Urban Exploration – Edmund Wright House

One of the iconic buildings of King William Street, Edmund Wright House holds a special place in the heart of many South Australians.  Some will remember it as an active, working bank.  Others will be amongst the 67,000 people who signed a petition to prevent its demolition in 1971.  And perhaps others were married here in its later years as the office of the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.  While it lay dormant and empty, awaiting its next incarnation, I slipped inside to see what lays beyond the grand foyer of this magnificent building.
edmundwrighthouse-old
“Edmund Wright House” was built as the headquarters for the Bank of South Australia and completed in 1878.  Prior to the completion of this building, the colony’s first bank operated from three weatherboard rooms located on North Terrace.  Prior to this the bank operated from a canvas tent where they began in 1837!   The Bank Of South Australia acquired the King William Street site in 1874 and organised a design competition with a first prize of £200.

Edmund Wright, either individually, or with associates E.J. Woods and Daniel Garlick had already designed several prominent buildings including the Methodist Church Meeting Hall, the Adelaide Town Hall and St Lawrence Church and Priory in North Adelaide.  Edmund Wright and Melbourne architect Lloyd Tayler had just won the competition for the South Australian Houses Of Parliament when they also won the Bank Of South Australia design competition.  Work commenced in 1875.  Costing £63,000 to erect, it was the noblest commercial building erected in colonial Adelaide.

In 1892, the Bank of South Australia was taken over by the Union Bank who then moved into the premises. In 1951, Union Bank merged with the Bank of Australasia to become the ANZ Bank and by 1969 had outgrown the King William Street premises.  The building was subsequently sold to Mainline Corporation, a Sydney development group, who intended to build a 19 story office block on the site.

Negative public reaction met the proposal.  Some 67,000 people petitioned against the building’s demolition and a public appeal raised $250,000.  After a bitter nine month battle, the South Australian Government, with Premier Don Dunstan at the helm, agreed to purchase the building for $750,000.  It was formally listed as a State Heritage Place and the building was restored before being renamed “Edmund Wright House”.  Some see this as an injustice to the principal architect Lloyd Tayler.  Tayler was seen as the creative of the relationship but little credit is given to his work on the building.  His reputation and legacy live on today in Melbourne architecture.

Since its 1972 acquisition by the State Government, the building has played host to various Government departments.  For many years it housed the offices of the Registrar Of Births, Deaths and Marriages, with many civil ceremonies conducted within its grand halls.   The building became unoccupied for a period in 1995 and was later used by the State History Centre and, more recently, the Migrant Resource Centre.  As such, some of the grandeur of the building has been lost behind modern carpeting and internal modifications.

In 2016, the building was offered on the open market on a 99 year leasehold.  It is hoped that the future occupant restores the internals of this building to their former glory and it becomes publically accessible once more.

As more and more of our heritage buildings are consumed and destroyed in the name of progress, one should look to “Edmund Wright House” and the support of 67,000 people who believed in heritage preservation enough to pressure the government to intervene.  One wonders how the state’s Minister for Heritage, Mr Rau, might react in similar circumstances today.

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2 thoughts on “Urban Exploration – Edmund Wright House

  1. This is a wonderful old building. I remember when I was the Manager at Allans Music, holding a Steinway piano concert here. Was the second location in a series (first location was Carrick Hill). It is a beautiful hall and wonderful acoustics. Shame it’s still not used. Hope it doesn’t go to ruin

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