Friday, September 2, 2011

Avalon, New Farm

Not all older buildings are historical showpieces for the wealthy, and neither should they be. Here is a building that was constructed in 1929 that was built for the well-to-do but then provided cheap accommodation for the not-so-well off.(Photo:; Painting by Leslie Edwards, 2004)

"Avalon is an apartment building located at the crossroads of sleaze and affluence in Brisbane."

This is a quote from a book I discovered at my local library. The book is "Avalon: Art & Life of an Apartment Building", and the Avalon referred to is a block of flats in New Farm. The book was edited by Ricardo Felipe, himself an Avalon resident, and it is a collection of characters, stories and photographs of the flats. Many of the recent residents have been artists, and this web page gives an insight into the book and the exhibition that accompanied its launch a few years back. The book is an veritable treasure trove! The building was constructed with absolute luxury in mind, and has progressed through bohemian, sleazy, illegal and artistic incarnations since then.

Architect Robert Riddel lived opposite Avalon in his house La Scala for fifteen years. He describes the building as "an ambitious development" - it has 26 small flats (named alphabetically from A to Z), each about 40 sq m, and was probably the largest apartment building in Brisbane until the construction of Torbreck in the 1960s. After a fire that destroyed a boarding house and other dwellings, Avalon was constructed to a design by the architects of the city hall, Hall and Prentice. All flats have one bedroom with a kitchen and terrazzo-tiled bathroom, and a lounge area separated by a wall or curtains. The ceilings are of ornate plaster, the internal structure is Oregon and Silky Oak, and the internal walls are rendered brick. There is a long corridor down the centre of each of the two levels that is a full 6 feet (183 cm) wide.(Photo:

The site of the complex has been one of the most notorious spots in Brisbane. For many years the corner served as a drive-by prostitute pick-up place, and for a time there was a meth lab in Avalon itself. A couple of murders eventuated from the sordid streetwalker activity, but the place has largely been cleaned up in recent times.

The venerable building remains. Now a little run-down, with the ground floor shops being a burger bar and a laundromat, some elements of its inter-war style can still be seen. Conspicuously standing on a corner at the intersection where Fortitude Valley becomes New Farm, it has for years fascinated passengers who have passed by
in trams, buses or cars. And, as evidenced by Felipe's book, many are the stories it could tell!(Photo: © 2011 the foto fanatic)

Click here for a Google Map.



  1. "Not all older buildings are historical showpieces for the wealthy, and neither should they be." Isn't that the truth. Most homes and facilities for ordinary working families aren't considered worth saving.

    I wonder why these flats were built smallishly. One bedroom with a kitchen and bathroom, and a lounge area separated by a wall or curtains - enough for a single person or perhaps a young married couple with no children. Was Avalon not worth 2-bedroom flats?

  2. The flats were built by the Public Trustee acting for an estate. I think the idea was to provide fairly upmarket short-term accommodation. There was a private hospital next door at the time of construction, and perhaps they felt that they would cater for relatives of patients there - that may have influenced their decision to build small units.
    In any case, the Public Trustee was never able to make a decent return on the investment, and the building was sold by them within a reasonably short time.


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