Heritage

Grace Building

Item details

Name of item: Grace Building
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Commercial
Category: Commercial Office/Building
Location: Lat: -33.8689979163 Long: 151.2056812860
Primary address: 77-79 York Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St Andrew
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP109554
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
77-79 York StreetSydneySydneySt AndrewCumberlandPrimary Address
55-67 King StreetSydneySydney  Alternate Address
Clarence StreetSydneySydney  Alternate Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Linkbond (Asia) LtdPrivate 

Statement of significance:

The Grace Building is historically significant because of its associations with the retail boom of the 1920s. It epitomises the optimism and dynamism of that period as well as the subsequent economic collapse and Great Depression. It is also associated with the World War II presence of United States military forces in Australia and with General Douglas MacArthur in particular. It is architecturally significant because it is Sydney's finest example of the skscraper gothic style which illustrates the American influence on Australian commercial architecture and is a distinctive landmark in the city. It was one of the most significant works of Morrow and Gordon, a leading architectural firm of that period. The Grace Building is technically significant because of the unusual reinforced concrete slab and beam construction and the glazed architectural terra cotta cladding. (Australian Construction Services)
Date significance updated: 01 Oct 97
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Branch intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Morrow and Gordon
Construction years: 1928-1930
Physical description: A fine example of commercial Gothic, with a soaring vertical emphasis and prominent 'Gothic' corner tower, complete with flying buttresses, pointed windows and quatrefoils. Sheathed in glazed cream terra cotta, details are picked out in green. Decoration is limited, skyscraper fashion, to the summit and lower portion of the building. The street level facade has been altered, but the facade above the awning remains intact (Stapleton 1977).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition good. Archaeological potential is low.
Modifications and dates: Constructed between 1928 and 1930. In 1942 the gound floor facade and glazing was boarded up with hardboard screens. An air-raid shelter was constructed in the basement around the same time. Massive intervention in the interior has been conducted since the Second World War resulting in removal and obstruction of much of the original interiors.
Current use: Hotel, Café, Restaurant, Bar
Former use: Retail, office space, post office and telephone exchange

History

Historical notes: On 1st August 1885, English merchants Joseph Neale Grace and his brother Albert Edward Grace opened a small store at 203 George Street West Sydney. In 1887 the firm moved to 5-7 The Broadway and in 1896 commissioned Morrow and Gordon to design the Grace Bros store on the corner of Bay and Grose Street Broadway. In 1911 the firm opened a seven-storey building building in Grose Street and the original George Street West shop demolished. During the early nineteenth century the firm enjoyed retail growth and was reflected by the acquisition of adjacent properties. The family company was now known as Grace Bros Ltd. By 1923 the firm boasted 250 departments and employed nearly 3000 people. During the 1920's Sydney was undergoing a retail boom in conjunction with the construction of the city underground railway line.

In 1926 Grace Bros purchased land bounded by York, King and Clarence Streets and in 1928 commissioned Morrow and Gordon to design a major building on the site. The new Grace Bros building would be located midway between Wynyard and Town Hall Stations and slightly off the main pedestrian and public transport routes along Pitt and George Street. However the firm believed that the opening of the Harbour Bridge would change transport patterns in their favour by directing pedestrians and traffic along York and Clarence Streets. The building was designed to use the first two storeys in the manner of a department store. The remaining storeys were intended to provide rental office accomodation for importers and other firms engaged in the softgoods trade.

The Grace Building was constructed between 1928 and 1930. The 1929 Wall Street Crash severely affected Grace Bros' business and in 1931 Joseph Neale Grace died. The opening of Wynyard and Town Hall Satation and the Harbour bridge in 1932 did little to improve the situation of the new Grace Bros store. The firm noted the growth in suburban retailing and plans were made to open stores in Parramatta, Bondi Junction and other suburban locations. In 1938 Albert Edward Grace died.

At the beginning of the Second World War Grace Bros was still experiencing difficulty letting space in the Grace Building. During the early 1940s the Grace Building became the accommodation for a range of Commonwealth Departments. In addition it was one of the premises used by the United States Armed forces and became the American headquarters in Sydney.

Considerable anecdotal evidence exists of the building having been used by General Douglas Macarthur the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific. Other anecdotal evidence links MacArthur's name with a system of tunnels running beneath York Street to Circular Quay and Victoria Barracks. These were constructed prior to the Second World War and it is likely that at least one of them housed emergency telephone equipment should armed conflict within Sydney damage or destroy existing exchanges.

When the war ended, the Commonwealth was likely to lose much of the accommodation, pending repeal of emergency power legislation. In November 1945 the Grace Building was compulsorily acquired by the Commonwealth. In January 1946 Grace Bros issued a writ from the High Court seeking a declaration that the aquisition was invalid. The High Court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth's acquisition of the building but left open the issue of compensation. In May 1946 a special conference was held to decide Commonwealth use for the building. The successful applicants for floor space included the Postmaster General's Department, the Repatriation Commission, the War Service Homes Commission, the Film Censorship Board and the Department of Labour and Industry.

In 1953 the compensation case was settled with the Commonwealth paying compensation of about 1.3 million pounds including interest.

The telephone exchange opened in December 1948 and was named the Barrack Exchange. The Post Office was opened in December 1950. (Australian Construction Services 1989)

The Grace Building has since been sold by the Commonwealth and is currently undergoing refurbishment and upgrading. Alterations to the building will not affect the remaining intact interiors and exterior of the building.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Grace Building is historically significant because of its associations with the retail boom of the 1920s and epitomises the optimism and dynamism of that period as well as the subsequent economic collapse and Great Depression. It is also associated with the World War II presence of United States military forces in Australia and with General Douglas MacArthur in particular. (Australian Construction Services)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
It is architecturally significant because it is Sydney's finest example of the skscraper gothic style which illustrates the American influence on Australian commercial architecture and is a distinctive landmark in the city. It was one of the most significant works of Morrow and Gordon a leading architectural firm of that period. (Australian Construction Services)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Grace Building is technically significant because of the unusual reinforced concrete slab and beam construction and the glazed architectural terra cotta cladding. (Australian Construction Services)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act See File For Schedule


Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
(1) The maintenance of any building or item on the site where maintenance means the continuous protective care of existing material;
(2) alterations to the interior of the building except insofar as such work would affect:
* the ground floor entry foyer, lift lobby and walkway between York and Clarence Streets.
* the main (southeast) staircase, including the mezzanine landing.
* the original corridors on the third and fifth floors
* the exterior of the building
(3) change of use.
Nov 17 1989
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0071202 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0071217 Nov 89 1119826
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   
National Trust of Australia register      
Register of the National Estate  21 Oct 80   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Management Plan  The Grace Building, 77-79 York Street, Sydney: a conservation plan
TourismAccommodation Homepage2007Grace Building View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Grace Hotel View detail
TourismCity of Sydney2007Commerce Walking Tour View detail
WrittenM Stapleton1978National Trust Classification Card - The Grace Building
Management PlanRegional Heritage Architect's Branch of Australian Construction Services1989Grace Building Conservation Plan
TourismTourismNSW2007Grace Building View detail
TourismTourismNSW2007Grace Hotel View detail
TourismTourismNSW2007Commerce Walking Tour View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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(Click on thumbnail for full size image and image details)

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045395
File number: S90/03171/001 - 002, HC 892075


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