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.

tff

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