Lost houses of North Sydney



Sydney has been in a constant cycle of building, demolition and redevelopment since the earliest European structures were erected.

While development pressure was less intense on the lower North Shore through the 1800s, between 1905 and 1911 the population of North Sydney leapt by more than 10,000. This prompted local resident and poet, Henry Lawson, to pen the phrase ‘they’re shifting old North Sydney’.

North Sydney was dramatically ‘shifted’ by two major construction works – the Sydney Harbour Bridge, from 1924 to 1932, and the Warringah Expressway, from 1960 through to the 1970s. These projects combined resulted in the demolition of around 1,000 buildings, mostly homes. One significant casualty was ‘Brisbane House’, built above Lavender Bay in 1831 by early settler James Milson.

Among the many homes demolished in the 1960s for the Expressway, one notable loss was ‘Hanney’, the self-designed home of architect, Edward Jeaffreson Jackson. Jackson greatly influenced the development of the ‘English Revival’ style of Federation-era architecture in Sydney. ‘Hanney’ was built in 1896 in the Arts and Crafts style, in what is now known as Cammeray.

During the 1960s apartment blocks grew – both in size and popularity – in North Sydney thanks to architectural technology, proximity to offices, and the desirability of harbour views.

Modernism, the dominant post-war design philosophy, favoured ‘rational’ redevelopment and saw little need to preserve existing buildings. Modernist architect, Aaron Bolot, designed the 12-storey ‘Quarterdeck Apartments’ in Kirribilli in 1960 on the site of one of Australia’s most significant Federation-era buildings. ‘Miandetta’, home of Australia’s first Prime Minister Edmund Barton, was demolished with apparently little public comment or resistance.

Resident opposition to high-rise development grew in the late 1950s. The demolition of the 19th century house ‘Bell’vue’ to make way for Harry Seidler’s Blues Point Tower led directly to the North Shore Historical Society’s formation in 1958. The society went on to play a pivotal role in saving Don Bank Cottage in North Sydney from demolition. Awareness of the benefits of preserving heritage resulted in the NSW Heritage Act 1977, allowing North Sydney Council to buy the cottage for use as a museum.

The Council commissioned the state’s first heritage review of the built environment in 1981, and another more comprehensive listing of noteworthy houses followed in 1993. However, the need for urban consolidation and pressure from Sydney's lucrative property market still results in the demolition of old homes. The State Government forecasts that up to 2,950 new homes are likely to be built in North Sydney over the next five years, with the old continuing to make way for the new.

Discover the stories behind more of North Sydney’s lost houses in our online architectural history exhibition athomeinnorthsydney.com.au.

Historical Services, Stanton Library, North Sydney Council

Ian Hoskins, Contributor, North Shore Living Magazine

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