Powerhouse Museum Former Warehouse Buildings, including interiors | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Powerhouse Museum Former Warehouse Buildings, including interiors

Item details

Name of item: Powerhouse Museum Former Warehouse Buildings, including interiors
Other name/s: Ultimo Powerhouse (Former)
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Generator/Power Station - coal/gas/oil
Primary address: 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
500 Harris StreetUltimoSydney  Primary Address
William Henry StreetUltimoSydney  Alternate Address

Statement of significance:

The former Ultimo Power House, dating from 1899, is historically significant for being the original generating station for the supply of electricity to power the tramway network throughout Sydney. It was also one of the largest and most important generating stations in NSW for many years and has associations with the electrification of the suburban railway system and with the general reticulation of electrical power. It was the first place where turbine driven alternators were tried in Australia, in 1905. It was amongst the largest of any generating stations operating in Australia with Ultimo and the White Bay Power being purpose built for the Railway and Tramways Department generating stations. The abandoned status of the power station and tramway system provided a potential to reveal a past transport system which ceased in favour of motor buses, which was underway from the 1950s.

The building dates from one of the key period of layers for the development of Ultimo as a direct result of subdivision of the Harris and Macarthur Estates and industrial redevelopment of the area at the turn of the century.

It represents a good example of a Federation industrial building which makes a positive contribution to the streetscape. The subsequent alterations undertaken for the building's conversion to the Powerhouse Museum is significant both for its successful re-use of the buildings and as a modern design, awarded the Sulman medal.
Date significance updated: 31 Mar 16
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.

Description

Physical description: A robust and substantial warehouse building typical of the Federation period. Of solid brick construction with sparse rendered brick details to window sills and cornice. Decorative brick arched lintels over the windows. Built on the eastern side of the Ultimo/Pyrmont ridge line, this original warehouse is the southernmost, closest to Parramatta Road on this side of the ridge. See also Ref. Nos. 6559, 6556, 6555, 6632. Category:Individual Building. Style:Federation Warehouse. Storeys:3. General Details:Refer to Archaeological Zoning Plan.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The building is in good condition.
Date condition updated:12 Jul 05
Modifications and dates: The building closed as a power station in 1963 and was restored and adaptively converted to a technology museum in the late 1980's. It won the Sulman Award in 1988.
Further information: Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Cultural
Former use: Warehouse

History

Historical notes: This site forms part of the land of the Gadigal people, the traditional custodians of land within the City of Sydney council boundaries. For information about the Aboriginal history of the local area see the City’s Barani website: http://www.sydneybarani.com.au/

The first land grants were made in 1803 and 1806 to Surgeon John Harris who was granted 34 acres and then constructed and named Ultimo House in 1804. He named it Ultimo (meaning last month) as a result of a clerical error in his charge papers. There were further grants to Harris of 9 and 135 acres in 1806 and another 12 acres in 1818. He moved to his farm at Shanes Park (near St Marys) in 1821 but retained the estate and leased Ultimo House first to Edward Riley and then to Justice Stephen.

Proposed improvements along the first few miles of Parramatta Rd prompted subdivision by Harris along the Parramatta Rd and George Street frontages, and these were developed into houses, shops and public houses over the next 10 years. The remainder of the estate remained largely undeveloped and following Harris’ death in 1838, legal complications prevented further subdivision until 1859. Ultimo was incorporated into the City of Sydney in 1844 and the early 1850’s saw a number of major developments in Pyrmont and also in Ultimo to a lesser extent. Its close proximity to the city’s expanding central business district, Brisbane Distillery port and transport facilities made it an attractive area for housing. In 1853, the Sydney Railway Company resumed 14½ acres of the Ultimo Estate for a railway line to and with a terminus at Darling Harbour. The area was further subdivided in 1860 which established major north/south streets including Pyrmont, Harris, Jones and Wattle Streets although the roads were not fully formed until 1870. The west side of the estate was dominated by quarrying activities and the remainder used for dairying paddocks. Services including water and sewer came to the area in the early 1860’s and gas lighting between 1868 & 1872.

The population doubled during this time, and industry began to establish including Castlemaine Brewery in Quarry Street, Atlas Ironworks, and manufacturer and merchant Samuel Freeman in Harris Street. The early 1880’s saw a boom in housing in the area followed by Goldsborough Mort’s woolstores in 1883 and other substantial warehouse buildings including a large grain and produce store in Allen St, Waite & Bull’s woolstore in 1893, Winchcombe Carson No.1 in 1895 (in Wattle St) and Farmers and Graziers (between Wattle and Jones Sts). In 1892 the Ultimo Technical College opened in Mary Ann St. By the early 1880’s Union Square was established as a commercial centre and by 1900 most residential development had ceased by which time the Pyrmont and Ultimo Power Houses had opened and the new Pyrmont Bridge had been constructed. Most development in the 20th century was commercial and industrial and included additional woolstores, Pyrmont Incinerator (1934) , flour mills (1940) , additional power stations (1955) and the Government Printing Office (1960’s).

The building was constructed in 1899 and ceased being used as a powerhouse in 1963 with the phasing out of Sydney trams at that time. It was adapatively re-used to become part of the Powerhouse Museum from 1985. The Powerhouse Museum (formerly the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences) opened to the public in 1988.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Science-Activities associated with systematic observations, experiments and processes for the explanation of observable phenomena (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The building has historic significance as it dates from the key period of development of the Pyrmont/Ultimo power grid and the subdivision of grand estates into residential and commercial development.

The former Ultimo Power House, dating from 1899, is historically significant for being the original generating station for the supply of electricity to power the tramway network throughout Sydney. It was also one of the largest and most important generating stations in NSW for many years and has associations with the electrification of the suburban railway system and with the general reticulation of electrical power. It was the first place where turbine driven alternators were tried in Australia, in 1905. It was amongst the largest of any generating stations operating in Australia with Ultimo and the White Bay Power being purpose built for the Railway and Tramways Department generating stations. The abandoned status of the power station and tramway system provided a potential to reveal a past transport system which ceased in favour of motor buses, which was underway from the 1950s.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The building is associated with the adjacent former Ultimo Tram Depot, nearby former Pyrmont Power Stations and NSW Government Architect
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
It represents a good example of a Federation industrial building which makes a positive contribution to the streetscape. The subsequent alterations undertaken for the building's conversion to the Powerhouse Museum is significant both for its successful re-use of the buildings and as a modern design, awarded the Sulman medal.

The building has technical significance as a major power source for the Sydney tram network and adjacent Ultimo former tram sheds.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The building is a representative example of a Federation power station building and a contemporary museum adaptation
Integrity/Intactness: Reasonably intact externally and extensively altered internally in a number of significant phases related to its use as a power house and museum
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:

The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the façade of the building other than to reinstate original features. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I203114 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Pyrmont/Ultimo Heritage Study1990 Anglin Associates  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Management PlanArchitectural Projects2003Conservation Management Plan
WrittenFitzgerald and Golder1994Pyrmont and Ultimo Under Siege

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

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

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2424493


Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

All information and pictures on this page are the copyright of the Heritage Division or respective copyright owners.