Grace Building, Sydney
The exterior of the Grace Building, from York Street
|Architectural style||Federation Skyscraper Gothic|
|Location||77-79 York Street, Sydney central business district, New South Wales|
|Current tenants||Hotel, Café, Restaurant, Bar|
|Owner||Linkbond (Asia) Ltd|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||Morrow and Gordon|
|Official name||Grace Building|
|Criteria||a., c., e.|
|Designated||2 April 1999|
Designed by Morrow and Gordon and built by Kell & Rigby during the late 1920s, it was opened in 1930 by Grace Brothers, the Australian department store magnates, as their headquarters. "The building was designed to use the first two storeys in the manner of a department store. The remaining storeys were intended to provide rental office accommodation for importers and other firms engaged in the softgoods trade". Inspired by the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower in Chicago—headquarters of the Chicago Tribune—the building was of the Art Deco architectural style and had state-of-the-art innovations and facilities for the time.
The Grace Building has served various purposes since its opening; it was sublet to the Australian Commonwealth government in the early 1940s and later became the Sydney headquarters of the U.S. armed forces under General Douglas MacArthur during the Pacific War. After World War II, it continued to be used for government administration purposes and was compulsorily acquired by the Commonwealth in November 1945.
Extensive renovation and restoration during the 1990s resulted in the return of many of the building's original features, including light fittings, lifts, stairwells, high pressed-metal ceilings, marble floors, wide hallways, and elegant decorative ironwork. The Grace Building was listed on the (now defunct) Register of the National Estate in 1980 and placed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register in 1999. The building was purchased for redevelopment in 1995 by the Low Yat Group of Malaysia. Since June 1997, it has operated as a luxury hotel known as "the Grace Sydney".
On 2 April 1999 the property was listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register with the following statement of significance:
The Grace Building is historically significant because of its associations with the retail boom of the 1920s. It epitomises the optimism and dynamism of that period as well as the subsequent economic collapse and Great Depression. It is also associated with the World War II presence of United States military forces in Australia and with General Douglas MacArthur in particular. It is architecturally significant because it is Sydney's finest example of the skscraper gothic style which illustrates the American influence on Australian commercial architecture and is a distinctive landmark in the city. It was one of the most significant works of Morrow and Gordon, a leading architectural firm of that period. The Grace Building is technically significant because of the unusual reinforced concrete slab and beam construction and the glazed architectural terra cotta cladding.— Statement of significance, New South Wales State Heritage Register.
Sydney had become Australia's largest and most populous city by the early 1900s, thus assuming its position as Australia's leading financial city and one of the most prosperous cities in the Asia-Pacific region. The First World War had since ended and Australia's immigration was high–with many of its settlers choosing Sydney as their home. It was constructed as a headquarters and department store for the Grace Bros. chain, who had a long and illustrious history of serving Sydney, particular its upper class gentry. Founded by English immigrants Albert Edward and Joseph Neal Grace, in 1885, the first Grace Bros. store was a modest building located on George Street. After their accenting to power, a major store was opened on Broadway, outside of the central business district.
In 1926, the Grace brothers purchased a block of land on the corner of York, Clarence and King Street, on which the "jewel crown" of their business empire would be built. They believed the site was perfectly positioned for the building that they planned would become "The Showpiece of the Company", with new public transport routes and the coming Sydney Harbour Bridge turning York and Clarence Streets into the major city thoroughfares that they are today. Company letterhead billed the building as being "...on the Harbour Bridge Highway." Broadway, location of the other Grace Bros. building, had been affected by the shift of the city's commercial district toward Circular Quay in the 1920s and the changing public transport routes away from Sydney's South end, and so the Grace Building would become the company's saviour. The Grace Building was officially opened by Sydney Lord Mayor Ernest Marks on 3 July 1930. Its designed was heavily influenced by the Chicago's Tribune Tower, another remnant of 1930s art deco architecture in the United States.
York Street, however, did not become the shopping thoroughfare the Grace Brothers had envisaged and, combined with the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the building never lived up to expectations. By the onset of the Second World War Grace Bros. was experiencing difficulty in leasing office suites and much of the space was allocated to government departments. In 1943 the Grace Building was requisitioned under national security regulations by the Federal Government for use as headquarters by the Supreme Commander of allied forces in the south-west Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur. In 1945, the Grace Building was compulsorily acquired by the Commonwealth. In 1995, it was purchased by the Low Yat Group of Kuala Lumpur for adaptive reuse as a 382-room hotel, opening in 1997. It remains a hotel to this day.
- "Grace Building". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
- "Gentleman of the building trade: Obituary, Alan Kell, 1920-2008". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 September 2008.
- "Grace Building". New South Wales State Heritage Register. Office of Environment and Heritage. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
- "Manuscripts, oral history and pictures". Catalogue entry. State Library of New South Wales.
- "Grace Building, 77-79 York St, Sydney, NSW, Australia (Place ID 2226)". Australian Heritage Database. Department of the Environment. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
- "Chronology of the Grace Building". Teaching Heritage. Government of New South Wales.
- Reading the Past in the Grace Building at NSW Teaching Heritage
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