The heritage listed Pitt Street colonnade and wedding cake facade of the former Sydney General Post Office, now the Westin Hotel at 1 Martin Place, Sydney.
Taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH1 point & shoot.
Built at huge expense over the Tank Stream, the General Post Office was constructed in stages from 1866 to 1891. It could well be described as Sydney’s Opera House of the 19th century since the relative cost, the time taken in construction and the rejection, then belated recognition, of the architect are all parallels.
The project came to the attention of James Johnstone Barnet (1827-1904) when he was appointed acting Colonial Architect in 1862. The General Post Office was regarded as a building which would come to symbolise Sydney in much the same way as the Houses of parliament at Westminster symbolise London or the Eiffel Tower Paris.
In fact the post and telegraph services of the General Post Office (compared to the Australian Museum or a new Parliament House) were held in such high esteem that the creation of a ‘monument’ gathered unprecedented support across the full spectrum of politics. The projects required the resumption of St Martins Lane for a block between Pitt and George Streets. Barnet’s original sketch shows the 100 metre frontage of the building to be without attics, mansard roofs or a clock tower.
At the opening of the first stage, the Post Master General exclaimed that the General Post Office ‘will not be surpassed by any other similar structure in the Southern Hemisphere’.
Unfortunately, slow progress in the second stage and some adverse comment about his carved figures sparked a controversy in Parliament. The panels over the Pitt Street colonnade depict the following subjects: Telegraph, Literature and the Press, the Professions, Commerce and Mining, Agriculture, Pastoral Pursuits, Science, Art, Banking and the Post Office. The figures were depicted in ‘present day clothing’, which led to them being unfairly described by one MP in Parliament as ‘tedious abortions’. It was such a contentious issue that a Board of Enquiry was set up, headed by the Gothic architect (and rival) William Wilkinson Wardell (1823-99). The board instructed that the ‘grotesque carvings’ be immediately removed. Fortunately, the Parliamentary report was ignored by the Post Master General and the ‘offensive’ carvings remain in all their glory.
(Source: City of Sydney website)
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