This site is dedicated to the life and work of Edwin Hubert Henderson, architect (1885-1939). Henderson was Chief Architect of the Commonwealth of Australia from 1929-1939.
This week I was contacted by Georgina Criddle who is a visual artist currently presenting a twelve-week long site-specific exhibition and newsletter at West Space, located on level 1 of the old Commonwealth Bank building, 219-225 Bourke St Melbourne. The project aims to draw together various aspects of the building’s history – see here for the newsletter aspect of the project: before-too-long.com.
This building was heritage listed thanks to the work of the Art Deco & Modernism Society and extensive research undertaken by Simon Reeve, a noted Victorian heritage architect.
Is this one of Henderson’s buildings?
Mr Reeves discussed the design of the building extensively in the nomination for heritage listing:
In June 1938, it was announced that the Commonwealth Bank of Australia had succeeded in acquiring a portion of the old Bijou Theatre site – with frontage of 46 feet (14 metres) to Bourke Street and a depth of 120 feet (36.5 metres) along Russell Place – in order to erect a new building “to cater for its growing savings bank business”.13 By July, wreckers had been engaged to demolish the last remaining wall of the old Bijou Theatre.14 A few weeks later, the Melbourne City Council entered into negotiations with the Commonwealth Bank and Sir Benjamin Fuller to acquire a narrow strip of land along the eastern boundary of the site, so that Russell Place could be widened. At the same time, Fuller announced plans for the development of the unsold portion of the property – a new picture theatre, once again to the design of D F Cowell Ham,with seating for 2,000 people, shops on the ground floor and offices and clubrooms above.15
Meanwhile, sketch plans for the new Commonwealth Bank branch were drawn up by the Department of the Interior. Preliminary plans for the new building had been completed by March 1939, when the Supervisor of the Bank Premises Department informed the Director-General thus:
We are pleased to inform you that the sketch plans submitted have in a general way been approved, but there are yet some matters for consideration and adjustment which can be attended to as the preparation of working drawings proceeds. There are special features we wish to try and incorporate, such as the elimination of some of the columns in the ground floor area and the appearance of girdering in the upper floors, the idea being to try and obtain a flush ceiling plane for these floors.18
Most of the subsequent working documentation for the project was prepared by the Works & Services Branch (Victoria) of the Department of the Interior under its new Works Director, H M Rolland, who was appointed to the position in July 1939. Born in Geelong, Henry Maitland Rolland (1882-1972) began his architectural career as an articled pupil of Campbell & Kernot and, in 1900, joined the Public Works Department as a draftsman. He later transferred to the Department of Home Affairs and, in 1912, was appointed supervising architect to the newly-formed Federal Capital Territory, which involved working with Walter Burley Griffin on the implementation of the latter’s prize-winning Canberra plan. Rolland subsequently held the senior position of Works Director in the Department of Works & Railways (which replaced the Department of Home Affairs in 1923) and the Works & Services Branch (South Australia) before taking the equivalent role in Victoria in 1939.
A substantial but incomplete set of working drawings for the Commonwealth Bank branch in Bourke Street survives in the National Archives; the earliest drawings in the collection, dated between 1937 and 1938, were not actually prepared specifically for the project, but represent standard detail drawings (for such things a rainwater head, incinerator and banking chamber joinery) issued by the NSW branch for use in branch banks across the country. A preliminary excavation plan for the site in Bourke Street is dated 12 May 1939; the remaining architectural and services drawings are mostly dated between October 1939 and April 1941. Many of these bear the names (or at least initials) of the staff involved in the project. Those who have been conclusively identified to date include the following:
• Harold Griffiths Bloom (1911-?) – formerly employed in the offices of H A Burt, Hughes & Orme and Alec Eggleston. Briefly in private practice in 1937, he designed an ES&A branch bank at Hawksburn. Following a stint with the Department of Interior, Bloom worked for Australian Plaster Industries in South Melbourne;
• Claude Stanley Dainton (1906-1982) – had worked for Messrs Gibbs Finlay & Morsby (1923-27) and Robert B Hamilton (1927-30) before travelling to London, where he gained further experience in the office of noted modernist architect Henry Goodhart-Rendel (1930);
• William Henry Lacey (1900-1954) – was articled to F D Warren from 1919-23, and later worked in the office of A J Ainslie. Much later, he took over Anketell Henderson’s practice after the latter’s death in 1942;
• Patrick Rupert Windsor (1903-1976) – born and trained in Hobart and moved to Melbourne in 1925, where he variously worked in private practice, for the Commonwealth Department of Works and the offices of C N Hollinshed and K F Elliot. He joined the Victorian branch of the Department of Interior in 1938;
In May 1939, a perspective drawing of the building was published in the Argus; it was noted that “a modern vertical treatment has been adopted for the facade, which will be faced with granite up to the second floor with sandstone beyond”.
On the website, “Walking in Melbourne” there is an extensive piece responding to a query from Robin Grow about whether or not Henderson was the architect: http://www.walkingmelbourne.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=6756&start=6.
Following research in the archives of the Commonwealth Bank and the National Archives, the writer concludes that Henderson was the architect. The design work was lead by the Canberra office. In particular, a letter dated 14 October 1938 from M. W. Mehaffrey, the Director-General of Works Department of the Interior in Canberra to The Secretary of the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney refers to “the Chief Architect’s design” costing £110,000 to build.
To me, it makes sense that Henderson, as Chief Architect, would have led the design of this building, even if most of the more detailed work would have been done by other officers of the Department (including James Orwin). Given his extensive involvement in bank architecture and the scale of this commission (one of the largest bank buildings completed in the 1930s and 1940s), it would have been unusual for Henderson not to have been involved. Certainly the design was completed before his death as an artist’s impression in the Argus in May 1939 shows (see below). Very happy to consider other views.