Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

Exhibition Building Prince Alfred Park


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Prince Alfred Park, bounded by Chalmers Street, Cleveland Street and Central Railway, Surry Hills.


Built- 1870  Demolished- 1954


Victorian Mannerist


Rendered brick Stone


Summary The Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park, built in 1870, was once the pride and joy of the City Council. It was used for the annual Agricultural Show and for various exhibitions and public gatherings. By the 1940s there were suggestions that it be used as an indoor swimming pool, but when this option proved too difficult it was demolished in 1954 to make way for an Olympic pool.
Image: Exhibition Building, Prince Alfred Park, 1870. (City of Sydney Archives, SRC661)
Above- images showing how much the surrounding area has changed since 1870.
Left- the Exhibition Hall with the old Devonshire Street cemetery in the foreground.
Right- the site (showing some weird temporary structures) showing Cleveland House in the background.
Above- a temple devoted to Victorian bric-a-brac.
Above- an interesting late image (circa 1950) showing the Exhibition Building in relation to Central Station and Surrey Hills.
Above- the Exhibition Building housed the War Memorial Museum from 1925 to 1936, when it moved to Canberra.
Prince Alfred Park is bounded by Chalmers Street, Cleveland Street and Central Railway, Surry Hills.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans this area contained a tributary of Blackwattle Creek. It was known as Cleveland Paddocks after Cleveland House, built in the 1820s and still standing at the corner of Bedford and Buckingham Streets.

The first incursion into the paddock was the railway, which was begun in 1850 and opened in 1855. The station was located near St Paul’s Square to the west of the park. In 1856 more land was excised for Cleveland Street Public School, established that year in a prefabricated iron building.
The remaining area of Cleveland Paddocks was gazetted as a public reserve on 22 December 1865, although it was described in 1869 by Jules Joubert as ‘a quagmire with a filthy drain running across it – a plague spot’. Nevertheless in 1868 it was named after Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, then visiting Sydney. He survived an assassination attempt at Clontarf Picnic Grounds and the embarrassed colonial authorities rushed to make amends by naming local features after the Prince, including this park and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown.
The first Agricultural Society show was held here in 1869.

The following year Prince Alfred Park was the first park to be laid out in connection with a major Australian Exhibition, the Inter-colonial Exhibition held in 1870 to mark the centenary of Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay.
It predated the first International Exhibition in the Garden Palace in the Sydney Domain (1879) and the world heritage listed Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne (1880).

The original park layout was undertaken by a notable nineteenth century architect, Benjamin Backhouse, whose innovative plan was a major step in the development of park design in late 19th century Australia. The layout reflected the prevailing international trends in Exhibition Garden design, particularly as expressed by the landscaping of the 1867 Paris Exhibition.

During the life of the Exhibition Building 1870-1954 the park performed a major public function as a venue for important events and exhibitions. The building housed the War Memorial Museum from 1925 to 1936, when it moved to Canberra.
Trees and elements of the layout from the original 1870 plan of the park still exist on the site today including Moreton Bay fig trees arranged as an informal row along the boundaries. The central avenue of London Planes and Brush Box probably dates from the inter-war period, as do the Washington Palms and Canary Island Date Palms.

Additions to the park included tennis courts built in 1924, and the Coronation Playground which was built in 1936-1939 to replace a previous playground built in 1932. It is named to commemorate the coronation of King George VI. The swimming pool was built in 1954. An ice skating rink was built behind the pool in 1959 and demolished in about 1996-97.

Further reading

Lester Tropman and Associates, “Prince Alfred Park Statement of Significance Historical Analysis”, nd [c 1989]
Lester Tropman and Associates, “Prince Alfred Park Conservation Policy”, 1989
South Sydney City Council, “Prince Alfred Park Plan of Management Draft”, 1989 and 1993
Anne Cooke, “Heritage Study: Prince Alfred Park”, 1997
John Redfern, ‘Prince Alfred Park’, “History”, No 61 (September 1999)
LandArc Pty Ltd, "Register of Significant Trees", 2005



PRINCE Alfred Park is situated to the south of the Sydney Railway Terminus and Works, between these and Redfern. It was the scene of the late great Intercolonial Exhibition, and WBB found BO suited to the purpose, as well from its extent as from its proximity to the railway line, that the Sydney Corporation, in whom it has been vested as trustees" for the citizens, were prevailed upon by the Council of the Agricultural Society to erect on the ground a building which should be available for all future exhibitions. That building is now so far advanced as to allow the visitor to form a good judgment of its great extent and large proportions. On entering the Park by the Cleveland-street gate the principal entrance to the exhibition, the southern face of the transept, with the largo plate-glass windows and ornamental circular lights running under the immense arch of the roof, set off by the two " minarets " or tower, has a noble appearance. Soon from this gate, the eye catches the building angle which is affording the most extensive view of it-the front and back quarters of the western side being plainly defined. The towers and vestibule, or entrance hall, Band off in bold relief ; their effect being enhanced bv the two staircase linlls, one on cither side of the vestibule These are roofed with "cupolas," forming a happy contrast to the"louvro" covering of the main hull, and yet keeping in harmony the "moEqiia" appearance of the towers, and the semicircular roof of the transept. Through (he vestibule, or large entrance-hall, opening on either side on the wide staircase ascending to the gallery, the visitor is admitted by two wide openings into the main building, or its grandest portion, the transept, with itss.mi-cylindrical roof springing at 42 feet from the ground, the diameter of the vaulting being 60 feet, its length from end to end being 209 feet, on cnoh side of which is an oi-lo35 f-et vvidc. Each of these has at either end an iuiincusonrchid doorway to facilitate the miranet or exit of the largest steam engines or pieces of machinery ever likely to be admitted into the building. Two vestibules or balls for the arlraiffion of visitors form a commodious addition to both tides of the structure. In these, cloak-rooms, closets, &.C , have been introduced. A gallery, 15 feet wide on the Bides, and 23 feet wide ateither end of the building, ofi'ads un increased accommodator equal to more then half the ground floor. The super-ficial area of the whr.lo is divided as follows:-Transept, or bearded floor, 12,078 feet; aisles (concrete foors). 13.S50in t ; galleries, 7740 feet ; vestibules and lobbies, 150S feet ;tidn lobbies, 1700 feet: total, 36,933 feet. Tbo ai-les uro roofed with corrugated iron, supported by31 optn lattice iron girders, combining great strength withlightness. Circular girders of the same construc-tion support the semi-cylindrical roof of the transept. Sixty double sashed rolled plate-glass windows below, arid n similar number above the gallery, in addition to the front and back of the building, which aro almost entirely of mlled pkte-gloFs, will afford a sufficient amount of light,'Iho whole of these openings aro mounted on perfectly balance: swivels, in order that proper ventilation may be Hdmiiled into the building. Ventilating shafts, running through the whole structure and connected with two underground HUPS, ure intended to carry out to the top of the towers all effluvia or smoke from the building. Large and roomy as the building we have just attempted to describe moy be, still it will prove inadequate for the extensive display the Agricultural Society contemplates to make this year, as an appropriate celebration of the cen-tenary anniversary of the first landing of Captain Cook 'in Australia, ns well as a becoming means of collecting and exhibiting these article« which it is intended to send to England for fhe Grand Exhibition of 1871.A mere cattle show, with the simple addition of the usual exhibition of farm and horticultural produce, was deemed insufficient to give a, sufficient idea of the progress made in a hundred years by the sonB vt Old England oa1hf> Australian shores. The council of the Agricultural Society has wisely lentheo Exhibition Building for the reception of products of"fir.« arts and industries;" but Jn doing so duo care apelattention will be paid to these exhibits which bolong mareespecially to the society, viz., live stock; implements, &c.'Wrll-ttlectcd committees have been appointed, and arrangements have been made for the levelling of the park and grounds, which have been subdivided for the reception of fomprrury structures (not asbt-fore of saplings and canvas),lut sheds properly and securely erected, and covered with corrugated iron. Despite the almost continuous bad weather which hasprevailed from the time the contract was commenced, anastonishing amount of work has been done. Mr. Younghas so contrived that everything has been going on at once,so thet as the walls lise, ,the frames foi- door, windows,&c, oro fitted in ; whilst, even before they are completed,the lattice girders ' for the roof are already to be put in position. 1 he western and southern-faces are complete, in EO far OB the brickwork is concerned) and-the other facesare rapidly progressing. The contractor does not stint labour, whenever the opportunity for employing it is givenby the weather, so that after a couple of fine days the edifloateems to rise up almost like an Aladdin's palace. The lattice girdeis for the roof are ready ; fho flooring has bejon prepared in Squares, marked, and stacked ready for wo; nearly all the soches havo been made, and, os quick aB in tdo, have been glazed. Mr. Young bas informed the committee fhaUbould the weather only_ continue reasonably fine, ho W11hnvo tbo building roofed in, and so far completed by the15lh of next month as to allow the officials of the Agriculture Association making their arrangements for making the different, Spaces required for the several departments.

SMH 1870