Statement of SignificanceThe Johnson's Building, 233-235 George Street, The Rocks, is of heritage significance to the State of NSW for its historic values, for association with W L Vernon, and for its contribution to The Rocks area which is of State significance in its own right. The place is also of local heritage significance for its cultural, aesthetic and representative values. 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 façade and building 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. Johnson's Building is also of significance for its association with the renowned Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon. Vernon is celebrated as one the key practitioners of the Federation Free Style and the building is representative example of the body of his works, reflecting the influence of the European architecture in Australia at the turn of the 20th century. The Johnson's Building is of significance for its highly picturesque façade, representative of Edwardian commercial buildings designed by the Government Architects Office. Features of note include carved sandstone relief flanking the Grosvenor Street commercial entry and cartouche decorations, the arched sandstone window bay and terracotta chequerboard motif surmounting the commercial entry, the level sandstone façade balconies and associated elements, sandstone stringcourses, lintels and sills, the oriel window bays and the gable roof form, as well as the truncated finials to the roof pediment. The cantilevered awning was restored based on the original design and at the time of the construction, the awning was claimed to be one of the earlier uses of its type in Australia, being suspended over the footpath on iron rods. The building 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. As a group, shops and premises of this calibre are considered rare in Sydney, have important landmark qualities and provide an entry to The Rocks.
Restaurant, Bar / Offices (Stock Exchange)
Construction Years: 1912 - 1912
Physical Description: Johnson's Building is a six storey Edwardian brick-clad building in the Federation Free Style, notable for its vertical emphasis provided by the narrow pilasters which divide the façade between high narrow windows. The George Street façade is adorned with two storey bay windows under 5th floor semi-circular windows symmetrically placed about a central bay which has a 3 arch arcade to the 5th floor. On either side of this above the bay windows at roof level is a simple pediment. The splayed corner carries a curved balcony providing access to a flag pole. The Grosvenor Street façade is less decorative with the exception of the large arched entrance incorporating a board of chequered terracotta and sandstone. Sandstone trimmings frame most openings and the high pitched roof of slate is visible behind the pediments. (National Trust listing 1980)
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Historic Notes and Themes
Historical notes: The Johnson's Building (233-35 George Street) stands on land 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 Johnsons building 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 5th of December 1911, an application was lodged with the City Council to demolish all seven buildings on the corner of George and Grosvenor Streets in conjunction with the proposed road widening. The widening also required the demolition of the northern adjoining buildings on George Street. 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, 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."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 Brooklyn Hotel and Johnson's building were designed by Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon in 1911 and at the time of their construction were celebrated by the Public Works Department as "an important business block". 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 Johnson's Building also has aesthetic significance for its picturesque façade which is highly intact and for its shopfront, which is characteristic of the period although modified and restored. In terms of the internal fabric, only the stair lobby and vestibule remains of the original building (with some modifications including removal of the original lift) and the original portion of the entrance lobby contributes highly to the aesthetic significance of the building. 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: The Johnsons building has been strongly associated with the former tenant of the building, a Mr. James Johnson, who operated a tent making and drapery business on the ground floor of 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. The shop relocated in the 1980s and although the colloquial name was retained, the site now does not correspond with this use and any associative significance is considered limited.
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.
Representative assessment: Individual buildings and the collective group provide examples of Federation Free Style commercial buildings designed by the Government Architects Office.
Intact assessment: Archaeology disturbed
|Australian Theme||NSW Theme||Local Theme|
|Developing cultural institutions and ways of life||Activities associated with recreation and relaxation.|
|Developing local, regional and national economies||Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services.|
|Heritage Listing||Listing Title||Listing Number||Gazette Date||Gazette Number||Gazette Page|
|Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register||Johnsons Building|
|National Trust of Australia Register||6983||09/11/1981|
|Royal Australian Institute of Architects register||4703194|
|Heritage Act - State Heritage Register||01554||Johnson's Building||10/05/2002||2868||85|
|Within a National Trust conservation area||10499|
|National Trust of Australia Register||7383||09/11/1981|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0485||Chamber of Commerce Building (former),||21/10/1980||2393|
|Register of the National Estate||1/12/036/0485||Edwardian Buildings Group||21/10/1980||2390|