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Today's major commercial and retail centre at Chatswood is largely a post-World War II creation. Under the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme it was decided in 1948 that Chatswood be developed as a District Centre. Planners designated the western side of the railway for commercial development, and in the early 1960s the first large retail stores, Grace Brothers and Waltons, opened on the east side of the line.

Chatswood City Centre is now one of Sydney's largest regional commercial and retail centres and a major transport hub. Chatswood railway station is the junction for the North Shore and Chatswood-Epping Lines and Chatswood Transport Interchange is the terminus for bus services to the City, Bondi Junction, Manly, Balmoral, Narrabeen, Mona Vale, Gladesville, West Ryde, North Ryde, Parramatta and Dundas among others. For the draft zoning map of the Chatswood City Centre zoning map, click here.

Shaping the centre

The first commercial enterprises in the area now known as Chatswood had been established in the 1860s at the junction of Lane Cove Road and Mowbray Road. The Bush Mission Society had established a small brick chapel on John Bryson's land on the south-west corner of this intersection by August 1864. By 1870 Bryson had established a timber yard and 'school of arts' (which served as the council chambers from 1879) on his land on Mowbray road to the east of Lane Cove Road, while the South Chatswood Methodist Church was built on the site of the Bush Mission chapel in the early 1870s. Henry Russell opened his Great Northern Hotel on the north-western corner of the intersection in 1870 (It was briefly named the Artarmon Hotel at time of the picture below) , a handful of general stores commenced trading here and Chatswood's first police station was erected immediately south of the church in 1884.[1]The road junction was also the location of the first gas lamp in Chatswood, lit on 31 December, 1896. In addition, Hammond's Butchery was located nearby at the junction on the Pacific Highway and Moriarity Road.

The Great Northern Hotel in the early 1900s. 

Photo: Willoughby Museum collection, courtesy John RE Brown.

Residential and commercial development in Chatswood were, however, stymied by transport difficulties until the opening of the North Sore Railway from Hornsby to St Leonards in January 1890. When Richard Hayes Harnett convinced the Railway Commissioners to locate Chatswood railway station on his Railway Station Estate some 1200 yards to the nort, the development focus shifted from the area around the Great Northern Hotel to this new centre. Hayes rewarded the commissioners for their generosity by naming streets after them and other prominent railway officials when he launched his North Shore Railway Estate in January 1889. The opening of the railway occurred in the midst of a severe economic depression, however, so land sales and commercial development languished until economic conditions improved from the mid-1890s. The extension of the tramway from Penshurst Street to the railway station on 24 July 1908 provided a new impetus for expansion of commerce at Chatswood.[2]

The arrival of the first tram at Chatswood railway station on 24 July 1908. 

Postcard, Willoughby Museum collection.

Harnett had applied to the North Willoughby Council in June 1879 to have a road, to be called Victoria Avenue, surveyed and proclaimed "from Lane Cove Road opposite Mrs. Fuller's" to the present day Warrane Road. This street, which would subsequently serve the railway station, was eventually proclaimed in 1882. As economic conditions improved, the first shop appeared in Victoria Avenue during 1894 and by 1896 there were several shops on the western side of the railway, while a small weatherboard building located there served as the Chatswood Post Office by 1900 (the site is now occupied by the Telstra Exchange). Prominent local shops were Hill Brothers (later Benjamin's), established on the west side of Victoria Avenue in 1898, and Whitchels, which opened its doors on the east side of the railway near Victor Street in 1906.[3]

Image 3: Provide link (as above) to Picture Willoughby image of Hill Brothers shop in 1904: Can we make the link direct to Picture Willoughby 000/000775 - or to the 1915 photo of Benjamin's store 003/003179?

At this time the retail business was very different to what we experience today, with small family-run businesses specialising in specific products with a focus on personal service. A number of older residents have recorded their recollections of shopping in Chatswood during this era:

North, along Gordon Road, the main shops began opposite Chatswood School. The Fire Station, a mixed grocer and confectionary, a paper shop, greengrocer (Rudds), a boot-maker with half of the small space as a lending library! Rudds sold frozen organs (good to hide under a desk and suck during lessons) and toffee apples made from 'spec' fruit which were also sold cheaply by the bagful. Down Victoria Avenue past Benjamins store and opposite the railway station, the 'Oasis' Café was opened in the 1930s. Then a 'Ham and Beef' where butter came in wooden boxes and had to be weighed in portions and patted into shape with two wooden bats. The assistants wore collar and tie with white cotton coats. Sawdust on wooden floors helped them to slide swiftly along the counter when trade was brisk. Misses Burns had a small ladies wear shop next to the R.S.L. and former post office. (May McDonald)

 [Near Gordon Road] I can recall Wilson's Saddlery with all types of leather goods including harnesses, riding crops for the horses and sulkies which were still to be seen the roads. [At] Horn's Butchery ... water ran down the window holding the bracken fern in place. Drawing pictures on the floor in the sawdust was quite fun if you had to wait long. Then the wonders of Benjamins and getting lost in its departments. Mother would buy gloves, perching her elbow on a velvet pad while the sales girl fitter the gloves, stretching the fingers with a special glove stretcher. All parcels were tied up with brown paper and string, expertly snapped without losing the forefinger!

Further towards the station there was a building, set back, which reeked of cloves -- the dentist! Next to him was Parle's Chemist Shop. In his window, two enormous glass-topped bottles: one was filled with green liquid the other red. In my youthful ignorance I imagined all his medicines were made from these liquids! A light shone from behind ad the contents assumed magical elixir proportions.

[On the other side of the road from Gordon Road] 'Chatswood House' was an early version of a modern milk bar [with] sodas. Ice-creams, chocolates, plus a small library. [Past the Acadia Theatre] ... was John Davies the barber. This you could recognise by the twirling red and while Barber's Pole outside and the smell of tobacco from the interior. ... There was a toy shop which had a great selection of dolls, marbles, train sets, cricket bats and so on. "Look but not too much touching" was the order of the day there. Then there was the memorial hall and the post office. (HR Bryant)

[In Victoria Avenue east of the railway] near Spring Street was a chemist, then a soft-goods shop run my Mrs Finlayson and her daughter Ailsa; then Mr Hogarth had a drapery and the Watson family ran a shoe repair business, with the father and son working together. There was a grocer's shop on one corner of Anderson Street and a wine bar on the other. Next to this was Hughes' Music Store and Mr Ernie Hill, a hairdresser, followed by Mr Meek's 'deli' with the slogan, 'Meeks for Mild Bacon'. Mr Favoloro had a fruit shop and then came my father's shop with the sign: "Bray, Seedsman and Florist".

Next to our shop was Mr Jimmy Burrell, a watchmaker and jeweller. He used to work in the window with a glass held to his eye, which fascinate the kids going back and forth to school. ... Mr Maudson had a shoe shop next door, then came the ABC Bank on the corner of Victor Street. ... Mr Waldron had a produce store around the corner in Victor Street where we used to buy chaff and feed for our horse and the chooks. Back in Victoria Avenue, Witchells had a big shop full of drapery and Manchester, and then came Moran and Cato's grocery shop with a big long counter.

On the other [north] side of Victoria Avenue was the hotel, a bank and then Dr McLean's house on a double-fronted block of land with a croquet lawn fronting Victoria Avenue. ... Then there was a chemist shop, Miss Rainbird's newsagency, and over Anderson Street, Fischer's bakery near the Town Hall, which had a delicious cake shop in the front. The School of Arts was always a mystery to me! I knew it had a library and a hall to let, but whatever other activities went on was unknown to me. (Cyril Bray)[4]

1943 aerial photograph of central Chatswood, showing the railway, Pacific Hwy and Victoria and Albert Aves.

Victoria Avenue West from the railway station looking towards the Pacific Highway on 14 July 1938. 

Photo: Willoughby Museum, David Warner Collection (745). 

Click here to see the same scene in 2013.

JG Brown's Delicatessen in Victoria Avenue, circa 1948. 

Photo: Picture Willoughby 003189.

Victoria Avenue East from Anderson Street (on the right) to the railway station on 14 July 1938. 

Photo:Willoughby Museum, David Warner Collection (781). 

Click here to see the same scene in 2013. 

Post World War II Strategic Planning

In 1948 the Willoughby Council Engineer, Hugh D Robb, took on the additional role of Town Planner. With support from mayor Joseph Bales, Robb commenced planning Chatswood District Centre, which would set public buildings--such as law courts, a police station, civic centre, bus terminus and a major postal centre, together with department stores and associated shops--in extensive parklands. The grandeur of the plan brought a sceptical response from some aldermen and there was little action to implement the project.[5]

When the Country of Cumberland District Planning Scheme identified Chatswood as one of 19 District Centres for the Great Sydney area in July 1951, however, Council commenced acquiring land within today's City Centre for a business and commercial centre. The boundaries of the planned district centre were extended in 1960 and, under Mayor Laurie McGinty, Council set about the preparation of a draft planning scheme for the new centre. When the state government closed the North Sydney tram system on the 30 June 1958, buses took over its routes, reducing passenger carrying capacity and encouraging more private cars on the roads, thereby contributing to congestion in the central business area.

In early 1974 an Interim Development Order for the Chatswood District Centre was adopted by Council with a code indicating that major retail shopping complexes were not permitted in Victoria Avenue West, while the eastern side would become the retail precinct. This plan provided for 60 per cent of the development of the west side for commercial buildings and 20 per cent for retail outlets.

Conversion of Victoria Avenue between Archer Street and Orchard Road to a pedestrian mall was a feature of the plan. The section between Victor and Anderson Street was converted into a partial mall in late 1982, and it became a full pedestrian mall in 1989. Parking was to be provided on the perimeter of the business centre (with the ultimate phasing out of motor vehicles in the CBD over a five year period).

In response to difficulties experienced by Council in implementing its proposals for the CBD, the government initiated a Commission of Inquiry into the future role of the Chatswood City Centre in March 1981. In response to its findings, Sydney Regional Environmental Plan No 5 (SPREP 5) was gazetted on 26 August 1983 as the statutory planning document for the centre.[6]

Chatswood Mall viewed from the steps of the Chatswood Interchange in 1995

Photo: Courtesy Joan Antarakis

Under the original district centre concept, building heights at Chatswood were to be limited to 52 metres high (around 13 stories) and the early commercial buildings west of the railway met these controls. During negotiations in the mid 1980s with Ron Pritchard, the Castlecrag-based proprietor of Pritpro Pty Limited, for the development of the Zenith Centre, the original plan for three towers within the 52 metre height limit was amended to provide 'community benefits' in the form of a community drama theatre and open space by purchasing part of Day Street. The outcome was two 22 storey towers designed by the architectural firm Rice Daubney, to a height of 90 metres with each level having floor space of 1000m2 or more.

Image 9: Aerial view of the Chatswood City Centre from the north, circa 2000. The twin Zenith Centre towers are in the centre foreground. 

Courtesy Willoughby City Council.

By the mid-1990s Willoughby Council was also developing a new residential strategy to meet government targets for residential units, together with an upgraded Chatswood CBD strategy that incorporated ecologically sustainable development (ESD) principles. Under the residential strategy, high-rise apartment buildings were to be encouraged around public transport nodes, primarily the Chatswood, Artarmon and St Leonards railway stations, in order to protect heritage conservation areas and single dwelling residential neighbourhoods. Early high-rise buildings to the 80 metre height limit for residential apartments were The Regency building on the former Wallaceway site and two buildings on the Pacific Highway between Help and Brown Streets.

The shift to residential apartments was also based on declining demand for commercial office space in Chatswood as firms shifted their operations to new business parks in north-west Sydney. This brought about a Chatswood City Centre strategy review from August 1996. A public forum on held on 25 June 1997 resulted in a more conciliatory approach by council to achieve a shared view of "where we want to go" in terms of developing the CBD as a key regional centre, while also ensuring it adequately served key local functions. Concerns highlighted by the community were the need to restrict the CBD to its existing boundaries, while at the same time to encourage more outdoor cafés, music bars and drop-in centres for youth. Increased traffic congestion highlighted the need to restrict access by private cars and increase the use of public transport.[7]

In 1996, in response to concerns about overdevelopment of Willoughby's dormitory suburbs due to the State Government's urban consolidation and dual occupancy policies, Council decided to allow high rise residential development within the Chatswood CBD. This move proved so popular with developers that Council had to pull back on this policy within a couple of years. The opening of the Chatswood Sebel residential tower in 1997 marked a shift to high-rise apartment dwellings within the Chatswood CBD.

In 1988 the proposed Chatswood Connection (on Help St, straddling the railway line) was expected to provide for further commercial development in Chatswood. Following the failure of the developer Girvan, development of this site was delayed for decades, finally being developed by Mirvac as the 43-storey Pacific Place building primarily comprising residential apartments.[8]

With the rapid increase in the number of people living within the CBD in recent years, there has been a corresponding increase in service industry activities, such as restaurants, entertainment venues and other service sector businesses within the area. Chick hereto view images of the Chatswood City Centre taken in 1982 and 2012.

Chatswood Transport Interchange (CTI)

'Hughie' Robb's 1948 District Centre Plan included provision of a bus terminal on the eastern side of the railway. Council had acquired a considerable amount of property over the years for the terminal, but it had not progressed by 1959. When Council released a plan to address the issue in 1979, the Chatswood West Ward Progress Association expressed concern that the proposed plan would exacerbate traffic congestion in the area. One of its members, a retired traffic engineer, prepared a plan to address traffic issues in the area. The first Transport Interchange opened in 1988.

Image 10: The Interchange at Chatswood viewed from Albert Avenue in 1995. 

Joan Antarakis photo.

Image 11: Forest Coaches buses stand in Orchard Road prior to picking up passengers in The Interchange in this 1995 scene. 

Joan Antarakis photo.

Construction of the Chatswood to Epping railway saw the demolition of the old Chatswood station in 2005 and a new station constructed with two raised island platforms and commuter concourses. This is linked to a new bus terminus for routes departing from the east side of the railway, together with taxi ranks. The Chatswood to Epping line, formally opened on 22 February 2009, brought an increased frequency of train services and a significant increase in travel to Chatswood from the north-western region of the city.

The CTI, built as a public-private partnership, was to include a new shopping plaza called Metro Chatswood and three high-rise towers of apartment blocks, but the private partners went into receivership while construction was underway and these components were not completed. Construction of these elements resumed in 2012.

A typical signal box with the signal frame from the old railway station has been erected in the bus interchange, while display panels within the station concourse tell the history of the railway and its impact on Chatswood.

Image 12: The 2005 plans for Chatswood railway station superimposed on an aerial photograph of the Chatswood commercial centre. 

Courtesy Willoughby City Council.

Image 13: View of Chatswood railway station from the west, August 2013. 

RF McKillop photo.

Civic facilities

The council chambers moved from Mowbray Road to a purpose-built Town Hall on Victoria Avenue (on the east side of the railway) in 1903. Designed by B Hadley in Federation Free-style, it was a fine brick building that served the municipalities needs for over 60 years, with an office wing later added on the eastern side.

Development of a more substantial civic centre on the same site commenced in 1967 when an administrative building and council chambers for Willoughby Municipal Council was formally opened on 6 May. It featured a fine mosaic of ceramic tiles rising to almost the full street facade of the five-storey building portraying the Aboriginal legend Yonti lifting the Sky by the leading artist Byram Mansell.

Image 14: The 1903 town hall decorated for the Royal Visit in 1954. 

Willoughby Museum collection.

Image 15: The official opening of the Willoughby Municipal Council chambers and administrative building on 6 May 1967. Fred Brannigan photo, 

Willoughby Museum collection, courtesy David Branagan.

The 1903 town hall was demolished in 1969 to provide space for construction of the Bailey Hall and the main hall of the new Civic Centre. This Brutalist Style complex was officially opened by the Governor of NSW Sir Roden Cutler in 1972. The main hall, with seating for up to 1000, featured the Wurlitzer organ from the demolished Arcadia Theatre. The Bailey Hall had a seating capacity of 350 and a fully equipped stage for musical comedy and stage shows. The first purpose-built Willoughby Municipal Library opened on the site in 1977. Its collection included some 170,000 books and extensive local history records, while it managed branch libraries at Artarmon, Castlecrag and Naremburn.[9]

By the mid-1990s it was evident that the existing Civic Centre and Library lacked the capacity to meet the increased demand for their available space and services. By 1997, Willoughby City Council (WCC) was developing a new Chatswood CBD strategy to address State Government housing targets, the associated need for open space together and traffic congestion challenges.

A proposal by Council for the redevelopment of the former Civic Centre had resulted in council chambers and administrative functions being moved to the Sebel complex at 37 Victor Street in early 1997 without prior public consultation. When the council put forward ambitious plans for a new Civic Centre without failed extensive public consultation it encountered strong public opposition.

Public concern regarding Council's approach came to a head at a large public meeting on 14 May 1977. Michael Beilby, the WCC general manager, outlined the core elements for the proposal highlighting the need for the project to be self-funding, so the existing civic hall and Bailey hall would be retained and upgraded, while the library would be expanded. John Allen, on behalf of the Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations, set out the public concerns regarding the approach being taken, arguing that there had been too little public consultation in order to ensure that any redevelopment of the site was based on the community's aspirations for the future and would generate public pride in the civic centre. Local architect Robin McInnes stated that a competition with the existing brief was pointless because it was too restrictive. He continued:

What is needed for Chatswood is a centre we can be proud of. We must try harder and break a few rules. The centre of Chatswood is hopeless and has been cobbled together on a ad hoc basis.[10]

Following a change of mayor and general manager in 1998, the development of what was then known as the Civic Place Project embraced an inclusive community consultation process. Architects Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp were engaged to design the new facility, conducting a series of consultations with cultural groups and community organisations to ensure the design met their needs. The Civic Place Master Plan was placed on public exhibition between April and September 2003, backed by an extensive series of information sessions with various community groups. Public support for the project was confirmed by a referendum at the 2003 council elections, which resulted in a 58.72 per cent yes vote, 36.13 per cent no and 5.15 per cent informal.[11]

Following eight years of planning and community consultation, the 'turning of the first sod ceremony' to mark the commencement of construction was held on 18 August 2007. It proceeded on schedule and the $171 million project, renamed The Concourse during September 2011. It provides world class entertainment facilities, namely a new 5000m2 public library (the third largest public library in NSW), approximately 6000m2of landscaped and terraced open space, a 1000 seat concert hall, a 500 seat theatre, a multipurpose/exhibition hall, rehearsal space, cafés, retail and commercial space, and a 460 vehicle car park. 

Image 16: Arts practitioner Renée Goosens, former prime minister Bob Hawke, and Willoughby mayor Pat Reilly 'turn the sod' to mark commencement of construction at the new Civic Place site on 18 August 2007. Courtesy Willoughby City Council.

Image 17: The Concourse opening ceremony, September 2011. 

Courtesy Willoughby City Council.

Public utilities

Postal services: Chatswood was originally serviced by the Willoughby post office (opened 1871), with the first Chatswood post office opening on the Lane Cove Road on 1 August 1879. It closed in 1886 for lack of business, but opened again in the late 1880s to service the men engaged in building the railway line. By the mid-1890s it was operating from a small weatherboard on the southern side of Victoria Avenue West near the railway station. This was replaced by a brick shop building prior to 1900, and then a two storey brick building of standard design in 1903. The present three-storey post office building in Victor Street was opened in 1966 and the former building in Victoria Avenue was demolished the following year.

Image 18: Chatswood post office in Victoria Avenue, circa 1900. 

Courtesy Australia Post.

Image 19: Chatswood post office, Victor Street, in 1981. 

Picture Willoughby 6534683 OR 003140 [OR provide link to selected image]

Fire Services: A fire station was established on the Gordon Road (now Pacific Highway) opposite Centennial Avenue in 1900. It remained in use until 1945, when its functions were transferred to the Willoughby Fire Station in Laurel Street. In June 1987, the architect responsible for the redevelopment of the building briefed the Willoughby Historical Society's management committee on the project, which would provide space for a local museum, and sought the society's support for the development application to council. As the society had been actively seeking a site for a museum, there was deep disappointment when council rejected the application in May 1988. The original building still exists sans its distinctive tower.[12]

Image 20: The official opening of the Chatswood fire station in 1900. 

Picture Willoughby (6539055).

Retail development

As noted above, the early retail development in the Chatswood CBD occurred on the western side of the railway. Post-war expansion brought dramatic changes in both the scale and scope and culture of retail activity in Chatswood. Benjamin's Department store in Victoria Avenue West had been an important local institution until its demise in 1965 as customers switched to more 'modern' shops. The building was purchased by Woolworths and reopened as a Big W variety store, but this closed in 1974.

The shift of retail trade to the east side was accelerated by the opening of the four-storey Grace Brothers department store on Victoria Avenue in 1961. It was the first of the large city retail department stores to open a branch in regional Sydney and marked the start of the dramatic change that were to occur in Chatswood's retail sector. Whitchurch and Company sold its store east of the line to GJ Coles Limited in 1958. A Coles chain store opened on this site in 1962, but it closed following a fire in the 1970s.[13]

The opening of Wallace Way and Lemon Grove retail complexes east of the railway, followed by the large scale shopping malls, Chatswood Chase (1983) and the Westfield Shopping Town (1986) heralded the development of Chatswood as one of Sydney's major retail centres., together with the shopping facilities provided in the 1988 Chatswood transport interchange, albeit only briefly, has further enhanced the role of Chatswood as a regional retail centre.

Image 21: The Anderson Street frontage of the original Grace Brothers department store looking towards Albert Avenue in June 1969. Fred Brannigan photo, 

Willoughby Museum collection, courtesy David Branagan.

Image 22: 'Main street' shops in Victoria Avenue on 6 May 1967. 

Fred Brannigan photo, Willoughby Museum collection, courtesy David Branagan.

Development of the shopping mall arose from the rising preference for the automobile as a means of transport in the United States during the 1920s. This enabled supermarkets and/or department stores to be established in malls, usually a large air-conditioned building, away from traditional 'downtown shopping areas as an 'anchor' to smaller shops to open. In Chatswood, the two main malls built during the 1980s are each anchored by a large department store (now Meyer and David Jones respectively) and a supermarket. Most specialist stores are branches of international fashion houses, jewellers or speciality home wares, while 'food halls' provide an obligatory range of international fast-food outlets. Thus, the shopping experience in Chatswood is much the same as in any other Australian, American, European or Asian mall.

Image 23: Interior view of the Chatswood Chase shopping mall in 2913, 

RF McKillop photo.

The rapid rise in Asian immigrants from the 1970s led to a corresponding increase in specialist Asian shops in the Chatswood City Centre. In most instances there were small family-run businesses in 'main-street' premises, but since 1995 they have been complimented by larger businesses in the Asian-orientated Mandarin Centre, while food hall outlets in the main shopping malls are dominated by Asian cuisine ventures run by family enterprises.

Image 24: The Seoul Shopping Centre on Victoria Avenue West photographed in 1995. 

Joan Antarakis photo.

Photo 25: The Mandarin Centre in August 2013. RF McKillop photo.

Cinemas and performance halls

Following closure of the original school of arts in 1903, this activity was moved to a temporary home in Victoria Avenue until a new School of Arts building was completed in 1910. Locate in Victoria Avenue opposite Spring Street. It housed a library and a hall, which was used for a range of activities, including meetings, social functions, concerts and dances. The building was demolished around 1977.

The first picture show in Willoughby was an open air screening on Chatswood Oval in 1909, which pre-dated the popular showings by McIntyre in North Sydney by several months. Chatswood's first cinema, The Dreadnaught, opened in 1912. This was rebuilt to a new design by Kaberry and Chard in 1926 and was subsequently renamed the Esquire (later Hoyts Esquire). The Arcadia Theatre, the grandest of the early cinemas, opened on Victoria Avenue west of the railway in 1915. It was rebuilt in 1921 and again in 1936. The Art Deco style Kings Theatre, located on the corner of Railway Parade and Brown Street, was completed in 1936.[14]

Image 26: The Arcadia Theatre on Victoria Avenue West on 14 July 1938. 

Willoughby Museum, David Warner collection (740).

Image 27: Kings Theatre on Railway Parade photographed on 14 July 1938. 

Willoughby Museum, David Warner collection (749).

The arrival of television in 1956 severely impacted on local cinemas. The final screening at the Arcadia took place on 26 April 1961, with the complex being used as a rehearsal and recording hall for the Australian Broadcasting Commission until the building was sold for commercial redevelopment in 1988. As noted above, the Wurlitzer organ was donated to Willoughby Council in 1962 for installation in the new Civic Centre. Kings Theatre was demolished in 1982, while Hoyts Esquire Theatre closed in 1977 and the building was converted into a small retail outlet, which provides the last remnant of Chatswood's early cinemas in 2013.

As cinema technology evolved to compete with home entertainment activities, new multi-cinema complexes were opened in Chatswood, initially in the expanded Westfield Shopping Town complex in 1986 and then the Mandarin Centre in 1995.

The Zenith Theatre and Convention Centre opened in the mid-1980s. It includes a quality community theatre providing a venue for small independent theatre groups and a part-time cinema venue.


The Royal Hotel was built on the corner of Lane Cove Road (now Pacific Highway) and Victoria Avenue in 1887. It was acquired by Alfred William Sharland in 1889, who operated it until 1919, when the license was not renewed due to a government decision to reduce the number of hotels. The building became Chatswood House with a milk bar, confectionary shop and library that catered for the needs of school children for many years. The Railway Hotel, later the Hotel Chatswood, was built adjacent to the station on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Orchard Avenue in 1900. Its tower and wrought iron enclosed balconies were notable landmarks. It has been rebuilt, with the ground floor becoming an arcade of small shops, while the upper floor hotel area has been renamed the Orchard Tavern. The above awning facade of the building is heritage listed.

Image 28: Hotel Chatswood photographed from The Interchange steps in 1995. 

Joan Antarakis photo.

The Charles Hotel was built on the corner of at 14 Railway Parade in 1956. The building had a brief existence, being demolished for a new building circa 1990. The hotel has reopened in a new complex at 10 Railway Parade.


The Chatswood CBD is also an important centre for education. Schools located here include:

Chatswood Public School: The Chatswood Public School was transferred from its original 1883 site in Findlay Avenue to its current site between on the Pacific Highway opposite Victoria Avenue in 1896. The main school building was erected in 1896 as a single-storey three classroom, together with a teachers' residence. The main building was progressively expanded in four stages between 1898 and 1983. An additional three classrooms were constructed along the Pacific Highway frontage in 1898, a two-storey wind of six classrooms was erected on the northside of the building 1903 to accommodate 400 girls and first storey additions to the original buildings were added during 1915. A separate infants' school building was erected during 1928 and opened for the 1929 school year. The opening of Chatswood High School in 1959 enabled the transfer of secondary classes to that site, thereby easing pressure on the public school.[15]  While located immediately outside the Chatswood City Centre, the main school building is a listed heritage item on the Willoughby Local Environment Plan.

Image 29: The main building Chatswood Public School photographed from the Pacific Highway on 14 July 1938. Willoughby Museum, David Warner collection (748).

Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Primary School: The first Catholic school in the area was opened at the newly erected Our Lady of Dolours church in 1895. It was initially conducted by a secular teacher, but later two Sisters of Mercy travelled from Pymble (then known as Gordon) by train to teach at the school until the order established a convent on the opposite side of Archer Street in 1901. With the opening of a new church building in August 1921, the former church became the school building.

In the 1940s the school was managed by the Sisters of Mercy concurrently as a parish school with the private St Catherine's private school. In 1948 there were 237 students on the roll with six teachers, but there was severe overcrowding at both schools at this time.[16]

Image 30: The first Catholic school was operating in the Our Lady of Dolours church when this photograph was taken in the early 1900s. 

Picture Willoughby (001135).

Mercy Catholic College: St Catherine's Girls' High School opened next to the Sisters of Mercy convent in 1905 as a private fee-paying school. Early in the 1940s it was decided to combine the two Sisters of Mercy schools as Our Lady of Dolours Chatswood on the grounds that the two schools were running parallel classes. Under the Wyndham Scheme, this centre was selected by the Catholic Education Office to be the regional school on the North Shore. A large new building was constructed on the corner of Archer Street and Malvern Avenue to accommodate the expansion and the new complex was formerly opened as the Our Lady of Dolours Regional High School by Cardinal Gilroy on 28 March 1965. In 1975 the school was required by the Department of Education to provide library reading facilities and two science laboratories, so accordingly a new three-storey wing, the McQuoin Block, was completed in 1975. Co-instruction between Mercy College and St Pius X College commenced in 1971, but faced administrative difficulties between the two sites, together with opposition to coeducation by major superiors in Rome, so the experiment was abandoned in 1983. Mercy College celebrated its centenary in September 1990.[17]

St Pius X College for Boys: This school formerly opened as the Christian Bothers School for Boys on 17 January 1937. The name of the school was formally changed to St Pius X College for Boys in 1956 and construction commenced on a further six classrooms and three science laboratories in that year. The Frank Supple Building, which provides music, art and techniques learning facilities, was opened in 1981, while a multi-purpose hall, primarily used as a gymnasium, was completed in 1988.

Image 31: View of St Pius College playground in 1998. 

Picture Willoughby (001480).


Our Lady of Dolours Roman Catholic Church: The first church was established on this site in 1895-96 with a burial ground behind the main building. A presbytery was constructed in March 1912, together with a larger and more imposing church building opening at 94A Archer Street in August 1921. Renovations and additions to the church building were completed in December 1961, doubling its capacity. For its centenary celebrations in 2010, the newly installed lighting of the freshly painted church façade, the bell tower and cross was formally switched on.[18]

Image 32: Our Lady of Dolours church from Archer Street on 14 July 1938. 

Willoughby Museum, David Warner collection (780).

St Andrews Presbyterian Church:  Located at 37 Anderson Street, the foundation stone for the present building was set in 1898. Since 1988 the church has seen considerable growth in the congregation and significant changes to its building infrastructure. The latter include removal of the pulpit and choir stalls, while words of modern hymns and songs are projected onto a wall for the congregation to read them.[19]

Image 33: St Andrews Presbyterian Church in 1995. 

Joan Antarakis photo.

Baptist Church: This church on the corner of Albert Avenue and Orchard Road was built in 1919. It was considerably enlarged in 1968 on three additional blocks of land purchased during the 1960s.

Church of Christ: This congregation opened its first church at 365 Victoria Avenue in 1914, which was replaced by a brick building in May 1923. A two-storey Peace Memorial Education Centre was opened on the eastern side of the land in 1961, while in 1980 the developers of Chatswood Chase sought to acquire the church land to incorporate into the new centre. The outcome was that a new chapel, offices, etc would be incorporated into the new complex and the former church buildings were demolished in 1983. The new complex has several levels behind the Victoria Avenue facade, with offices, a meeting room and the chapel being located on the upper level. The complex is shared with the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Australia.[20]

Image 34: The present Church of Christ building at 365 Victoria Avenue in October 2011. 

RF McKillop photo.

Second Church of Christ Scientists: Built in 1928-29, this church on the corner of Albert Avenue and Victor Street was regarded by many as one of the finest architectural buildings in Chatswood. A former cottage was subsequently incorporated into the building as a library and reading room. The building was demolished circa 1990 for construction of the Mandarin Centre and a new church was built outside the City Centre.

Image 35: Second Church of Christ Scientists circa 1982. 

Picture Willoughby (001115).

Parks and Gardens

Garden of Remembrance: Located on Albert Avenue adjacent to the southern entrance to the Chatswood railway station, the garden commemorates the men and women of Willoughby who died in the Boer War, World War I, World War II, and in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam. Proposals to create the garden were first put forward in 1936, with two buildings and some fruit trees being removed in the late 1930s. Lawns and the grass mound were established in 1949 and the gardens were laid out in 1950. The first Anzac Day service was held in 1955, while the Cross of Remembrance was erected on the grass mound and the gardens were formally dedicated on Anzac Day 1964.[21]

The garden features roses with plaques inscribed with the names of Willoughby service personnel who lost their lives as the result of wars, Picardy Roses grown from budwood obtained from Villiers-Brettonneux and Delville-Wood War Cemeteries in the Somme area of France, and rosemary plants grown from a cutting brought back from Gallipoli by an injured serviceman in 1915.

Boer War Memorial: Following the sending of contingents of NSW troops to the Boer War, a memorial church service was held at Chatswood Park "for the purpose of raising funds towards the erection of a memorial fountain to those residents of the district who had fallen whilst on active service in South Africa" was held on Sunday 1 July 1900. It drew some 4000 to 5000 people, claimed to be the largest ever gathering in the municipality, and the Premier, Sir William Lynne, called on those assembled "to do their duty locally by the erection of a fitting memorial to their late comrades".[22]Sufficient funds were forthcoming. A marble monument was erected in Chatswood Park to the three Willoughby men who did not return home. It was subsequently relocated to the Garden of Remembrance in the 1950s.

Image 36: The Boer War Memorial at its original location adjacent to Chatswood Oval, circa 1910. 

Willoughby Museum collection.





[1]     Warner, Grace, Artarmon: Past, present and future, Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988, pp 13, 77-78; Geoffrey Sherington, 'Annie Bryson, teacher', typescript research paper 2011; WDHS file 'Chatswood Police Station'.

[2]     Booker, Nancy, and Bennett, Ida, The West Ward, Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council, 1988, pp 91-92; Willoughby History Chatters, 37:3, May 2010, p 2; 39:3 June 2010, p 5.

[3]     Booker, and Bennett, The West Ward, Chatswood, as above, 1988, pp 71-73.

[4]     Valmai Phillips (editor), The good old days: Reminiscences of early Chatswood and Willoughby, Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Library, 1983, pp 18, 35, 37-38.

[5]     McLean, Lachlan C, 'The Origin of the Chatswood District Centre', in Valerie Philips, as above, 1983, pp 26-29.

[6]     Willoughby City Council, Chatswood City Centre Plan 2008, p 4.

[7]     Federation of Willoughby Progress Associations, minutes of meeting, July 1997

[8]     Booker, and Bennett, 1988, as above, p 72; North Shore Times,

[9]     Booker, and Bennett, 1988, as above, pp 10-11, 90.

[10]    East Ward Chats newsletter, May 1997, p 1, 'Back to the drawing board'.

[11]    The Crag newsletter, No 146, April 2003, p 3; No 148, October 2003 p 3; No 150, April 2004, p 5.

[12]    Egan, Vince, The Heritage of East Chatswood, Willoughby Municipal Council 1988, pp 64-65; Willoughby DHS, Minutes of management committee, 25 June 1987 and 30 May 1988.

[13]    Booker, and Bennett, 1988, as above, pp 72-73.

[14]    Booker, and Bennett, 1988, as above, pp 74-76.

[15]    Wildie, Robert, Chatswood Public School Centenary, 1883-1983, pp 21, 30, 33-34, 52 and 59.

[16]    Joan Antarakis, Changing Names, Changing Faces: 105 years of Catholic life in Chatswood and Willoughby, self published, p 9.3.

[18]    Booker, and Bennett, 1988, as above, p 83; Mollie Shelley, Willoughby History Chatters, 39:1, February 2009, p 4.

[19]    Mollie Shelley, Willoughby History Chatters, Vol 39:3, p 4.

[20]    Egan, Vince, 1988, as above, pp 85-86, 92; Mollie Shelley, Willoughby History Chatters, 38:10, p 2.

[21]    Booker, and Bennett, 1988, as above, pp 32-33.

[22]    Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 2 July 1900, p 8, 'Memorial Service at Chatswood'.


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