Byron Hall has stood at 97-99 Macleay Street, at the corner of Hughes Street, for around 95 years.
We explore the history of this landmark Art Deco building.
A romantic beginning
Byron Hall has one of the most romantic names for an apartment block in our area. While the inspiration for the name remains unrecorded, it’s likely to be in honour of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron.
While it’s hard to imagine now, the 10-storey building was Australia’s second tallest apartment block when it was constructed.
Architect Claud Hamilton designed Byron Hall, and it was built in 1928 in the “inter-war classical freestyle”. According to heritage consultant Andrew Woodhouse, this style made use of classical features, with “Roman arches, proportionally-squared windows, [and] even a gold leaf palmette acroterion (a Grecian sculptural embellishment) emblazoned on its façade.”
The development trio: Hamilton, James and Gibson
Claude Hamilton was a prolific architect and one of Sydney’s major proponents of the classical style of architecture. Hamilton designed many other buildings in the area, including Savoy (1919), Regents Court (1926) and Sandringham (1932) on Springfield Avenue; Wirringulla (1927) and Kaloola (1927) in St Neot Avenue; Lakemount (1933) in Roslyn Gardens and St Johns Flats (1916); Versailles (1929) and Normandy on Darlinghurst Road; and Tennyson House (c.1928) in Farrell Avenue.
Hamilton was also once part of a formidable trio of developers along with Mr William Henry James and Ms Irene Beatrice Gibson. Together, they bought the site for Byron Hall for £11,250 in August 1926. But the partnership soured. The dispute between the former business associates reached the High Court in 1930, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting on proceedings.
It wasn’t the trio’s first foray into legal trouble either. A dispute with a neighbour on Farrell Avenue, where they had built Tennyson Hall (before selling it to fund Byron Hall), landed them in the court a few years earlier. Claud Hamilton had also been to court in 1927 over money he wanted to recover for making modifications to some apartments in Coogee.
A magnificent opportunity
As a result of these legal troubles, in December 1930, Byron Hall was offered for sale in its entirety. This was part of the “winding-up of the partnership of W.R. James, C. Hamilton and I.B. Gibson”.
An advertisement in the newspaper Daily Pictorial for the public auction described it as a “magnificent” building, “conveniently situated and possessing charming views over the harbour, parks, gardens and panoramic view of the whole city”:
“Byron Hall is a modern building, most faithfully built of brick… all floors throughout being concrete, woodwork polished maple… forty-two self-contained flats and caretaker’s quarters… five maids’ rooms, garage in basement for six cars, boiler room. Two electric lifts. The building is finished throughout in a high-class manner.”
A subsequent headline in the “Daily Pictorial” from 20 December 1930 reveals that Byron Hall was bought for £65,000:
“Offered at their rooms yesterday by Richardson and Wrench, Ltd., Byron Hall, well-known flat building in Macleay Street, Potts Point, was sold for £65,000. Mr. C. H. Crammond, managing director, was auctioneer, and brisk bidding, starting at £50,000, raised the price by £1000 and £500 offers.”
Interestingly, the new owner was William Henry James, one of the partners selling the building. He chose to live at Byron Hall with his wife (he also owned 95 Macleay Street a few doors away) and, until the 1950s, ran it as serviced apartments. Maids and a caretaker also lived on site.
Sydney’s newspapers regularly carried advertisements offering apartments for rent. This advertisement from 1933 didn’t exactly sell its many benefits in the same way we might today:
“MACLEAY STREET POTTS POINT
Unfurnished flat central heating frigidaire hot water inclusive
Office 99 Macleay Street”
Mr James was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1943 refuting claims that the apartments had issues with central heating or hot water. He said, “hot water was provided without interruption and central heating between 6 am and 8 am and 4 pm and 10 pm.”
James made his comments in response to the broader issues concerning the transportation of coke, which was commonly used in furnaces to heat apartment buildings. As winter hit that year, many Sydney buildings were without hot water and heating. Others, like Byron Hall, only had hot water or heating at certain times.
On 9 September 1952, Byron Hall was sold again – this time by Henry William James’ widow.
In very good company
Byron Hall is one of several buildings in our area that is still run under Company Title.
Company Title was the most popular system of ownership until Strata Title was introduced in the 1960s. Company Title differs from strata title in that an owner deals in shares rather than title.
When you buy into a company-titled building, an existing owner sells their shares to you. These shares are associated with a particular apartment in the building, giving you the right to occupy it, but are not in themselves a property title.
The directors of the building company get to decide if they believe the buyer (and sometimes even the tenant) is a fit and proper person to occupy the building (they don’t have any similar rights in strata-titled properties).
Company title was traditionally an issue for some lenders, who would typically provide home loans of only up to 80% of the property’s value, even with lender’s mortgage insurance. As a result, values in company-title buildings were once thought to rise more slowly, and buyers tended to offer less for them.
However, with today’s more competitive lending environment and property market, that’s no longer always the case. Apartments in Byron Hall are highly coveted.
Buy into Byron Hall today: Apartment 18
Apartment 18/97-99 Macleay Street is currently on the market. Its generous, semi-style layout is renovated to blend seamlessly with its original Art Deco character.
The apartment’s fifth-floor location captures local views, as well as stunning vistas of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and CBD and the coveted North-East aspect means it’s sunny, light and bright. It offers three bedrooms, a balcony, a gorgeous bay window in the living area, and one bathroom.
If you’re looking to buy or sell in Potts Point or Sydney’s East, contact my team today.