For me there’s a certain romanticism attached to the mansions that once graced Darling Point.
They draw me in, even though most are long gone. But you can still see traces of them if you know where to look.
Before the apartment block boom in Darling Point, elegant mansions looked out over the area’s world-class views. Some remnants remain – like old fences, gardens, names or other reminders.
Let’s take a walk down familiar streets and rediscover four of Darling Point’s lost mansions, and the stories of the people who built or lived in them.
Business and politics: Ranelagh
Over my career I’ve sold over 85 apartments at Ranelagh on Darling Point Rd. Long before that, the land played host to a grand home with some influential occupants.
Ranelagh was a three-storey mansion built in the early 1850s by Andrew Lenahan, a cabinetmaker, upholsterer and undertaker who also served as a local alderman from 1850 to 1852.
Lenehan lived at Ranelagh until 1867, when it passed to parliamentarian John Frazer. It continued to serve as the residence of Sydney’s most influential, with James Ewan (businessman, financier and company director) moving in in the early 1880s, followed by barrister and parliamentarian Julian Emanuel Salomons in 1885.
By 1900 the building’s fortunes were in decline. It became a boarding house, then a guest house, and
in 1967 it was demolished to make way for the iconic apartment block you see there today. Today there is still an old house on the grounds that predates the apartments.
Home to the retail king: Retford Hall
Anthony Hordern II was head of the Hordern retailing dynasty, and today the name is still familiar as that memorable venue, the Hordern Pavilion at the old Showground in Moore Park. In 1865 Hordern built a home befitting the size of his empire – Retford Hall, at 23 Thornton Street.
Retford Hall rivalled its neighbour, Swifts (which is still standing), in grandeur. It featured indoor plumbing, cast iron columns and balustrades, and a tower that afforded views east across the Heads and out to the Blue Mountains in the west.
In 1967 the house was sold and demolished, and an apartment block built, the only trace of Hordern’s mansion remaining in the building’s name.
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Glorious gardens: Glenhurst
The apartment block at 11 Yarranabbe Rd commands imposing views. But before the apartments, the land was home to another imposing building – Glenhurst.
Glenhurst was constructed in 1878 by solicitor George Evans in the popular Victorian Italianate style. The house was sold on Evans’ death in 1882 and the surrounding land eventually subdivided.
In 1912 William Stuart, a builder, bought Glenhurst and its remaining land. It was Stuart who decided, in the 1950s, to demolish the home and develop Glenhurst Gardens, at the time Australia’s largest apartment block.
Although the home is gone, its original gardens were incorporated into the apartment complex grounds and provide a wonderful sanctuary for the residents.
Vaudeville and views: Canonbury
The land where McKell Park stands was initially purchased by Campbell Drummond Riddell, Colonial Treasurer, in 1834. Here he built Lindesay (which is still standing), which he sold a few years later and, in 1841, the property was subdivided into allotments. A Mr and Mrs Brackensberg bought three allotments and built Lansdowne – traces of its foundations can still be spotted in the park.
In 1904, Harry Rickards bought Lansdowne. A renowned vaudevillian and the man behind Sydney’s famous Tivoli Theatre, Rickards demolished Lansdowne to construct Canonbury, a two-storey Gothic Federation mansion with huge cellars and large verandahs to take full advantage of the harbour views.
Rickards died in 1911, leaving Canonbury to his wife. She sold the home in 1919 and it became a hospital for returned servicemen. Canonbury then passed to the state government and became an extension of the Crown Street Women’s Hospital.
In 1981 the hospital was closed, the site transferred to Woollahra Council and the home demolished. McKell Park was opened there in 1985.
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Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindesay,_Darling_Pointc