empire buildingS (1902 - 1981)

 

The Architect

The Empire Buildings, designed and built by renowned Perth architect Sir John Joseph Talbot Hobbs, was located at 158–160 Murray Street, on the north west corner of Barrack Street. It consisted of three floors with a basement, and had a 99 foot frontage on Murray Street and a 70 foot frontage along Barrack.

This most elegant of Perth buildings was owned by Alfred Edward Morgans, a prominent Welsh-born mining speculator after whom the Mount Morgans goldfield is named. He came to Western Australia in 1896 as the representative of the Morgans Syndicate Ltd and, the next year, became a member of the Legislative Assembly in Coolgardie; a seat he held until 1904. At the end of 1901 he served for a short time as Premier and Treasurer of Western Australia. In later life he was the consul to Austria-Hungary, Spain and the United States of America.

Built with many windows to each street frontage and a curved, pillared facade on the corner, the Empire Buildings was completed in 1902. Robert Smith & Co, saddlers and harness manufacturers, took up immediate, long-term tenancy of the basement, while upper floor tenants included the General Electric Engineering Co, insurance companies, warehousing, a tailor, a dental surgeon, and the newly-formed Naval and Military Club for officers on the Army or Navy’s active, reserve, or retired lists.

Apart from a potentially-catastrophic fire in May 1904 which was found early and caused little damage, the building had an unremarkable and uneventful history.

In 1924 the property was bought by Masel Bros, owners of Worth’s Menswear business, for £34,000. Three years later in May 1927 they sold it to an undisclosed buyer for £75,000 who sold it the next day to the Bank of New South Wales for £81,000. For many years it operated as a branch of that bank, which became Westpac Banking Corporation in 1982 and retains ownership of the property today.

Destruction

In 1981 the Bank of New South Wales, which became Westpac the following year, demolished the Empire Buildings and replaced it with a modern, glass, two-storey building. It was a Westpac Bank branch until recently but has now been converted into a 24-hour gym.