We like to say that Potts Point and its surrounding suburbs is a bit like Sydney’s Soho.

And if you like the Soho warehouse vibe, you’ll love the fascinating history of the Riley Apartments, nestled partway between Potts Point and the CBD in Woolloomooloo, just off William Street.

Before the apartments: The Ford Motor Vehicle

The art deco-style building situated at 75 Crown Street, and 46-48 Riley Street, is truly one of Sydney’s icons. With frontages onto both Crown Street and Riley Street, the six-storey building takes up the whole city block, stretching along both Kennedy and Suttor Streets.

The building was designed especially for Hastings Deering Pty Ltd, whose name adorned the Riley Street side of the building (you can still see the outline if you look closely).

Hastings Deering was founded in 1932 by Sydney businessman and engineer Harold Hastings Deering and, at the time, was synonymous with one thing: the Ford motor vehicle. That’s because Hastings Deering was the sole metropolitan distributor for the Ford Motor Company in Sydney.

Henry Ford established Ford as a company in the US in 1903. Demand grew steadily for Ford vehicles, and Australia began producing Ford motor cars in the 1920s, originally in Victoria. By 1936, there was also a Ford assembly plant in Sydney’s west at Homebush.

Art Deco Modernist Design

In the mid-1930s, Deering purchased land just off William Street, which had been recently widened and was the major road from the city to the east. As a result, the position offered great exposure for his business.

Deering is said to have had a “keen interest in architecture and classics” and supervised the design of 75 Crown Street by architects Samuel Lipson and Peter Kaad (who later designed the Sebel Townhouse). It was constructed between 1936 and 1938 at a cost of $125,000. In 2020, the building changed hands for $100 million.

The State Library of NSW holds architectural plans for the building, which reveal a deceptively simple design created by horizontal bands. These alternate between smooth rendered walls and steel framed windows with rounded columns set back from the external walls, emphasising the sleek curved corners.

Notable at the time for technical features – including mushroom columns, waffle slab floors, and state-of-the-art pneumatic communication tubes – the distinctive building takes its inspiration from the European ‘Internationalist style’ and was home to car showrooms, workshops and office space.

The building was most famous for its internal system of banked spiral car ramps, which was very novel at the time. Cars could enter the building and move between the six floors, with the curved ramps tantalisingly visible from the outside through the steel windows.

Its modern design very much suited the product it sold: Henry Ford’s popular production line cars. It was described glowingly in a 1938 issue of Building:

“With no attempt at grandiose, this building may be regarded as an excellent example of modern commercial architecture. Straight forward, efficient – functional, if you like – it is admirably suited for the purpose … it undoubtedly adds an important new architectural contribution to the city of Sydney.”

On its completion, the building was photographed by Max Dupain both inside and out. It was awarded the 1938 Sulman Medal and an Honourable Mention (RAIA NSW).

Hastings Deering himself is said to have “kept a penthouse atop the company headquarters in William Street”. He also had a home at Homebush, a 70-acre farm at Castle Hill and a holiday house in the Blue Mountains.

A new life

Ford motor vehicles were incredibly popular in Australia. At one point, this iconic building – which became known as the City Ford building – was home to the largest individual Ford dealer in the world, handling 7,000 new and 12,000 used cars a year.

While they no longer sell Fords, the Hastings Deering company still exists today and is one of the world’s largest dealers of CAT vehicles. Deering first invested in the heavy earthmoving equipment in 1947.

Ford’s association with the building ended in 2012 when the building was converted into mixed-use commercial and residential occupancy. Its distinctive facade is heritage-listed by the National Trust and the NSW Heritage Council.

Alongside 22 apartments, which are accessed from a private entrance on Riley Street, it is also home to East Sydney Private Hospital, Wilson Parking and a Woolworths supermarket.

A unique offering: The Riley Apartments

We’re proud to be offering the redeveloped Riley Apartments to market. Their history, distinct chic industrial design and legacy mean no two loft-style apartments are the same.

Each has been individually redesigned to offer a unique blend of luxurious modern comforts and the character of heritage charm. All offer oak floorboards, and an abundance of storage space complemented by private courtyards and open-air terraces, most with secure undercover parking and storage cages. Each apartment offers high ceilings, art deco touches and great finishes. Some also have amazing views of the harbour and city.

The unbeatable location on the eastern city fringe –  just moments to the Botanic Gardens, the harbour foreshore and the pubs and restaurants of Woolloomooloo – provides huge lifestyle appeal and a quintessential inner city experience. 

You can see how bespoke and different each two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit is, by inspecting apartment 601, apartment 703 or the double-storey apartment 714. There are also stunning city views from apartment 501, an oversized one-bedroom plus study unit.

If you’re interested in making The Riley Apartments your home, get in touch today.

Article by Jason Boon

In a real estate market that is the focus of Australian, and indeed worldwide attention, Jason Boon's results in the Sydney scene make him a highly significant figure within the industry. A long-term specialist in the Potts Point and inner eastern suburbs area, he is uniquely placed to leverage his skills and local knowledge as the area undergoes significant change and diversification. Jason ha…