The Post Office has occupied a prominent part in local affairs of North Adelaide. It was erected and still operates as the mail clearing house and receiving house for North Adelaide. The date of construction in 1884 also marks the rapid expansion of telegraphic communication that took place during the 1880s. The building of the adjoining Institute testifies to the capacity of Adelaide residents in the 1870s to remedy the cultural shortcomings of the colony. Other cultural buildings, such as the Art Gallery of South Australia, Mitchell Building, Jervois Wing of the State Library, Public Baths, Band Rotunda and Torrens Weir were also constructed during this period of unprecedented prosperity and confidence. The North Adelaide Institute was part of that dynamic phase of urban and cultural development, and a milestone for the North Adelaide community.
In 1880 the desirability of establishing an institute at North Adelaide was affirmed at a large meeting of the residents. No action was taken until mid-1882 when a further call for residents’ support went out. The proposed erection of a local post office appears to have been the necessary catalyst, for in August 1882 at a public meeting it was resolved that the Institute buildings be erected on land provided by the government adjoining the post office site. The sum of 220 guineas was subscribed at the meeting, a building committee formed, and encouragement given by the chief justice and the Honourable J.L. Parsons (minister for Education). By July 1883 the committee had enough money subscribed to accept the tender of R.C Rees for £3470, allowing for the entire Institute building to be erected except for rooms at the rear of the hall dating from 1885.
The foundation stone for the North Adelaide Institute was laid by the Governor Sir William Robinson on September 10,1883. A contemporary account of the opening ceremony in 1884 described the Institute as part of a large and handsome building that would also contain a post and telegraph office. There was a hall, library and a large assembly room fitted with a stage. “The hall is provided with four doors opening outwards, so as to minimise the danger in case of panic among the audience.” On the upper floor was a reading room and committee rooms.
“The front is in the classic style of architecture, with red brick facing and cement base and dressings. In the Post Office there will be complete accommodation for the postal as well as for the telegraphic and telephonic departments, also for night clerks and messengers. On the upper floor are seven apartments for the resident Postmaster.”
The Post and Telegraph Office was opened on November 1, 1884, the cost of the entire project being £6942. The complex consists of three main areas, the Post Office and the Institute offices that together make up the street frontage of the building, and the large hall at the rear. The facade of brick and cement dressings was a radical departure from the constructional vernacular of the time of bluestone rubble and stuccoed dressings. This may be explained by the growing reaction against the use of bluestone and stucco coinciding with an increased availability of quality face bricks.
The composition of the building is strongly derived from the classical tradition. The institute and post office sections are differentiated by setbacks, the juxtaposition of entrances, the grouping of openings, and the use of classical orders and pediment to centralise the institute frontage. The building is visually unified by a strongly rusticated plinth, the banded base to the first floor, and a decorative frieze linking the impost level of first floor window openings. The street frontage is an impressive combination of two discrete functions architecturally linked by continuity and similarity of detail. The use of the salmon-coloured brick with stuccoed dressings is distinctive and attractive. By comparison, the hall is constructed of roughly squared sandstone with brick dressings. The institute section has an impressively original interior.