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Curious Basements of Adelaide

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by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
I enjoy writing about Adelaide and its many attractions. If you think Adelaide is boring, the problem is not with Adelaide. adelaideunearthed.blogspot.com.au/
Published February 10th 2016
Come on down if you dare
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The Curious Basements of Adelaide


As we walk about Adelaide streets, there are plenty of things to attract our attention. Road and pedestrian traffic, beautiful people, bargains in shops, and the aromas of tasty food or freshly made coffee are all good reasons to get distracted.

Man about Adelaide Keith Conlon suggests that we should look up in Rundle Mall, raising your eyes above the tawdry street level to enjoy some of the fine colonial architecture that remains despite the efforts of this government. It's something that I do often - occasionally to the annoyance of other pedestrians.

But the opposite approach can be rewarding too. Cast your eyes down towards your feet, and you may catch glimpses of a secret subterranean world. The clues may not be obvious. Patience brings its own rewards. An old skylight beneath your feet, or building windows at ground level are enough to raise hopes. But if you have neither the time or the patience, here is an insight to some of the curious basements of Adelaide

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Underground Bank Vaults at Jamies Italian Restaurant


Underground Bank Vaults
There are many bank vaults in Adelaide basements. Few are still used for their original purpose, some have been reused quite creatively. While taking the Adelaide City Explorer walking tour on my smartphone I called in to Jamie's Italian Restaurant. A sneak peek into the basement of the former Bank of New South Wales building was an eye opener - the original bank vaults have now been converted into perhaps the most exotic restrooms in the city.

Jamie's Italian Restaurant is not alone. Across the road at the former Bobo H restaurant I found another disused bank vault in the basement during the About Time History Festival. It's not as grand or as large as its neighbour though.

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More Underground Bank Vaults on Grenfell Street


The impressive Executor Trustee basement vaults once housed a store of treasure. Gold and precious stones, gold and silver plate, bonds and other documents all kept exclusive company in this high security safe deposit. A massive three ton steel door, steel bars an inch thick, and a combination know to few were just some of the security precautions. Today this basement in Adelaide holds the owner's bicycle, empty bottles and other rubbish.

The Goodlife health club in Adelaide also boasts a disused bank vault, while a short distance away the decades old ANZ Bank basement vaults are still in use today.

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The Old Treasury Tunnels in Adelaide


Curious Basements and Tunnels
The historic Treasury Tunnels of Adelaide are now quite well known, and the National Trust run regular tours though the Treasury Tunnels and the original Cabinet Room.

Other underground tunnels and bunkers are less well known. Fort Largs is rumoured to have several tunnels. A caponier dating from colonial days is thought to have been filled in, but there are persistent rumours of other wartime tunnels around the fort. There is certainly a basement in the 1883 barracks building, originally used as living quarters for the defending soldiers.

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Is There an Adelaide Arcade Ghost?


Glenside Hospital possesses a warren of underground cellars with a curious history in the basement of the former Parkside Lunatic Asylum.

The Adelaide Arcade basement once housed a coffee shop. Now disused for decades it marks a very eerie finale to the Arcade Ghost Tours.

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A Basement Theatre in the T&G Building on Grenfell Street


Long Forgotten Cellars and Basements in Adelaide
We've lost many cinemas in the city over the years, but the only basement theatre I know of was located in the T&G building. Opened in 1932, The Times theatre seated 200 people and featured short films with the slogan Round the World in 80 Minutes. Today there is no trace of it, having been replaced by a gym.

Across Grenfell Street Adelaide's first Oyster Bar opened in the Tattersalls Club basement in 1945. It closed several hours a day because they couldn't keep up with the demand for Sydney rock oysters. It's now home to a communications business while oyster bars can be seen again about Adelaide.

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Shell House Basement in Adelaide


The Shell House basement in Adelaide was built during the Depression and the contractor was besieged by people looking for work. Today it seems largely disused.

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The Underground Cellars in Electra House Basement


Quirky Basements in Adelaide
Electra House was once an important communications hub receiving overseas telegraph cables in its basement. Today it serves another important function - storing wines for consumption by Electra House guests.

The basement of the Sir Samuel Way building is not a place that you would want to visit - except on Open Day. It houses the holding cells for prisoners scheduled to appear in court that day.

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Basement Living in Parkin House Plympton


The former stock exchange basement in the city was once a clubroom for traders to unwind. More recently the Science Exchange has hosted Fringe Festival events in the same underground room.

Parkin House in Plympton is quite unique in having a basement level, providing a large summer bedroom and drawing room lit by full size windows and light wells. A practical but most unusual feature for one of the curious basements of Adelaide.

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Is the Ghost of the Grey Lady Still at Calvary Hospital? (Image: State Library SA B2893


Long Lost Basements
Stories of the Grey Lady spread all about Adelaide at one time. She was believed to be the ghost of Robert Gouger's wife, haunting the basement of the Younghusband mansion for many years. Now part of Calvary Hospital, I didn't see her during a brief stay there recently.

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Is This What Remains of the Verco Building Basement?


The Verco building on North Terrace was the tallest building in Adelaide in 1911 and boasted a basement too. Now the basement appears to have been lost to the neighbouring car park.

When Wilkinson & Co built a mammoth storehouse on Grenfell Street in 1914 it contained a huge basement to accommodate large stocks of tobacco and cigars. The building later became the Mail Exchange and is now used as offices.
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Why? Discover the curious basements, cellars, and underground spaces in Adelaide
When: Anytime
Where: Adelaide, SA
Cost: Free!
Your Comment
are these places open to the public
by neils (score: 1|10) 407 days ago
such an interesting read! thanks for sharing it with us Dave
by Paula McManus (score: 3|2321) 409 days ago
You find some fascinating things to write about Dave and good on you. Too often these gems from our past are forgotten.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|5347) 406 days ago
Another stunning article - love the look of those basement bathrooms!
by Rota (score: 2|662) 409 days ago
Would love to give these a try!! :)
by Diana (score: 2|422) 407 days ago
Worked at Mary Potter Hospice for years and not heard about the Grey Lady! But we could hear wild parties in the original hospice building as we would pass at lunch time ... building was tightly locked up then. Now used for other purposes so guess they moved the unwanted shadowy guests out.
by Kate Blake (score: 2|510) 200 days ago
I enjoyed your article, Dave, and I love hearing about Adelaide's 'secrets'. Thank you.
by Karen Ross (score: 2|172) 406 days ago
dave , back in the mid 1990,s i was a guest nurse for a few days at a major hospital ,at the end of my stay the staff of the hospital as thank you for showing them a new procedure they took me to dinner ,the bar /restaurant had this well in the centre of the floor that had been built by convict labour ,covered by glass but you could look down into the well ,was wondering if this place still exists and do you know of it Thanking you for your time
by Trish (score: 0|5) 254 days ago
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