The Shell Company was founded by Marcus Samuel (Viscount Beasted) in England in 1897 as a British company to be known as the Shell Transport and Trading Company. At the time the American-owned Standard Oil Company controlled 90 per cent of petroleum production in the world. After a successful merger in 1907 between the Shell Company and the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, the company went on to challenge the supremacy of the American company.
Shell pioneered the oil business in Australia, opening offices here in 1900. In 1905 the British Imperial Oil Co Ltd was registered in London as a subsidiary of the Shell group to conduct its business in Australia. It was renamed the Shell Company of Australia Ltd in 1927. It developed a system of bulk storage in Australia and no other company followed its example of bulk distribution from the terminal ports until 1924.
The construction of Shell’s offices in Adelaide in 1931 reflected the company’s strength and confidence: as Progress in Australia claimed, it was “one of the most encouraging signs in the present state of the depression”. The “up-to-date”, “New Art” 10-storey office building included appointments and finishes expected of a successful business house.
Using their own products, Shell had “oil-fired boilers, control of which was completely automatic”, and “the installation of the hot water radiator type, supplied from boilers in the basement, heated with automatically controlled fuel oil burners, the system being so designed that the burners are controlled by the temperature of the rooms”. Finishes included terrazzo floors, a marble entrance and a red sand cement finish. The company’s policy was always to favour local material first before obtaining what was needed from around Australia before looking for British Empire products.
The architects were McMichael and Harris. Eric McMichael opened his own architectural practice in 1910 after being first articled to Garlick and Jackman, followed by three years for the Works and Buildings Department.
Architecturally the building was notable for its interior rather than its exterior. Inside it was remarkably original, with open stairwells, original lifts and lobbies, bronze work to balustrading, memorials, terrazzo work, and largely original office tenancies on several floors. Externally, it is severe and largely unadorned, particularly the upper floors.
The building now operates as a Max Mara store at ground level, with the rest being part of the Myer Centre.