Take a walk down Ithaca Road in Elizabeth Bay and explore its unique history with Jason Boon.
Ithaca Road is one of Elizabeth Bay’s most traversed streets, running from Elizabeth Bay Road to the harbourside at Beare Park and Elizabeth Bay Marina.
But even though you may have taken Ithaca Road many times, how much do you really know about it?
Join me on a short walk down this interesting road and discover more about its history…
Fishing on the harbour
Aboriginal people occupied Elizabeth Bay/Gurrajin, fishing and camping in what is now Beare Park at the bottom of Ithaca Road.
In 1820, Governor Lachlan Macquarie decided to establish a village there called “Elizabeth Town”, in an attempt to encourage the local Indigenous community to become more settled as fisher-farmers. The experiment didn’t last long, according to the website Sydney Barani. By 1824, the village was abandoned.
In 1826, Beare Park and Ithaca Road were both granted to Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay as part of the Elizabeth Bay Estate. This caused some controversy, with editorials in Sydney’s media expressing concern about the giving away of Crown land and an Indigenous settlement.
Within the next five years, however, Macleay had turned much of the site into a private botanic garden (using convict labour), something that had The Sydney Gazette gushing with praise for its “elegant carriage road and picturesque walks”.
Dairy farming in Elizabeth Bay
By 1877, Ithaca Road was best categorised as semi-rural. Small farms dotted the eastern side of the street, while there were small housing blocks on the western side, intersected by Billyard Lane (now Billyard Avenue).
William Godworth and his wife, Hannah, owned a dairy on Ithaca Road. Their name also appears on an 1882 subdivision map of Elizabeth Bay.
Other landowners along the road included the Backhouses – Benjamin Backhouse was a notable architect and social reformer who tried to clear Sydney’s slums. His son Alfred Paxton Backhouse (born 1851) became a Senator at the University of Sydney and Supreme Court Judge – although he was criticised by many for his perceived leniency.
Another family on Ithaca Road were the Woolcotts. Charles Woolcott became Sydney’s Town Clerk. He gave his name to Woolcott Street, which later became Kings Cross Road.
Beautiful Beare Park
Nestled at the very end of Ithaca Road, Beare Park is one of our favourite places in Sydney’s inner city.
The seawall that borders the park was built in 1901 as part of a reclamation strategy to create new parkland. However, the octagonal pool may date back to the 1870s, with the spray fountain added in 1954.
The most ornate feature in this small park, the canopy fountain, is one of a group of eight highly detailed drinking fountains brought from Glasgow in 1870.
The name: A Greek Epic?
Ithaca (Ithaki) is an island in Greece. Situated in the Ionian islands, it is referred to in Homer’s eighth-century epic, the Odyssey. While it’s unclear how Ithaca Road got its name, this is its most likely source. It’s also how the city of Ithaca in New York State, USA, got its name.
2 Ithaca Road: Kings Lynn
During the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco apartments sprang up in Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay, and Ithaca Road was no exception. To accommodate the growing traffic from this construction, between 1939 and 1940, the council widened the road.
One of the apartment buildings that was constructed during this period was Kings Lynn: a coveted character-filled 1930s building with a stellar location opposite Beare Park and the Elizabeth Bay Marina.
Number 2A: Winston Flats
Named in honour of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Winston Flats was constructed during the 1930s in the modern functionalist style. It is notable for its curved windows and balconies.
Number 4: the Ithaca building
We recently sold 30/4 Ithaca Road, a character-filled, renovated two-bedroom apartment in this Art Deco block. Offering splendid harbour views, it has a coveted position in the Ithaca Building.
Paris in Elizabeth Bay: 5 Ithaca Road
Facing the park on the other side of Ithaca Road, number 5 is a boutique Parisienne-style apartment in a unique block of just three apartments. It was re-designed by Richards Stanisich to honour its 1926 origins. A larger heritage apartment block stands next door, at number 7 Ithaca Road.
6-8 Ithaca Road: Chatsbury
Another classic Art Deco apartment building, Chatsbury, was completed in 1939. It features a unique range of architectural features from the era, including a castellated roofline and semi-circular balconies with amazing brickwork.
Number 9: A former home for the NSW Linnean Society
Ithaca Road was once home to Linnean Hall, visible in this old map on the corner of Billyard Avenue where 9 Ithaca Road stands today (and has done for almost a century, as this old photo from 1939 shows).
Alexander’s love of natural history seemed to run in the family. The Linnean Society, which was founded in 1874, took the tagline “‘Natural History In All Its Branches”.
Several trees from the grounds of Linnean Hall are believed to remain today, including an old avocado and mango tree near the entry gate. Behind the Linnean Hall, a separate “taxidermical museum” is also marked on this old subdivision map of the Macleay Estate from 1882.
The new kid on the block: Billyard Ave
On the high side of Ithaca Road’s intersection with Billyard Avenue is the newest development in the street’s long history. Due for completion in mid-2024, Billyard Ave is a boutique block of nine oversized apartments, each featuring four bedrooms and four bathrooms.
12 Ithaca Road: Harry Seidler’s Ithaca Gardens
Designed by modernist architect Harry Seidler, who lived here for seven years with his wife Penelope, Ithaca Gardens remains as coveted today as it was when it was built in 1960.
Ithaca Gardens won the NSW Architecture and Arts Award after its construction and is known for its distinctive ‘folded’ entrance canopy, light and bright apartments and panoramic harbour views.
The towers of Ithaca Road: The Reef and Marana Buildings
The Reef, at number 19, and the Marana Building, at number 27, are mid-century modern, higher rise, and home to a range of apartments, including popular studios.
If you’re looking to buy or sell in Potts Point or Elizabeth Bay, contact my team today.