Adelaide ArcadeAdelaide Arcade - celebrating 120 years with Keith Conlon: In the Adelaide City region of South Australia

A Coat of Arms featuring an emu and a kangaroo stands proudly over the entrance to Adelaide Arcade on Rundle Mall. But take a second look and you'll see the emu and roo are on the wrong sides! It's not a bad try though, given it went up on what was then Rundle Street more than 20 years before we settled on an official Coat of Arms for our new nation.

When the Governor opened the arcade he described it all as very 'beautiful and commodious'. It wasn't a bad call because it's now 120 years old and remains one of Australia's finest heritage shopping spots. To help celebrate the occasion we decided to have a look around.

They were obviously good workers in 1885 because it only took them five months to build it all. Two million bricks and 50,000 square feet of glass later (apparently they didn't break a pane!) the arcade was fully leased within two months and opened just in time for Christmas. Mind you, a year's free rent helped get the tenants!

The opening was a big event of course. Just step inside the newly launched Adelaide Arcade Museum, just around the corner from Gaye's Arcade, press the accordian button and you'll hear one reason why. Marketing Manager, Sharon Leaney explains the accordian plays a tune specially written for the opening.

"The Adelaide Arcade Polka was written by Signor Squarise," said Sharon. "The band played in Rundle Street and the Governor and the owners of the arcade took high tea inside. That's how it was started - no public were allowed in."

The public's allowed in now though to soak up the classic Victorian Architecture. There are plenty of good places for a cuppa and a feed too and, it seems that's always been the case.

Pop in to the newly opened Arcade Museum on the first floor and Sharon will point out a treasured photo that reveals a grand cast iron arbour and stairway that once descended to a chamber under the central hall.

"We had tearooms underground. Because it was hot, they used to take tea downstairs because they didn't have air conditioning. Everything else happened upstairs."

The entrance to the underground tearoom is boarded up now, but the stairs are still down below. There's a fresh water spring in the corner too - just the thing for nicely brewed cuppa and the vaulted concrete ceiling adds a mysterious touch.

Stand still long enough and you might even hear some strange sounds. Naturally, like all old buildings, Adelaide Arcade is believed to have it's own resident ghost.

It was one of the first buildings in Adelaide to have electric lights, which were powered by a generator in the shop now occupied by Manhatten Drycleaners.

In 1887, the arcade's caretaker came to a nasty end when he fell into the motor. The newspapers of the day, which are on display in the museum, were pretty graphic about the details. Over the years there have been various reports of unexplained sightings and strange phenomena!

One of the most exotic features of Adelaide Arcade was the lavish Turkish Baths at the Grenfell Street end where Haighs is now. You could get a warm bath for a bob or a luxurious Turkish bath for four!

"Monday was reserved for ladies only," said Sharon. "It was quite an exotic feature of the arcade."

The most dramatic change to the arcade was the construction of the first floor balcony. Originally, each shop had two floors - downstairs was for retailing and upstairs was used for storage or manufacturing.

"In the late sixties the balcony level went in," said Sharon. "That resulted in two levels of shops - we went from 50 to basically a hundred…"

There are a couple of the original internal staircases left. They're now heritage listed and allow the businesses to use both floors.

But it could have been a very different story. On August the third, 1980, fire raged through adjoining Gays Arcade.

"All of Gay's Arcade was devastated and there was a lot of smoke and water damage to Adelaide Arcade," said Sharon. "It was heart-wrenching for a lot of people, but we've done a fantastic job restoring it. It's just absolutely brilliant."

They have too - and to help celebrate it's 120th I headed for the roof to perform a very special duty.

I climbed inside the dome over the main entrance and up to the flagpole high above Rundle Mall to unfurl the Adelaide Arcade's official 120th anniversary flag.

The flag will fly until the big birthday bash planned for December. Keep an eye out for details. A 'Back to Adelaide Arcade' week will run from Monday 25 July until Sunday 31 July, 2005 and Sharon would also love to gather some more old photos and stories about the arcade. The Arcade's museum is on the first floor next to the management office.

Adelaide Arcade
Celebrating 120 years
Open 7 days
Opposite Rundle Mall Fountain
(Museum on first floor)

Back to Postcards