Report cover
Inner urban conservation and development - An independent panel report on a proposal for Smith Street, Collingwood, under Melbourne 2030. Edited by Miles Lewis, August 2004. Order your copy

An Art Deco Coles...

21 Jul 2004


Robin Grow, President, Art Deco Society, Inc.

The Art Deco Society Inc. wishes to object to the proposed development at 132 -172 Smith Street, Collingwood. The Society believes that this development will have an extremely detrimental effect on the heritage values and streetscape character of the Smith Street precinct and would result in the demolition of a significant building in the Art Deco style; the former Coles Store No. 1. The development should not be permitted without the preservation of this store and it is suggested that the store could be adaptively reused as part of any revamped proposal.

The present building has great historic significance for its connection with the retailing history of the area and with the Coles Stores. The Coles store opened in 1914 and replaced their original Smith Street store at No. 288. From the store at No. 172 (referred to by the company as �No. 1�) the Coles brothers launched their chain of Coles stores throughout Australia.

The Harry Norris Art Deco Design

In the mid-1930s, the building was re-modelled to the design of Harry Norris. Norris was amongst the most prolific and prominent architects of the Art Deco era in Melbourne and designed a range of commercial, industrial and domestic buildings. Many of his commissions were from the Nicholas family and the Coles brothers and his house at Sherbrooke (�Burnham Beeches�) is regarded as one of Australia�s top Moderne houses.

Norris was engaged by the Coles brothers to preside over design, construction and re-modelling of Coles Stores throughout Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
In 1929, the Coles brothers sent him to the USA to study the design of retail stores and many of the ideas from this experience were incorporated into his Australian designs.

The Smith Street store was a two-storey building at street level but extends to three storeys at the rear. The fa�ade was re-modelled by Norris to incorporate a symmetrical design, finished in smooth cement render. A recessed area was centrally located below the roofline for the display of the COLES name and some of the original lettering is still visible. Directly beneath the name is a series of windows, utilising steel-frames that were a distinctive feature of buildings in the Moderne style. The fa�ade also features a series of subtly-incised horizontal bands. At the street level, most of the awning has been covered over, but it is possible to see the remains of two horizontal strips. It is assumed that the remainder of the strips are in place.

Internally, a number of original features remain, including cornices, metal gratings in the ceiling, and light fittings. The original sales area was double height and some false ceilings were installed by a later tenant, probably in the 1960s, when it ceased to operate as a Coles store. A dividing wall has also been installed to create two tenancies in the space. At the rear of the building, the original (1919) building is retained, rising to three storeys.

In addition to the re-modelling of the Smith Street store, Norris was responsible for the construction of the following Coles stores:

  • Bourke Street (1928, with extension 1938-40),
  • Castlereagh St., Sydney (1933)
  • Camberwell (1933)
  • Brunswick (1933)
  • Puckle St., Moonee Ponds (1935)
  • Acland St., St. Kilda (1938)
  • Benalla (1938)
  • Sale (1938)
  • Wangaratta (1938)
  • Forbes NSW (1938)
  • Adelaide (1940)
  • Prahran (1940)

Other major works attributed to Norris include:-

  • Mitchell House, Lonsdale St., Melbourne (1936)

  • Majorca House, Flinders Lane, Melbourne (1928-9)

  • �Burnham Beeches�, Sherbrooke (1930-33)

  • �Strathalbyn�, Sassafras

  • Carlow House, Elizabeth St., Melbourne (1938)

  • Northern Bakery, Edward St., Brunswick (1939)

  • Nicholas Building, 27 Swanston st., Melbourne (1925-6)

  • Carlow House, 34 Elizabeth St., Melbourne (1934-6)


Norris was one of the most influential architects from the Art Deco era in Victoria, and his designs incorporated all the major styles � Moderne, Functionalist, Spanish Mission. He made a major contribution to the landscape throughout Victoria and was held in high regard by his peers and the profession, despite being ostracized by some in architecture profession because he exposed some corrupt practices relating to tendering prices.

Many of his commercial building designs changed the face of retail sales in Victoria and his clever design of Coles stores successfully attracted customers in difficult Depression years.

The City of Yarra must ensure that a building with connections to a major retail firm and an architect of this stature is preserved as part of this redevelopment.

Posted by Author Craig Bellamy


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