Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street

Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street
Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street

A $28 million office block is proposed for 4-6 York Street, Sydney.

The proposal also includes additions and alterations to 341 George Street.

The 13 storey office building Candalepas Architects-designed proposal is an integrated development under the Heritage Act 1977 proposed by the Cheng family patriarch Tony Cheng, who runs NGI Investments.

The site of the former Bank of NSW Head Office, which cost $57 million in 2002, is historically significant as the location from 1853 to 1970 was the principal office of Australia's first and largest private bank.

The building's official opening was held on Saturday 19 March 1932— the same day as the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened.

The building reflects the period of commercial optimism that preceded the Great Depression and with the prominent architectural firm of Robertson & Marks who have worked on the building since its construction.

341 George Street (below) is aesthetically significant as a substantially intact example of the Inter-War Commercial Palazzo style. It contains a richly detailed Banking Chamber, which is still in use as such (although reduced in scale), with original fittings, furniture and extensive finishes of marble, scagliola and pressed metal.

Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street

The new building will be physically connected to the existing building at 341 George Street, and there will be access between most floors of the two buildings which will necessitate some alterations to the existing building.

The building at 341 George Street is of state heritage significance. The 4–6 York Street site is not heritage listed.

The allotment at 4–6 York Street and the building at 341 George Street are located on a city block bounded by George Street, Wynyard Street, York Street and Barrack Lane.

Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street

Martin Place is directly opposite George Street to the east, and Wynyard Park is located to the north across Wynyard Street.

The site is significant for its landmark qualities and together with the adjoining former CBC Bank Head Office (343 George Street) it terminates the western vista of Martin Place and forms part of the significant precinct of historic public and private commercial buildings near the junction of Martin Place and George Streets. 

The site was originally part of the military barracks and was sold into private ownership in 1850. By 1882 it appears to have been developed into part of Sydney’s growing commercial district. 

The Bank of New South Wales, the oldest corporation of its kind in Australia, was founded in Sydney in 1817.

The building remained the Head Office of the Bank of New South Wales until 1970, when the continued growth of the Bank has again made a larger head office building necessary.

After 117 years on the site the operation moved to a newly erected high-rise building, 60 Martin Place, on the corner of Macquarie Street.

In 2002, Westpac Banking Corp sold the site (341 George Street and 4–6 York Street) to NGI Investments.

In October 2006, the Westpac Bank was temporarily closed to allow for the conservation and upgrading of its premises, which included the restoration of the original floor, walls, ceilings and screens on the ground and first floors. The bank reopened in April 2008.

Currently the Westpac Bank continues to occupy the basement, ground and mezzanine levels. 

The allotment at 4–6 York Street has remained largely vacant since the bank acquired the land in 1934.

 Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street

It was in 1850 when two allotments of the old barracks site were purchased at the corner of Wynyard and George Streets by Felix Wilson, Donald Larnarch and Robert Campbell at a cost of 1410 pounds.

They were buying on behalf of the Bank of New South Wales in preparation for the building of a new head office.

The further continual growth of the bank’s business, which was a result of the goldrushes in Victoria and New South Wales, necessitated still further space.

The architectural plans were prepared by Robertson and Marks

Early photographs show that the banking chamber had an attractive tiled floor and rich wood panelling. There were fluted columns with Corinthian capitals and a big clock in ornate wooden case on the southern wall. 

Business continued to expand and just before the First World War 341 George Street once again began to feel cramped.

According to Board minutes in 1913 the Board was considering the erection of a new high-rise building on the site to exploit its prominent position and to take advantage of the 150-feet construction height limit.

It was at this time that the Bank purchased three adjoining sites on Wynyard Street, but such matters as further extension were forgotten in the events of 1914–1918.

In the course of the war no fewer than 40 per cent of the Bank’s male staff was enlisted in the services.

In May 1925, the Board resolved that a new head office should be built. It was also decided that an Australian architect should be employed and that the building be of similar style of architecture to that of the Equitable Buildings in Sydney and Melbourne. 

The Commercial Banking Company of Sydney had then reached the final stages of the construction of its own Head Office, and the Bank of NSW Board resolved that the new building should be of the same height as its neighbour.

In July 1925, the firm of Robertson & Marks was again asked to supply plans.

In 1927 the Board resolved that the tender of Howie, Moffat & Co. Ltd. for the erection of the premises for the sum of £551,379 be accepted.

The existing building at 341 George Street was erected in two stages to allow banking operations to continue. Demolition of the western section of the old premises commenced on 27 August 1927.

In 1934 the Bank purchased more land fronting Wynyard and York Streets (4–6 York Street). The building that had previously occupied the site had been demolished in the 1920s, but the Bank did not build on the area. Since then the allotment at 4–6 York Street has remained substantially undeveloped.

The United States Consulate rented premises in the building from the 1930s to 1970. During World War II, U.S. General Douglas Macarthur used the Board Room for staff meetings. According to notes in the Westpac Archives it was also the scene of an occasional Court Martial.

In 1949 the Bank entered a field which was previously under the monopoly of government owned institutions, savings bank operations which led to an expansion in the Bank’s operations and they began to fill more floors of the 341 George Street building.

Former Westpac heritage-listed headquarters set for revitalised office complex on George Street 

The earlier phase of occupation relating to the 1840s Military Barracks is likely to be significant.

It is known that the barracks were demolished and the salvageable building materials sold; however, there is still some potential for footings and occupation deposits to survive.

The archaeology of this site may have the potential to demonstrate information about the use of the barracks not otherwise documented.

Remains from this early period use of the site are therefore likely significant for both their historical values and their research values.

It appears from the archival photography that the construction of the railway tunnels under the western part of the site involved drilling through the rock below the site and not excavation from above. Thus, there is potential for archaeological remains and deposits surviving on the western part of the study area. The proposed construction footprint on the new building will impact on potential Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal archaeology.

GML Heritage was engaged by 6 York Street Pty Ltd to provide heritage and archaeological services in relation to the proposed construction of a new building on the mainly empty allotment at 4–6 York Street, Sydney.

The report has been prepared by Anna Simanowsky, GML Senior Heritage Consultant. The archaeological assessment was prepared by Jodi Cameron, GML heritage consultant, archaeologist. 

 

 

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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