The parent company of the Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance Society Limited (MLC), Citizens’ Life Assurance Company Limited, was incorporated in Sydney in 1886. The company soon “placed upon a permanent basis the system of industrial assurance in Australia” (Gray A.C., Union is strength – a centennial history of the Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance Company Limited, 1886-1986). A branch opened in South Australia in 1898.
In 1907 the company amalgamated with Australia’s second-oldest mutual life assurance society, the Mutual Life Association of Australia, and became the Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance Company Limited. In 1910 the MLC took over the Australian Widows’ Fund, which had started in Melbourne in 1871. That company built its first offices in Adelaide at 131 King William Street in 1901. This building still survives and is known today as Electra House. MLC then occupied various premises, including Electra House again (1930-41), and the Savings Bank building in King William Street.
Simultaneously, the head office in Sydney bought land in 1949 for new offices in Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide, Townsville, and Hamilton in New Zealand. The Adelaide site was formerly occupied by the Windsor Castle Hotel and Morialta Chambers.
The Adelaide company offices were built in the 1950. The building was similar in style to those being built in other states. The pamphlet distributed by MLC in Adelaide in 1957 to commemorate the new offices stated that the “edifice has introduced a new era in architectural and engineering design for large city buildings”.
The design was the outcome of overseas research on steel-frame structures aimed at decreasing the weight and quantity of materials previously used and speeding up construction,while retaining stability and strength. Savings in material and time meant considerable saving in costs.
Architects Bates, Smart and McCutcheon of Melbourne, assisted in Adelaide by Lawson, Cheesman, Doley and Partners, applied the principles of this research to the MLC building, adapting them for Australian materials and conditions. Building contractors Fricker Brothers started work in October 1955 and finished the building in 1957.
MLC lauded their achievement, claiming that “the beauty of our structure of pale green, purple and silver holds and delights the eye from all quarters, and in sunlight or under grey skies it is undoubtedly the outstanding building of Adelaide”.