A peaceful cul-de-sac intersecting with Hughes and Manning Streets, Tusculum Street is part of the historically significant street layout that lies between Macleay Street and Victoria Street.
Today, it’s a sought-after Potts Point address with mature trees, gardens down its middle and gorgeous Art Deco and Federation architecture, but how much do you know about its past?
Join me on a walk down this charming street and explore its fascinating history.
How Tusculum Street came to be
In 1828, Governor Ralph Darling subdivided Woolloomooloo Hill (now Darlinghurst and Potts Point) into ‘town allotments’ and granted them to members of Sydney’s growing professional elite. The plan was to create an exclusive new neighbourhood of large homes with extensive gardens overlooking the city and the harbour for the emerging middle class.
Nine acres of premium land on Woolloomooloo Hill were granted to Alexander Brodie Spark, an educated Scottish free settler with a successful import and shipping business. He engaged colonial Sydney’s most in-demand architect, John Verge, to draw up plans and oversee the construction of a Regency-style villa called Tusculum. By the time construction started in 1831, Spark was experiencing financial pressure, so Tusculum took several years to build and wasn’t completed until 1835.
Spark never lived in Tusculum – he leased it to Australia’s first bishop, William Grant Broughton, in 1836. Not long after, Australia experienced a nationwide depression, and Spark was forced to sell the property in 1841. Following the sale, Tusculum’s grounds were subdivided for the first time, causing much disappointment for Bishop Broughton, who had worked extensively on developing the gardens.
The property was sold in 1848 to emancipist William Long, whose family owned the estate for the next 55 or so years. In 1903 and 1904, the Long family subdivided and sold off what remained of the Tusculum Estate, leading to the creation of Tusculum Street. City of Sydney archives include a record of a company called Gunton & Knox performing the work to construct Tusculum Street and Tusculum Lane in July 1904.
The classical origins of the name Tusculum
Tusculum’s namesake is a ruined Roman city about 10km outside of Rome. It was known in Roman times as the place where the aristocracy and noblemen, including Cicero and Lucullus, built their luxurious country villas. Alexander Brodie Spark had a literary education, which might explain why he chose this particular name for his villa just outside the fledgling city of Sydney.
The subdivision of Tusculum continues
A 1928 subdivision plan shows that the land that once belonged to the Tusculum Estate continued to be parcelled up and sold off well into the 20th century. Housing density in Potts Point was changing rapidly as the grounds of all the original villas of Woolloomooloo Hill were subdivided for flats and boarding houses. More flats were built in the City of Sydney than in any other metropolitan Sydney municipality in the 1920s.
This particular 1928 subdivision on Tusculum Street led to the construction of a series of apartment buildings along the eastern side of the street, all of which remain today as well-preserved examples of Sydney’s Art Deco architectural heritage. There is Welbeck Court, at 2 Tusculum Street, Buxton at 2b Tusculum Street, 4 Tusculum Street (which was a building of bedsit flats when first built in 1928), 10 Tusculum Street (built in 1936 and designed by leading architect of the day G. N. Kenworthy), and Macquarie at 12 Tusculum Street, which operated as a boarding house in the 1980s but today is an attractive apartment building.
What happened to the villa Tusculum?
After serving as a private hospital from 1928 to 1939 and a base for the American Red Cross during the Second World War, Tusculum fell into disrepair. The NSW government took control of the property in 1983, saving it from demolition, and leased it to the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA). The RAIA undertook an extensive restoration of Tusculum, which, together with Elizabeth Bay House and Rockwall, is one of only three John Verge-designed buildings still standing. Tusculum, whose address is 1-3 Manning Street, is now the headquarters of the NSW chapter of the RAIA and is used for professional, business and public events.
Tusculum Street today
Today, Tusculum Street is a charming leafy boulevard defined by its highly desirable apartment buildings and terraces that are much sought-after by Potts Point buyers, investors and renters alike.
1A Tusculum Street: Rockwall Gardens
Designed by Architects Johannsen Associates and built in the early 2000s, exclusive Rockwall Gardens features a stylish foyer with concierge, pool, sauna and gym. Several apartments in this pet-friendly building enjoy panoramic views of the harbour, including the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
5 Tusculum Street: Tusculum Gardens
In the early 20th century, a house was built at 5 Tusculum Street, with council records showing a garage for a motor car was added in 1919. The home was demolished in 1960 to make way for a car park for the nearby Chevron Hilton hotel. In 1968, a 5-storey building comprising 40 ‘bachelor apartments’ called Sarena Court was built on the site. In the early 2000s, these bedsits were converted to apartments, and the building is now known as Tusculum Gardens.
11 – 15 Tusculum Street
These handsome Federation terraces, built around the turn of the 20th century, line the western side of Tusculum Street. Number 11 was converted into four apartments in the early 1980s. Number 13 spent five years as a coffee lounge in the 80s, after which it became a backpacker’s hostel. It was restored to a single home in the 2000s. Meanwhile, number 15 was a boarding house in the 80s before reverting to a private residence in 1994.
17 Tusculum Street
We’ve had the pleasure of selling this stunning home, known as Ilari, several times over the last decade, most recently in 2020. Its meticulously restored Federation façade conceals a grand and graceful Smart Design Studio-conceived home full of soaring sunlit spaces, confident architectural forms and exquisite details. It’s no surprise it won a swag of architectural and design awards upon completion in 2011.
19 and 19a Tusculum Street: Kanimbla Hall
This distinguished nine-storey building, built in the 1930s, is a beautifully preserved example of Art Deco architecture. Occupying the corner block on Tusculum and Hughes Streets, the corner of the building’s façade is delightfully curved, and the window grilles, fences and gates feature a distinctive sunburst pattern. The western portion of Kanimbla Hall’s ground floor was home to a restaurant until the 1950s, and some of the apartments were let out for holiday rentals. In 1965, an application to turn the ground floor into ‘a high-class fashion salon similar to those operating in London and Paris’, complete with eight sewing machines, was rejected because it conflicted with the building’s residential zoning.
Thinking about buying, selling or investing on Tusculum Street or elsewhere in Potts Point? Get in touch with my team today.