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City Steam Biscuit Factory

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by Dave Walsh (subscribe)
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Published September 9th 2012
Update December 6th 2013
The former City Steam Biscuit Factory was demolished by Hines Property on January 16 2013 to make it easier to build a budget hotel next door.

It makes you want to scream
jade monkey, twin street, city steam biscuit factory, pet supplies, adelaide, balfours, james calder, adelaide gymnasium
Calder & Balfour's City Steam Biscuit Factory, Adelaide circa 1880. (SLSA - B58311 )

Few people in Adelaide have ever heard of the City Steam Biscuit Factory.

But if it had never been built, Adelaide may never have seen its iconic frog cakes, and the Altitude tower development on Morphett St may not have happened.

This building was the precursor to the thriving Balfours business that has been supported by South Australians for so many years and ultimately became a national business .

James and Margaret Calder arrived in Adelaide in 1852 starting a bakery with a shop on Rundle St in 1853. In 1872 he was so successful he opened the City Steam Biscuit Factory and by 1873 James Calder was advertising a Nic-Nac biscuit made in his factory on Twin St. Another advertisement of the time refers to him as Biscuit Maker to HRH The Duke of Ediburgh.

jade monkey, twin street, city steam biscuit factory, pet supplies, adelaide, balfours, james calder, adelaide gymnasium
Advertisement in SA Register, Thursday 6 March 1873 (courtesy National Library of Australia)

In March 1876, the South Australian Register reported on the factory at 29 Twin St. The reporter seems to have been something of a fan of owner James Calder's produce:

Mr. Calder has also made him self a name for his excellent wedding, pound, currant, sponge, seed, tea, and other cakes. The demand for the colonial made biscuits and cakes is now so brisk that the proprietor finds great difficulty in keeping his customers supplied. He now employs five men and four apprentices, which is the hugest number he can find room for in his present premises.

James Calder's obituary in 1889 records that he was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes in 1880, so he arranged for his nephew
John Balfour to became a partner. On seeking medical advice in London, Calder was told that he didn't have cataracts at all and that a different kind of spectacles was all that would be required for many years.

In 1892, a new factory was built in Cardwell Street and Balfour's wife Elizabeth began a new business with her son J.G. Balfour and son-in-law C.P. Wauchope. Balfour & Company took over premises in Morphett Street in 1908 and continued to prosper.

jade monkey, twin street, city steam biscuit factory, pet supplies, adelaide, balfours, james calder, adelaide gymnasium
Advertisement for Physical Culture & Boxing (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

By 1929, Mr Claude Bennet was advertising Fencing Lessons for Ladies at 29 Twin Street, so clearly the building was no longer in use as a factory. It seems fencing must have gone out of style, because by 1932 Mr Bennet had become a Physical Culturist and Masseur.

Little is known about the Biscuit Factory's use over the next few decades. In 1951 it was occupied by a C.E Bennett and Adelaide Gymnasium. It's just possible that this photo of footballers training in 1954 was taken in the old Biscuit Factory.

jade monkey, twin street, city steam biscuit factory, pet supplies, adelaide, balfours, james calder, adelaide gymnasium
The City Steam Biscuit Factory Today

Fast forwarding to 1969, and number 29 Twin St was occupied by Pet Supplies Pty Ltd (wholesalers) and Twin St Music Centre. Thousands of children of the time would have walked past to visit the Pet Centa ("Bird Dealers & Pet Store") which occupied number 25 Twin St for many years.

Twin St Music was well known to many others. Scottish born Jim Keays, who later became lead singer of The Masters Apprentices, one of Australia's most successful bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s, recalls that he ogled the electric guitars on
offer at the Twin Street Music Shop, 'the coolest shop in town', and saw in their colours and shapes, a representation of 'freedom'

This is the earliest documented reference to the City Steam Biscuit Factory's link to music. However it is recorded that number 29A was occupied in 1969 by The Cellar night club, an appropriate forerunner to The Jade Monkey and Two Ships which occupied the premises from around 1992 until now.

Following approval from the Development Assistance Commission to build a 17 storey hotel adjacent to the former City Steam Biscuit Factory, the developer has decided to demolish this building which has been a key part of Adelaide's history over so many years.

It's not being demolished because the site is needed in the new development. The City Steam Biscuit Factory has to go so that there is improved access for the building works. So much for Development vs History - there is no contest!

Pleas to Premier Weatherill and Lord Mayor Yarwood to intervene and prevent the demolition have been fruitless. A petition has been organised but seems unlikely to succeed.

While the Jade Monkey is largely concerned about finding a cost effective home in the city, many of us have reservations about the ongoing demolition of historical buildings such as this.

jade monkey, twin street, city steam biscuit factory, pet supplies, adelaide, balfours, james calder, adelaide gymnasium
Street Art at Jade Monkey and Two Ships

These days Adelaide's streetscape is rapidly losing its character, and you are condemned to stare at a mirrored reflection of your face in some glaring multistorey building clone as you walk around.

It's all very well to have development and improve the city's skyline. But what about us mere users of the city who have to move around a sterile environment at street level?

Are we condemned to walk through whistling windy tunnels of skyscapers which block out natural light most of the day?

What happened to visions of revitalised, active and busy laneways with character in the city? The empty rhetoric rings hollow.

Farewell City Steam Biscuit Factory.
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Why? Why demolish a building with history and character for nothing?
Where: 29 Twin St, Adelaide
Your Comment
They Paved Paradise - Counting Crows
by Yin-Yin Ow (score: 3|1596) 3327 days ago
I found this article after unfortunately being put up in the new "OAKS" soleless hotel by my work- the one causing destruction and being intrigued by the fercade of a red brick building next door. A man working there told me story of Balfours and I was really sad (so was he) about its destruction. I live in a place with hardly any old 'European' buildings (in Darwin) and I love visiting other cities that have so many. It seems that those now have no respect for the stories they hold of their, or some-one's ancestors and the start of the story of a different Australia. Unfortunately everyone is deluded by the capitalist system and not valuing culture, history, the environment and happiness. ANyway I understand that towns need to grow, but incorporating a little of the old building or holding some of the remnant history in the building to be built would at least be tokenly respectful- but there is nothing, not old photos, etc. I would love to learn more about societies/ section of the council that are trying to reserve old building- they seem to dissapearing and the uniqueness of the city falling away- as you said you kind shiny badly built buildings everywhere- you can never replace Victorian buildings- elsewhere old factories make awesome new merged building which hold cafes/ art studios etc, but it seems not here. Plese feel ree to forward this on to the tourism minister or anyone that might give a shit
by green (score: 0|8) 2638 days ago
Maybe if the building was maintained in a manner that reflected it's former glory rather than covered in graffiti and littered with cigerette butts, the new owners would've looked at it in a more favourable light - I guess we will never know.
by benni (score: 0|5) 3326 days ago
I have to disagree with you.
Developers are in the business of building, remodelling or renovating.

It's hardly likely that cigarette butts (or street art) would have dissuaded a developer from doing anything to improve the building.

It is simply historical vandalism to demolish a building whose history is so closely tied to SA's own.

Balfours was an SA icon for many years, and for lots of people they still are.
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11307) 3326 days ago
Should we add this dilapidated building to Adelaide's must see tourist attractions? It really is so useful in its current form :/
by Ben (score: 0|5) 3326 days ago
Thoe thousands of people who have enjoyed live music at that location would disagree with you!

It will be a lot less useful as a pile of stone.

Probably the same comments were made about the Edmund Wright House.
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11307) 3326 days ago
If any SA residents would like to help save this part of our history, please support the Emergency Heritage Listing of The Jade Monkey building at 29 Twin St here:
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11307) 3308 days ago
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