Today, Kings Cross Station is a quintessential part of the Potts Point landscape, but it wasn’t always so.
We delve into the history of one of Australia’s busiest underground railway stations.
The story of the Eastern Suburbs line
It’s easy to take it for granted today, but Kings Cross Station was a long time coming. Over the years, Potts Point and the Cross were connected to the city by horse-drawn buses, trams, trolleybuses and motor buses, but talk of a railway to the eastern suburbs had begun all the way back in the 1870s.
In the 1920s, when the city circle line was under construction, provisions were made for an eastern suburbs line, but works didn’t progress past the planning stage. It wasn’t until an Act was passed in 1947 allowing for the completion of an eastern suburbs line that works began. Progress on the line proceeded fitfully throughout the 1950s and 1960s, in part because of the contentious process of acquisitions and demolitions required to build the line through Woolloomooloo. In 1967, work began in earnest, and the eastern suburbs line (known at the time as the Eastern Suburbs Railway, or ESR) was finally opened by then-Premier Neville Wran on 23 June 1979.
The line, which runs from Central to Bondi Junction, included four new underground stations at Martin Place, Kings Cross, Edgecliff and Bondi Junction, new underground platforms at Redfern, Central and Town Hall and new viaducts at Woolloomooloo and Rushcutters Bay. It was one of the biggest rail projects undertaken in NSW after World War II and the largest addition to the rail network since Circular Quay was added to the city loop in 1956.
What stood on the site before the station was built?
Given its central location at the gateway of the Cross and Potts Point, it’s no surprise to find that the site of Kings Cross Station has a fascinating history. One of the earliest buildings there was Brougham Lodge, built-in 1831 when the area was still known as Woolloomooloo Hill. Designed by John Verge, it was built by James Dowling, who went on to become chief justice of the colony. After his death, the house was rented by tenants and then used as a boys’ school. Demolished in 1882, it was replaced by Brougham Terrace, which itself was demolished to make way for the station in 1971.
The site was also once home to a ‘particularly lavish’ cinema called Kings Cross Theatre. Opened in 1916, it seated 2000. When the theatre closed in the early 1960s, a nightclub called the Birdcage opened in the venue, but it was soon replaced in late 1963 by Surf City. Although only open for three years, iconic Surf City was one of Sydney’s biggest beat music venues and the spiritual home of Australian beat music. It closed in 1966 to make way for the Crest Hotel and Kings Cross Station.
The architecture of Kings Cross Station
The new stations on the eastern suburbs Railway – Martin Place, Kings Cross, Edgecliff and Bondi Junction – and the new underground platforms at Central, Town Hall and Redfern were visions in 1970s architectural glory. Their ambitious design by Sydney architects Fowell Mansfield Jarvis and Maclurcan was a hyper-modern break from traditional Australian railway station design. The architects’ work was rewarded with a public buildings merit award for Martin Place Station from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1979.
Each of the new stations was given a unique colour scheme to differentiate it, give it a fresh, modern feel and retain a warm, personable mood in the underground setting. Kings Cross’s feature colour was a quintessentially 1970s orange, used in the plywood ceiling and tiled columns and set off by the green-grey terrazzo of the concourse and the white-tiled walls. Orange was chosen to echo the nightlife and restaurants Kings Cross was renowned for.
The new stations were also at the cutting edge of technology, featuring innovations such as CCTV and studded rubber flooring on the platforms to prevent falls and absorb noise. The stations were the first in the NSW rail network to use magnetic strip ticketing and turnstile barriers.
Now the eastern suburb stations are prized for their late modernist design and historical and engineering merits. Martin Place Station has even been placed on the State Heritage Register.
Kings Cross Station today and into the future
Today, Kings Cross Station, 22 metres underground and Sydney’s 16th busiest station, is used, at last count in 2018, by 33,100 passengers per day. Although it was at the cutting edge of design and technology when it was built more than 40 years ago, today, many agree that its presentation and functionality could be improved.
In 2020 the City of Sydney tasked the think tank Committee for Sydney to produce recommendations for revitalising Kings Cross. Their 2021 report, A New Vision for Kings Cross, includes suggestions for the train station. The report highlights the importance of the station’s role as a gateway to our area. It recommends that late-night trains be increased to connect our area to the wider 24-hour Metro network to make the streets safer and easier to navigate for pedestrians. It also includes suggestions for improving the look and feel of the station, such as better signage and lighting as well as the installation of public art.
It recommends giving the green light to the Kings Cross Train Station Art Project, a 2015 joint proposal from the Council and Kings Cross Community Centre to commission local artists to develop public art telling the story of the Cross. These installations could be just the thing to breathe new life into a modernist train station in the heart of one of Sydney’s most vibrant and eclectic neighbourhoods.
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