Former Colgate Palmolive factory buildings | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Former Colgate Palmolive factory buildings

Item details

Name of item: Former Colgate Palmolive factory buildings
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: Block of Flats
Primary address: 22-23 Colgate Avenue, Balmain, NSW 2041
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Leichhardt
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
22-23 Colgate AvenueBalmainLeichhardt CumberlandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

Nos. 22-23 Colgate Avenue are of local historic, aesthetic, technological and social significance as a former Inter-war period industrial site retaining buildings constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. The buildings and site are associated with the Colgate-Palmolive Company which operated on the site for over 70 years from the 1920s until the mid 1990s. The buildings are also associated with prominent Sydney architects Spain and Cosh. The buildings are representative examples of Inter-war period former industrial buildings that despite adaptation into residential units retain their overall scale, form character and details that are relatively rare in Balmain and make a positive contribution to the area. The buildings are enhanced by the garden and waterfront setting and retention of interpretive elements that clearly identify the past use and associations of the site.

Note: This inventory sheet is not intended to be a definitive study of the heritage item, therefore information may not be accurate and complete. The information should be regarded as a general guide. Further research is always recommended as part of the preparation of development proposals for heritage items.

Council's Library Service has identified photos and/or subdivision plans relating to this item which may be viewed online through the council website at Select Library & Local History to get to the Library online catalogue and keyword search "Balmain Map" for results.
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Spain and Cosh
Builder/Maker: Colgate - Palmolive Pty Ltd
Construction years: 1923-
Physical description: Five and six storey with mezzanine former industrial type buildings converted into residential flat buildings located on the waterfront at the north eastern end of Colgate Avenue. The two buildings are connected by a two storey bridge which spans over the street which extends between the two buildings. The building facades display classical order with heavier, banded base, centre and top section with deep rendered cornices between each section. The façades are also divided into bays with rendered pilasters located between the mostly regular and some arched metal framed double hung window sets. Modern cantilevered balconies with steel balustrades have been added to some of the bays and associated window openings altered to provide access doors. The buildings are surmounted by a projecting rendered parapet bearing the name “Colgate - Palmolive”. The connecting bridge also bears the same in relief lettering. An addition with arched and regular shaped openings and mezzanine level has been added to the roof of the eastern building (No. 23). The buildings are surrounded by landscaped gardens and a public walkway extends across the north eastern garden area along the waterfront. Remnants of the former factory machinery remain on raised, grassed podiums located to the south west of the buildings. Other remnant machinery and interpretive elements are located on the building foyers and entries. The western building (No. 22) also features an original door opening with classically styled surround and “Palmolive” in relief lettering on the entablature over the door. Small cantilevered awnings have been added to the entries off Colgate Avenue near the corner of Walumil Street.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
In very good condition.
Modifications and dates: 1960: Amenities (4088).
1961: Ext roof oil melting dock (4581).
1963 Installation Mulitclone Dust collector Unit at Boiler House (5712).
1963: Office partitions (factory) (5903).
1964: Erection (2) additional tallow storage tanks (6316).
1966: Additional (3) tallow storage tanks and foreshore building line varied to allow erection 3 storage tanks (7706).
1970: Mech exhaust ventilation stoves (10397).
1972: Air conditioning (11576).
1972: Office internal partitions (11882).
1973 : Air conditioning computer room (12832).
1974: Design dets - proposed new boiler (13125).
1974 : Office partitions (No. 22) (13150).
1974: Smoke stack (13096).
1974: Stone retaining wall (St Andrews St) (13349).
1974: Concrete settling tank (13435).
1975: Gateway (St Andrews St entrance (13764).
1975: Erection tyle "E" Electrical substation (13971.
1976: New boiler stack (14586).
1977: Substation withing existing factory buidling (15423).
1978: Air conditioning system (16223).
1980: Despatch dock and security fence (18404).
1981: Store (19877)
1982: Commercial car park (20427).
1982: Boiler House (19511).
1984: Roof ext Building "B" (22849).
1990s: Conversion of buildings to residential units.
2007: Erection of recessed glass screens/windows to the balconies of four units (D/2007/194).
2010: Five new windows to the gymnasium to level six of Palmolive building and replacement of stormwater heads and down pipes (D/2010/37)
Further information: Modern terraces located to the south west of he eastern block also appear to be part of the development. These buildings reflect the form and nature of the neighbouring terraces at Nos. 5-13 Colgate Avenue.
Current use: Residential
Former use: Industrial/ factory complex


Historical notes: Surgeon William Balmain was granted 550 acres and most of the area now encompassing Balmain in 1800. In 1801 the entire grant was transferred to fellow surgeon John Gilchrist. Gilchrist never actually lived in NSW and advertised the land for sale in 1823. However, the sale was not a success. He gave power of attorney to his Sydney-based agent and merchant, Frank Parbury, who commissioned Surveyor John Armstrong to subdivide part of the land. In 1836 22, 2-4 acres lots mostly about Balmain East were auctioned for sale by Parbury on behalf of the absentee landowner, Gilchrist.
Parbury himself leased/ bought 10 acres at the south eastern part of the Waterview Bay and built the first house on the Balmain grant, Waterview House in 1835 (demolished c. 1905). It was a six-roomed single storey house with stables, outbuildings and a fenced garden. It stood near the corner of Colgate and Caroline Street. It was later purchased by George Cooper, Comptroller of Customs, who owned/ leased 28 acres adjacent to the west. Cooper subsequently fell victim to the crash of the early 1840s and was declared bankrupt. The Waterview Estate was subsequenlty divided into modest building allotments with very narrow streets (leaving as much land for development) leading down to the bay with its slipway and wharves. Cooper Street is named after Cooper.
Broadstairs Street (later changed to Colgate Avenue in 1951) was one of the main streets in the c. 1840s subdivision extending from Great Ferry Road (Darling Street) to the bay. Other streets such as St Johns and St Andrews extended off the street at an angle. The site is located in Sections 2 and 8 of the subdivision divided by Broadstairs Street.
The Palmolive Company (Australasia) Lrtd acquired a site on the shore of Waterview Bay established a factory on the water’s edge in 1922. The site was formerly occupied by a meat canning works which produced bully beef during WW1. The first factory building designed by Spain and Cosh was designed to be a model factory with executive offices. Construction commenced in April 1923 and the building was completed and occupied in December of the same year. Following a merger with Colgate and Company the company name was changed to Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Co Ltd in 1928. The original building was planned to accommodate the company for the next 20 years, however, in less than 12 years immediate steps were taken to extend the factory due to the phenomenal growth of the business. Spain and Cosh were instructed to prepare plans for an addition which was to virtually duplicate the original size of the complex. The additions were to also accommodate more machinery, all of which was to be obtained in Australia.
Further expansion appears to have followed. In 1948 Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd purchased additional land and sites of Nos. 15, 17, 19, 21 and 23 Colgate Avenue and proceeded to demolish the late Victorian dwellings that occupied the sites by 1951. By this time only No. 21 was still standing.
When it began production the factory was known as “The Olive” and it was another five years before it ceased specialising in Palmolive soap and produced the first Colgate Ribbon Dental Cream. They subsequently produced Palmolive Brilliantine, which gave users that “newly barbered look” and later actress Elizabeth Taylor promoted its Lustre Cream Shampoo. In the difficult post war times local residents were delighted to have a new opportunity for work on their doorstep.
The factory continued into the 1980s and was finally closed in October 1994 from which time it was converted into apartments and associated area to the south west developed.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods Growth of Balmain-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour Growth of Balmain-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site and buildings are of historic significance as a former waterfront industrial site which operated in the early 20th century and developed and expanded by prominent Colgate–Palmolive Company in the Inter-war and Post–War periods. The factory significantly continued to operate on the site from the 1920s until the 1990s.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The site and buildings are associated with a number of local land speculators and developers and local industries and companies including Colgate-Palmolive Pty Ltd. The buildings are associated with prominent architectural firm Spain and Cosh.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The buildings are good examples of Inter-war Industrial buildings which have been adapted and converted into residential units. Despite the changes the exterior of the buildings retain their fundamental form and character and features including rendered classical details, bayed facades and pattern of openings, connecting bridge and identification elements. The buildings are enhanced by a garden setting, water front landscaping and interpretive elements and continue to be prominent elements at the end of Colgate Avenue.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The site and buildings are of some local social significance as long time local employer and associated with a number of staff, management and their families.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The form and scale of buildings and remaining machinery and elements have the potential to reveal information about the 20th century use and development of the site.
SHR Criteria f)
The buildings are large scale former Inter-war period waterfront industrial buildings that retain their overall external form and character that are relatively rare in the Balmain area.
SHR Criteria g)
The buildings are representative examples of former Inter-war period industrial buildings. A number of similar developments remain in the wider Sydney region. The buildings are representative examples of buildings designed by prominent Sydney architectural firm Spain and Cosh.
Integrity/Intactness: High
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.

Recommended management:

It is recommended that: - the existing form and scale of the buildings including connecting bridge should be retained and conserved; - the existing classical and rendered details on the facades including relief lettering and identification, pattern of openings and early windows and doors should be retained and conserved; - the garden setting and setback of the building should be retained and conserved; - any further adaptation and alterations should be in accordance with a Conservation Management Plan which should identify particular remaining elements and features of the complex.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental Plan I17223 Dec 13   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Leichhardt Municipality Heritage Study1990 McDonald McPhee Pty Ltd (Craig Burton, Wendy Thorp)  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenMax Solling and Peter Reynolds1997Leichhardt: On the Margins of the City
WrittenPeter Reynolds2002Leichardt Historical Journal No. 23
WrittenThornton R. & Sommerville AW1935Municipality of Balmian Retrospective 1860-1935

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

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1940181

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