Monday, September 29, 2014

Blenheim House, New Farm

Perched high on a hill this 127 year-old residence would have had superb views of the New Farm/Teneriffe area and the Brisbane River on its completion.

It was called Blenheim by its owner, JG Johnson, a civil engineer who owned the property until its sale in 1893.

The following images of the interior of the house known by that time as Dalveen, consisting of 12 rooms and a garage, were taken for a later sale of the house in 1922 and show the opulence of the residence.
(Photo: JOL 186908)

This description of the property is from the real estate listing of a more recent sale:
"This majestic colonial residence was built in 1887. Set high on the hill, with commanding street presence and views over the suburb, this house is one of New Farm's most admired residences.

Blenheim House features wide open verandahs opening onto landscaped lawns and gardens. Plaster internal walls are rarely found in timber houses, which clearly sets this home apart from its peers. 2 marble fireplaces, wide hallways and arches, separate sittings room and dining room all add to the grandeur and spaciousness of this property. If land is what you're craving, then this 1,037 (over 40 perches) will satisfy your heart. A salt water pool has been added to entertain your children.

The sale of this property will cause great interest, so interested parties should contact this agent as soon as possible."

The house is now listed on the Brisbane City Council Heritage Register, and this is their photograph from 2011.
 (Photo: BCC)

The house itself is a bit harder to see these days as it is surrounded by a growing hedge, but it nonetheless remains an attractive addition to the area.

(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Scott St Flats, Kangaroo Point

 In a recent post about John Oxley we heard the name of Professor FWS Cumbrae-Stewart, who was one of the founders of the Queensland Historical Society. It was he who was largely responsible for the first memorial commemorating Oxley's landing at North Quay.

The professor's full name was Francis William Sutton Cumbrae-Stewart, and he was a New Zealand-born lawyer and academic who lived in Brisbane from 1898-1936. In 1925 he was the founder and first president of the Historical Society, in 1926 he became a professor of law and in 1927 was made King's Council.

Cumbrae-Stewart married his wife Zina in 1906, and she was as active as her husband - she belonged to at least 20 community and charitable organisations and was on the executive of many.

In 1924 Zina Cumbrae-Stewart commissioned a design for a two-storey block of flats to be built in Scott St Kangaroo Point. The architect she chose for this task was Elina Mottram, the first woman to open an architectural practice in Queensland. The flats were constructed in 1925 as an investment for the Cumbrae-Stewarts who at that time lived quite nearby in Main St Kangaroo Point. The Cumbrae-Stewarts moved into the flats in 1930 prior to Professor Cumbrae-Stewart's retirement in 1936. Upon his retirement they moved to Melbourne to be nearer to their only child, a son. Francis Cumbrae-Stewart died in 1938 at the age of 73, and Zina Cumbrae-Stewart lived until 1956, passing away a month before her 88th birthday.

Here are Francis and Zina pictured sometime around the time of their retirement.
 (From 5745 Cumbrae-Stewart Family Papers 1906-1983 via

The flats overlook a small park and the Brisbane River, and were designed with French doors, bay windows and balconies to optimise the views. Here is a photograph.
 (Photo: Queensland Government; 2009)

The flats, known as the Scott St Flats, remained a family investment for decades after the deaths of Francis and Zina. That they survive today is almost a miracle, given the appetite developers have for land in that area.  The listing on the state government heritage register would be assisting in that regard. Here is a current image of the flats together with a picture showing off the splendid view.

(Photos: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

Across the road at 1 Scott St is a relatively new and totally opulent apartment building boasting 12 apartments over 15 floors, all with magical views across the Brisbane River to the city. There was some antagonism against the development initially, mainly because the developer wanted to buy the street from the state government and local citizens were concerned about loss of amenities in the area.
(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic) 

Thankfully that idea was kyboshed by the government. The initial pricing structure for the new apartments was kyboshed too, with buyers merely forking out single-digit millions rather than sums of $12-15 million as was originally forecast

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Cliveden Mansions, Spring Hill

The history of this humble boarding house in Spring Hill concerns two widows - one who built the house as her residence, and one who, out of necessity, converted the property into a boarding house. This is a current photograph.

(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic) 

The building is now called Cliveden Mansions and it is included on the Queensland Heritage Register. The original house erected here was named Chippendale and it was built circa 1889 for Mrs Selina Forth who moved in in 1890. Prior to that Mrs Forth was resident at Stanley Hall, Clayfield; a magnificent house previously seen in these pages. Unfortunately both Mrs Forth's 20 year-old daughter Clara, and her husband John Forth, a prominent produce agent in Brisbane, died within the family's first couple of years at Stanley Hall, prompting Mrs Forth's move into Spring Hill.

Mrs Forth passed away in 1911 and in 1913 the property was sold to Mrs Pauline Eschenhagen, a well-known restaurateur and caterer. The Eschenhagen family owned Chippendale until 1949, although they changed the name of the property to Cliveden Mansions in 1941. The following photograph shows the house around that time.
(Photographic collection, Queensland State Archives)

Pauline Eschenhagen was the widow of Karl Ernst Eschenhagen (known as Ernst), a baker originally from Crossen/Oder, Germany, who established one of Brisbane's best hospitality businesses in the late 19th century. It is said that Eschenhagen begged Morrow"s Biscuit Factory for a bag of sugar and a bag of flour to start his George St bakery that subsequently spawned branches in Edward St and Fortitude Valley and then a Queen St restaurant that could seat almost 500 diners. Ernst Eschenhagen was a celebrated baker, restaurateur and caterer who could boast that some of Brisbane's elite citizens, including successive governors of Queensland, were his customers. Here is a picture of his staff at a picnic in 1898.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #183931)

Things turned nasty for the Eschenhagens though. As a result of Australia's involvement in the Boer War anti-German sentiment run rampant, leading to a boycott of the Eschenhagen business. Judge William Shand wrote "before the war no more a popular and prosperous caterer was to be found in Brisbane... But his shop is a desert and picnics and jaunterings know him no more."

The business slowly recovered after the Boer War, but Ernst Eschenhagen took his own life in 1906. His sister-in-law, Pauline's younger sister Berthe, put that down to "too much debt, from too much wine and women", but who knows what part was played by the hatred endured during the war years.

Pauline Eschenhagen continued to run the business with the help of her son Karl (Charles). But the prospect of a second round of racial bigotry during WWI was too much - she sold the business in 1915 and used the proceeds to hire the original architect of Chippendale, GHM Addison, to design a large extension that allowed the property to be leased out as a boarding house.

Cliveden Mansions continues in use as a boarding house today.

Reference: "The Eschenhagens: Saga of a Celebrated Family", HJ Summers
                  "Berthe's Story: Tales of a Grandmother", Doreen Wendt-Weir via

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Metropolitan Motor Inn, Spring Hill

(Photographic collection, Queensland State Archives)

(Photo: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

I prefer the earlier look - what do you think?

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Main Roads Department Building, Spring Hill

It's more than a little confronting when a building that you recall being constructed turns up on the Heritage Register. I suppose that it's a result of Australia's relative youth that buildings younger than I am are recognised and protected in this way. I am reminded of the comment of a visiting Middle Eastern archeologist being shown the heritage listed City Hall. He asked when it was built. When told that it was erected in 1930 he remarked "My mother is older than that!" Everything is relative to your own perspective.

I had similar feelings when I discovered that the Main Roads Department Building in Spring Hill had been added to the state's heritage pages. I remember the construction of the building in the sixties and its opening in 1967. In fact a classmate who was a whiz at technical drawing got a job there as a draftsman.

Here is the earliest photograph of the building that I could find. Taken by well-known heritage photographer Richard Stringer in 1968, the image counterpoints the Modernist Main Roads building with the Spring Hill workers' cottages that surrounded it then. 
(Photo: © Richard Stringer; 1968)

The building was designed by Dr Karl Langer, an Austrian-born immigrant who became one of Brisbane's foremost architects and it was built by the prominent Brisbane firm of CP Hornick & Son Pty Ltd - a firm that also constructed the Brisbane Taxation Office, the Centenary Pool and the JD Story Building at the University of Queensland. Here is their photograph of the completed Main Roads Building.

Karl Langer was born in Vienna in 1903 and his early training occurred there. He was admitted to the Vienna School of Fine Arts in 1923 and graduated in 1928. After years of further part-time study he became a civil architect in 1931 and a Doctor of Art History in 1933. He began a small practice in 1934 and his work was well received; however, the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism were detrimental to further success. Langer had married in 1932 to Gertrude, a fellow art student who was Jewish. They foresaw the terrible times ahead and slipped out of Austria, escaping to Australia via Greece. They landed in Sydney in 1939. Finding work scarce in Sydney, Karl and Gertrude moved to Brisbane where they settled. Their European sophistication and their knowledge of architecture and art soon had them placed at the centre of Brisbane's nascent art scene. In fact Gertrude became the art critic for the Courier-Mail and Karl lectured in architecture st the University of Queensland. The true scope of Langer's work and his cultural influence is greater than space here allows, but suffice to say that he designed some of the state's most important buildings - Lennon's Hotel Broadbeach on the first canal development on the Gold Coast; Lennon's Hotel Toowoomba; Kingaroy Town Hall and Civic Square; Ipswich Girls' Grammar School Assembly Hall; and many more. He was also involved in the selection of the site for the Sydney Opera House. After his death in 1969 both the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology inaugurated prizes commemorating him and his work.   
(Photo: © GF De Gruchy; 1988)

The construction of the Main Roads building allowed the department's work force to be aggregated at the one site rather than being scattered. More than 1250 employees from eight different offices were moved there after the building was completed. At the time it was considered to be a state-of-the-art workplace with modern appointments and the latest business equipment - even including a computer.

What is its current fate? The restructured Department of Transport and Main Roads vacated the building in 2012 and it was sold in December 2013 for $22 million to a developer who plans to turn it into a luxury hotel/apartment complex, apparently to cost a further $155 million or so. 

This is how it looks today.

(Photos: © 2014 the foto fanatic)

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