Potts Point was a very different place in the early days of the colony.

In the 1800s, it was sparsely populated and home to spacious villas and grand homes.

In the 1850s, Gold Rushes hit Western New South Wales and this led directly to the construction of several opulent mansions here in Potts Point, including Bomerah (1856), Jenner House (1871), and Tarana (1889). Elegant terrace houses were also built along Victoria Street.

A wave of development in the 20th century spelled the end of this sleepy version of Potts Point. In the 1920s and 1930s, the grand old buildings began to give way to urban inner city living, especially in the form of art deco apartment blocks.

Andrew Woodhouse is a Potts Point local, who runs the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society. He is also director of heritage consultancy, Heritage Solutions. Here are five things he says you may not know about the development of our local area during that time

1. Potts Point was an inter-war development hotspot

In recent years, Potts Point has seen a new wave of development. Hotels and commercial buildings have been turning residential and there’s more redevelopment still to come.

But rather than being something new, this is simply the next step in the ever-changing architectural history of Potts Point and Kings Cross. And, in many ways it doesn’t even begin to compare with the impressive development that took place here between the two world wars.

Sydney was growing rapidly and Potts Point – with its proximity to the city and large blocks of land – was an obvious place to start building some of Australia’s earliest blocks of flats. Development started in the 1920s and extended until World War II intervened.

The flats that were built were often used as crash pads for those living in regional areas. But they were also home to many who wanted to take advantage of vibrant inner-city living close to their work.

As a result of this boom, our area boasts one the highest concentrations of Art Deco architecture in Australia – something that continues to attract architectural enthusiasts just as much today as it did back then.

2. They’re called flats because…

These days, the words flat and apartment are both used. But that hasn’t always been the case.

In Australia, the word ‘apartment’ has only gained popularity recently. More common in the United States, it is derived from the French, ‘appartement’.

However, ‘flat’ is generally the word used to describe the property in the United Kingdom and, until recently, most often, here in Australia.

The origins of the word flat are actually disputed. Depending on who you ask, it comes from the Scottish or Old English word “flet” or “flett” meaning a floor or storey of a building. It’s thought to relate to the fact that flats once occupied a single level of a building, while some believe that their flat roof design contributed to their name.

3. Many didn’t like the changes of the 1930s

While we look back at these Art Deco gems and feel fortunate to have them in our area, not everyone was happy with the development at the time.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald from November 1937:

[A] great effort is required to imagine that the present throbbing centre of Sydney’s … life was once sparsely dotted with stately homes where demure ladies drove leisurely through private avenues of trees in their carriages. Those were the days when land was owned by the acre. To-day century-old homes are being knocked down so that the task of converting the area into a swarming anthill can continue uninhibited … these last survivors merit at least a brief obituary.”

And, in 1938, The Herald wrote about Gowrie Gate:

“Kings Cross. Flat Extensions. Homes Disappearing. This block of flats … is one of many now being erected at King’s Cross, many on areas of land formerly occupied by beautiful private homes. It is estimated that the recently constructed blocks of flats at King’s Cross have added about 4,000 to the population of that area.”

4. Art Deco flats came with all the modern bells and whistles

Marlborough Hall was a seven-storey L-shaped block of 63 “bachelor flats” planned to offer almost every flat an ideal view of the harbour.

The Macleay Regis offered an internal telephone system which allowed residents to connect to the hairdresser, pharmacy and florist downstairs. Newspapers ran photos of its “service kitchen where meals are prepared and transported by service lifts to any floor, where they can be served to the occupants of the flats who are not desirous of doing their own cooking.” Sound familiar?

Gowrie Gate was described in a magazine as, “every corridor, hall and room in the building is carpeted. The vestibule walls are panelled with walnut flush veneer and the upper part of the walls is textured. Ceilings are perfectly plain. The stairs are carpeted, with textured walls. Upper corridors are textured and all the corners, wherever possible, are rounded.”

“Flats of several sizes are incorporated in the plan and all are fully equipped with kitchenettes and bathrooms. The walls are papered in an oatmeal texture paper and the floors are carpeted. Woodwork is reduced to a minimum, skirtings are small and there are no picture rails. Gowrie Gate’s ground floor coffee shop is decorated in a cheerful colour scheme of buff and red. The carpet is a bright flower pattern and the furniture is waxed in natural colour with relieving touches of red. Wrought iron work is red.”

5. Many Art Deco gems still stand today

The Register of the National Estate Potts Point describes Potts Point as having “the finest collection of Art Deco apartments in Australia”. There are too many to name them all, but some well known Potts Point Art Deco icons include:

  • The Macleay Regis, 10-12 Macleay Street
  • Twenty Macleay Street
  • The Metro-Minerva Theatre
  • Werrington, 85 Macleay Street
  • Gowrie Gate, 115 Macleay Street
  • Cahors, 117 Macleay Street
  • Birtley Towers 8 Birtley Place
  • Wychbury, 5 Manning Street
  • Trent Bridge, 17 St Neot Avenue
  • Werrington, 85 Macleay Street
  • Carisbrooke, 11 Springfield Avenue
  • Marlborough Hall, 4 Ward Avenue

If you want to make Potts Point your home, 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…