Tag Archives: art deco

Electricity House/Bank of China – Hurstville, NSW

Electricity House, 1939. Image courtesy State Library of NSW.

The St. George County Council was established in 1920 to control the distribution of electricity within the Municipalities of Bexley, Hurstville, Kogarah and Rockdale, and was the first of its kind in Australia. In 1939, this building was constructed for the St. George County Council, presumably as a way of showing off just how fancy and powerful the Council was. During the early years of the SGCC, it was reported that St. George residents enjoyed the cheapest electricity in the country.

Electricity House, 1963. Image courtesy Kogarah Library.

By 1963 it appears that most of the county’s electricity was being distributed right to this building, what with all the neon signs. Absolute power corrupts, so to speak. The St. George County Council enjoyed its name up in lights until 1980, when it was amalgamated with the Sydney City Council, itself rebranded in 1991 as Sydney Electricity and in 1996, EnergyAustralia. Now, St. George residents pay too much for electricity just like the rest of us.

Electricity House, 2012.

Today the building has become a branch of the Bank of China, among other things, and doubtless many electricity bills are paid here. They’ve still got the neon happening there in the bottom right, perhaps just to prove that they can. It’s for a dental clinic, not a place you often associate with neon signage. The clock is a poor facsimile of its predecessors, too; also, it doesn’t work.

It’s gotta be a kick in the tablets when you can only get the ex-Minister for Works & Local Government to unveil your building. Spooner, a Conservative, had resigned as Minister a few months earlier after publicly describing that year’s State Budget as ‘faked’. He was also responsible for regulating the appropriate cut of mens bathing suits, insisting on the full-length one-piece. Sort of like the Tony Abbott of his day, in that way.

AWA Tower/E. G. Collections – Wynyard, NSW


Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd. started life at our old friend Homebush West in 1909, and over the next few years became the Federation-era’s answer to Sony. In 1918, AWA received the first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia – an address to troops by then-Prime Minister Billy Hughes. AWA then transmitted the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London in 1930.

Not content to just broadcast and receive the radio signals, AWA entered the consumer radio market after the Second World War. AWA became the leading manufacturer of consumer radios in Australia, and subsequently branched out into other areas. Fans of commercial radio (I know you’re out there) may care to thank AWA for owning and operating 2GB sister station 2CH for many years.

Of course, an Australian company couldn’t do this well without at some point having their own building, and in 1939, that dream was realised in York Street, Wynyard. The AWA Building was the tallest building in Australia until 1958, and remained AWA’s head office until the late 1990s, when AWA backed out of the broadcasting race because it’s kinda hard to get a decent signal amongst all those skyscrapers in Wynyard. Today, the tower is E. G. Collections, “specialising in Ladies Suits”, with office suites above, and doubtlessly the friends of all of the building’s employees are sick of hearing about how you can see the office in that one bit in The Matrix.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for the kind of olde-tyme radio business they were so deeply involved in, 1991 saw AWA acquire Smorgon Technologies. Although it sounds like a Captain Planet villain, it was a world leader in totalisator systems, and this purchase led to AWA’s own acquisition by Tabcorp in the 2000s. Wow.

AWA regained its independence from Tabcorp’s clutches in 2004, and these days focuses on IT and commutation services, which is a newfangled way of saying it’s doing what it always did, but NEW. Strangely, AWA has licenced its brand name to Woolworths, Big W and Dick Smith Electronics for use in generic consumer electronic devices. You know, just in case anyone out there is 150 years old and remembers how good the sound was from their AWA car radio.

Demco Machinery/Mao & More – Surry Hills, NSW

Demco Machinery, 1989. Image courtesy City of Sydney Archives, SRC15993.

The Demco Machinery site, on Cleveland Street in Surry Hills, is made up of two separate buildings. The one in the foreground here is the oldest, first used as a tobacco factory in 1911, and then a tea company until the 1920s. Once Demco moved in around 1930, they patiently waited for the St Margarets Hospital for Women Dispensary next door, built in 1906, to fall on hard times. They didn’t have to wait long:

SMH, April 19, 1938.

Strangely, although the building’s address is currently 267-271 Cleveland Street, advertisements prior to 1953 give Demco’s address, as well as that of the hospital and the tobacco factory, as 243-247 Cleveland Street. There must have been a renumbering of Cleveland Street around that time, as to avoid confusion, from 1948 Demco started advertising their address as ‘corner of Cleveland and Buckingham Streets’.

Demco building, 2012.

Demco packed up its city operations in 1989, moving out to Greenacre as part of the industrial migration to Sydney’s west. Since 2002, the older half has been occupied by Mao & More, a Sinophile’s paradise of kitschy Oriental paraphernalia very at home in the increasingly gentrified area. The showroom half of ‘modern design’ Demco were so proud of currently consists of several businesses, including The Gingerbread Man, a film and web production company located in the basement; and a sportswear manufacturer. The only evidence of Demco’s time here is the art deco Demco sign still sitting atop the building.

Savoy Cinema/Quality House/Whitewood Warehouse/Poliak Building Supply Co. – Enfield, NSW

On the Hume Highway, Enfield stands this bright orange eyecatcher. According to Strathfield Heritage, the Savoy opened as the Enfield Cinema in 1927, but was redesigned in Art Deco style in 1938.

Enfield Savoy, 1938. Image from Strathfield Heritage.

Enfield Savoy interior furnishings, 2012.

At this point it was renamed the Savoy, and reopened to the public. In 1944 it was bought by Hoyts, but was closed as a cinema in 1960. The last film shown was Some Like It Hot.

Enfield Savoy entrance, 2012.

Julian Tertini was working as a public servant in the mid-1970s when he quit his job and started a furniture company with no prior business experience. That company was Whitewood Warehouse. By 2012, the Savoy has stood as the cartoon bear-sporting Whitewood Warehouse longer than it did as a cinema.

Tertini went on to start both Fantastic and Freedom Furniture, and is one of Australia’s richest people. The Savoy/Whitewood building is now home to Poliak Building Supplies. The foyer is a showroom for ovens and hot water systems, because some still like it hot.

QUALITY UPDATE: Thanks to reader Phil, Past/Lives can now reveal the hitherto unknown second phase of this building’s life! After the cinema’s 1960 closure, it began its long life as a furniture warehouse under the name of Quality House. Now there’s a name you can trust:

Quality House advertisement, June 27 1965

Quality House advertisement, June 27 1965