corner of oxford and pelican

The original of this photo was in the national archives, so faded in detail that it seemed to be just an ornate Victorian pile. As I pass the spot every day, I'd wondered why such a large building in a prominent location had been replaced by something much smaller and plainer.

Then the penny dropped.
It hadn't been replaced, but demolished to widen the street. The simpler building is actually its neighbour.

But the horror set in once I'd cleaned up the image. It turned out not to be an overdone ornamental Victorian, but an extremely rare, brick and sandstone, Federation Beaux-Artes, and, due to similarity in style, perhaps by the same architect who designed Newtown Post Office (below).

In the top photo, it's 1968 and the highrise Koala Inn, which replaced the burned-down 1920s Buckingham's department store, is nearing completion. Pelican Street became the main access for the hotel, hence the widening. The Koala was converted into apartments a few years ago using the same structural skeleton, but which made the street semi-redundant.

Postscript: Only the facade of the two-storey neighbour remains, as the original buildings behind it (in the b&w pic) are Victorian terrace houses with pitched roofs, dormer windows and chimneys. They were most likely residential houses, but as Oxford Street burgeoned, were later converted to shops with the addition of the facade. Yet only that survives, with a heritage order and Hungry Jacks sign.

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top of the cross

The intersection of Victoria Street and Darlinghurst Road, early 60s.

In the centre is the old Kings Cross Theatre, demolished for the highrise Carlton Crest Hotel a few years after this photo. A little to the left is the Kings Cross Hotel (the taller one), now a nightclub complex. The rows of buildings along the left made way for the King Cross tunnel, and those on the right went down at the same time, making way for the highrise Kingsgate Hotel.

The Philips sign (top right) is sitting atop the Mayfair Hotel, and the Coke sign later, famously, got on steroids - (all photos enlarge)

Below, a closer shot, early 50s, though the 'after' version is taken a couple of floors lower given that the building from which the original was taken (the white one in the first photo above) no longer exists.

The tram has swung out of Bayswater Road on the right and is making the dogleg into William Street (Look, no lane markers). This route was the main arterial for city access from the northern Eastern Suburbs, and one day traffic pressures would become too great ...

And so the Kings Cross Tunnel had to be built. Below is 1940s William Street, heading into the city at top. Bottom right is Bayswater Road, with Victoria Street and Darlinghurst Road cutting a giant X through the centre of the pic - which, incidentally, is where the Cross comes from in Kings Cross (though until 1905 it used to be called Queens Cross, but, in a seemly interval after Queen Victoria's death, was changed due to confusion with Queens Square in town. As you would.)

Same geographic location in Google Earth today. A great swathe of the area went down for the tunnel around 1971. It starts just under the pink arrow, which is where I took the 'after' shots above and which shows their direction. For non-Sydneysiders, the black blobs are shadows from modern 30-40 storey apartment blocks (1 Horizon [a vacant block in the old pic, later ABC Radio], 2 Kingsgate, 3 Elan). The railway on the right went through a few years after the tunnel, and so the burgeoning East became connected to the city, at the cost of just a few hundred terrace houses and flats.

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oxford at taylor square

Oxford St at Taylor Square, 1928. The place is jumping with commerce and merchants. It even had three department stores, long since gone. To do this gorgeous picture justice you really, really have to click on it. There's a couple of strong lads unloading Schweppes soft drinks at left, and ladies in cloche hats waiting at the precarious tram stop in the middle of the road, as vintage cars, trucks and horse drawn carts trundle by.

All the buildings above are still there, bar the one on the furthest left, McIlwains, which burnt down in the fifties. Although both the cupolas, on the Oxford Hotel, left, and the far building in the centre of the picture, were replaced by billboard hoardings mid century. Maybe I should have waited till winter to take this pic, when the deciduous trees don't obscure how relatively intact is the scene architecturally. But it's like most modern views these days, devoid of its former unique character. Now it's just a thoroughfare through a nightclub district, surrounded by apartments mostly full of young professionals who go to work early and get home late. There's no longer much opportunity for the street life and colour, or diversity of merchants, it used to have.

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taylor square, darlo

From a seriously rutted Oxford Street at Taylor Square, we're looking up Forbes St past the gaol that was still functioning at the time (which later became East Sydney Tech, and now the National Art School). It's 1870 (!)

On the culvert is a gas lamp, what's possibly a policeman, but I can't figure out the purpose of that thing that looks like an urn on a post. Too small for mail (or is it?), no spout for water, too grand for a hitching post. Any ideas? (click for the huge original.)


The modern view of the same site is obscured by an abandoned substation built after Federation, and of course Sydney's ubiquitous trees. The conversion to a square was made earlier this century, after the Eastern Distributor tunnel was completed directly underneath. And if you thought this photo wasn't taken in exactly the same spot as the first because the opposite corner is further away, during WWI Sydney Council demolished the entire northern side of Oxford St to make it a few lanes wider.

Map of what you're looking at:

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st johns, darlinghurst road

This evocative pic comes via a National Archives newspaper series about a 1928 celebrity wedding; a hyphenated groom and his bride I'd never heard of, but who'd attracted quite a crowd of middle-aged ladies prepared to wait in the rain outside.

Anyhoo, St Johns CofE, on the border of Darlo and Kings Cross, in a time when the former was somewhat down at heel and the latter bohemian, in the classy sense.

This picture captures one of the quintessential differences for those of us who grew up in Sydney pre-1980, and its contemporary version. The views. Great sweeping vistas of them, all over the place.

Now ...

Precisely the same spot, eighty years after, [ albeit a foot or two higher due to my stature.]

Today, trees form a universal barrier to Sydney's cornucopia of sublime panoramas and glorious history. Planted without foresight or design, council by-laws prevent any attempt to restrict their impact. They've not simply been allowed to take over, but have been actively encouraged.

Nowadays, every street has the same closed in, claustrophobic sameness, almost every window faces onto an expanse of foliaged block out. Where once the scenery gave its sense of place, when journeys were engaging passages by history, styles, and lives, they're mostly covered up now by a uniform, and usually undistinguished, hoarding of leaves and branches.

I'll be the first to say it. Urban street trees are boring, worthless, and amok.

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george at king

This evocative pic positively jumped out of the archives, did an arabesque, up tempo cha cha, swivel and point, and pleaded, "Blog me!". Do click on it for the full size glass-plate original to capture the real atmosphere of what's going on here. This is 1890s George St, when it was a genuine main road connecting the working wharves of Circular Quay to the rest of the industrial port city.

While the dome of the Queen Victoria Building is now obscured by Sydney's ubiquitous 1960s internationalism, the old building on the corner is the sole survivor in view. It's Victorian Gothic facade had an Edwardian makeover it seems, the textured sandstone and decorative entry simplified perhaps not long after the first photo was taken. It's also had two floors added on top, and the window pediments strangely swapped; triangular for curved and vice versa. It must have made sense at the time.

Zoom into the original to get an extraordinary essence of Sydney's dynamism in those days. You can almost be walking behind madam in a satin bustle escorted by hubby, or passing an extremely comely figure in a fitted long dress, or being eyed off by some superb muttonchop whiskers from under a bowler, atop a horsedrawn, open top double decker.

There are drays of wool bales, steam trams, a bloke on an early bicycle, and to the right is Robertsons bookstore, before it became today's chain of Angus and Robertsons. Do click on the original, it's worth it.

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t&g building

The T&G Building was an early Sydney skyscraper, on the corner of Park St. Here it's going up in the 1930s.


at right are street decorations for the Queen's visit in 1954.

And below is the 50 storey T&G Tower that replaced it less than forty years later.

aren't we lucky

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