Citizens' Life Assurance Company Building

Citizens' Life Assurance Company Building

This building was built in 1901 for the Citizens’ Life Assurance Co, which, upon amalgamation in 1907, became known as The Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance Company Limited (MLC).

The overland telegraph line to Darwin was completed at the same time as the Eastern Extension Company finished the submarine line between Singapore and Darwin. The company had premises in Darwin and until it opened up its branch office in Adelaide in 1893, the General Post office acted as its agency. When a branch did open in Victoria Square, the organisation was known as Eastern Extension Telegraph Co.

In 1900, the company began laying a submarine cable between South Africa and Adelaide. It was laid via Mauritius, the Cocos Islands and Cottlesloe in Western Australia, to Adelaide, coming ashore at Grange. It extended into the city along the northern side of Grote Street, through Pitt Street to Franklin Street. Finally it entered the back of the company’s new premises, then located at the National Mutual Building in Victoria Square (the former Marine and Harbors Building).

The Eastern Extension Telegraph Co remained there for about three years before moving to the Advertiser building in 1904, where it became the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Co. Ltd. It used these premises until 1921, when it bought the building now known as Electra House from the Citizens’ Life Assurance Co. The building became known as Electra House in 1940, after the Greek legendary figure Electra, “the bright one”.

The company changed its name to Cable and Wireless Ltd in 1929 but the local branch did not use this name until May 1943.

The building passed into government ownership in May 1949, and then to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission before it became commonwealth property in September that year. Cable & Wireless Ltd. had by this time gone into decline due to competition from “beam wireless”, and finally ceased service as a cable station in January 1949.

Council passed plans for the construction of this building in September 1900. The architect was John Quinton Bruce, who is probably better known for his design of Carclew House on Montefiore Hill. J.Q. Bruce worked with architects William Cumming and Ernest Bayer. According to M. Page, his “flamboyant architecture was so successful in the pre-war years that it made him a wealthy man”.

Notes

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Significance

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This building illustrates developments in the insurance industry in Adelaide. However, it is historically significant mainly because of its association with the Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Co. Ltd. This was responsible for providing telegraphic communication from Europe to connect with South Australia’s overland telegraph in 1872. As the company controlled the use of the overseas cable, this building became the Australian headquarters through which overseas cables eventually passed. The building is notable for its high-quality classical detailing, and particularly for the use of red granite. The figure brackets supporting the balconette are very distinctive, and rare in Adelaide. The garlanded giant ordered Corinthian columns and high-quality stonework to pediments and ground floor make this building significant, even though statuary that once topped a large pediment and the original mansard roof with a widow’s walk have disappeared. Internally, the spaces and details are original.

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Images of Citizens' Life Assurance Company Building

  • Electra House, 2014
 
Architects
John Quinton Bruce Architect
Builders
Building materials
Stone, Granite, Sandstone
Architectural styles
3 Federation Period (c. 1890–c. 1915)
Construction
1905/03/15 -
Architecture and design features
John Quinton Bruce, Corinthian, red granite, pediment
Engineering features
 
Precinct
Victoria Square- Tarndanyangga
Council Ward
Central
Alternative Addresses
Geo-coordinates
Town Acre
202
Planning Zone or Policy Area
Original owners
Original occupant
Later occupant/s
Purposes and use
Commercial, Office
AS2482 classification
11510 - Business House - Offices
Public Access
Business/trading hours
 
NTSA ID
3410
State Heritage ID
13387
ACC Reference No.
DPTI Heritage No.
1298
RNE ID
1298
Certificate of Title No.
CT 5991/316 D73294 A751
NTSA file exists
Yes
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
3.3 Financing Adelaide
3.3.3 Other Financial Institutions
4 BUILDING ADELAIDE
4.1.8 Establishing communications
4.5 Building Styles in Adelaide
4.5.3 Edwardian
Topics
Insurance, telegraph
 
Australian Curriculum references
Year 5: The Australian Colonies
ACHHK095
 

References

  • ACA, Digest of Proceedings, 10 September 1900; Australia Post, The personal touch: a look at South Australia’s postal history from proclamation day to present day, 1986 (pamph.), p.30; Burgess, H.T., Cyclopedia of South Australia, Vol.1, 1909, p.541; Gooley, M.J., Electra House (pamph.), (2nd ed.), 1980, pp.5-8; Page, M., Sculptors in space, 1986, p.158; SAPP, No.191, 1884, p.5.

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