Australia’s Beautiful Shopping Arcades | The Down Under Edition
There is something so special about a vintage shopping arcade. The glory and importance of the space remains from a time long past, and you can almost visualize specialty merchants in place of their modern counterparts. Even now, entering a shopping arcade is more of an experience then a mall – typically quieter with a more refined selection of shops.
The use of quality materials and elaborate designs are what make arcades so grand. Deep woods, brass hand railings and sculpted moulding are consistently used in these spaces much like they would be in a theatre or estate.
If there is a historical shopping arcade in any city I’m visiting you will find it at the top of my list, and I can easily spend hours admiring the craftsmanship and detail in every hall and corner.
The Brisbane Arcade - Brisbane
The Brisbane Arcade can be found linking Queen St. to Adelaide St. in Brisbane’s central business district. Built in 1923 by two children of a murderer, Irish immigrant Patrick Mayne (everything is more exciting with a criminal twist). The building features a clerestory (windowed ceiling) roof and Edwardian Baroque style facades a type of design largely used in Britain.
Learning opportunity: A Balustrade named after a blossoming pomegranate flower (balaustra in Italian) is essentially a railing - as in a railing for a staircase or balcony. This term is used when a rail sits atop many small columns. A Baluster is one of the columns.
Brisbane arcade was originally home to businesses like jewelers, florists, beauty salons, and a cake shop. Later around the 80’s it even housed a Kentucky Fried Chicken (a bit off its clientele wouldn’t you say?) Today you can find clothing boutiques, antique shops, bridal stores and coffee lounges in the space.
Visit the Fashion Archives for a better glimpse of Brisbane Fashionable Past.
The Block Arcade - Melbourne
The Block Arcade or The Block as it’s more commonly referred as opened in 1892 in a building that was previously auctioned at Melbourne’s first land auction for a cost of $38. Like way previously, a couple decades type of previously. The building was rebuilt after a fire (which its basement survived) in the French Renaissance style featuring cast iron window beams, huge glass panel ceilings and beautiful mosaic floors which cost a whooping $1,200 (well over $30,000 today). The Block still has a reserve of replacement tiles in all colors besides Chocolate Brown.
The history of the arcade is a lot of upper crust gossip grounds type stuff, with ladies lounging in tearooms and shopping for lace. My favorite bit of history I came across was of a little gang called the Barcade Boys (combo of “block & arcade – max creativity points guys!) who used to stir up trouble with extortion and dealing elicit materials. That’s about all I can find about them – which is fine, secrecy keeps the mystery alive!
Hopetoun Tea Rooms is the gem of Block Arcade that dazzles onlookers from the moment they step into the building. Hopetoun has been trading since the beginning of Block Arcades’ Days – that means they’ve been in business for over 100 years! It’s literally an antique business. You could just imagine the upper class ladies daintily gossiping in the exuberantly decorated space. (Again, after shopping for lace – a popular victoria era ladies pastime.)
Once upon a time there was even a Kodak store in the block arcade!
The Royal Arcade - Melbourne
The Royal Arcade is the granddaddy of arcades being the eldest shopping arcade in not only Melbourne but all of Australia. A design competition was held to decide on its architectural construction and Mr. Charles Webb won – I point this out because he also designed the Windsor Hotel where I had high tea in the footsteps of Phryne Fisher a fictional character from Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries (try Netflix) that I am enamored with.
The building is done in the Renaissance Revival style (read: symmetry, round arches, columns, balustrade (which you can define…right?) and arcaded ground level). The Royal Arcade is a T shape connecting Bourke St. to Little Collins St. and Elizabeth St. from the middle.
Everyone loves to talk about the crown jewel – huge figures of “Gog & Magog” (lousy names, I know) legend has it they represent survivors of a race of giants others say they were captured in battle. Who knows really but they’re fantastic flanking a large clock. These features were added in 1982 (trying to upstage the new competition perhaps ahem block arcade?)
The Royal arcade once housed a Turkish bath, and one could assume a couple lace stores. From pictures I have also gathered there was once a furrier, doll hospital, a frock salon and gay&joy hats in the 60’s and 70’s eras.
The Strand Arcade - Sydney
On a much more grand scale, Sydney’s Strand Arcade could be mistaken for a city hall or government building. You know those shockingly beautiful ones with such dull uses. The structure was opened in 1892, and stood tall between Pitt St. and George St. Its 3 stories tall, much bigger than the others, yet somehow it seemed the calmest and most magical.
At the mid point of the building there are mirroring staircases – sweeping ones with gold and cast iron balustrades set in front of massive arched stain glass windows. It's really quite a sight. There is also a piano, free for anyone to play and someone was playing it very well. That may have added to the majestic vibe.
The most dazzling feature of the arcade is two grand clocks on either side made by Christopher C. Cook Clockmakers. You’d think with them being such a statement in the space and by having a specific name I’d be able to get more information on the clock makers but my search resulted in absolutely nothing. So mysterious. The clocks are marvelous and suspended between two stories. One depicts a scene with people and landscapes while the other has a large castle structure at the top.
Next up is the stairway to heaven, which I also can’t find any information on. Guys, I am literally getting more curious by the minute, and the Strand Arcade has just hopped to #1 priority on my next visit to Australia – why so scarce with the info?!?
Just one more bit of magical mysterious Wes Anderson-esque info. A nut shop was opened in 1939 which still operates today. The family who owned it were called the Mendels and had escaped Europe due to the war. They sold sugared almonds and had to ration portions out to people in the war for only a couple hours each day. Mendels? Sweets? This is literally a portion of Grand Budapest Hotel.
A nightclub once took over the basement of the Strand Arcade. It was called Chequers and was apparently all the rage in the 50’s especially as it stayed open till dawn. You can find pictures of it here. I have a hard time imagining anything low brow in the space, although I’ve seen statements that after the war the arcade was quite run down. As all old structures do, the arcade suffered several fires and as a result many aspects of the building today have been recreated to match the original plans.
Inside are stunning fashion, beauty and jewelry stores among other things. My favorite shop to window browse was Les Néréides with their adorable strawberry earrings and floral gems.
I’d say walking a lap of any of these amazing, historically rich buildings is a move in the right direction towards experiencing life in the Victorian times. (which I like to imagine A LOT, just give me updated dental equipment and a phone with a built in camera and I’m there).