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chronology of the Grace Building

Marketing Division, The Grace Hotel Sydney

The landmark "Grace Building" in which you are standing plays an important role in the history of Sydney, and Australia. It was built by the Grace Bros. retail empire and remains one of Sydney's best known examples of pre-war architecture.

Today the Grace Building has come into its own as one of Australia's best known hotels located within a grand old heritage building.

Following is a brief summary of important dates in the history of the Grace Building and of Australia.

1926 The Grace Brothers, Albert Edward and Joseph Neal Grace, purchased a block of land on the corner of York, Clarence and King streets, on which they would build the "Grace Building", the jewel in the crown of their retail empire. They believed the site was perfectly positioned for the building they planned would become "The Showpiece of the Company". With new public transport routes and the coming Sydney Harbour Bridge turning York and Clarence Streets in the major city thoroughfares. Company letterhead even showed the building as being "…on the Harbour Bridge Highway."

1928 Sydney City Council approved the Grace Building's design on 31 October, 1928. Construction then commenced by builders, Kell & Rigby.

An ambitious but successful design for the building by Sydney architects, Morrow and Gordon, presented a huge art deco-style building with a central tower. The 213 foot tower was designed to be prominent and pivotal to attract the eye along the city's streets.

This was also the year that Australia's most famous aviator, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his co-pilot, Charles Ulm, made the historic maiden flight from America to Australia in their Fokker plane, The Southern Cross. Kingsford Smith and Ulm arrived in Australia on 9 June, 1928 after the historic 11,200 kilometre ocean flight which lasted 83 hours and 11 minutes. Sydney's airport, The Sir Charles Kingsford Smith Airport, is named after the famous aviator.

1929 The infamous US Wall Street Crash and the ensuing market collapse in Australia severely affected Grace Bros. and the period became known as the first great battle for survival in the history of the company. Unfortunately, the timing for the opening of the Grace Building shortly followed the Wall Street Crash, signalling a bleak future for the building.

1930 The Grace Building was officially opened by Lord Mayor, Alderman ES Marks on 3 July, 1930 a number of weeks ahead of its contract time.

Grace Bros. opened the Grace building in the city centre in 1930 believing when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened that York and Clarence Streets would be the city's main thoroughfares. Broadway had been affected by the shift of the city's commercial district toward Circular Quay and the changing public transport routes away from Sydney's South end, and so the Grace Building was to be the company's saviour.

Even the fit out of the Grace Building heralded the change to more comfortable working environments in Sydney. On the week of its opening the building was indeed considered to be a 'modern office block'.

"Gone are the dingy offices where poor clerks spent their lives in semi-obscurity, and in their places are spacious, well-lighted and ventilated offices, which are really 'homes away from home'. Cheerful colours are employed; floor treatments are made easy on the feet; radiators in winter; fans in summer; in fact every possible need is supplied; it is not even necessary to walk up the stairs now, for one is wafted upwards by high-speed lifts. Such a commercial palace is the Grace Building." (Building, 12 July 1930)

In July, 1930 the Electrical Association of NSW became the first tenant of the Grace Building. Soon to follow were the Shell Company, the Retail Traders' Association and the firms of Swain and Graf and LH Wright.

As it would turn out however, the directors of Grace Bros. were mistaken in positioning the Grace Building as they did. Despite the Harbour Bridge's opening, York and Clarence Streets did not develop into busy city thoroughfares, but rather the success of retailing was dependent on the city rail loop and bus transport.

1931 In July, 1931 Joseph Grace passed away. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary published on 6 July 1931 attributed the motive force for the construction of the Grace Building to him, noting that " ... The Grace Building was not built for today; it belongs to tomorrow..

1932 On 19 March, 1932 they Sydney Harbour Bridge was officially opened. The Premier of NSW, Mr Jack Lang, was invited to officiate at the opening of the Harbour Bridge, however in one of Australia's best remembered historic moments, a rogue named Captain Francis De Groot rode over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on horseback and cut the ribbon, declaring the Bridge open before the Premier of NSW could do the honours.

Today, the Sydney Harbour Bridge remains the widest and heaviest arch bridge ever built in the world.

1940 World War 2 began. Grace Bros. was experiencing difficulty in leasing office suites in the Grace Building. At the commencement of War only six firms occupied the Grace Building.

1941 In March 1941, the estate agents, Richarson & Wrench, wrote to the Commonwealth Surveyor General following publicity about the lack of accommodation for the Commonwealth in Sydney. The agents offered to negotiate the sale of the Grace Building and valued it at 525,000 pounds. The Commonwealth did not act upon this offer.

1942 Australia was at war and the Grace Building was requisitioned under national security regulations by the Federal Government for use as headquarters by the Supreme Commander of allied forces in the south-west Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur.

It was upon his arrival in Australia that General MacArthur spoke those famous words to newspaper reporters; "I have come through, and I shall return."

Special safety precautions were taken during his use of the building including the instalment of an air raid shelter in the basement and the boarding up of the ground floor facade.

For a time, these safety measures even saw the Grace Building fondly nicknamed the 'Disgrace Building!' Aside from these temporary alterations however, war time occupation did not alter the Grace Building's original design.

It is thought that the series of tunnels that run beneath York Street to Circular Quay, now used by Telstra, were connected to the basement of the Grace Building during the war.

It is likely that at least one of them housed secret emergency telephone equipment, allowing MacArthur to maintain his operations in the event that armed conflict in Sydney damaged communication lines.

1945 The Commonwealth of Australia compulsorily acquisitioned the Grace Building.

At the end of the war, the Commonwealth was to lose the accommodation which it had requisitioned and so it compulsorily acquired the Grace Building in 1945, notifying Grace Bros. some four days later. Despite being in favour of the building's sale before the war, Grace Bros. vigorously objected to the compulsory acquisition of the building.

1946 Grace Bros. issued a writ in the High Court, seeking a declaration that the acquisition of the Grace Building was invalid. In April 1946 the High Court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth's acquisition of the building, but did not resolve the matter of compensation.

The government used the Grace Building to house several government departments including the Postmaster General's Department, the Repatriation Commission, the War Services Homes Commission, the Film Censorship Board and the Department of Labour and Industry.

1947 Construction commenced on another major project in Australian history, The Snowy Mountain HydroElectric Scheme. Built to capture the headwaters of the Snowy, Eucumbene, Tooma, Tumut, Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers, The Snowy Mountain Scheme covered an area of 3,200 kilometres and was built to protect Australia, namely the burgeoning states of NSW and Victoria, from droughts which affected the country and also to supply much-needed electricity.

The Scheme was officially launched on 17 October, 1949 by Governor General, William McKell, who declared it to be "...the greatest developmental project that has ever been conceived in this continent...the great conservation scheme for Australia".

1948 In August, 1948 Grace Bros. issued another writ in the High Court claiming compensation of 1 368 456 pounds for the Grace Building, losing again and taking the matter to the Privy Council in London.

1953 The final settlement for the Grace Building awarded to Grace Bros. in April 1953 comprised around 1 215 800 pounds. The Grace Building's settlement established the financial basis for Grace Bros' further expansion into Sydney's suburbs.

1956 Australia hosted its first Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956, bringing with it the sought-after international attention which was so important to the ongoing progress of Australian industry. In the year 2000, the Olympic Games returns to Australia, hosted by the City of Sydney.

1973 The famous Sydney Opera House was opened to the public. Today, the Opera House remains one of Australia's best-known landmarks and tourist attractions.

1995 Purchase of the Grace Building by Kuala Lumpur based Low Yat Group for adaptive reuse as a 382 room hotel.

1996 Federal Hotels International, the hotel management company of the Low Yat Group, signed a joint venture agreement with Inter Continental Hotels and Resorts forming Federal Inter Continental Hotels and Resorts Malaysia, to open and operate hotels in Australia and Malaysia.

1997 As a result of the joint venture agreement the Grace Building was reopened to the public as a hotel on 1 June, 1997. It is currently operating as The Grace Hotel Sydney, under Federal Hotels International.

Reproduced with permission of the Grace Hotel, Marketing Division.

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