I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at www.facebook.com/Down-to-Earth-Tours-1491827191071798/
Published August 16th 2020
Revealing Rundle Mall
Most of us have spent time wandering along Rundle Mall in the city going about our business, whether it be retail therapy or going to or from work, however, there is so much more to the strip if you take the time to explore.
Rundle Street has always been the heart of Adelaide's retail sector, and prior to 1976, was a very busy thoroughfare with cars, buses, trucks and pedestrians all sharing its confines. Australia's first pedestrian mall was opened in 1976 and since that time has allowed people to wander uninhibited by vehicular traffic and enjoy all Rundle Mall has to offer.
Behind the curtain of the retail facade, I discovered some places that reveal some interesting information relating to their past and subsequent development. Here are 9 of them:
1. Adelaide Arcade
We are so fortunate in Adelaide to have this beautiful arcade well preserved which reflects another era in our history. The arcade was opened in December 1885 after having been built in just 5 short months, providing employment for around 200 workers. At the same time, the adjoining Gay's Arcade was also built.
Following completion in that year, Adelaide Arcade was seen to be one of the most opulent buildings in Australia with its Carrara marble floors, glass-panelled ceilings and extra-wide promenades. It was also one of the very first buildings in Adelaide to have electric lights.
At the time of its opening, the arcade boasted 50 shops with store owners retailing their wares from the ground floor, whilst their workrooms, accessed via an internal staircase, were located on the first floor. The addition of a balcony level in 1968 allowed the number of shops to double within the complex.
Some interesting tenants have occupied the building over the years, one of the more exotic being Turkish Baths, where you had your choice of warm baths for a shilling or Turkish Baths for 4 shillings.
For many years, tea rooms operated in the basement when tea rooms were a popular meeting place for family and friends. Today you can peer through a glass floor that has been built over the original ironwork staircase down to this area.
At the Grenfell Street end of the complex, a balconette was utilised for many years as an orchestral gallery where bands played, with grand balls held in nearby Gay's Arcade. One of the more interesting features incorporated into the architecture of the domes on either end of the arcade is an Australian themed coat of arms, depicting a kangaroo and an emu. You could be forgiven for thinking that it represents the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, however, it dates from 1885, some 16 years before the Commonwealth of Australia was formed and 23 years before our current Coat of Arms was adopted (1908). There was much discussion regarding the move towards Federation around that time, and the owners of the Arcade decided to submit a coat of arms design to hopefully be adopted nationally.
The design was not selected, however, the owners decided to leave the coat of arms displayed on the building. Not sure why it was not selected as it was very similar to the final coat of arms that the Commonwealth adopted, the main difference being that the kangaroo and emu are reversed in the Adelaide Arcade design work.
There have been some tragic occurrences in and around Adelaide Arcade during its history, one of the most gruesome being the death of the building's caretaker, Francis Cluney, who unfortunately fell into one of the two great flywheels of the gas engine which drove the two alternators. Conjecture still to this day exists whether Mr Cluney slipped and fell to his death, or whether he was pushed by two unruly locals, who were causing trouble, with Mr Cluney attempting to evict them. The ghost of Mr Cluney is still believed to be haunting the complex today.
Shop 50 (now Koko Black) of the arcade is said to be also haunted by a lady by the name of Florence Horton, a local woman who was walking down Rundle Street with two friends when she was shot in the back by her estranged husband in 1904. Florence was carried into what was then a tobacconist shop and died soon after. There are several other stories relating to ghosts being sighted or their presence being felt within the arcade.
A fire in 1980, which started in Gay's Arcade, also damaged part of Adelaide Arcade, however, all was restored to its former glory soon after.
If you want to find out more about the history of Adelaide Arcade, there is a surprising small museum exhibition located on the first floor, which outlines stories about the development of the complex over the years with items of memorabilia on display.
The Hotel Richmond is one of the ten oldest hotels in the city in its original location trading under its original licence. Like many of the pubs around the city, varying names have been associated with the pub, the first being the Cornwall Inn which originally commenced trading in 1838. Back then, it was known as a hotel for country folk - a "home away from home" - and had commodious livery stables out the back for many years.
It changed its name, after re-building, to the Plough and Harrow in 1844 and then from 1926 became known as the Hotel Richmond. The name comes from the birthplace of then-owner Charles Richmond John Glover. Today the pub is as popular as ever, with its balcony overlooking the busy Rundle Mall. I love what they have done with the decor within these days, with an art deco feel.
In the first bar, lounge and restaurant some fine cuisine can be sampled including a 250g sirloin with chips, salad and choice of gravy for $30. Most main meals range in price from $20 - $30. Due to COVID-19, the hotel is working with reduced hours currently, with Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays lunch from 12 Noon to 4 pm. The Bar and Lounge Gallery also allows you to go out onto the balcony on a nice day and watch the world go by.
Boutique style accommodation is also available with 30 individually styled rooms rated as 4 stars. Room prices vary between $150 and $190 per night for 2 people. You can find Hotel Richmond at 128 Rundle Mall, Adelaide.
Today, as you wander down Rundle Mall, the facade of the old Regent Theatre is still eye-catching, conjuring up the grandeur of the age of cinema and its importance in our social history. The grand theatre itself was opened in 1928 and was one of the most glamorous and beautiful of Australian picture theatres of its time. It was the third Regent Theatre opened in Australia, preceded by Perth and Sydney. On opening night, the main feature was accompanied by a 16 piece orchestra. A large Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ was installed some 3 months later at a cost of 25,000 pounds (around AU$50,000).
The Regent was also one of the first buildings in Adelaide to have air-conditioning installed, with the huge auditorium decked out in Spanish/Moroccan style holding a capacity of 2,300 patrons. A massive crystal chandelier once graced and hung above the lounge circle.
Sadly, with the advent of TV in South Australia in 1959, theatre audiences started to dwindle, and then in 1961, plans were put in place to add six shops built on one side of the stalls, with the shops facing out to a laneway at the side of the theatre; 298 stalls seats were lost at that time.
More re-development occurred during the late 1960s with a further 38 shops at ground level in what was another part of the stalls area. At that time, the Paris Theatre, which was housed behind the Regent, was demolished and re-built. The much smaller Regent now only accommodated 894 patrons on one raked level. The grand Wurlitzer organ was dismantled and now is housed in the Memorial Hall of St Peter's College.
The theatre finally closed in 2004, becoming incorporated into what is today Regent Arcade. The best view of the former facade of the theatre can be obtained from Rundle Mall.
This building has an important connection to the early importation of plate glass to South Australia, introduced by Heinrich Ludwig Vosz, a German migrant who arrived in 1848. His premises were located at 82 Rundle Street, selling a range of items, including window glass, paints and wallpaper.
Vosz also had a connection to the town of Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills, establishing a summer residence there known as "Magpie Castle" where he and a friend grew grapevines until Phylloxera wiped them all out. They then established a glue works and tannery in the town.
Three years later, Vosz tried his luck in the Victorian goldfields and did quite well. He established a glass, oil and colour business at 82 Rundle Street (now Rundle Mall), passing away in 1886. Vosz became highly renowned and connected with supplying many of the stained glass windows around Adelaide's churches and other public buildings.
The business was continued by several consecutive owners and then in 1915, the business was renamed Clarkson Limited after the company's managing director at that time, A E Clarkson. Clarkson's had already been an established business with a leadlight and stained glass department as part of the business in 1899. By the 1920s there were 26 staff employed in the glass department, along with two artists who designed new stained glass windows. The showrooms opened at 135-139 Rundle Street (now Mall) in 1932.
The company quickly became the Australian agent for iconic British company William Morris & Co. Clarkson's and remained in this location until 1958, when the building was purchased by the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia. The leadlight and stained glass department closed two years later in 1960.
H L Vosz Building c 1908 Courtesy State Library of South Australia
5. The Old Balfours Building
One company which has stood the test of time and has survived is Balfours, now over 165 years old and is a South Australian iconic institution, having produced pastries and cakes throughout its history. Sadly the old Balfour's tea rooms at 72 Rundle Street (now Mall) no longer exist, having closed in 2004. However many Adelaide and South Australian residents fondly remember their experience visiting the tea rooms with family and friends over the years.
The company itself was established way back in 1853 by Scottish immigrants, James and Margaret Calder (nee Balfour). Six years later, the Calder's nephew, John Balfour, joined the firm as an apprentice. Initially, the focus for the company was on producing fine quality biscuits, even supplying them to royalty when Prince Alfred, the Prince of Wales (son of Queen Victoria) visited Adelaide in 1867.
During the 19th century, some of the favourite products were Scotch pies and Albert biscuits. Fast-forwarding to today, the trademark square pie, chocolate doughnuts and custard tarts are some of the popular favourites with customers.
John Balfour became a partner in the firm, renamed Calder & Balfour in 1877 and the company expanded, exporting produce to other Australian colonies at that time. Unfortunately, the depression during the 1890s led to the collapse of the firm, however, it did not daunt them, as in 1894 Elizabeth Balfour, John's wife opened a stylish cafe, cake shop and bakery at 72 Rundle Street, with the focus being on cakes and pies, rather than biscuits. More cafes opened around town and a new bakery was built in Morphett Street in the city.
By the 1920s, the three bakeries and cafes within the city were very popular, and in 1924 the iconic "Frog Cake" was produced for the first time (today classified as an SA Heritage icon). Balfours remained a family business run by Elizabeth's son Jack and son-in-law Charles Wauchope. In that same year, the company changed its name to Balfour Wauchope Pty Ltd.
During World War 2, the company produced a hamper which was sent to troops serving overseas. The trademark square pie was first introduced in 1958 with the return of the custard tart in 1963 and the intro of the chocolate doughnut in 1967.
As the company expanded during the 1970s, with a range of products numbering over 600, Balfours decided to embrace technology, forming an alliance with IBM, computerising all of their production and distribution processes. The system used was later sold to overseas bakeries.
During the 1980s, Balfours expanded interstate and despite challenging times during the 1990s, managed to build a new purposely built factory at Dudley Park, which still operates today. Another well known South Australian food manufacturer, San Remo, now owns the company.
This is one sight you could easily miss wandering along the Mall unless you think to step back and look up. A grand European-style architectural facade reflects what remains from three shops originally designed in 1886 for owner Samuel George Smith, who had received a large inheritance from his father's estate in the early 1860s.
The architect was Daniel Garlick and his son, Arthur. At the time it was described as being "built in the German treatment of the Renaissance... much the same style as that at present in vogue in the Fatherland".
Above the heavy cantilevered canopy of the ground floor, today you can see two sculptured heads on the first floor. These represent Peasantry and Warfare. The details in the exterior of the building are still striking with decorative shell motifs around semi-circular windows. There are also two female heads decked in lace.
At the very top of the building, a carved shield bears the monogram of the building's owner. Charles Vernon completed the detailed plasterwork and his own home, which was located at 53-55 Symonds Place in the city (between Gilles Street and South Terrace), also shows his handiwork.
Sadly a fire broke out in the building back in February of this year, with damage occurring in the adjoining Juice Bar, Skin Care Clinic and Optometrist of around $500,000. Fortunately, the facade of the State Heritage listed building was saved.
One of Adelaide's well recognised and preserved buildings is Beehive Corner (on the corner of Rundle Mall and King William Street) with its distinctive corner turret in the shape of a beehive, topped by a lone gold bee. The name "Beehive" was first associated with the location way back in 1849 when a drapery shop occupied the site. Since that time, the area became known as "Beehive Corner", becoming a popular meeting spot.
The original building on the site was designed by well-renowned architect Edmund Wright, who also at one time occupied the building. Later one of the tenants included the offices of the "Adelaide Times" newspaper. The current building was constructed on the site between 1895 and 1896 by architects George Klewitz Soward and Thomas English, designed for its then-owner, Henry Martin.
The South Australian chocolatier, Haighs, has occupied the site since 1922 (having operated as a company since 1915) and still operates there today. Martin also had the same architectural firm design the buildings attached to the old Tavistock Hotel in Rundle Street, which was eventually demolished in 1962 to make way for Frome Street.
Just off of busy Rundle Mall lies James Place, now a mecca for quirky eateries and other businesses. James Place Hotel sits within a historic building which started its life as a warehouse run by the Goode brothers during the 1870s. During the latter part of the 19th century and at some point during the 20th century, the building was occupied by a drapery and clothing store as well as a warehouse.
During the early 1960s, the ground floor of the building was occupied by the Pineapple Crush Bar, and then during the 1970s, a bottle shop and bar was established, known as the Marrakesh Hotel.
Today the site operates as the James Place Hotel, a place to relax and unwind after a busy day in the city. Some of the mouth-watering special meals include on Monday, Chicken or Beef Schnitzel for $17. Tuesdays have on offer the Chef's special for the same price, with Wednesdays offering gourmet homemade Pizza for also $17. For those of you who are steak lovers, Thursday special is Steak of the day for $19.
Happy Hour is from 4 pm, and as a bonus on Friday's complimentary gourmet snacks are on offer. You will find James Place Hotel at 21 James Place in the city.
Located on the corner of Gawler Place and Rundle Mall lies the Walsh Building with its distinctive balconies overlooking the shopping precinct, today occupied by retail shops. Traditionally the site was always associated with hotels, the first being the Suffolk Inn, established in 1840 until 1842. Successive hotels occupied the site right up until 1966 when the premises was de-licensed. Names included the Saracen's Head, Suffolk, Hamburg and finally the Orient Hotel.
The name of the building stems from one of the licensees of the Orient Hotel, Herbert Walsh, who held the licence from 1915 right up to the date of closure in 1966. Due to anti-German sentiment during the First World War, the name of the Hamburg Hotel was changed to the Orient.
The first alterations to the complex occurred during the 1920s carried out by architect F Kenneth Milne, with additional extensions and alterations made during the 1930s. During the 1970s and 1980s, the building was altered to accommodate shops and still operates for that purpose today.