Looking out over Sydney Harbour from a prime waterfront position, Toft Monks is known as one of Elizabeth Bay’s most desirable addresses.

But before the apartment building’s construction, a grand mansion stood here that was home to the makers of Australia’s most expensive wine.

A home on Elizabeth Bay

Toft Monks, a large 19th century mansion, once graced the land where the apartment building of the same name stands today.

A two-storey villa was built on the site around 1880 by a banker called Holt, and named Toft Monks, possibly after the village of the same name in Norfolk, in the East of England. The property was then bought by one John Hunter, who added a third floor, a pool, ferneries and a rose garden.

The Hunter family were friends with the Horderns, with some of the Hordern clan attending the wedding of Hunter’s daughter, Nellie, at St Mary’s Cathedral in July 1903.
Then in December 1923, another owner strode confidently across the threshold of Toft Monks.

Wine, wheels and watercolours

Gladys Penfold Hyland was by all accounts a businesswoman to be reckoned with, at a time when few women were admitted to Australian boardrooms.

Marrying into the famous Penfold wine family in 1921, Gladys and her husband Frank bought Toft Monks in 1923. They wasted no time in making it the cultural epicentre of Sydney.

Gladys filled the house with antiques, which were said to number in the hundreds. Among the collection were an original Queen Anne walnut chair and various priceless Chinese antiques. They also displayed many paintings throughout the home, including three works by John Everett Millais, a Gainsborough, four Turners and one work dating to 1634.

Toft Monks was often mentioned in the city’s newspapers while owned by the Penfold Hylands. The couple were renowned hosts – during the 1920s and 1930s they held cocktail parties, race week parties, garden and dinner parties, and dances.

But they also had a strong philanthropic side, with many fundraising events, often for the Red Cross, held at Toft Monks.

In 1937, The Bulletin wrote of one of these events:

“The smart function of the Rawson Institute Appeal Week was the dance at Toft Monks, the Penfold Hyland home at Elizabeth Bay. The gardens at Toft Monks are beautiful with old trees and sloping ways that go to the Harbor’s edge, but the rain, in spite of a moon that shone silverly now and then, prevented any walkabouts.”

The end of a flamboyant era

On Frank’s death in 1948, Gladys inherited her husband’s majority shareholding in Penfolds Wines. Under her formidable leadership, Penfolds made what would become Australia’s highest-priced bottle of wine – Penfolds Bin 1 Grange.

Gladys continued leading the high life as the century progressed, purchasing a Rolls-Royce Phantom V limousine, one of just 516 made of the exclusive car.
She sold Toft Monks in 1966 and, the following year, donated the Rolls to the Royal Blind Society. The car later served as a vice-regal car for Sir Roden Cutler, Governor of New South Wales.

By 1970, Toft Monks had been demolished and the building we see today had been completed.

A new horizon

The modern apartment building, Toft Monks, has the same stellar location on Elizabeth Bay, but these days offers some pretty unique luxuries like a private marina, harbour pool, and penthouse living.

Over the years, some of the 59 units in this 14 storey building have been amalgamated to maximise floor space and create larger homes. According to Domain, over 75% of units are owner-occupied, and the average tenure in the building exceeds 7 years, showing how highly coveted this building is and how rarely its units come up for sale.

Apartment 132 in this highly sought-after location is currently on the market for the second time in 50 years. The penthouse offers more than 250m2 of spacious living, with three bedrooms, a study, high ceilings, double parking and the opportunity to create a truly sumptuous home.

Panoramic views to Manly and proximity to the best of Elizabeth Bay Rd complete the picture. This is a truly rare opportunity to secure a part of this prized building in an enviable location.

To organise a viewing, contact my team 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…