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9 Heritage Buildings Along Pirie Street, Adelaide

Home > Adelaide > Architecture | Historic Houses | Lists | Places of Interest | Walks
by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at
Published April 23rd 2018
More than just old buildings
As my journey continues around the streets of Adelaide CBD, I am most impressed to not only understand and appreciate how well Adelaide's streets are laid out, but also the deliberate intention by the street naming committee, established in 1837 to give thought to the pairing of the major thoroughfares. Most of the cross streets over King William Street are paired according to the occupation of the name of the street, eg both Pirie and Waymouth were early directors of the South Australian Company, Franklin and Flinders both had naval backgrounds etc.

Pirie Street runs in an east-west direction from King William Street all the way down to East Terrace and is named after Sir John Pirie, not only one of the founding directors of the South Australian Company but also one time Lord Mayor of London. Pirie did a lot for the plight of young destitute men and women in London and became involved with the work of Elizabeth Fry, the great prison reformer.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
William Morris Stained Glass Windows

There are some imposing examples of heritage buildings along its thoroughfare, 9 of which I have covered in this article:

1. Allianz House

This striking building at number 89 Pirie Street is notable for its ornate balconies and arched entranceways as well as windows. It was built in the French Renaissance style in 1878 for the very first German Club in Adelaide and operated at that site until 1899. At the time of the establishment of the club, there were around 150 members, all classified as being upper middle-class Germans.

The building originally housed small and large rooms, including a library, billiard room, smoking room, 6 bedrooms, kitchen and dining room. The structure also featured a meeting room which could hold up to 400 people.

Eventually, a new class of German immigrant was arriving and was made up of semi-skilled city workers. By the mid-1880's the South Australian German Association ( Sudaustralischer Allgemeiner Deutscher Verein) was formed as a separate body from the upper-class Deutscher Club, made up of these "city" workers. Due to declining and ageing membership, the Deutscher Club folded around 1906/7, allowing the association to increase its membership to be more inclusive.

The SA German Association, being forced to sell the premises due to accumulated debt sold it to the Salvation Army in 1899.

With the Salvation Army's acquisition, it became widely known as the "People's Palace", first being used as headquarters for the organisation and eventually for low-cost temporary accommodation. In 1938 a third storey was added to the building and it remained in use by the Salvation Army right up until 1979.

At one time at the rear of the building stood Albert Hall, designed to hold around 1500 people, but sadly it burnt down in 1975, killing 7 men. Following that tragic event, the Salvation Army sold the building and it was redeveloped into offices.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Allianz House

2. W C Penfold building

Further down Pirie Street, at number 51, near the corner of Gawler Place, you will find another grand building, which is today the home of W C Penfold, stationers since 1830. The building you see today dates from 1927, when it was built to house the State Bank of South Australia.

The site has a history of banks, with the National Bank of Australasia also occupying the site in its early years of operation. Prior to this building, another building occupied the site, designed by Edmund Wright in 1856 to house the Union Bank, which was eventually demolished in 1925 to make way for the current structure. The Union Bank building was built at a time when business and commerce in the colony of South Australia were beginning to expand.

The Union Bank merged with the State Bank of South Australia in 1892 and the building was then bought by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which occupied it as Union Hall from 1896.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
W C Penfold building

3. Epworth Building

The eye-catching Epworth Building was built in 1927 on the site of the old Pirie Street Methodist Church Manse and was named after John Wesley's birthplace in Lincolnshire, England.

The seven-storey building demonstrated at the time of its erection the growth and consolidation of Methodism in South Australia. The architectural style is deemed to be decorative Gothic style and was designed by architects, English and Soward.

Originally the building housed the church's administrative offices as well as the Methodist Book Depot, later re-named the Epworth Book Depot, with the basement being used as a social centre for the church and a tearoom to raise money for missionary work. The Epworth building became one of the Methodist Church's most lucrative assets and allowing leasing out to businesses in the building helped generate revenue.

Additional office space was created at the rear of the Epworth Building during the 1960's.

Finally, in 2002 the Uniting Church sold the building and today it provides accommodation for a variety of Adelaide businesses. The building was further sold in 2014.

A snoop into the building reveals some evidence of the religious connection that still exists today - some iconic stained glass windows above the entranceway inside the building. A delightful set of marble stairs lead down to the basement, one time home of the tearoom.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Epworth Building

4. Old Stock Exchange Building

Tucked in behind some of Adelaide's more modern and contemporary buildings lies an Edwardian jewel, built around 1901 and unique with its distinctive turret. Built in 1901, it served as the home of the Adelaide Stock Exchange right up until 1991.

The Stock Exchange in South Australia was formed originally in 1887 and operated from a premises in Pirie Street prior to the building being built in Exchange Place. Fuller & Dunn were the architects of the "new" building and it boasted a specially commissioned stained glass window designed by the famous London company, William Morris & Co,renowned for their soft furnishings including carpets, rugs and curtains. These windows were the first to be brought to South Australia by the company and were commissioned by George Brookman (of whom Brookman Hall on the University of South Australia site is named), one of the Stock Exchange's members.

In fact, these windows are the only ones not in a religious house of worship and were commissioned at the time of Australia's federation in 1901. The panels depict all of the British colonies including Australia, India, New Zealand, India and South Africa at that time. The upper panels represent morning, sun and evening.

Fire damaged the building twice in 1938 and 1982, however thankfully the stained glass windows survived. The Federation window as it is known, was donated to the Art Gallery of South Australia, however remains part of the building today and is estimated to be valued at well over $1 million.

After the stock exchange left the building in 1991, it was sadly left empty for almost 20 years, with renovation work occurring in 2009, after the State Government acquired the premises in 2007.

The building is still used today as the centre of the Royal Institute of Australia, or simply known as the Science Exchange building. Apart from the stained glass windows, an interesting display can be viewed in its History Room located on the Reception level. This room has some interesting exhibits relating to the Bragg family, and their work with crystallography used in X-rays, which led to both father and son winning the Nobel Laureate Prize for Physics in 1915. An early prototype of an X-Ray machine is on display, together with some interesting information about the Braggs'.

Not long after the building opened in 1901, saw Charles Todd set up the first Telegraph Station at the site.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Old Stock Exchange Building

5. Tivoli Hotel

This historic hotel has been an entertainment and meeting place since 1846. In its 170 year history, it has hosted music, public meetings, theatrical performances and pub rock icons.

During Adelaide's early years, there was a growing need for accommodation, which led to the hotel's development. Designed by architect Rowland Rees, the hotel fronting onto Pirie Street was known as the National Hotel. The large ballroom was one of the last of its kind anywhere in Adelaide or South Australia and was originally added on during the 1850's/1860's.

These style of hotels with large ballrooms were used originally as theatres or assembly rooms before town halls, institute halls and theatres were built. During the 19th century, the hotel was one of Adelaide's leading theatrical venues.

Today looking at the facade, it is incredible to think that the main hotel building facing Pirie Street dates from 1878.

Once the hotel became known as the Tivoli(believed to have been named after the famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen), it was the scene of many evening theatrical performances, right up to 1916, when a 6 pm closing time was imposed on all hotels.

During the 19th century, the Tivoli was also popular with Adelaide's German community.

The Tivoli was reborn as a popular live music venue from the 1970's up to the 1990's and over the years hosted many of the top acts of the time, including Adelaide's own rock group legend, Cold Chisel.

Other big names included Blink 182, the Triffids, the Divinyls and Paul Kelly.

An extensive renovation took place in 2008 and the old ballroom has been transformed into an upscale restaurant.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Tivoli Hotel

6. Old MTT Converter Station

The old MTT Converter Station located on the corner of Pirie Street and East Terrace was originally built in 1908 for the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT), the authority who was responsible for the development of Adelaide's electrified tramway network.

The station converted power generated at Port Adelaide into DC phase for the tram network and was designed by architects English and Soward.

The board of the MTT has been established in 1907 and within two years the first electric tram line opened, to Kensington from the city in 1909. By the end of that year electric tram lines were running other inner lines to North Adelaide, Walkerville, Payneham, Maylands, Marryatville, Parkside, Unley and Hyde Park.

The old horse-drawn trams ran concurrently with the electrified trams until such time that the systems had been tested and deemed successful, and then horse-drawn were phased out over time.

Within the space of two years, the General Manager, W G T Goodman and his staff had in place a total of 70 trams initially, with a move to increase to 100, and 55 miles of overhead wires.

The MTT used the site as a converter station right up until 1956, then the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) purchased the site in 1963. The building was finally refurbished for office accommodation in 1993.

Adjacent to the site also lies another interesting historic plaque connected to the Catholic church. The first Catholic mass was celebrated here back in 1840 by the very Reverend William Ullathorne.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Old MTT Converter Station

7. Rymill House

One of the old stately mansions in Adelaide, Rymill House, located not far from the corner of Pirie Street on East Terrace, dates from 1881, originally known as "The Firs".

The Queen Anne style house was bought by land and estate agents, Henry and Frank Rymill, who had originally bought the acreage back in the late 1850's and early 1860's. A smaller cottage on the site back in the 1860's had been designed by George Kingston, Deputy Surveyor-General to Colonel William Light.

Rymill House was believed to have been one of the best houses in the city in its heyday and later renovations gave the house sanitary plumbing and ventilation, seen at the time to be "state-of-the-art" innovations.

Henry Rymill died in 1927 however, the house was owned by the Rymill family right up until 1950. It was then acquired as a training centre by the old Post Master General's Dept (PMG) and used for that purpose until 1982. It then converted back into a private residence.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Rymill House

8. Eagle Chambers

After the Adelaide Town Hall was built in 1866, the Adelaide City Council allowed several commercial buildings to be erected on the "corporation acre" along the southern side of Pirie Street, including Queen's Chambers, Eagle Chambers and Gladstone Chambers.

Eagle Chambers was erected immediately behind the Adelaide Town Hall in 1876, with its facade of Dry Creek bluestone designed to complement the Prince Alfred Hotel on the southern side of the Town Hall. In its first year, Eagle Chambers housed the offices of merchants, solicitors, insurance companies and the Engineer-in-Chief's office. Brick extensions were then added in 1880, being finally taken over by Adelaide City Council in 1958.

Back in the 1920's the two doorways of Eagle Chambers and Gladstone Chambers were merged into one, with Gladstone Chambers eventually being taken over by the Adelaide City Council and merged with Eagle Chambers.

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Old Eagle Chambers

9. Adelaide Town Hall

In Colonel William Light's original plan of Adelaide, the 1 acre site where Adelaide Town Hall sits today, was already being flagged as Council usage. The Council purchased the land from the State back in 1840 and was originally used as a produce market selling hay, corn, butter, poultry, eggs, fish and vegetables.

A structure was soon planned to be a meeting place of local government, and Adelaide City Council is actually the oldest municipal council in Australia, dating from 1840. When the Adelaide Town Hall opened in 1866, it was believed to be the largest municipal building south of the equator.

The imposing Albert Tower was also significant as the only civic building outside of England at the time housing a full peal of 8 bells. Embarrassingly, for close to 70 years, the Albert Tower lacked a clock, as the cost of building Adelaide Town Hall had blown all known budgets, leaving no money for a clock to go in. Hence in early photographs showing the building, you can see flagpoles inserted into the holes, and then someone came up with an idea of placing a black card over the hole, with the intention of it not being so obvious there was a hole. I think it only highlighted the hole even more.

It wasn't until 1935 when a clock was finally donated by Sir Langdon Bonython, then Editor of the Advertiser, whose office overlooked the hole from the Waymouth Street corner. The clock was fully imported from London with a Melbourne clockmaker assembling it.

If it hadn't been for his generous donation, we may have today still had a hole where a clock should have been!

9 Heritage Buildings along Pirie Street, Adelaide
Adelaide Town Hall

Some fascinating and attractive looking buildings await if you wander down Pirie Street. How easy is it in our busy lives to simply walk past these imposing structures and not notice them. They are a testament to our past and should always be preserved. They all have unique stories of their own.
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Why? An opportunity to study more closer some fine examples of heritage
When: Any time of the year
Phone: 08 8203 7203
Where: Pirie Street, Adelaide SA 5000
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Your Comment
I love the way that the fascia has been preserved at Allianz House. I worked there for a number of years and the outdoor area behind the fascia was used for barbeques and parties.
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|11309) 1801 days ago
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