55 Victoria Street is a gracious freestanding house and the last home at the quiet end of this popular, leafy street.
Built circa 1875, it sits right next to the iconic McElhone Stairs built in 1903/4 (formerly called the Challis Stairs); next door is Embarkation Park, which provides stunning views across Woolloomooloo to the city; and just across the road is St Vincent’s College.
In terms of location, it really can’t get any better.
The makings of Victoria Street
55 Victoria Street stands on land granted to J Busby as part of Governor Darling’s colonial grants in the 1830s.
J Busby’s landholdings extended all the way to Woolloomooloo Bay, and “Rockwell” was built on the property (it still stands today).
An early, undated map of the area shows the beginning of subdivisions on the Woolloomooloo bayside. A not-yet-connected version of Victoria Street is visible.
In 1852, the land further up Victoria Street became part of a subdivision called the Tusculum Estate. “Estate of Dr Nicholson” and his residence, “Tarmons”, are marked close to where number 55 stands today. Tarmons (pictured here from 1845) was bought by the Sisters of Charity in 1856 and formed part of St Vincents before being demolished in the 1960s.
A map of R. Harnett’s landholdings from 1853, opposite Tarmons, shows that the land where 55 Victoria Street is today was then still part of Tarmons.
According to Wikipedia’s entry on the house, number 55 was constructed circa 1875 on a “steep, narrow parcel of land extending from Victoria Street to Brougham Street”, and the area to the north was “still largely covered with gardens and bush. Indeed, the area was described at the time as the ‘Regent’s Park of Sydney’.”
Heritage NSW says the home was built for Charles Elouis, the Deputy Master of the Royal Mint in Sydney. He was listed as the ratepayer on and off until he died in 1911. Charles was survived by his wife, Alice.
A Catholic Women’s Hostel
The Freeman’s Journal from October 1928 shows that the house at 55 Victoria Street went on to have a completely different life:
“His Eminence Cardinal Cerretti will bless and officially open the Catholic Women’s Hostel (No. 2), 55 Victoria St., Potts Point, on Saturday, 27th, at 3 p.m.”
The opening was quite an affair, with the hostel decorated with bowls of roses and lupins. The property had been purchased, and fundraising was underway to pay off the remainder owed. The event was written up in the Sydney Morning Herald the following Monday:
“Crowds thronged the steps leading up to the door of Rosmayne, the Catholic Women’s Association hostel at Victoria Street, Potts Point, on Saturday afternoon, when the building was opened and blessed by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Cerretti… The hostel, which was the second acquired by the association, had been opened prior to the Eucharistic Congress for the accommodation of visitors, and 100 guests had found a comfortable home within its walls during that time. It was now being used as a residence for Catholic women and girls and provided accommodation for 70… It was hoped to raise sufficient funds to construct a building five or six stories high, to accommodate three or four hundred persons… and it was hoped to bring a shipload of Catholic immigrants to Australia next year.”
As with many buildings in the area, people could rent 55 Victoria Street by the room (a practice that continued until 1970). A short advertisement from 1928 succinctly describes “VACANCIES” at the Catholic Women’s Association Hostel, No, 2, 55 Victoria St., Potts Point: “ALL HOME COMFORTS. Ring FL.1841.”
A building’s decline
By 1932, number 55 had changed hands and become a boarding house known as “Rosmoyne Flats”. An ad from 1933 lists all the mod cons: “Single furnished room, handy tram, ‘phone.”
However, by the time of the Second World War, the building had entered a very different era. A news report in the Daily Mirror carried the sensational headline “ ‘Sale’ of girls by woman denied”.
It documented court proceedings, where Superintendent Thompson of the NSW Vice Squad Thompson described it as a “house of assignation”.
The evidence of a resident, Mrs Brodie, claims that everything had been OK until “the advent of the Americans” who frequented Potts Point during the war:
“It was in February of 1944 that I reported the premises to the Vice Squad. The conditions were absolutely disgusting,” she said.
A photo taken from the bottom of the McElhone Stairs a few years later, in 1951, shows the back of number 55 with a forlorn description: “A high cliff frowns down on the ‘Loo. Tired old houses totter on the edge, look ready to drop.”
Until 1970, number 55 remained largely intact in its “authentic form”, according to Heritage NSW. However, between 1970 and 1981, it was vandalised while unoccupied and some of its “authentic detailing” was destroyed. A developer owned it at the time.
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald from 1981 quotes the then-director of the National Trust as saying Victoria Street was “Sydney’s Montmartre” but had become a “sad and crumbling site, being demolished by wilful neglect”.
The Herald depicted a very sad scene:
“The terraces from numbers 55 to 85 on the city side of the street stand behind a tall wire fence. But windows are smashed and torn out, doors have been removed, and saplings are growing out of wall cracks and floorboards in one building. The roof has been removed from at least one house, leaving it open to the weather.”
Plans existed for these buildings to be redeveloped into high-rise residential buildings, but the terraces had been empty since the battle to save the street in the early 1970s, part of the broader Green Bans movement in Sydney.
Thanks to a State Heritage Council Permanent Conservation Order on number 55 in 1981, the house was saved. An agreement was reached with developers to also restore the other terraces up to number 85.
In 1999, many years after its restoration, number 55 was placed on the State Heritage Register.
55 Victoria Street today
In August 2016, we sold 55 Victoria Street for $5.55 million.
In 2023, this updated four-bedroom, four-level home with stunning views and heritage features is now on the market again.
Victoria Street is a popular location, with houses here selling for a premium and breaking records. Increasingly, we’re seeing buyers push prices up, competing for a slice of inner-city lifestyle. Already this year, we’ve sold 99 Victoria Street for $6 million and 152 Victoria Street for $10.6 million.