Recently I paused and looked skyward at this wonderful Sydney building. At street level it’s hard to appreciate its full, 300ft glory, sheathed in glazed cream, terra-cotta tiling.
Somehow it reminds me of the toy blocks I played with during my 1950s childhood. However, it was built a generation earlier, as the Great Depression loomed.
BY THE GRACE OF JOSEPH AND ALBERT
The corner site was purchased at auction by retailers Joseph and Albert Grace in 1926, for 180,000 pounds. Originally the brothers intended sub-dividing and selling the land, but there was little interest. Instead, the decision was made to build their own spectacular headquarters and department store. It was officially opened in July 1930 by the Lord Mayor.
The design by architects Morrow & Gordon was based on the famous Tribune building in Chicago.
As a department store it was not that successful, the public preferring to shop in busy George Street. Naturally the 1929 Wall Street crash did not help. Much of the building ended up being tenanted by government offices and during WWII the entire property became home to the Repatriation Department. There was an air-raid shelter in the basement and rumours of a tunnel leading to Circular Quay.
In January 1950 there was a terrible incident when 34 year old ex-serviceman Walter Darwin fell 80ft from the 6th floor. He landed in a seated position, punching a hole in the metal awning.
Darwin was rescued by fireman, still conscious. Miraculously he survived, despite breaking almost every bone in his body.
In the 1970s the Department of Veteran Affairs was located in the building and it was where medicals were conducted for those heading off to the Vietnam war.
The building is now a luxury hotel, with the interior beautifully restored in Art Deco style.
If you would like a convenient, historic place to stay in Sydney, you can check out their ROOMS AND RATES
By the way, there is a great little breakfast spot at the King Street entrance, called Good Life. In chilly weather you can sit under the decorative pressed metal awning, warmed by a brazier. Not quite the same as room service in the hotel, but never mind.