Statement of SignificanceThe Commercial Building at 231 George Street, The Rocks, is of significance for its historic, cultural and aesthetic values. The site is also of State significance for its contribution to The Rocks area which is of State significance in its own right. The site is representative of the historical phases of the development of the site from 1788 to the present day. The changing use of the site reflects the urban, economic and social development of the area, in particular the Resumption and Redevelopment of The Rocks in the Edwardian period including metropolitan improvements such as the George Street road widening. The retention of the subject site façade and form following the redevelopment of the site and construction of the Grosvenor Tower is reflective of the growing awareness of heritage and the resulting compromises made on sites. The Commercial Building is also of some significance for its association with the Government Architects Office, although the specific architect of the building has not been confirmed. The building is reflective of the influence of the European architectural trends on Australian Architecture at the turn of the 20th century. The Commercial Building is of significance for its highly picturesque façade (excluding the ground floor shopfront) which is representative of Edwardian commercial buildings designed by the Government Architects Office. Features of note include the curved parapet with chequerboard pattern to the gable, the moulded waratah motif to the upper level balcony cladding and the central arch with expressed and variegated voussoirs. There have been some restoration works, including modifications to facade brickwork and sandstone and restoration of the awning. The building also forms part of a substantial group of Edwardian shops and premises unparalleled in Sydney, with all façades contributing to the overall richness of the group. Shops and premises of this calibre are considered rare in Sydney. The building group have important landmark qualities and provide an entry to The Rocks.
Residential buildings (private)
Other - Residential Buildings (private)
Construction Years: 1914 - 1915
Physical Description: 231 George Street is a narrow frontage four-storey office building which infills the space between the Johnson Building and the Brooklyn Hotel. It is a brick and sandstone building with a projecting bay window and triangular chequerboard pediment at roof level.Style: Federation Free Style; Storeys: 4; Roof Cladding: Iron; Floor Frame: Timber
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The Commercial Building (231 George St) stands on land that that was once part of the first parade ground in Australia. It was reserved for the Marine Corps who accompanied the First Fleet in 1788. After they were relieved by the infamous NSW Corps in 1790, barracks were constructed near the present day Wynyard Square in 1792 and the parade ground was moved there between 1802 and 1807. Meehan's "Plan of the Town of Sydney in New South Wales" made for Governor Bligh in Oct 1807, has the land where the Brooklyn is now marked as 'Old Parade'. Two storehouses were constructed near the edge of the 1788 parade ground by 1791 and appear on Philip's sketch of the town prior to his return to England and Meehan's plan.A new market was established on the land of the old parade ground in 1808, and shops were constructed. Market days were held on Wednesdays and Saturdays when outlying farmers brought their produce to Sydney for sale. The Governor ensured there were rather strict regulations on the sale of produce due to some dodgy dealings and everything had to be weighed by the clerk of the market. Further research in to the early land use of the site is required.The alignment of George Street and Charlotte Place (now Grosvenor Street) were set out when Governor Macquarie arrived and proclaimed the streets, this alignment remains except for widening of George Street in 1912.More research is required on when a portion of this land came into the ownership of the Howe family, the printers of the first newspaper in Australia, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. George Howe was the government printer and his first office was close to the site when he began the newspaper in 1803. His son Robert took over the newspaper and government printing on the death of George in 1821. It may have been Robert who moved the printing office to the subject site where it was in operation from 1824 until 1828.In 1831 the land on the corner was subdivided into four lots, with the government retaining ownership of an access lane from Grosvenor Street. The corner lot was purchased in 1831 by Anthony Hordern, and remained in the family's ownership until it was resumed in 1901. Anthony Hordern (1819-1876) was a draper, land speculator and local government councillor, who with his brother opened a drapery on Brickfield Hill during the 1840s. Anthony Hordern & Sons became one of the major retailing dynasties in Australia. Hordern erected a house and shop (Nottingham House Drapery) on the corner, and it had a variety of uses, including drapery, fruiterer, confectioner, restaurant and wine saloon before it was demolished in 1911.On the George Street frontage the site incorporated a shop and residence purchased by Alexander Douglas in 1831 which had a variety of uses, and a shop purchased by John Richards, which was developed in conjunction with Cleeve's Grosvenor Street site and the two sites were later used as a hotel and a dining room. The approximate site of the Commercial Building (231 George St) was occupied by another shop/residence, which was part of a group of comparable terrace style buildings. They were demolished in 1911 for the widening of George Street.On the 5th of December 1911, an application was lodged with the City Council to demolish all seven buildings on the subject site in conjunction with the proposed road widening. The widening also required the demolition of the northern adjoining buildings on George Street. A temporary Brooklyn Hotel was located on the adjoining site, at 231 George Street, (the site of the Commercial Building) prior to the construction of the new Hotel. The Chamber of Commerce Building was officially opened in December 1912. The Chamber occupied the first floor and various commercial tenants leased the upper floors. James Johnson, who had previously occupied the Hordern Building and later the Douglas Building with his drapery store, was the first tenant in the ground floor of the Chamber of Commerce Building. The outfitting, tent making and drapery business remained at the site until 1981. The firm was also known as Johnson's Overalls, with a range of chef's and stewards' clothing and equipment. Due to this long association with one tenant, the building has become known as the Johnson's Building, and the group of three buildings including the Commercial Building (231 George Street) and the Brooklyn Hotel (229 George Street) is now referred to as the Johnson's group. The corner is known as Johnson's Corner. The Johnson's Building, Commercial Building and Brooklyn Hotel (229-235 George Street) were part of the new commercial streetscape which emerged under the guidance of Vernon. The Brooklyn Hotel and former Chamber of Commerce Building/ Johnson's Building were built in 1912, while the Commercial Building (231 George Street) was constructed later in 1913-1914 for the NSW Government as office space. The road widening was regarded as one of the great metropolitan improvements of the Edwardian period and the Annual Report of the Department of Public Works to 30th June 1913 commented that "amongst the most important buildings completed through the year were the shops and premises at the corner of George and Grosvenor Streets and the Brooklyn Hotel."The Commercial Building was used by the Department of Labour and Industry of NSW, Women's Employment Agency from the time of its construction in 1914 until 1918 when the State Metal Quarries moved into the building. The State Quarries remained there until 1933. after which the building was used by several commercial tenants. In 1963 J & O Milk opened a coffee shop in the building which operated until at least 1973. In 1989 the Brooklyn Hotel moved part of its operations into the building along with other tenants who used the offices upstairs.As part of the redevelopment of the Grosvenor Place site with a high-rise tower in the late 1980s, the Johnson's Building, the Commercial Building and the Brooklyn Hotel were partially demolished and amalgamated to form single floor tenancies. The ground and first floors across the three sites were re-fitted as the third Brooklyn Hotel on the site. The fitout was designed by Gordon McDonald, of Michael Dysart and Partners.
Historical significance: The site of 229-235 George Street, The Rocks was once part of the original Parade Ground of the Colony and the site's changing use reflects the urban, economic and social development of the area from the very early days of the colony, through to the Resumption and redevelopment of The Rocks in the Edwardian period, to the present. The buildings are also of State heritage significance for their contribution to The Rocks area which is of State heritage significance in its own right.
Historical association: The Commercial building was designed by the NSW Government Architects Office; however the individual designer has not been identified and could be attributed to either Walter Liberty Vernon, or his successor, George McRae. In either case, the group collectively provides a unique example of the influence the European modern movement was having on Australian Architecture at the beginning of this century and the buildings have a marked similarity to contemporary European Edwardian developments. The Johnsons Buildings are of State significance for their association with Vernon who was a key historical figure in the redevelopment of The Rocks following its resumption and the Government Architects Branch.
Aesthetic significance: 229-235 George Street, The Rocks is part of an homogenous Edwardian streetscape that is unparalleled elsewhere in The Rocks. As a group, the buildings (including the Federation Hall and Royal Naval House,) have considerable significance and all facades contribute to the overall richness of the group. The group also responds to the turn of the century buildings opposite on Bridge Street, namely the Metropolitan Hotel and Burns Philp buildings, contributing to the overall townscape qualities of this section of George Street. Each of the buildings also has aesthetic significance independent of the group for their picturesque facades (above awning level), high quality materials and fine detailing. The Commercial building meets this criterion on the Local level as the building facade has been modified, including loss of the original shopfront and demolition of the original third floor balcony enclosure. Despite the modifications it is of equal architectural merit and its arched projecting bay and triangular pediment with chequerboard design makes a significant contribution to the landmark quality of the building group. One of the innovations of the Johnson's building group was the awning which Building Magazine of November 12, 1912 noted as being the "first utilisation of the cantilever awning in Sydney". This element was restored following the 1989 building works based on the original although it should be noted that detail drawings were not available. It is further noted that the original awning did not wrap around the northern elevation which adjoined neighbouring commercial buildings. The element is viewed as having some significance although not original.
Social significance: No significant associations with the Commercial Building have been identified and the building does not meet this criterion.
Research significance: The redevelopment of the site and the reconstruction of the building in 1989 required extensive excavation. The archaeological resource has been destroyed and the site has low potential for research. The significant building facades are of some interest as an example of the Australian application of the Arts and Crafts movement of design through the Federation Free Style.
Rare assessment: The buildings form a substantial group of high quality Edwardian shops and premises now unique in Sydney for its height proportion and design however the architectural style of the building is not considered rare.
Representative assessment: Individual buildings and the collective group provide examples of Federation Free Style commercial buildings designed by the Government Architects Office.The buildings individually and collectively meet this criterion on the Local level.
Intact assessment: The building was extensively reconstructed in 1989, with only the façade of the building remaining of the original fabric.
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|Building settlements, towns and cities||Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation ? does not include architectural styles ? use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7553||09/11/1981|
|Royal Australian Institute of Architects register||4703193|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01540||Commercial building||10/05/2002||2868||85|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Place Management NSW|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0485||Five Storey Building||21/10/1980||2392|