business district.

The incinerator stood on a high sandstone promontory overlooking the Blackwattle Bay, now occupied by a Meriton apartment block. Designed by the architects Walter Burley Griffin and Eric Nicholls, it was a remarkable building, as stylish as it was functional. It was decommissioned in 1971 and deteriorated until the late 80s, when the site was sold. Despite protests the incinerator was demolished in 1992 – one of many local landmarks swept away by urban consolidation.

The hotel – once the city’s grandest – was a landmark for 80 years. When it opened in 1891 its belle époque opulence ranked it with the best hotels in Europe and the US. But, as new city hotels were constructed in the 60s, the Hotel Australia went into decline, unable to compete with international ‘jet set’ standards. The last guests checked out in June 1971. Most of the buildings on the block were demolished for Harry Seidler’s award-winning MLC Centre.

The Regent Place arcade and apartment tower stand where the Regent Theatre once screened Hollywood’s finest films. This part of George Street was an amusement mecca in the 30s and 40s, with the Trocadero Palais de Dance next door, the Century and the Plaza theatres across the road and the Victory Theatre three doors down. Cinemas struggled after the arrival of television in 1956. The construction of the first Hoyts multiplex in 1976 marked the end for single-screen theatres. The Regent, the grandest of them all, couldn’t last.

The Garden Palace was built for the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition and was one of the city’s most significant buildings until it turned to ash in a spectacular fire. A southern rival to London’s Crystal Palace (built for the Great Exhibition of 1851) and a testament to the industry and resources of the colony, it was framed in timber and clad in bricks and glass. A memorial gate now stands in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Macquarie Street.

The Museum of Contemporary Art today occupies the site where once stood the two oldest government buildings in the state – the convict-hewn Commissariat buildings, built in 1809 and 1812. In 1938 The Royal Australian Historical Society urged that these heritage buildings be retained as a museum of Australian history. But they were demolished in 1939 as part of a plan to build an overhead railway and expressway at Circular Quay, along with a Maritime Services Board building.

Before its demolition, Rowe Street’s tiny shops with their swinging signs created a lively, artisan atmosphere. The laneway was absorbed into the plaza beneath the MLC Centre tower and most of the shops were demolished. The street’s loss continues to be mourned by many Sydneysiders, who relished its cosmopolitan ambience.

Before the Sydney Opera House was built, Bennelong Point was the site of the Fort Macquarie tram depot. And before that, it was a place for lime production, naval defence, transport and, finally, entertainment. Earlier still, it was Point Bennelong, named for the Wangal man who befriended the British colonists. To the Gadigal people, the traditional owners of this land, this spit of sandstone is Dubbagullee.

The steepled church stood cheek by jowl with Victorian terrace houses and colonial shops on Phillip Street. It was requisitioned for the creation of a broad thoroughfare that would become Martin Place. The development was envisaged in 1891 but not completed until 1935. St Stephen’s was just one of the buildings swept aside to improve traffic flow at a time when Sydney was undergoing a rapid transition.

The tower was known as the ‘Black Stump’ until its demolition, when it was replaced by Aurora Place. Part of the 60s renewal and modernisation of the city, the block was, briefly, the tallest tower in Sydney. It will be remembered as one of the city’s earliest examples of modern office layout, complete with revolutionary open-plan and modular spaces and Scandinavian design. When government policy shifted to leasing office space in the late 80s, the building was sold.



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