Rowe Street | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Rowe Street

Item details

Name of item: Rowe Street
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Land
Category: Lane
Location: Lat: -33.8698370536951 Long: 151.207512725431
Primary address: Rowe Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Rowe StreetSydneySydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

This small street has had a long history as a premier retail address in the city and the loss of the section of the street now covered by the MLC Centre is often lamented. The remaining portion of this street was included in the pedestrian network in the central Sydney Strategy 1988 and is required for access to adjoining buildings. The remnant portion of Rowe Street still represents a limited opportunity for pedestrian amenity in the city.
Date significance updated: 21 Jun 06
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.


Physical description: The topography is generally sloping with a gentle gradient. The streetscape from part of a grid and is terminated by Pitt Street and the MLC Centre. The backdrop is characterised by Victorian, Interwar commercial buildings. The street is characterised by Victorian, Interwar commercial buildings. The streetscape features terminating detracting vistas to the MLC Building. The roadway is narrow and comprises two lanes. The surface is bitumen. There is no vehicle movement. Footpaths are narrow and are bitumen. Kerbing is predominantly sandstone. Utility services are concealed. There is no awning pattern. Façade depth is pronounced. Extent of glass is not pronounced. The subdivision pattern along the streetscape is regular comprising wide and consolidated lots resulting in a dense urban form. The predominant built form is Victorian and Interwar of varied storey scale. Buildings are built to the street alignment. The buildings typically have no setbacks. The buildings typically have no raised podiums. The dominant façade treatment is vertical. Predominant building materials are stone and rendered masonry. The streetscape has high integrity.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Intrusive Elements:The MLC Centre covers a section of the lane.
Further information: Streetscape:Rowe Street was recognised on the Heritage Streetscape Map, in the Central Sydney Heritage LEP 2000, as a significant streetscape. Now listed as part of Schedule 8, Part 3 of the Sydney LEP 2005 and also on the LEP's Schedule 8 Part 3 map.

It is now listed as a heritage item under the provision of Sydney LEP 2012.

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: Laneway or Small Street, Pedestrian thoroughfare
Former use: Laneway or Small Street


Historical notes: Named in 1875, Rowe Street honours colonial architect Thomas Rowe. It was previously called Brougham Place after Lord Brougham and the Brougham Tavern hostelry standing almost opposite the Pitt Street end of the Place. Customers, according to the legend often got “the bird” at the Brougham when an alert cockatoo screeched at them as they entered.

The Percy Dove map of 1880 shows Rowe Street lined with narrow retail tenancies from Pitt to Castlereagh Street. In 1928 Rowe Street was dedicated to the public.

The Sydney Club & Million House at the corner of Rowe Street was formerly the Commercial Bank. The five storey building comprises an original three-storey section building designed by architect George Allen Mansfield and erected for the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1888. It was later occupied by the Comptoir National d'Escompte de Paris and in October 1918 became the property of the Royal Bank which in 1927 became the English, Scottish and Australian Bank. The building was purchased in August 1927 by the Millions Club. This organisation had been formed in Sydney in 1912 to plan for a city, which would one day have a population of at least one million. The idea was based on similar clubs in the United States where the "public spirit" of prominent and influential citizens was harnessed to give development direction to a city. Mr Percy Hunter, Director of the NSW Immigration and Tourist Bureau is credited with initiating the Sydney Millions Club. The Millions Club decided to add two floors to the existing building to designs of Morrow. The ground floor was to be mainly shops. Among the first tenants were Lowe's Menswear with a new "Hat Store de Luxe". In August 1929 "Millions" magazine gave a comprehensive description of the building as it would be when finished, together with complete internal plans of the 4 floors to be occupied by the club. The new premises, called "Millions House", were officially opened on 11 March 1930 by the Club patron and Governor of New South Wales. In 1963, recognising that their initial aim of encouraging immigration had been successful, the Club changed it name from "Millions Club" to " The Sydney Club", although the building is still known as Millions House. It reflects the earlier precinct which included antiques shops, the Jazz Club and Rowe Street Records.

Rowe Street had a long history as a high quality speciality retail area. According to Brodsky “Rather its manifest object is to slow down the city tempo and to encourage and to tantalise all with epicurean delights. It is Sydney’s nearest approach to Cosmopolis, old-world and Continental, and catering for catholic tastes. It is for the little gourmet who would sip rather than drink nibble rather than bite. The sign of the teapot and the burnished ship’s lamp are for aesthetic as well as creature appetites”.

Sydney’s infatuation with coffee really developed when Russian emigrant Ivan Repin established the first coffee lounge in King Street. Coffee lounges extended to Rowe Street.

Isadore Brodsky wrote of Rowe Street in1962, ”Bijou is the descriptive word we have been searching for to account for the sparkle that almost suddenly has caused Rowe Street to glow in the darkness…Nobody, for example, likes Rowe Street on a rainy day, even when the neons shimmer on the wet roadway…For Rowe Street is the street of the savant employing each of the five senses to understand thoroughly what is to be tasted, savoured, and slowly enjoyed in art and literature in theatre and music, in legend and fact and anecdotal bric-a-brac. …always interested in any fresh expression in art and earnest to encourage it. Rowe Street! You are a gem.”

The street is associated with celebrated writers and artists A.G. Stephens, Dattilo Rubbo in Australia Chambers. Norman Lindsay, Will Dyson, Harry Julius, Albert Collins, David Souter, Percy Leason, Julian Ashton, Ure Smiths and others gathered at the Hotel Australia on the corner of Castlereagh Street. On the Rowe Street and Castlereagh Street corner Vincent Wallace composed the opera Maritana before completing it in England. His host in Rowe Street was John P. Deane, a masterly musician who introduced orchestral music into Sydney Town. Many of the world’s great artists who came to Australia and who sauntered down Rowe Street on their way to Her Majesty’s in Pitt Street; J.C.Williamson’s Harald Bowden and “Widdy” O’Brien at number 23 for the Professional Musicians and finally to the Rowe Street Musicals.

In 1929, council proposed widening and extending Lees Court to Rowe Street. An easement was resumed for the Eastern Suburbs Railway line in 1974. The construction of the MLC building resulted in the resumption and sale of Rowe Street east in 1973-9. The practice of Council selling lanes has a long history. In 1906 Council was negotiating the sale of Swan Street on the former Anthony Hordern’s department store site. The frequency of sales probably increased from the 1960’s when Dean’s Place and a portion of Hamilton Street were exchanged for land required for the widening of Bond Street adjacent to the Australia Square site. Over the following thirty years in excess of twenty five sales of lanes or parts of lanes had been transacted by Council, generating in excess of $57,000,000 revenue and income raised in this way had become a regular inclusion in Council’s budgets. This policy has seen the gradual erosion of the peripheral retail, restaurant, service and speciality businesses which once characterised the tenants along Sydney’s better lanes. Rowe Street, one of the most important Sydney laneways was compromised by this resumption.

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)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Thomas Rowe-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]

Pictorial records indicate that Rowe Street had a long history as a high quality speciality retail area. The gravitation of prime businesses to such streets and lanes can be attributed in part to the intrinsic qualities of these small streets. Has historic significance at a State level.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Of technical significance as a pedestrian connection with views of facades of two richly modelled, significant heritage buildings. Has aesthetic significance at a State level.
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:

Victorian Development These form the character of the city Interwar Development Buildings of the early twentieth century usually have an appropriate scale and are therefore neutral elements although some buildings may contribute to the significance of the area and are therefore contributing elements Interwar development provides a greater range of finishes, greater extent of solid façade and recessed balconies which provide more wall façade than post-60’s development. Interwar development provides hierarchical composition to centre, base, middle and top and a stepped skyline Associated planting lessens visual impact of Interwar development PROTECTION OF SIGNIFICANCE Protect Subdivision Pattern Retain Victorian, subdivision Do not allow amalgamation of sites within these important subdivisions Retain the block width characteristics of an area Protect Key Period Significant (Contributory) Development and Settings Retain Victorian Public Buildings Retain Victorian Commercial Buildings Retain Victorian warehouses Retain Interwar Buildings where they contribute to the streetscape Retain significant corner buildings Retain Scale Maintain building alignments Retain pattern of forms Retain finishes and details Protect Significant Building Type – Warehouse Retain scale and finishes. Remove detracting additions to (Contributory) Development Awnings Airconditioning Dominating signage Large infill shopfront (reconstruction may be required) Reinforce the street character dominant scale Maintain scale of development abutting lanes so that it is complementary to adjacent buildings and encourages pedestrian use by providing for retail or other activity in the lane. Reinforce the dominant street character and scale Retain scale of warehouse development Retain scale of institutional development Maintain characteristic building alignment Retain characteristic building form and façade composition Retain characteristic building finishes and details Change of Use Retain commercial usage Retain institutional usage Retain an understanding of a former use by not allowing the new use to compromise the significant façade. ENHANCEMENT OF STREETSCAPE SETTING Landscaping Encourage trees at the end of streets to reinforce landscape vistas and frame views. Encourage trees to screen detracting development Views Protect the close and distant views which are important to the character of the city Reinforce street end vistas with street trees Pedestrianisation Retain role of the space as public open space, by maintaining and enhancing pedestrian access and activity. Street Parking Incorporate street trees. Do not alter street alignment. Car Parking/ Access (CBD) Do allow new car access from the street Generally allow parking access from rear lanes Reduce the impact of below ground garages by narrowing garage door, garage lighting screening, providing appropriate gates and doors and providing landscape screening ENHANCE SIGNIFICANCE ON REDEVELOPED SITE Redevelopment of Detracting Sites Respect the Established Area Character Encourage appropriate replacement development on detracting sites. Recognise the collective precedent and impact of the proposal. Recognise the verticality of significant City streetscapes Avoid raised podiums Respect the character of precinct Respect the scale and form of significant development Prepare policy for development of former industrial sites (Glebe) or large sites Respect the Established Facade Encourage reinterpretation of Victorian Subdivision in the vicinity Respect building line, scale, form and roof pitch of significant development in the vicinity Encourage façade qualities being multiple finishes, greater extent of solid façade and recessed balconies. Reduce the impact of uncharacteristic scale and large extent of glass Reduce the impact of minimal setbacks for increased building height Encourage streetwalls Encourage reinterpretation of adjacent significant façade composition Encourage rendered and painted finishes Encourage an appropriate level of contemporary decorative detail Avoid Visual Clutter Reduce the impact of A/C, signs etc. Awnings should not occur in street Disallow bridges and projections over the street lane which overshadows the Lane, obstructs a view or vista or diminishes pedestrian activity at ground level Landscape screening Encourage screening (landscape and architectural) to detracting development by appropriate policy Enhance Significance of Area Establish/maintain and enhance street planting to unify streetscapes Encourage render/paint/stone finishes to detracting developments Remove / discourage reproduction of period detail in contemporary development Provide landscape screening to detracting sites Promote public buildings Promote retail strip Promote articles on improvements within the area RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LEP PROTECTION STATUTORY PROECTION Confirm listing in the LEP Interpretation Interpret Victorian street lane pattern and subdivision Encourage historical interpretation of the laneway. Interpret former usage of the street or buildings eg. warehouse, Interpret past elements of history eg. Wynyard Barracks Heritage Item. Conserve in accordance with Burra Charter principles. Retain lane. Enhance pedestrian amenity. 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. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. 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.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP 2012I194814 Dec 12   
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Sydney City Council; Policy for the management of laneways in Central Sydney, 1993 . Sydney City Council; Policy for the management of laneways in Central Sydney, 1993
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City
WrittenIsadore Brodsky1962The Streets of Sydney
WrittenNSW Heritage Office State Heritage Inventory Millions House

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: 2424758

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