When the current Adelaide Railway Station opened in 1928, it was touted as the most magnificent and contemporary railway station in the Commonwealth. A massive, ornate and luxurious beacon of neoclassical mastery, it was declared ahead of its time and became a source of great pride for the state.
Now after more than 90 years, Renewal SA is embarking upon a significant revitalisation of the station that will see many of its heritage features restored and celebrated, and that will introduce a diverse range of shopping and dining experiences reminiscent of the station’s heyday.
“In the twenties and thirties the Adelaide Railway Station was not only the epicentre of train travel in South Australia, but also a hive of shopping, eating and socialising,” says Director of City Projects at Renewal SA, Matt Hunt.
“The concourse was alive with kiosks that sold everything from newspapers and fresh fruit to hot chocolate and the latest popular novels.
“You could also get your hair cut, take a hot shower, have a three-course meal at the Overland Dining Hall (now The Guardsman), visit the beauty parlour, enjoy a port in the wine saloon, send a telegram or have your baby weighed by a registered nurse.
“The station was built with people in mind, and was a vibrant, social place – as such, people spent time there outside of train travel, and that’s something we want to rekindle,” Matt says.
Over the course of the next three years, Adelaideans can expect to see some major changes at the station that will not only enhance its heritage character and architectural features but that will bring about a shift in the way people perceive the station and the types of experiences they can have there.
The revitalisation program will be undertaken in stages and will include the conservation of the station’s external neoclassical facade, including the Ionic columns, cornices, large arched windows, ornaments and the Adelaide Railway Station clock.
A dramatic new entrance at the northern end of the station will also be developed, featuring vaulted ceilings, new tenancies and public artwork. Located at the cultural crossroads of the Adelaide Riverbank, where the promenade linking Adelaide Festival Centre, Festival Plaza, Adelaide Convention Centre and the Adelaide Oval footbridge intersects, the new northern entrance will become a major landmark and gateway to the city.
As part of revitalisation works, the North Terrace street frontage and the station ramp will be uplifted with architectural features that reflect the clean and simple lines of the art deco period in which the station was built. Architectural lighting will also be installed both inside and outside of the station to enhance its night-time presence and better showcase its imposing dimensions, smooth arches and striking geometric detail.
“The revitalisation of the station will not only elevate our public realm, but give people new reasons to visit and appreciate the heritage value of the station, which is one of only a few heritage-listed spaces of its scale in the state, and a marvellous example of classically inspired architecture of the early twentieth century period,” says Michael Queale, Principal Heritage Conservation Architect at Heritage South Australia.
“By reviving such an important architectural and social icon, we are honouring the legacy left by the station’s most notable Railway Commissioner, William Alfred Webb, who styled the station on the palatial railway stations of the United States and introduced a level of splendour and amenity not previously seen on South Australia’s rail network.
“Webb also exposed us to the power of giant, high-capacity steam locomotives that changed the way South Australians travelled forever.
“This project captures some of the optimism and prosperity of Webb’s time and that characterised train travel in the 1920s,” Michael says.
Importantly, the revitalisation project will also see the expansion of food, retail and cultural experiences at the station with a view to creating more opportunities for people to meet and spend time there. Dormant tenancies will be reactivated—including 570 square metres of undeveloped retail space in the north-east section of the concourse—and railway memorabilia will be exhibited in a more prominent, interactive way. A curated program of pop-ups and installations will also be trialled.
“We have already seen the positive difference that recent retail tenants and pop-ups—including Platform 10 and The Guardsman—have made to the social atmosphere of the concourse, and this is just the beginning of a much larger journey of renewal which will effectively re-awaken a magnificent cultural asset for our city,” Matt says.
“We are going to see the station in a way that we have not seen it since its peak—a place of lively interaction, grandeur and enjoyment—all in a beautiful and refreshed historic setting.”