Grand old Coromandel, overlooking Double Bay from its perch on Sutherland Crescent, has been a feature of the Darling Point harbourfront for almost a century.
The story of Darling Point’s Coromandel
Coromandel was built in the 1920s to a design by local architect H. C. Christian. Christian was a prolific Sydney architect, building homes from Double Bay to Darlinghurst to Balmoral. His design for Coromandel was inspired by the Spanish Mission Revival architecture so popular in America at the time, incorporating elements like ‘barley twist’ columns, a red-tiled roof, and rounded arches. The building’s symmetrical façade, however, doesn’t conform with the style’s preference for an asymmetrical frontage.
How was Coromandel perceived in the 1920s?
In July 1929, Coromandel was the cover star of a publication called ‘Building: the magazine for the architect, builder, property owner and merchant’. The magazine included an extensive critique of the then-new block of flats, commenting on its façade and entrance hall as well the interior of H. C. Christian’s own apartment.
It makes for a fascinating read, providing an insight into the social and architectural mores of the time. ‘The entrance to important blocks of flats must of necessity be treated to convey the right amount of dignity and architectural beauty to meet the demands of tenants of artistic taste and high social standing,’ it says. Happily, it gives Coromandel’s striking foyer the tick of approval. Its generous dimensions, warm buff colour scheme, old tapestry panels on the walls and the orange and blue Spanish rugs all garner praise.
The writer is, however, unimpressed with Coromandel’s garages. Of course, in the 1920s, cars were not the ubiquitous items they are today. The writer laments that ‘it is unfortunate that garages have to be provided on small plots for even though the motor car is said to be the principal thought and consideration of modern life, there seems little excuse to give it architectural precedence in our design.’ He goes on to say that although the garages are in harmony with the rest of the building, it would look ‘infinitely better’ without them. Ironically, the garages are amongst the building’s amenities most favoured by residents today.
In contrast, Coromandel’s balconies are described as a ‘remarkably alluring feature’. They are praised as ‘sheltered and artistic’ outdoor sunrooms, the perfect place from which to take in the harbour views and ‘entertain one’s best friends at any time of the day or in the evening.’
The magazine also includes glimpses of the interior of the architect’s own flat. H. C. Christian’s dining room is panelled to three-quarter height with dark timber and lauded by the writer for alleviating any potential gloominess with windows on two sides and a light-coloured ceiling, frieze, and carpet. A Spanish-style fireplace is the central decorative feature and, together with the presence of a window seat, suggests that the dining room also functioned as a living space, which was a modern notion at the time. The light fittings throughout the building receive special mention for ‘being in silver or Florentine metal and rather costly.’
Assuming that Coromandel residents would have hired help, the writer charitably describes the kitchen as being ‘as bright an interior as can be provided for a person engaged in a more or less monotonous and drab house-keeping existence.’ He goes on to suggest that the built-in cabinetry could be improved by doors that open in one direction only ‘to allow the maid washing up to place things straight in rather than reach round the open doors.’ How thoughtful!
In the 1930s, Coromandel became a sought-after place to live amongst Sydney’s affluent residents. It was frequently mentioned in the newspapers’ social pages as the site of exclusive parties and charity functions, like the principal cocktail party of Race Week in 1931, which Mrs E. Brooks threw in her Coromandel flat, or the tennis tournament arranged at Coromandel in April 1939 by Miss Joyce Jolley to raise funds for the Deaf Dumb and Blind Institution for Children (now known as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children).
Around the same period, and maybe thanks to its notoriety as a residence of the well-to-do, Coromandel was something of a target for thieves. In July 1931, resident Mrs Lucy White had an unusual brooch featuring a diamond set in a large pearl stolen, as well as other jewellery and money. It was her second such loss in two years. A few months earlier, thieves had arrived at Coromandel in a lorry and stolen a carpet square from the porch of Mr Forbes Mackay, the general manager of the City Electricity Department. On a second occasion, valuable tapestries were stolen.
‘Rental rebellion in luxury flats’
So proclaimed the headline of an article in The Daily Telegraph in March 1947. The story that followed told of how tenants living in Coromandel were protesting a 40 per cent rent increase. According to the article, the building was owned by Eagle Star Insurance Company (which was absorbed by Zurich Insurance in 1998). Eagle Star had bought Coromandel in 1945 for £26,000 (around $2 million in today’s money). Two months before that sale, the building’s tenants had successfully had their rents reduced to pre-war levels. But by 1947, Eagle Star claimed that increased maintenance costs and improvements warranted increases of two or three pounds ($143 and $215 in today’s money) per week. Although the Fair Rents Controller had approved the increases, tenants were protesting to the company and appealing to the Fair Rents Court.
Today, just as in the 1920s and 1930s, apartments in Coromandel are still in demand from Sydney’s most discerning residents. The security block of 12 apartments enjoys an exclusive harbourfront position looking northeast across picturesque Double Bay. Residents can soak up the view and directly access the harbour from the expansive waterfront communal gardens. The building itself remains as prestigious and grand as it was in the 1920s, complete with immaculately preserved heritage features, including H. C. Christian’s striking entrance foyer. The apartments themselves are also impressively elegant, with many of them boasting generous proportions, large balconies and gorgeous views of the harbour. With only two apartments per floor, residents enjoy perfect privacy too.
Unit 6/17 Sutherland Avenue is currently on the market. A four-bedroom penthouse apartment with a car space, two bathrooms and a stunning entertaining terrace with North-West aspect, these opportunities in such tightly held buildings like Coromandel don’t come up often. Find out more about it here.
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