In 1873, English grocer James Griffiths migrated to Melbourne with his wife and cousin (one and the same) in order to start a tea business. By 1875 Griffiths Brothers Teas had become a sensation, providing tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate to caffeine junkies all over Australia. The Sydney outlet of the Melbourne-based company, built in 1915 as a Budden and Greenwell joint, banked heavily on thirsty train travellers staggering out of nearby Central Station looking for a cuppa.
In a memorable ad campaign, a series of these signs were situated at varying intervals along the train trip into Central, designed to gee up incoming arrivals by counting down the miles until they could drink up. It’s hard to imagine anyone being so excited about tea in this day and age, although I wonder if any of the signs are still out there, amping people up for phantom tea?
But we’re not here to talk about the glory days, are we? In 1925, James Griffiths was killed by a train (apparently the train driver missed the ‘1 mile to Griffiths’ signs), and the tea company was sold to Robur Tea, which itself lasted until 1974. Griffiths’ death meant downsizing within the company (maybe today isn’t so different after all), and the Sydney building was transferred to the Sydney City Council, who then leased it back to Griffiths Teas. Talk about keeping up appearances!
I’d have to imagine that whoever was selling Makita and Metabo power tools out of this place weren’t using the entire building. These signs have been here as long as I can remember, and probably even longer still. Bear in mind that while these power tools were being sold, there were still signs up for Avenue Furniture and Griffiths Teas; that’s confusing and sloppy. I mean, that’d be like if…or, maybe if…no, I mean like…hm. Never mind.
It’s no surprise to find that Citilease, owned by Sydney’s own Howard Hughes, Isaac Wakil, is the villain of this piece, completely responsible for the disgusting state of this site. As previously mentioned, Isaac and Susan Wakil own millions of dollars worth of property around Sydney that they insist on leaving vacant. As a result, viable real estate close to public transport and universities is being left to rot. Wakil’s Citilease outfit (here disguised as ‘City Leasing’) has owned the building for at least 25 years, and don’t be fooled by the ‘for lease’ sign – there’s no 9 in front of the number.
Late last year, some Sydney anarchists decided to conduct an inspection of the property on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps they had intentions of leasing? Of course, they made a few alterations while they were there and had to be forcibly evicted, but don’t worry Citilease, I think they’ll be back.
It’s worth pointing out that the Melbourne Griffiths Teas building, which you’ll remember was the headquarters for the whole operation, has been well preserved and turned into an upmarket hotel with vintage trappings, the Lindrum. Now, why didn’t we think of that?