Adelaide Arcade is a beautiful shopping experience with an exciting atmosphere and a host of unique specialty shops. An iconic part of the Adelaide CBD, we’re proud of our long history as one of Adelaide’s foremost retail locations.

Adelaide Arcade History Tour

Adelaide Arcade has a free self guided tour so that you can discover and explore the history of the iconic Adelaide Arcade.
The tour will take you back to 1885 when the Arcade was built and explore the beautiful architectural details past and present. Rediscover a fascinating, almost forgotten world filled with stories of yesteryear and the interesting journey of the Arcade.

To get the full experience we suggest a visit to Adelaide Arcade where you can follow the tour with a printed brochure or by clicking here  and following the audiovisual tour on your mobile device with an active internet connection.

Alternatively a full length video version can be viewed here.

Museum

Adelaide Arcade also has its very own free Museum showcasing its colourful history.
Exhibiting in the stairwell on the balcony level of Gay’s Arcade to the ground floor, the free Adelaide Arcade museum houses artefacts, traditional photographs, newspaper clippings, decadent clothing, trinkets and even an accordion that plays the official Adelaide Arcade Polka!

You will discover treasures, toys and even a whole newspaper that was discovered hidden beneath the floorboards!

Rediscover a fascinating, almost forgotten world filled with stories of yesteryear that explore the interesting journey of the Arcades.

History

Adelaide Arcade was opened in 1885 and was hailed as the most modern shopping precinct in the Southern Hemisphere. With its prominent position between Grenfell Street and Rundle Street (subsequently Rundle Mall), it has continued to be a popular shopping hub to this day.

In 1885, a syndicate was formed and the contract let for the construction of a handsome arcade which would then be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, on a site extending from Rundle Street to Grenfell Street.

Adelaide and Gay’s Arcades are fine examples of the 1880’s boom period. They are testimony to the period during which Rundle Street was transformed into a retail precinct of great renown.
Despite modifications, changes and even a fire, both Adelaide and Gay’s Arcades remain true to their original ambience and style as nineteenth-century shopping developments.
The foundation stone was laid on Wednesday 6 May 1885 by the Mayor of Adelaide, William Bundey Esq JP in the presence of a large crowd of citizens.
It surprisingly took only five months to build and a further two months to occupy, with the letting and fitting out of the shops enabling Adelaide Arcade to be operational by December 1885.
Two hundred workmen were engaged to undertake the construction under the Contractor W Pett & Sons for an estimated cost of 30,000 pounds. The speed with which the building was erected eclipsed anything previously heard of in Adelaide.

Over two million bricks from the Metropolitan Brick Company, 50,000 square feet of glass and 12,000 square feet of marble and tesselated paving were used. Ornamental cast iron from Messrs Fulten & Co was used extensively and the marble slabs flanking the entrances were supplied by the Kapunda Quarries.

Construction of Adelaide Arcade was already underway when it was announced in August 1885 that Gay’s Arcade would adjoin Adelaide Arcade to make a 100 foot (30.5 metre) frontage on Twin Street.

Gay’s Arcade was named after Mr Patrick Gay who was a cabinet maker. His furniture emporium had burned down and he asked the owners of Adelaide Arcade if he could build a new emporium and connect it into Adelaide Arcade. Although construction did not start until the August of 1885, Gay’s Arcade was completed in time for the opening of both Adelaide and Gay’s Arcades on 12 December the same year. Gay’s Arcade was designed by James Cumming, who also designed the Australian Mutual Provident Building in King William Street. The construction was completed by NW Trudgeon for 11,000 pounds.
Adelaide Arcade was officially opened on 12 December 1885 by the Governor of the day, Sir William Robertson. The street were closed off and was crowded with the public hoping to get a view of the ceremony as an orchestra played the ‘The Adelaide Arcade Polka’ composed especially for the occasion by Signor R Squarise.

The original shareholders of Adelaide Arcade Pty Ltd were:

Saul Solomon
Lewis Henry Berens
Joachim Matthias Wendt
Robert Carr Castle
Hermann Koeppon Carl Wendt
Emanuel Cohen
Patrick Gay

The Arcade was considered extremely progressive at the time. With its response to design requirements and the use of new construction materials and techniques, it brought new and novel ideas to Adelaide.

When Adelaide Arcade was built in 1885, it comprised of 50 shops. The original shops would retail their wares from the ground floor whilst their workroom on the first floor was accessed from an internal staircase.

The Arcade was one of the first buildings in Adelaide to use electric lighting. There were sixteen electric lamps hanging throughout including one on the outside of the balcony at each end of the building which also aided in lighting the streets. The shops were also illuminated from the outside by ornamental gas lamps made by Messrs Strode & Co, London.

Adelaide Arcade Coat of Arms

Located at the base of the Arcade’s domes is the Adelaide Arcade Coat of Arms. At the time the Arcade was built, there was much discussion about all the states coming together and several competitions were held to design a coat of arms for a Federated Australia. The owners of Adelaide Arcade decided to decorate the building with the coat of arms that they believed would eventually be adopted for Australia. Whilst this design was not adopted by the Commonwealth of Australia in 1908, it still remains today proudly displayed below the domes as the Adelaide Arcade Coat of Arms.
The Adelaide Arcade’s Coat of Arms is still similar to Australia’s official one in a few respects. It has a Kangaroo and Emu on each side, although opposite to the final Australian design. Above these symbols you will note the sun rising over the ocean. Australia has often been referred to as the “Land of the rising sun”. Below the design is situated a scroll in which are written the words “Advance Australia”. Next to the Emu and Kangaroo are sheaths of wheat and below them are grape vines, symbolising Australia as the land of opportunity. The Coat of Arms was produced by Messrs W Pett & Son, however the castings have been unable to be traced.

Turkish Baths

One of the most exotic features of Adelaide Arcade was the Turkish Baths which occupied the south eastern corner of the Arcade. The front entrance to the Turkish Baths was off Grenfell Street.
The Turkish Baths were lavishly fitted out with Carrara marble,enameled iron baths and white tiles giving it a clean and elegant appearance. Both ladies and gentleman had a choice of warm baths for a shilling and Turkish baths for four shillings.

Tea Rooms

An original design feature of the Arcade was the inclusion of a spacious underground chamber that was accessed via an ornate ironwork entrance in the centre of the Arcade.

It is believed to have first been occupied by The Arcade Café Refreshment Room. It is likely many other businesses occupied the basement including PJ Brady Billiards who also managed the popular Palace Billiard Hall that was also located within the Arcade. It is believed the entrance to the basement was covered over during the 1968 renovations, but the entrance was recently uncovered to reveal the original ornate ironwork staircase and basement.

Resident Ghost

Naturally, like all old buildings, Adelaide Arcade is believed to own a resident ghost! Francis Cluney, the Adelaide Arcade Beadle (Caretaker) in the early years of the 1900’s came to a nasty end, having his head mutilated in the electricity generator. The newspaper report of the time was quite graphic in every detail. There have been intermittent reports over the years of sightings, strange footsteps, objects being moved from where they belong, and other strange phenomena which cannot be explained.

Renovation History

Since the grand beginning in 1885, Adelaide and Gay’s Arcades have seen some major changes in appearance.

In 1935, alterations were made in an attempt to boost trading. This saw the advent of the central booths in the modern style of the thirties and also box electric lighting above the shops.

In 1968, extensive alterations occurred with the addition of a balcony walkway at the first floor level, which doubled the number of shops in both Arcades. This also led to the disappearance of most of the internal stairways. To increase the space in the some of the downstairs shops, mezzanines were added.

On 3 August 1980, the building caught on fire. Gay’s Arcade, where the fire originated, was completely gutted and Adelaide Arcade was extensively damaged. Both Gay’s and Adelaide Arcades were closed for trading for over a week and the repairs cost was two million dollars.

Over the years, renovations have been undertaken to restore the Arcades to their former nineteenth century glory. Whilst heritage laws prohibit exact replication, a sensitive and considered interpretation of original features has been implemented.