Monday, November 30, 2015

Grosvenor Hotel, George St

Brisbane architect JR Hall designed this hotel, and it was erected in 1881-2 in the then increasingly popular George St. Its position on the corner of Ann St was close to the magnificent Supreme Court building of the day, and no doubt the court system contributed plenty of customers.

(Photo: SLQ 43455)

The hotel still stands and is still operating as a hotel, although I doubt that JR Hall could have envisaged the changes that have taken place. The roof line has been changed and, as with many of our older hotels, the lovely wrought iron balconies have been removed. I wonder who could possibly think that large air-conditioning units would look better than a balcony with wrought iron features.

And the exterior changes aren't the only ones that may have flummoxed JR Hall if he suddenly re-appeared in Brisbane. "Cold Beer Hot Girls" says the main sign above the awning. Yes, the Grosvenor promotes itself as having Brisbane's only topless bar. Other signs saying "Showbar" and "Gentlemen's Club" are also prominent, leaving us all in no doubt as to the type of establishment it is. Far be it for me to pass judgement on this place, but I am surprised that a T&A venue could operate so prominently in today's ultra politically correct environment.
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, November 23, 2015

McDonnell & East, George St

Brisbane seemed to have an abundance of department stores when I was growing up. We have previously looked at TC Beirne's and McWhirters in the Valley, and today's story is similar in many respects. Francis (Frank) McDonnell arrived in Australia in 1886 after having served an apprenticeship as a draper in his native Ireland.

McDonnell worked in the drapery businesses of Finney Isles and also Edwards & Lamb before establishing McDonnell & East in 1901 at a George St premises with another Irish immigrant, Hubert East. Initially they were assisted financially by the Godfather of George St, fellow Irishman Peter Murphy, the owner of the nearby Transcontinental Hotel and a well-known politician and businessman.

By 1911 this firm of importers, cash drapers, tailors, outfitters, dressmakers and milliners was doing well enough to erect its own premises and land in George St was purchased for this purpose. A three-storey building was designed for the company by TR Hall. The new building was called the White Store to differentiate it from the original leased premises and here is a photograph of it from around 1950.    
(Photo: SLQ 111988)

The firm of McDonnell & East continued to prosper through the early twentieth century and George St became a popular shopping precinct, no doubt aided by the advent of the trams to the area as well as the nearby railway station. The firm became a public company in 1920. By this time the sons of the founders were working in the business and were able to continue to manage the firm after Frank McDonnell and Hubert East died within six months of each other in 1928.
(Photo: DBHKer)

When Brisbane lost its tram network in 1969, McDonnell & East suffered a loss of custom and to counter this the company erected a large car park to counter the parking on offer at the burgeoning drive-in shopping centres. It became the largest car park in the CBD.

In 1984 an investment company became the majority shareholder in McDonnell & East and set out on an expansion and acquisition strategy that was ultimately a failure. Large sums of money were spent trying to re-position the brand but this over-capitalisation and recessionary times led to insolvency. McDonnell & East closed the doors of its Brisbane building in 1994.  
(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

The building was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1997 and won an Australian Property Institute excellence in property award for heritage property in 2007. It still stands in George St (above) with some retail tenants on the ground floor but there are "For Lease" signs showing above.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Inglis Tea Building, Adelaide St

Over the weekend the beautiful mrs tff and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary and to mark that milestone we went to one of our favourite CBD restaurants, e'cco bistro. And co-incidentally that restaurant is housed in the building we are discussing today.

Firstly, a few words about the restaurant - not a review as such, but more of a recognition of its local importance. Chef Philip Johnson opened the restaurant in 1995, a time when Brisbane was hardly overrun with excellent eateries. In 1997 Johnson won the prestigious Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the Year and since then Philip Johnson and the restaurant have won a shedload of awards and Johnson has also knocked out six best-selling cookbooks. Philip Johnson is really a pioneer of the modern Brisbane food scene and has set a very high standard for local restaurateurs to emulate. Here's one person's view of Brisbane's current culinary capability.

The building that houses the restaurant dates back to 1919 and it was constructed as an office and warehouse for the tea merchants, James Inglis & Co. Situated right at the end of Adelaide St at the Boundary St corner, the site was close to the river and the Petrie Bight wharves, a definite advantage for the transferring of tea chests onto and off ships. This photo shows the Boundary St frontage of the building.

The name Inglis may not mean much to people these days, but most would have heard of their branded teas - Billy Tea and Goldenia Tea.

 (Photos: National Library of Australia)  

And this is the man behind the tea - James Inglis, a Scot who arrived in Australia around 1877 via New Zealand and India.
(Photo: nla.pic-an24219595-v)

Inglis's ties to India gave him the opportunity to promote Indian tea at the Sydney International Exhibition in 1880 and he went on to become the agent for the Indian Tea Association of Calcutta, before partnering with WP Brown to form Inglis, Brown & Co in 1883. That partnership was dissolved in 1887 and James Inglis & Co came into being. By 1893 the company was handling over 1,000,000 lbs (about 453,400 kg) of packaged tea per annum. Inglis was obviously a marketing devotee - he purchased the rights to "Waltzing Matilda" in order to wrap the words around each packet of Billy Tea. In fact the version of the song that is heard today stems from the rewrite commissioned by Billy Tea in 1903.

But it was not only tea for which Inglis is remembered. An accomplished and industrious man, he was a politician, a director of several companies, a writer and supporter of the arts. He died in 1908.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Gordon & Gotch Building, Adelaide St

The digital revolution is well and truly upon us.

Television used to be the principal way entertainment was consumed in the home - these days you can stream anything from books to music to films and television shows at any time, right to your personal device for you to use at your leisure.

It's a long, long way from the way television appeared when it first arrived. It was only broadcast for a few hours daily, and it was very low resolution black and white images with viewing options being only a couple of stations.

Children in those days had to entertain themselves in different ways to the ways available today. These days if you ask kids if they'd like to play a game they head for their PlayStations whereas games in the past might have been draughts (checkers), Scrabble or Monopoly.

Another form of entertainment was comics. Here I'm not talking about cartoons on film or television, but magazines that usually set out a visual story-line using hand-drawn scenes.

Just as there currently seems to be a deal of criticism of computer games in terms of distracting or even corrupting today's children, there used to be similar criticism about comics. Many adults had the opinion that extensive reading of comics would result in their child becoming a delinquent. In my childhood neighbourhood many of us had comic collections and we would get together to swap titles in order to increase access. It was a hot trading environment too - popular titles could command a higher swap rate, as could the latest editions or special issues. Similarly, torn covers and missing pages would be marked down, so there was a lot for the young trader to be wary of. Here are some of the favoured titles of the day.

Many of the comic titles that were available in Australia in those days were imported from overseas, and the main importer was the Melbourne firm of Gordon & Gotch. John Gotch arrived in Australia in December 1853 chasing gold. That was unsuccessful and Gotch found himself selling newspapers for Alexander Gordon, an association which grew into a partnership. When Gordon retired in 1859 and returned to his native Scotland, Gotch bought his share and continued the business which by then was the main importer of newspapers and magazines from Britain.

Branches in Sydney and London followed, and in 1875 Gordon & Gotch opened a Brisbane branch. The business continued to flourish, being incorporated in 1895 and listed in 1897. The six-storey building below was erected in Adelaide St in 1926-7, and the size of the structure is an indication of how successful the company had become.
(Photo: BCC)

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

The building is still standing in Adelaide St, populated with commercial tenants. Gordon & Gotch left the building in 1957 but they are a continuing player in the world of printed media, distributing more than 130 million items each year. They are now part of the PMP Group.

Click here for a Google Map.


Monday, November 2, 2015

JPC Building, George St

While today's post will have the usual discussion points around people and buildings, an outdated item of ladies underwear will also feature prominently. What underwear exactly?

Of course - it's corsets. 

Put your hand up if you have never seen a corset. Leave it up if you don't know what a corset is. Just as I thought - not too many of us have a clue! I do remember advertisements for corsets in Women's Weekly and in newspapers; also my mother had undergarments that she referred to as "step-ins" that were corsets. In the 1950s she wouldn't go into town without wearing a hat, gloves and, under a smart dress, a corset that also held up her stockings!

This isn't the forum (and indeed I don't have the space) to discuss corsets at length. Suffice it to say that a corset is an undergarment for females designed to enhance a woman's figure. Some corsets were medical devices that provided support for the spine, but the majority were worn for aesthetic reasons. If you want more information than that, here is a link to a Wikipedia article and below is an advertisement that shows you what they looked like.
(Photo: nlapic-vn6255300)

And why is it that I am talking about corsets at all? Well, there are a couple of buildings that we are looking at today that are closely involved with the manufacture of corsets. And there is one rather extraordinary woman involved, too.

Firstly this building - a house on Ipswich Rd at Annerley. Unfortunately it no longer exists, but in its day it was quite spectacular. The photograph dates from 1910.
(Photo: JOL 601977)

The house was named Huntingtower, and between 1920 and 1958 it was the home of Mrs Sarah Ann Jenyns, who was a Brisbane corset manufacturer. The man at the front door is William Hood, a former owner who is not connected to today's story.

Sarah Jenyns (née Thompson) was born in New South Wales in 1865, married Ebenezer Randolphus Jenyns in 1887 and moved to Brisbane in 1896. They had eight children, and things were tough for this large family initially. Ebenezer made cutlery and surgical instruments, but preferred to expend most of his energy preaching the gospel as a part-time evangelist. At the start Sarah assisted in her husband's business but in 1911 she commenced her own business making surgical instruments, corsets and belts. In fact Sarah patented a series of corsets designed for various body shapes and she travelled overseas marketing them.

And this is the second building - it was designed by architects Chambers & Powell, built for Sarah Jenyns in 1916, and still exists on George St in the CBD, right next to the BAFS Building. If you look closely you might see the initials JPC in a logo on the pediment - they stand for Jenyns Patent Corsets, Mrs Sarah Jenyns's corset manufacturing business. This addition to her business was finalised after her recovery from a stroke. 

(Photo: © 2015 the foto fanatic)

Although her business was moving along smoothly, the same cannot be said about Sarah's family life. Ructions developed through the 1920s as Ebenezer handed his business to son John and Sarah was joined in her business by another son, Herbert. It appears that Ebenezer was more interested in preaching on street corners than running a large business, but Sarah was able to grow her own business into a leading company that survived for almost a hundred years. Some of the children were aligned with their father and others with their mother.

During WWII Jenyns had large contracts with the army and navy, and in 1946 Herbert became managing director. Unfortunately, not long after, Sarah's health was affected by dementia and she was placed under a protection order. The divided family was to cause further problems - disaffected family members prompted the Public Curator to initiate proceedings against Herbert, alleging undue influence over his mother during a business transaction. The case was won by Herbert on appeal, and it became a precedent in the areas of undue influence and unconscionable conduct. Herbert continued to run the business and branched into foundation garments and underclothing. The Jenyns factory at Ipswich employed over 1100 machinists at its peak. In the 1960s Herbert, by then a millionaire, sold the business to the well-known Triumph brand.
(Photo: Whiteheads via

Sarah died at Huntingtower in February 1952. But that's not the end of her story.

In July 2014 Sarah, pictured below, was elected to the Queensland Business Hall of Fame. This is what was said about her at her induction:

The early hardships she had experienced forged an independent spirit with a can-do attitude making her one of the few significant business women of the early 20th century. She created a business involving four generations that lasted nearly 100 years and a product that continues to be produced in Brisbane today in line with her original patent. Sarah Jenyns will always be remembered as a courageous, astute and creative business leader.

Click here for a Google Map.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...