Challis Avenue is one of Potts Point’s grandest streets.
It’s only short, running from Macleay Street to Victoria Street, but it’s home to some of the finest examples of architecture from past eras.
Join me on a short walk down this interesting tree-lined avenue and discover more about its history…
The making of Challis Avenue
Challis Avenue takes its name from John Henry Challis, a successful merchant in the mid-nineteenth century.
According to the Dictionary of Sydney, Challis was born in England in 1806, emigrated to Australia in 1829, and was a “merchant and philanthropist who made his fortune selling wool and other merchandise”.
Over time, he became a prominent property owner. In 1850, he purchased Adelaide Cottage – one of 17 original allotments in the area – from its second owner, ex-soldier Thomas Shadforth.
Colonial architect and engineer, Edward Hallen, had designed Adelaide Cottage for surgeon Henry Gratton Douglass, on land he had been granted in 1828.
Alongside his property at Potts Point, Challis also ran cattle and sheep stations in southern New South Wales. He lived at Adelaide Cottage until he returned to England in 1855, after which it was rented to his business partner, Alexander MacDonald (nearby McDonald Street was named after him).
Challis was known for his generous donations to the fledgling University of Sydney (the Challis Professorship continues to this day), which helped build it into the colony’s finest academic institution. On his death in France in 1880, he left the university around 250,000 pounds (the equivalent of over $32 million today).
The people at the university were so impressed by this act of generosity that they named Challis House at the University of Sydney in his honour.
In 1888, Challis’s tenant MacDonald died, and his estate in Potts Point was sold by the Trustees to The Australian Mutual Investment and Building Company Ltd. Sadly, Adelaide Cottage was demolished, and the grounds prepared for subdivision.
In 1889, 45 residential sites were auctioned from the Challis Estate between Macleay and Victoria Streets. Many fronted the brand-new Challis Avenue and McDonald Street. The terms were a “10% deposit; 15% in three months (without interest)” followed by the “balance in three yearly payments”, with interest of 6%.
In 1893, another 17 “city sites” on the Challis Estate were sold off on this subdivision plan.
Both subdivisions show a wide leafy street lined with trees, very similar to the Avenue we have today.
Here are some of the landmarks you’ll see on Challis Avenue today.
St Vincent’s College
Standing on the corner of Challis Avenue is St Vincent’s College. The school has its main entrance on Victoria Street and its back door on Rockwall Crescent.
St Vincents is the oldest registered Catholic girls’ school in Australia. It was originally founded in 1858 as the co-ed Victoria Street Roman Catholic School by the Sisters of Charity. It re-opened in 1882 as a private independent girls’ school (after St Vincent’s Hospital moved to Darlinghurst).
Historic hotels and terrace houses
The 1892 Federation Queen Anne-style property at 8 Challis Avenue was one of the original mansions on the street. Operating as a famous, 14-roomed private hotel since the 1980s, Simpsons recently closed. In 2020, it sold for $12.5 million and has returned to being “Killountan”, a private residence.
On the other side of the road, the ornate Victorian terraces Byrock (Number 21) and Uralla (Number 23) were built around 1893 for James Gilchrist, a master plumber. Today, these heritage buildings have been restored as boutique accommodation and form Hotel Challis.
Next door at 25 Challis Avenue is a private residence called “Highclere”, part of a row of large 1800s terraces. We sold the renovated 1890s terrace “Saraville” at 29 Challis Avenue in 2016, for what was, at the time, the record-breaking price of $13 million.
Art Deco on Challis Avenue
Challis Avenue is home to a unique row of art deco apartment buildings. These begin with the Esquire building at number 10, which is home to 21 apartments, many with city views. Its neighbours at 10A, 10B and 10C offer a host of smaller art deco apartments. These are always popular with buyers thanks to the Avenue’s amazing yet leafy location in the “Parisienne” end of Potts Point.
At its Macleay Street end, Challis Avenue is also home to several of our area’s best restaurants. At 12-16 Challis Avenue is Fratelli Paradiso (the award-winning architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer designed this building which also contains six unique apartments). Meanwhile, Fei Jei stands across the road at number 31.
If you’re looking to buy or sell in Potts Point or Elizabeth Bay, contact my team today.