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Our historical GEMS

Think Local

From Mosman through to North Sydney and Castlecrag, the North Shore's unique topography and history has until recently been the focus of heritage commissions, local councils, and historical societies. With the push for more commercialisation and development over past few years, community groups and residents are once again seeking greater acknowledgement of local heritage items.

This has resulted in the establishment of specific heritage orders and conservation protection areas. There is a plethora of heritage-listed houses in our area for locals and visitors to discover, including the following:

Boronia House

One of Mosman's finest

The Mosman Historical Society has been at the forefront of lobbying and collecting vital information on the unique architecture, homes and social history of the area.

According to Mosman Council records, Boronia House was built in 1885 by two brothers, James and John Kearey, whose parents had emigrated from Ireland, and then established a successful coach-building business.

This magnificent home, located at 624 Military Rd, still stands - surrounded by beautiful gardens, despite having had numerous owners and uses over its long history.

In 2008, a strategic conservation management plan was undertaken by architects Otto Cserhalmi and Partners for Mosman Council with a report detailing Boronia's significance as one of Mosman's best homes.

"Most development in Mosman prior to 1885 had been located around the harbour - but when Mosman and Spit Junction began to flourish, many subdivisions grew up and these sites like Boronia were scattered among commercial buildings," the report notes.

"Boronia was designed as a grand Victorian villa, set In large gardens and sheltered by a stone, pillared wrought-iron entrance.

"In 1896, the stunning home was sold to the Godwin family, who lived In the Victorian mansion until 1952, when it was sold to Mosman Council for the sum of 15,750 pounds, it then became a library until 1978."

Mosman Historical Society secretary, Professor David Garment, says the former family home, which is now used as a function centre and restaurant, represents a significant part of the local history.

He says after the council purchased it, the building needed a lot of maintenance and structural work. The Save Boronia Group was established in 1978, when a permanent conservation protection order was established.

"It's so important to keep these buildings -they are actually documents that contain visual information and are a way of preserving social history," Professor Carment reflects.

Don Bank Cottage

North Sydney’s oldest dewlling

Don Bank Cottage - formerly known as St Leonards Cottage - has long been the focus of North Sydney heritage and social studies. Today, the oldest timber house in the local government area is preserved as a museum.

North Sydney historian Dr Ian Hoskins has been at the forefront of cataloguing and documenting the area's broad history, and says Don Bank Cottage has a premier place in the historical fabric of the area.

"In 1981, North Sydney Council was the first local council in NSW to commission a heritage study in the wake of the state's Heritage Act 1977. That positive attitude to history and heritage reflected the rise of resident activism and the longer awareness evinced by the formation of the North Shore Historical Society,"  Dr Hoskins writes in A History of Place.

Dr Hoskins says research suggests the cottage was built on the Wollstonecraft land grant in the 1820s and it is thought the house was built by Edward Wollstonecraft himself.

He says the best description of the cottage can be found in a real estate advertisement dating back to 1854, when owner Charlotte Carr put the place on the market following the death of her husband William.

"All the rooms are papered and the cottage is beautifully finished, plus the grounds in front of the cottage are delightfully laid out and planted with the choicest fruit trees and shrubs," the advertisement proclaims.

History records that at some point during the White family's ownership, between 1915 to the mid-1920s, St Leonards Cottage was renamed Don Bank - but no specific details are known.

In 1976, a Don Bank trust was established and North Sydney Council bought the cottage in 1981, when it was fully restored and turned into a museum.


The “perfect suburb”

American architect Walter Burley Griffin aimed to "create the perfect suburb". From 1920, Castlecrag became his architectural homeland.

It was here he built a number of residential properties, including the iconic Fishwick House at 15 The Citadel.

Founding member of the Walter Burley Griffin Society, Adrienne Kabos, says the society was established in 1988 to preserve and maintain his legacy.

"Griffin's genius was that he saw the built environment could harmonise with the superb landscape of Castlecrag - not destroy it," she explains.

"All his houses in the suburb are a source of great pride to residents here."

Famous for his planning of Canberra, Burley Griffin's life and work in Castlecrag is a monument to his love of the Australian bush and harbour foreshore.

"There are a lack of fences in this suburb and there are large spaces of native bushland - yet Castlecrag still has a great network of walkways and reserves,” says Ms Kabos, who has been living in a Burley Griffin designed house since 1976, located at 12 The Parapet. The home is built out of the local sandstone - a trademark material the famed architect used.

Burley Griffin’s wife Marion was also an accomplished designer - the first woman to register as an architect in America.

Ms Kabos describes the pair as an "amazing and dynamic team", whose legacy is very much alive in Castlecrag.

"I think the beauty of the landscape will continue to be appreciated here,” Ms Kabos reflects.

"The couple also lived in the area for many years, and Burley Griffin kept a box of apples at his front door for people who were walking past to take.

“Everything was very interconnected."


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