Health Department Building (former) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Health Department Building (former)

Item details

Name of item: Health Department Building (former)
Other name/s: Sir Stamford, Ritz Carlton, Venereal Disease Clinic, STD Clinic, Hospital Admissions Depot, Former Health Board Offices
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Government and Administration
Category: Office building
Location: Lat: -33.8620980475269 Long: 151.212815264962
Primary address: 93-97 Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St James
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP 839564


The curtilage is limited to the footprint of the remnants of the former health department building - HC Rec to list rep 3/7/2013
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
93-97 Macquarie StreetSydneySydneySt JamesCumberlandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

The former Health Department building has state heritage significance as the surviving fabric of an important early building in the professional work of the Government Architect, W L Vernon that influenced the style of buildings produced by the newly formed Government Architect's Office. It also has significance for its ability to reflect the status of Macquarie and Bridge Streets as a prestige address for many government institutions, becoming an important component of the precinct and exemplifying increasing government commitment to areas of social welfare such as health.
Date significance updated: 07 Aug 14
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: Walter Liberty Vernon, NSW Government Architect
Construction years: 1896-1898
Physical description: The Federation Free Style building is a three storey plus basement brick former office building constructed on a steep site on what is a prominent Macquarie Street corner. The eastern frontage to Macquarie Street is the main frontage. The secondary frontage (northern) is to Albert Street. The southern and western elevations were substantially altered in the 1980s to connect the building to the main hotel structure. As part of this work the building, which originally had a square footprint, was reduced in size to an "L" shape. The interior was almost completely removed.

The base of the building, designed to cope with the steeply sloping site, is of rock face sandstone, as are the string courses. Sandstone stringcourses mark the first floor and the upper window line of the second floor. The remainder of facade is red face brick. A darker brick used for the arched window heads is present on the ground, first floor and some of the second floor windows. A double-pitched slate roof is partially concealed behind sandstone castellated parapets.

On the Macquarie Street frontage there is fine sandstone carving with neoclassical motifs around the semi-circular entrance doorway, chimney and bay window. The carved coat of arms over the main archway, together with the carved seal of the Board embedded in the chimney on the Albert Street facade, are the only signs of the building's former use as government offices. The corner of the building on Macquarie Street is marked by a gable asymmetrically related to the entry doors. The brickwork is flush. The existing window joinery is a mix of double hung sash windows and windows with Queen Anne style upper multipaned sashes. The entrance is marked by a tessellated tile threshold, fine wrought iron gates and trachyte steps.

The Albert Street facade is characterised by a corbelled chimney and oriel window. A second corbelled chimney is also located on the small visible portion of the rear (western facade). The oriel window, with its small panes to the upper sash, is one of the few surviving elements representing the Queen Anne Revival aspects of the building. A redundant colonnade staircase features a decorative wrought iron balustrade and a squat Romanesque style sandstone column and wrought iron gate. Traces of the Richardsonian Romanesque style are evident in the stone arches to the stair at the north-western corner of the building.

Original interiors are limited to the lower sections of the staircase, a few walls, stair hall leadlight window and front floor joinery. The remainder appears to have been rebuilt. The building is currently occupied by the Sir Stamford at Circular Quay Hotel.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The Macquarie and Albert Street facades and to a lesser extent, the Albert Street return facades, and the roof of the remnant building are largely intact. The western colonnade has been altered and three windows on the western facade have been blocked up. The roof has been modified with dormers in some places.

The interior was radically altered during the 1980s hotel adaptive reuse works. At this time 30% of the building was demolished and all the floors and ceilings were demolished. Only some internal walls, the street facades and the remnant roof structure remained in-situ. At this time new concrete slabs were poured and keyed into the remnant brick walls and the interior of the shell entirely refitted. At this time the main timber staircase was entirely removed and the stair hall rebuilt.
Date condition updated:12 May 11
Modifications and dates: 1980s -adaptive reuse for hotel purposes.
1990; 1998 (alterations)
Current use: hotel
Former use: government office, health clinic, hospital admissions depot


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney. (Anita Heiss: Aboriginal People and Place)

Prior to 1897 the Health Department was installed in a large private house in Macquarie Street, sharing quarters with a branch office of the Department of Public Instruction, and later with the Parliamentary Draftsman. By 1889 the work of the Department had grown to such an extent that it occupied the whole of the Macquarie Street building, and in 1893 the attics of the house were adapted to accommodate a pathological and bacteriological laboratory. By 1895 it was clear that these premises were inadequate; both too small and inappropriate: not "accommodation of the kind requisite to a Health Department conducted and equipped on modern lines". Towards the end of 1895 the government gave instructions for the erection of a new building on the present site. The land had been allocated to the use of the Department years earlier, and occupied by a temporary building which served the Government analyst for a laboratory. This coincided with the establishment of the Department of Public Health and the passing of the Public Health Act in 1896 which gave greater responsibility to government in the area of public health. With this responsibility came greater staff and facility needs.

The new building was erected under the supervision of Government Architect W L Vernon, and occupied from 1 October 1897. It was not completed until 1898. The final cost of the building was approximately 7528 pounds. Vernon described the appearance of the building in his annual report for 1898 as "of a somewhat different type to Government offices of the city generally, being a Gothic structure of combined brick and stone work." He said that the building had "been specially designed to meet the important and increasing requirements of this branch of the Government Service."

The building was a three-storey structure of red brick with freestone dressings and a basement which utilised the slope of the hill on the western side. A large public office occupied the ground floor together with the board room, the centre for notification of infectious diseases and offices for the head of department and his clerical assistants. The Analytical Branch took most of the second floor where there was also an office for the veterinary staff, while the third floor was entirely taken up by the microbiological and pathological laboratories. Equipped with electric motors, these were completed on 24 August 1898. Part of the basement was devoted to 'rough work' and a crematory furnace. The remainder was used by the Public Vaccination Station and the Hospital Admission Depot which had direct access to the yard where ambulances waited to ferry patients to the allotted hospitals. Lit by gas, the new offices also enjoyed 'telephonic communication'. (R.Broomham, 2006: 146)

The building served several important roles during the first decades of the twentieth century. From 3 July 1913 free small pox vaccinations were made available on a daily basis at the Hospital Admission Depot as well as at other city and suburban town halls as a measure to control the small pox epidemic in Sydney. (Broomham p196) During the first World War, Robert Paton, the first Director General of Public Health, and his staff established a Night Recruiting Depot at the Hospital Admission Depot. Between 3 August 1915 and 15 February 1916, when recruiting was limited to Victoria Barracks, this centre encouraged enlistment with an after-hours facility which proclaimed its presence with an electric sign. Open every night, the depot was voluntarily manned by twelve to twenty departmental officers, including doctors from head office or one of the state hospitals. The Department also assisted enlistment in other practical ways, arranging for those with defective teeth to attend the Dental Clinic and offering remedial treatment for such disabilities as hernia and varicose veins. These services ensured a high acceptance rate among those who applied there. (Broomham 206)

Paton believed the State's public health legislation to be less advanced than that of other States. Although hampered by staff shortages in World War I he gave priority to assisting the military authorities. He advocated open-air treatment for some conditions and helped to develop the Coast Hospital as an infectious diseases hospital and the Waterfall Home for Consumptives. Five special hospitals were opened during his term. With his deputy, W. G. Armstrong, he planned the campaigns against major smallpox and pneumonic influenza epidemics. (Robert Paton: ADB Online) He organised successfully against the last major smallpox epidemic from 1913 to 1916. His preparation for the variola epidemic of
1913 was also the basis of the State plan to meet the impact of the pandemic of influenza in 1919. He became the first Commissioner under the Venereal Diseases Act of 1918, and practised privately in venereology for a short time after his retirement. (A History of Medical Administration in NSW Public health administration: Chief Medical Officer - Director-General of Public Health

From about 1930 until the mid 1980s the building was used as a venereal disease (STD) clinic . However the rise in incidence of AIDS in the community saw the beginning of the end of the use of this building for the purpose. AIDS-related complex and lymphadenopathy diseases were proclaimed notifiable diseases under the Public Health Act 1984. Concern for the high incidence in sexually transmitted diseases (STD) brought proposals to increase services for tracing these while introducing additional social education. This program was stepped up in response to a departmental report in March 1985 showing the high community cost of STDs. New clinics were opened at Wollongong and Liverpool while existing clinics at Newcastle and Prince of Wales Hospitals were improved. Training in STDs was introduced into medical and nursing courses and the University of Sydney introduced a Master of Medicine (Veneology), possibly the first in the world. In October 1986 the Sydney STD Centre was moved from the former Health Department building at 93 Macquarie Street to the restored Nightingale Wing of Sydney Hospital. Additional STD Clinics were opened at Port Kembla, Liverpool and the Western Suburbs Hospital, Croydon. (R.Broomham, 2006:146)

The removal of the Sydney STD Centre saw the end of the use of the building for health purposes. In 1988-90 the building was adapted as part of the 106 room luxury Ritz Carlton Hotel . Most of the 106 guest rooms and associated facilities were accommodated in the new building on the adjoining site. Approximately one third of the former health department building was demolished to the south west as were the single storey ancillary wings on the south and west sides. The Macquarie and Albert Street facades were retained. The remaining interior of the building was substantially modified and converted into a limited number of upper storey guest rooms and a ground floor bar. Original interiors are limited to the lower sections of the staircase, stair hall leadlight window and front floor joinery. The remainder appears to have been rebuilt. The building is currently occupied by the Sir Stamford at Circular Quay Hotel.

(Based on N Boyd Thesis)
The former Health Board Offices mark a stylistic change in Vernon's work, and therefore the Government Architects office, from the Queen Anne Revival style to the emerging Free Style type of architecture in metropolitan Sydney. This reflected the influence of the international Arts and Crafts movement. Like the Glasgow School of Art, the Health Board offices are constructed on a steep site, with a main entrance at the upper level as is the Glasgow School of Arts designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was in the process of designing the School of Arts during 1897 when Vernon visited Scotland and was not constructed for another decade. Therefore, the influence is more likely to be the work of established Scottish architects particularly James MacLaren. David Walker has traced the influence of MacLaren's work in Edinburgh and Stirling on Mackintosh's early work.

The Scottish influences were noted when the building was completed. De Libra commented on the' Scottish tinge of composition in the picturesqueness of the skyline'. Vernon had visited Edinburgh primarily to look at hospitals but may have seen the recently completed Ramsay Gardens and Well Court (a workers' housing complex) where the revival of the Scottish vernacular was evident. The similarity in the design of the Health Board offices in Sydney with contemporary Scottish work rests in the picturesque composition, carefully designed to respond to the sloping site, the use of details drawn from unpretentious, traditional buildings and the use of sandstone.

The details of the Heath Board Offices reflected a movement away from the influence of merchants houses and town halls of Northern Europe. Instead, the oriel windows, prominent chimneys and crenellations were more reflective of traditional English buildings found in Vernon's photograph collection. The influence of the robust Norman buildings were also evident, particularly in the use of rock faced sandstone to the rear staircase. The building represented an increasing freedom from established architectural precedent.

The details of the Health Board Offices required a high degree of craftsmanship in both the brickwork and the carved stone elements. Darker brickwork was employed to the window heads, a detail that would be widely used in Federation style domestic architecture, shops and warehouses. Like the Banco Court in St James Road Sydney, the Health Board building has exquisite carvings employing neoclassical motifs, including the base of the oriel window, where they would have been used in English architecture.

The new Heath Board Offices established the architectural vocabulary that continued to be employed by the Government Architects Branch as part of the urban renewal within the resumed areas of Sydney at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Free Style also became the architectural vocabulary for new public buildings in the inner ring of suburbs surrounding the city centre.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Events-Activities and processes that mark the consequences of natural and cultural occurences Developing local landmarks-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Health-Activities associated with preparing and providing medical assistance and/or promoting or maintaining the well being of humans (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Building settlements, towns and cities-National Theme 4
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Administering and alienating Crown lands-
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. State government-
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. Developing roles for government - administering a public health system-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Walter Liberty Vernon, Government Architect 1890-1911, private architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The former Health Department building has state heritage significance as the surviving fabric an important early building in the professional work of the Government Architect, W L Vernon that influenced the style of buildings produced by the newly formed Government Architect's Office. It also has significance for its ability to reflect the status of Macquarie and Bridge Streets as a prestige address for many government institutions, becoming an important component of the precinct and exemplifying increasing government commitment to areas of social welfare such as health.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The former Health Board building has state significance for its association with Walter Liberty Vernon, his early and influential work as Government Architect, and the newly formed Government Architect's Office. It also has state significance for its associations with the public health initiatives of the first Director General of Public Health Robert Paton, who was influential in the control of infectious diseases in Sydney in the early years of the twentieth century.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The remnant facades of the former Health Board Building has aesthetic significance at a State level as an early example of the buildings designed by the then newly formed Government Architects Office, and as high quality and well resolved examples of the Federation Free Style. This particular style was sufficiently successful and influential to become particularly identifiable with the identity of public health and hospital buildings designed by the Government Architect's Office under Walter Liberty Vernon's direction and an important early example of the design language which came to characterise much of the work from Vernon's office. It demonstrates the stylistic development of Vernon, providing evidence of the influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement combined with his interest in the muscular Romanesque design language of American architect Henry Hobson Richardson
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The building has state social heritage significance as a focal point for public health services until its closure in the 1980s, well known within the social services, nursing and health systems and throughout the wider community. It serves as a visual representation of the nineteenth century push for a centralised agency that responded to a range of public health issues. since the passing of the Public Health Act 1896. It has long been associated at a local level, within the broader community consciousness, as a purpose built, self contained facility that provided treatment and services for a range of infectious or notifiable diseases that had an impact on the health of the community as a whole.
SHR Criteria g)
The former Health Department building has state significance as a visual representation of the public building's designed by the Government Architect's Office following the appointment of Walter Liberty Vernon as Government Architect.
Integrity/Intactness: The Macquarie and Albert Street facades, and to a lesser extent the Albert Street return façade and the roof structure, are largely intact. The interior has been radically altered with view original details surviving.
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 workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
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.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Oct 9 2013
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions


Health Department Building (former)
93–97 Macquarie Street, Sydney

SHR No. 1912

I, the Minister for Heritage, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, do, by this my order, grant an exemption from section 57(1) of that Act in respect of the engaging in or carrying out of any activities described in Schedule “C” by the [owner, mortgagee or lessee of the land] described in Schedule “B” on the item described in Schedule “A”.

The Hon Robyn Parker, MP.
Minister for Heritage

Sydney, Day of 2013


The item known as the Health Department Building (former), situated on the land described in Schedule “B”.


All those pieces or parcels of land known as part of Lot 1 DP 839564 in Parish of St James, County of Cumberland shown on the plan catalogued HC 2583 in the office of the Heritage Council of New South Wales.


1. All Standard Exemptions.
2. Changes to operating hours.
3. Changes of use where there is no physical work anticipated as a result of the new use.
4. Development of temporary hoardings when facades are undergoing maintenance or conservation.
5. Exterior maintenance and conservation of historic fabric in accordance with the Conservation Management Plan prepared by Graham Brooks and Associates, dated December 2012 and under the supervision of a suitably qualified heritage consultant.
6. All non-structural tenancy fitout works or changes to interior non-significant fittings and finishes with no effect on remnant heritage fabric identified in the Conservation Management Plan prepared by Graham Brooks and Associates, dated December 2012. This includes the erection of partitions in spaces ranked of low significance in the Conservation Management Plan, prepared by Graham Brooks and Associates, dated December 2012 provided that these are installed in such a way that they are reversible and do not impact on heritage significant fabric.
7. Changes to, or development of, internal partitions provided they will have no impact on the external appearance of the building or significance of internal spaces.
8. Refurbishment of non significant bathroom and kitchen facilities.
9. Removal or replacement of non-original walls or portions thereof.
10. Removal or replacement of non significant ceilings or portions thereof.
11. Maintenance or replacement of non significant internal paint finishes.
12. Changes to non significant internal lighting.
13. Interior maintenance and conservation of historic fabric as identified in the Conservation Management Plan prepared by Graham Brooks and Associates, dated December 2012.
14. Replacement of deteriorated non-significant building fabric.
15. Replacement of non significant floor finishes.
16. Installation of internal signage on non significant walls.
17. Installation of communications and data services using existing conduits and penetrations.
18. Electrical, mechanical and hydraulic services maintenance and upgrades located within existing service locations within the building envelope and within the roof space.
19. Upgrade of mechanical equipment relating to lifts or chair lifts.
20. Penetrations in the concrete slabs, constructed in the 1980s, of a diameter less than 500mm.
Oct 9 2013

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0191209 Oct 13 1294443
Heritage Act - Interim Heritage Order - Revoked 11723 Jul 12 753409
Local Environmental PlanSydney LEP29009 Dec 05   
National Trust of Australia register   12 May 11   
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register 470064312 May 11   
Institution of Engineers (NSW) Historic Engineering Marker  12 May 11   
Register of the National Estate  12 May 11   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Archaeological Report  Robert Paton: Australian Dictionary of Biography Online View detail
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney
ElectronicCJ Cummins2003A History of Medical Administration in NSW View detail
WrittenDept of public works1897Report of the Department of Public Works for the year ended June 1897
WrittenGraham Brooks & Assoc2012Former Health Department Building, 93-97 Macquarie Street Sydney
WrittenNoni Boyd2010No Sacrifice in Sunshine. Walter Liberty Vernon: Architect 1846-1914
WrittenNSW Department of Public Health1897Report of the Board of Health for 1897
WrittenR.Broomham2006Public Health in NSW 1788-2005

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5061385
File number: 12/02341 plan 2583

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.

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