Since moving to Sydney 20-odd years ago I’ve come to love the elegant Queen Victoria Building, which occupies and entire city block. But like many of the shoppers and commuters that pass through her colonnaded walkways and underground passageways, I’ve taken her beauty for granted – not fully appreciating her heritage, history and architectural significance. All that changed when I took a history tour of the building, but more on that later.
Did you realise this old girl turned 120 in July 2018? Celebrations continue until mid-August with a Memory Lock installation inspired by the ‘love padlocks’ of the Pont des Arts footbridge in Paris. Designed by James Dive the 5m tall ironwork ‘keyhole’ installation is located under the QVB’s central dome.
If you’ve had a memorable moment at the QVB you’re invited to share it by by writing it on a tag connected to a padlock and attaching it to the ‘keyhole’. Everyone who takes part goes in a draw to win a high tea for six at The Tea Room in QVB. See details here.
I visited the installation last week and was amazed at the number of padlocks already attached to the installation, which includes a 4.8m replica of the keepsake key gifted to the mayoress of Sydney, Francis Harris, at the building’s opening in 1898. Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the original keepsake key is unknown.
The QVB has an amazing story, so it’s worth taking the history tour that is offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11.30am. For $15 the 45-minute tour is jam-packed with facts and anecdotes. Did you realise the QVB was built on the site of Sydney’s original livestock and produce markets? The markets were initially relocated in the basement of QVB and accessed via a lift that was big enough for a horse and cart.
Built in an economic recession the QVB design was considered by some as an outrageous extravagance. Once opened, it was lauded for its innovative construction, yet by 1959 was proposed for demolition in favour of a civic square and car park. Thankfully, the building was classified by the National Trust in 1974 and restoration was undertaken by Malaysian company Ipoh Garden who was granted a 99-year lease. For more history you can read my recent story in The Weekend Australian here.
Praised at its opening for innovative features like steel frame and barrel vaulted glass ceilings it is now regarded as an outstanding example of Victorian-Federation architecture. Many original features remain, such as stained glass windows, balustrades and tiles, which are highlighted during the history tour.
Named Queen Victoria Markets Building when opened in 1898, the statue of Queen Victoria at the Druitt Street entrance didn’t materialise until 1986. Originally located outside Leinster House, the seat of Irish Parliament in Dublin, it was removed after Irish independence and languished in storage until it was tracked down during the QVB’s 1986 restoration, upon which it was gifted by Ireland to the City of Sydney and unveiled on 20th December 1987.
I’ve always adored the tiny black wrought-iron staircase on the top level that spirals towards what looks like a Hobbit-sized door near the roof. So I was thrilled to learn it is original and leads to the void between the inner stained glass dome and outer copper dome.
While restoration has preserved the sophistication and elegance of the original building, sympathetic concessions to practicality have added modern architectural features that are equally eye-catching, like the reflective escalators.
Once construction for the new tram line is completed it will be possible to admire QVB’s George Street facade once again and the tram itself should offer a wonderful view of the building as it glides by.
So next time you visit the QVB take a few moments to admire the patterned floor tiles, the intricate stained-glass windows and the allegorical statues above the George and Kent Street entrances. Make an effort to immortalise your memory of QVB by adding it to the lock installation before 19th August 2018 and you could be sipping high tea ensconced in her lavish interiors.
Disclaimer: I undertook the QVB history tour at my own expense.