Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade

Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade

Adelaide and Gays arcades are fine late examples of the 1880s boom period and a testimony to the period during which Rundle Street was transformed into a substantial retail precinct. They rank with the Strand Arcade in Sydney and the Block Arcade in Melbourne as examples of the most urbane approach to retailing then devised.

On May 6,1885 Mayor W. Bundey stated that it “afforded him very much pleasure to lay the stone of the first Arcade erected in Adelaide”. The design by Withall and Wells is the most important of their work to have survived. Other projects, which included Charles Birks, the Jubilee Exhibition Building and the Adelaide Racing Club Grandstand, show the use made of cast-iron for both building and decoration. Its extensive use of cast-iron, plate glass and electric light suggests the firm was very progressive and able to respond to design requirements with new construction materials and techniques.

Adelaide Arcade was opened on December 12, 1885, by the governor. The Observer described the building as being two acres deep, extending from Rundle Street to Grenfell Street. The main promenade between the shops was 24 feet wide, with a floor of Carrara marble and black and white encaustic tiles in elegant designs. The elevations to both Rundle and Grenfell streets were carried out “in the Italian style of architecture”. On the first floor, the “Corinthian order” was adopted. “An octagonal tower and dome, with the Australian Coat of Arms in front, form a very appropriate and imposing feature in each elevation.”

There were 50 shops, and “the quantity of glass in the place is enormous; the superficial area covered is certainly larger than that covered by the glass required for the whole of Rundle Street”. Much of this was polished plate glass, specially made in London because of the “extraordinary” size of the plates. Elsewhere, colonial materials were used as far as possible.

The walls were constructed of the Metropolitan Company's bricks, with Portland cement dressings. The slabs at the entrances were of Kapunda marble, the largest size that the company could supply.

“The rapidity with which the building has been erected eclipses anything previously heard of in Adelaide … The illuminating power throughout is provided by electricity.” In the arcade there were three fountains and an underground chamber fitted out for a tearoom. “The new Arcade is undoubtedly a handsome structure,” concluded the Observer.

Due to the depressed state of the economy, by late 1885 people were somewhat reluctant to lease shops and an inducement of one year’s lease rent free was offered to attract tenants. However, the depression did not stop Patrick Gay from building Gays Arcade on the site of his burnt-out furniture showroom. On August 14, 1885, the South Australian Register reported that construction was about to begin. The completion of this building brought the arcade complex to its present basic form. Gays Arcade has frontage to Twin Street, joining Adelaide Arcade at right angles. J. Cumming was the architect and N.W. Trudgen the contractor.

Both arcades suffered from modernisation of the interior ground floors in the 1950s and 1960s. The first floors remain largely original, however, and evoke something of the lost splendour of the buildings.


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Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade are highly significant as an example of an urbane approach to retail that is extremely rare in Australia today.

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Images of Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade

  • Adelaide Arcade and Gays Arcade, 2014
James Cumming
Building materials
Architectural styles
2 Victorian Period (c. 1840–c. 1890), 2.9 Italianate
1885 -
Architecture and design features
dome, Bay window
Engineering features
Rundle Mall
Council Ward
Alternative Addresses
Town Acre
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Commercial, Shop
AS2482 classification
11500 - Business: Commercial/Retail
Public Access
Business/trading hours
State Heritage ID
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5536/111 D13198 A1 CT 5536/110 D13198 A1 CT 5836/891 F181782 A130 CT 5971/503 F47043 A1 CT 6009/211 D13198 A1 CT 6009/212 D13198 A1 CT 6009/213 D13198 A1 CT 6009/214 D13198 A1 CT 6009/217 D13198 A1 CT 6009/218 D13198 A1 CT 6009/220 D13198 A1 CT 6009/221 D13198 A1 CT 6009/222 D13198 A1 CT 6009/223 D13198 A1 CT 6009/224 D13198 A1 CT 6009/197 F18126 A1 CT 6009/198 F181826 A174 CT 6009/199 F181826 A174 CT 6009/200 F181826 A174 CT 6009/203 F181826 A174 CT 6009/204 F181826 A174 CT 6009/206 F181826 A174 CT 6009/207 F181826 A174 CT 6009/208 F181826 A174 CT 6009/209 F181826 A174 CT 6009/210 F181826 A174 CT 6051/200 D13198 A1 CT 6051/195 F181826 A174 CT 6051/197 F181826 A174 CT 6051/199 F181826 A174 CT 6051/196 D13198 A1 CT 6051/198 D13198 A1 CT 6063/885 F181826 A174 CT 6063/886 D13198 A1
NTSA file exists
Heritage Status
State Heritage listed
State heritage listing
State Heritage listed
Date of State heritage listing
Local heritage listing
Date of Local heritage listing
NTSA listing
NTSA classified
Date of NTSA listing
Section 23 (4) crtiteria
Risk status
Historic Themes
3 Developing a City Economy
3.1.6 Mid-1880s Recession
Australian Materials
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies


Further reading

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