Grace Building (Grace Hotel)

Location: 77-79 York Street, Sydney
1928-1930 - Designed by Morrow & Gordon and built by Kell & Rigby during the late 1920s, the Grace Building 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. 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. In 1942 the gound floor facade and glazing was boarded up with hardboard screens. An air-raid shelter was constructed in the basement around the same time.

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 Register of the National Estate in 1980 and placed on the NSW 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".

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. A fine example of commercial Gothic, with a soaring vertical emphasis and prominent Gothic corner tower, complete with flying buttresses, pointed windows and quatrefoils. Sheathed in glazed cream terra cotta, details are picked out in green. Decoration is limited, skyscraper fashion, to the summit and lower portion of the building. The street level facade has been altered, but the facade above the awning remains intact.

Grace Brothers and the Grace Building

On 1st August 1885, English merchants Joseph Neale Grace and his brother Albert Edward Grace opened a small store at 203 George Street West Sydney. In 1887 the firm moved to 5-7 The Broadway and in 1896 commissioned Morrow and Gordon to design the Grace Bros store on the corner of Bay and Grose Street Broadway. In 1911 the firm opened a seven-storey building building in Grose Street and the original George Street West shop demolished. During the early nineteenth century the firm enjoyed retail growth and was reflected by the acquisition of adjacent properties. The family company was now known as Grace Bros Ltd. By 1923 the firm boasted 250 departments and employed nearly 3000 people. During the 1920's Sydney was undergoing a retail boom in conjunction with the construction of the city underground railway line.

In 1926 Grace Bros purchased land bounded by York, King and Clarence Streets and in 1928 commissioned Morrow and Gordon to design a major building on the site. The new Grace Bros building would be located midway between Wynyard and Town Hall Stations and slightly off the main pedestrian and public transport routes along Pitt and George Street. However the firm believed that the opening of the Harbour Bridge would change transport patterns in their favour by directing pedestrians and traffic along York and Clarence Streets. 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 accomodation for importers and other firms engaged in the softgoods trade. The 1929 Wall Street Crash severely affected Grace Bros' business and in 1931 Joseph Neale Grace died. The opening of Wynyard and Town Hall Satation and the Harbour bridge in 1932 did little to improve the situation of the new Grace Bros store. The firm noted the growth in suburban retailing and plans were made to open stores in Parramatta, Bondi Junction and other suburban locations. In 1938 Albert Edward Grace died.

Considerable anecdotal evidence exists of the building having been used by General Douglas Macarthur the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific. Other anecdotal evidence links MacArthur's name with a system of tunnels running beneath York Street to Circular Quay and Victoria Barracks. These were constructed prior to the Second World War and it is likely that at least one of them housed emergency telephone equipment should armed conflict within Sydney damage or destroy existing exchanges.

When the war ended, the Commonwealth was likely to lose much of the accommodation, pending repeal of emergency power legislation. In November 1945 the Grace Building was compulsorily acquired by the Commonwealth. In January 1946 Grace Bros issued a writ from the High Court seeking a declaration that the aquisition was invalid. The High Court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth's acquisition of the building but left open the issue of compensation.

In May 1946 a special conference was held to decide Commonwealth use for the building. The successful applicants for floor space included the Postmaster General's Department, the Repatriation Commission, the War Service Homes Commission, the Film Censorship Board and the Department of Labour and Industry. In 1953 the compensation case was settled with the Commonwealth paying compensation of about 1.3 million pounds including interest to Grace Brothers.

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