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The Stranger Structures of Semaphore

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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 October 22nd 2012
You don't need to dig to discover history
The Stranger Structures of Semaphore

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Semaphore Customs House built 1882


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.

Semaphore Beachfront

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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.

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Clock Tower and Semaphore Jetty


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.

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Former Semaphore Coffee Palace


By the 1920's, the impressive building next door to the Customs House had been used as the Semaphore Coffee Palace as described here. It is still in use today.

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The Semaphore Palais


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.

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Home of the Semaphore Carousel


Also on the Esplanade is the 1928 Carousel or merry go round, housed in a large circular iron structure. It was placed on the market for sale in 2011 but is still in operation.

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Original Semaphore Police Cells


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.

Semaphore Road

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Old Post & Telegraph Office, 15 Semaphore Road


The old 1881 Post & Telegraph Office on Semaphore Road is now used as an MP's Electorate Office, but it appears largely to be in its original condition.

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Central Provisions Stores Super Food Market


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.

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Odeon Semaphore


The Odeon Semaphore opened as the Wondergraph Picture Palace in 1920. Curiously in 1913 the Advertiser has a reference to the Wondergraph showing a reproduction of the Oakbank Steeplechase.

The Advertiser mentions in 1926 that the Wondergraph's main attraction is Lovers in Quarantine, somewhat ironic in view of Semaphore's past association with a quarantine hulk.

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Masonic Buildings, Semaphore Road


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.

Back Streets of Semaphore

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Semaphore Water Tower


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.

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Unusual Architectural Designs


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.

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Inn a Church Bed & Breakfast


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.

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The Semaphore Fire Station on Jagoe Street, Now a Residence


At the end of Jagoe Street is another link to Semaphore's past - the former fire station dating from 1881. The tower was used to locate where the fire was.

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What is Building Architecture?


Prominent Adelaide photographer, artist and architect Wayne Grivell creatively uses light to bring out the best qualities of some of Adelaide's more derelict places and structures.

In bright sunlight during the middle of the day I found it hard to make this shed on Swan Street look glamorous, but in the right light perhaps it is possible?

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Street Art in Denman Street


Not long ago I did an article about the great variety of street art in Adelaide and showed how it pops up everywhere.

In Denman Street you can find some colourful examples of stobie pole art, presumably done by local children. They enhance the streetscape by adding elements of surprise and colour.

Military Road

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Sacred Heart Church, 239 Military Road


I realise that many readers are probably not fans of church architecture, but I thought I could slip in one example - the decorative 1914 Sacred Heart Church on Military Road.

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Dominican Convent, 237 Military Road


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.
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Your Comment
Semaphore is my home, have lived in the surrounding area all my life. Wouldn't live anywhere else. Thanks for a good article.
by susan (score: 1|11) 1731 days ago
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 :)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|10410) 1824 days ago
I love the fact that there is even a place called Semaphore :) I want to live there just for the name.
by Jon Jones (score: 4|20710) 1824 days ago
Thank you for the excellent article.
Update on the Semaphore Walks, they are now offered the first Sunday of the month only, weather permitting, at 11am. Bookings essential, on 8405 6560.
by anne. (score: 0|5) 788 days ago
It's pretty cool isn't it Jon :)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|10410) 1824 days ago
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.
by Yin-Yin Ow (score: 3|1589) 1824 days ago
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