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7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg

Home > Adelaide > Architecture | Fun Things To Do | Historic Houses | Places of Interest | Walks | Lists
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 November 5th 2016
Yesterday by the Sea
With summer just around the corner, thoughts start to focus on balmy days and evenings down on the seafront, enjoying a nice meal and beverage or the essential ice cream, followed by a stroll along the foreshore.

With Glenelg only approximately 12 kms ( or a 20 minute drive) south-west of the CBD of Adelaide, it is still seen as one of Adelaide's favourite metropolitan beaches. Not only locals but visitors from both interstate and overseas flock to the popular seaside community over the course of the year, in fact almost 1 million of us, which means Glenelg still has much to offer for a wide range of people.

Still to this day, the most popular mode of transport to take to "The Bay" is the tram, which has been operating since 1873.

As I discovered recently, there are a great blend of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and in amongst the hub bub lies some amazing heritage still standing to the testament of time.

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
Centenary memorial for founding of South Australia

Here are 7 historic buildings I stumbled across on a walk around Glenelg:-

1. Glenelg Town Hall

Slap bang on the edge of busy Moseley Square in Glenelg lies the well-preserved Town Hall, which was originally built in the 1870's and was formerly known as the Glenelg Institute. When completed, the Institute boasted lecture rooms, a concert hall as well as a library. The council acquired the hall during the 1880's and continued to use the old town hall, even after the amalgamation of both the City of Brighton and the City of Glenelg to become the City of Holdfast Bay.

A valuable piece of history lives on within the council chambers with the Mayoral chair made of wood salvaged from HMS Buffalo, the ship which brought the first settlers to South Australia back in 1836.

Today the restored and renovated Town Hall houses the Bay Discovery Centre , an exhibition and interpretive centre which portrays the development of South Australia and Glenelg from its earliest beginnings. With the use of interactive multi-media, the centre helps bring history to life, meanwhile support is given to local South Australian artists with the addition of a mezzanine gallery.

The Bay Discovery Centre is well worth venturing into, and is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm, except for Christmas Day, Good Friday and New Year's Day.

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
Glenelg Town Hall

2. Seafield Tower

A short walk from Moseley Square in a southerly direction along the foreshore, will bring you to an historic property, which can be rented during various times of the year and has links to Henry Ayers as well as Thomas Elder, who both lived in adjoining apartments as their seaside holiday residences back in the 1870's. Henry Ayers was a self-made man, who invested in the copper mining boom back in the 1840's in South Australia, and became both a successful businessman as well as a politician, reportedly serving as Premier of South Australia, at least 5 times and possibly even 7 times, one stint of which he only lasted 3 weeks! Yes, Ayer's Rock is also named after Henry.

Thomas Elder became a successful pastoralist, as well as a member of the Upper House, a wool broker and a patron of exploration of our vast tracts of land around the colony.

The seaside retreat was once used both as flats and as accommodation for Commonwealth Railway employees. The view from the tower was an ideal place for watching the many yacht races.

Today Seafield Tower has been split into 11 units, available for rental, 9 of them air-conditioned and during the majority of the year, is utilised on weekends (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays). From mid-December until the end of February, classed as peak time, the units are available for hire 7 days per week.

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
Seafield Tower

3. Stormont House

Featuring an imposing frontage facing onto the seafront, Stormont House can be attributed to the successful architectural partnership of English and Soward, built in 1886. Fortunately today the property is on the State Heritage Register, hopefully ensuring its protection for all time. Soward was a leading architect in South Australia for over 50 years, known particularly for his grand houses.

Soward was a local boy, living for many years in The Mall (later Moseley Street), Glenelg, following his marriage. Locally Soward and English were also responsible for grandstands attached to the Morphettville Race Course as well as Glenelg Oval.

Up to 2010, Stormont was valued as the most expensive property in South Australia, fetching around $6.5 million at that time. The house is believed to have a total of 6 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, 2 kitchens and a lift, not to mention the heated in-ground pool and the tennis court. One can dream!

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
Stormont House

4. Albert Hall

Nearby, still along the seafront, Albert Hall mansion was built in 1878 for the then proprietor of "The South Australian Register", William Kyffin Thomas, who served in that role for around 25 years. Just as well the house was built over a large area, as the Thomas's went on to have a total of 9 children (six daughters and three sons).

Years later, the Victoriana mansion was converted into a hotel known as the Oriental and then finally restored and converted into 3 apartments. An arrangement can be made through the Holdfast Bay History Centre in collaboration with the owners of 2 of the apartments to view the interior, including the original entrance hall and the ballroom. The ballroom in its heyday could hold around 100 people.

Before it was converted into apartments, the home at one time had a massive 20 rooms and was 3 storeys high.

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
Albert Hall

5. Glenara

Venturing further along the south Esplanade, I discovered yet another stately home dating from 1873, built for William Hill,Glenara . The interesting fact about the ownership was that the Hill family owned the property right up until 1990, when they finally sold it. William Hill owned a flour mill and was a successful businessman as a result.

The appearance even today, is that of a fortress, with its distinctive tower and Italianate appearance. The garden has a European influence, with some plants grown, it is believed from seeds imported from Lebanon. Again the property is heritage listed.

From the appearance of the grand house and grounds, it has been well maintained, with workmen present on the day I visited, working on the garden. Back in 2005, the property fetched over a cool $5 million. Something to strive for! The art deco verandah was added in 1920 to add some much-needed protection from the wind and spray emanating from the nearby coast.

6. Alexandra Terrace

As the name suggests, this building is a great example of terrace housing dating right back to the 1870's, located on Moseley Street at Glenelg. The style is distinctly Victorian, being three storeys, with a long verandah along the front.

The building was originally built for Alexander Cunningham, and although some research has been carried out in the past to identify who Mr Cunningham was and what he did as a vocation, there is conflicting information as to who he was, as well as there being several people with the same name.

One theory expounded that Alexander was believed to have been a wealthy merchant who owned a substantial store in Rundle Street, Adelaide. Thomas English, of English and Soward were the architects of the building and Brown and Thompson were the builders.

During the early 1900's the property was made available for renters, with advertisements regularly appearing in the local media. When the house was first built, it consisted of 4 connected houses, of three storeys each and catering for both the family as well as servants.

The building has been on Local Heritage listing since 2001 and today houses a multicultural international hostel, known as The Backpackers, Glenelg Beach Hostel. It is a popular accommodation option for visitors, and has dorm rooms as well as catering for couples and rooms with triple beds.

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
Alexandra Terrace

7. St Andrews by the Sea Uniting Church

With its origins as a Congregational Church going back as early as 1848, St Andrews Uniting Church has had an interesting history, with the current foundation stone laid back in 1879. Fashioned in the Italian style with the Corinthian order, the Mintaro slate steps and foyer are still in use today.

The impressive organ on the interior boasts 1,068 pipes and 18 speaking stops, creating a unique sound during regular services.

It is quite surreal to discover the church on bustling Jetty Road adjacent to the many cafes and shops, however the dramatic architecture and presence exuded by the church, I think adds to the overall appeal of the area.

Regular services are held on Sundays at 9.30 am, and the church is open to the public from Mondays to Fridays between the hours of 10.30 am and 3 pm. There is also a friendship cafe on the premises, open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 am until 1 pm.

7 Top Historic Buildings in Glenelg
St Andrews by the Sea Uniting Church

Although Glenelg has certainly changed dramatically from its humble beginnings into a much more vibrant location, it is heartening to see that some of the heritage has survived for us all to enjoy and view.
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Why? Glenelg offers a great mix of both the new and contemporary as well as heritage
When: Any
Phone: 08 8229 9999
Where: Glenelg, South Australia
Cost: Dependent upon your plans
Your Comment
Great article!! I love Glenelg and it's beautiful old buildings
by Paula McManus (score: 3|3681) 1690 days ago
What a wonderfully detailed article- it is inspiring my next holiday.
by Jay Johnson (score: 3|1368) 1691 days ago
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