The Semaphore area is one of the oldest in Adelaide, being settled in the early 1850's. It was originally called Scarborough after an English town and has successfully managed to keep much of its original character and charm on the main street as well as in the surrounding areas.
In 1851, a hotel was built by George Coppin on the southern corner of Esplanade and Blackler Street having a very high flagpole. When a new ship arrived, a flag was raised to signal to Coppin's other hotel in Port Adelaide, and this was how the area acquired the name Semaphore.
Semaphore has a strong maritime connection, starting with its prominent and grand Customs House at the beach end of Semaphore Road. Join us on a tour of the area as we discover more about the architectural designs, and weird and odd facts of this area.
The Time Ball Tower with Former Police Station in Background
Directly across Semaphore Road, from the former Customs House, stands the Time Ball Tower. Built in 1875, the tower was used to help ships captains at sea set their chronometers. At exactly 1pm, a large black ball at the top of the tower was dropped, and at times up to 10 ships anchored off shore took advantage of this signal to set the time on board.
Since 1925 there has been a clock tower on the foreshore, but the innocuous Semaphore jetty nearby has seen some strange and moving events since it was built in 1860.
In 1877 the hulk Fitzjames was anchored about 1.5 miles away from the jetty to serve as a Quarantine Ship in the days before Torrens Island took on that role. It would have been a most unpleasant time for the passengers and crew of the ship.
Eleven years later, the same hulk was again moored off the jetty and used as a reformatory for up to 61 boys. When visited by the Governor and his wife the Adelaide Observer reported that the boys were drawn up in line, and saluted in good style to the strains of the National Anthem.
Meanwhile in 1922 the ornate Palais was built in the distinctive style of the 1920's, hosting a kiosk, bathing pavilion and dance hall. Unfortunately today the architecture is somewhat obscured by advertising and later additions, but the original building can still be admired.
Just east of the Time Ball Tower is the original Semaphore Police Station and immediately behind the building are the police cells or lockups. There wasn't far for offenders to go if there was any misbehaviour on the beach.
The Central Provisions Stores Super Food Market is now a fading memory for most, but the lettering remains proudly emblazoned above the trendy Red Rock Noodle Bar. The CPS chain of stores started in the 1920's by Roger Rogerson who died in 1943 but the chain of some 40 stores eventually faded out around the 1960's.
The Masonic Buildings further east on Semaphore Road proudly display some of the arcane symbols traditionally associated with Freemasonry on the upper left part of the stylish building. It's interesting that the windows on that side are rather small compared with those on the right.
The Semaphore Water Tower on Blackler Street was constructed in 1880 to maintain the local water supply when the Jervois Bridge opened and disrupted the main supply. The octagonal walls are very thick, and it has served as an unusual private residence since 1972.
Some of the architectural designs in Semaphore are quite unusual, and this one struck me as very odd. The upper floor extension of this building in Newman Street appears to have very little support beneath it - I don't think I would feel comfortable inside.
The Inn a Church Bed and Breakfast on Jagoe Street is clearly another of the unusual architects buildings. Originally a church, it has been re-modelled to provide visitor accommodation now. It probably also belongs on this page of similar conversions.
The Semaphore Fire Station on Jagoe Street, Now a Residence
Also on the religious theme, the Dominican Convent just down the road has one quite unusual feature - the Widow's Walk on the roof. However, it seems unlikely that many widows entered that building.
If you have enjoyed this little tour of Semaphore's secrets, perhaps you would like to take urban exploration to the next step and check out this article, showing hidden places around Adelaide.
For a guided walk, Semaphore Walks taking in some of the sights I have mentioned are offered on the 1st Sunday of each month at 1pm. Bookings are essential on 8405 6560 and depart from the Memorial Clock on the Foreshore. Cost is a gold coin per person.
I may be wrong, but thought church stuff is more appealing to oldies.
I spent a pleasant afternoon briskly walking all around Semaphore taking photos, then the best part of a day to research and put it together. Hopefully the readership will be there over the long term, but I enjoyed it anyway :)
Wow, Semaphore is certainly steeped in history. I have never noticed the police cells and have never heard of coffee palaces before. Are people really not interested in church architecture? Then, I must be one of very few people who are. You must spend so much time doing these articles! Next time I am in Semaphore, I will be seeing it in a different light.