Adelaide kept its horse trams longer than any other city in Australia, but in 1906 the daily papers announced that the government had bought all the metropolitan horse-drawn tramways for more than a quarter of a million pounds. On December 22, 1906, “an Act to authorise the Government to purchase certain tramways and for a Municipal Tramways Trust to construct and erect tramways and for other purposes” was assented to. The newly formed MTT was required within three years “to form, lay down, work and construct a system of tramways, the trams whereon shall be propelled by electric energy, with or without overhead trolleys”.
The main depot for the trust’s rolling stock and administration offices was the site at Hackney east of the Botanic Gardens and forming part of the former Lunatic Asylum.
Electric power came from the MTT generator at Port Adelaide, even though the converter station was built close to the Adelaide Power Station in Grenfell Street. Under the guidance of William George Toop Goodman, the trust’s electrical engineer, English & Soward designed a building to contain a battery room, main engine house and stores. The whole of the high-tension apparatus, together with rotary converter, boosters and main switchboard, was in the engine room.
The converter station was described as one of the largest of its kind in Australasia, representing the most up-to-date practice in converter station design.
The Adelaide station is an excellent example of the interpretation of architectural style for an industrial building. It was designed by the architects responsible for the former Grenfell Street Mail Exchange. Its stylistic links with that earlier building include high-quality detailing and juxtaposition of rock-faced limestone with face brickwork. The granite plinth, rock-faced limestone and the use of slate to support the cantilevered cornice make this building a distinctive element of East Terrace. Apart from the removal of part of the southern wall, it is structurally intact. Internal features including steel trusses and tiled floors remain. However there was some damage to the floor when the original machinery was removed after the Electricity Trust of South Australia bought the station to use as storage in 1963. This building is allied to the former power-station buildings to the north in terms of construction, style and scale.
The building has since been converted for use as offices.