Once upon a time…

Once upon a time…my great grandfather lived in Sydney in what was once described as “the most modern building of its kind in Australia”. [ref: Decoration and Glass, July 1936 pp.8-11, 46-48] 

Who knew? My great grandfather had an eye for good architecture..in the background is the now demolished Victorian mansion he lived in prior to building the cascading apartments known as Wyldefel Gardens.

  Hello Friends,
I thought i would share with you a little family history as it seems that collecting antiques may run in the family! This means going back to 1881 when my great grandfather William Alfred Crowle was born in Adelaide, his story is a rich one despite his humble beginnings.    Over his lifetime he had many labels given to him but the ones that keeping popping up make him sound like great company; he was a bit of rogue, entrepreneur & an avid learner, passionate philanthropist, and collector of both art and antiques. 
I was lucky enough to meet Lorna, his (second) wife in my early teens but was unaware in the way that teenagers are, of the kind of extraordinary life she & my great grandfather had lived.2016-11-06-13-11-19
It was both with happiness and a touch of melancholy to discover the extent of his collection and his interest in antiques & art. It’s amazing to imagine him on the road buying antiques just like I have been doing for a good portion of my life, albeit not quite in the same manner as our circumstances & the times are worlds apart.   Over the course of his lifetime, Billie, as he was affectionately known & his wife Lorna (who outlived him 40 years +) had four ‘notable’ single owner auctions of art & antiques. What a vast collection it must have been – this catalogue from the first auction in 1935 went for six days !  

There are many images in the family collection that have sparked my interest, including a building in York St called Crowle House (now demolished) that was home to Romano’s supper club where fashionable Sydneysiders rubbed shoulders in the 1920’s & 30’s – I am sure there are a few stories there!  wyldefel-gardens-decoration-glass-article-1936

But today I wanted to share the history of my great grandfather’s residential development at Potts Point called “Wyldefel Gardens” . He was inspired by the modern architecture he saw whilst travelling abroad specifically in Germany & the early Bauhaus buildings. He took dozens of photographs and brought them back to Sydney, enlisting architect John Brogan to design something similar for the sloping waterfront land he owned in front of his original Victorian mansion. I love the fact that he incorporated antiques and architectural elements in the actual build of this development as it has been a passion of ours too. img096

At the time it was radical departure from the so called ‘flats’ that were being built around Sydney –  Wyldefel Gardens was one of first to be designed & built in the Moderne Style/Art Déco, also named P & O style. Its heritage listing states: “it is an important example … drawing from European examples in Germany and Italy in combination with more traditional influences from Canada. It demonstrates the early use of bent glass … The Art Déco interiors feature functional kitchens with new formica and magnesite finishes.” It was described as “arguably the most modern and striking example of residential architecture in Australia … It is as much an experiment in living as it was a town planning or architectural project.”

sydney, 20thC, architecture, blog

sydney, 20thC, architecture, blog

sydney, 20thC, architecture, blog

In 1941 the Commonwealth reclaimed a large portion of waterfront land and connected Garden Island to the shoreline with the purpose of creating the Captain Cook Graving Dock,  one of the largest in the southern hemisphere and seen as a critical by the navy in the 1930’s…graving4

Unfortunately the resumed land meant that my great grandfathers home was to be demolished – so with all the gusto of man with his determination & entrepreneurial skill he moved the home across the harbour brick by brick using barges, possibly supplied by the navy! {I cant imagine the same thing happening today with resumed homes around Sydney} The relocated home still stands today and briefly returned to the family in 1986 when my  grandfather Gough (Billie’s son) purchased this home and lived here for a short period of time late in his life…. but that’s another story.

After ... the art moderne townhouse Once Upon a Time after it was barged to Neutral Bay. The middle-floor apartment is for sale for about $1.8 million.
‘ Wyldefel’  also known as ‘Once Upon a Time’ was barged to Neutral Bay after the property at Potts Point was resumed by Commonwealth for the naval docks in 1941.

As i start to delve a little deeper there are quite a few paths to explore- their extensive travel overseas by car, caravan & their beloved boat, Dindemah. The contents of those single owner auctions & where some of these pieces ended up along with his working life and the philanthropic pathways like Crowle House he set up in 1945 . But as Remembrance Day approaches Friday 11th November – I think back to driving from Arras en route to Amiens past fields of poppies and am moved that he donated this painting The Signing of the Treaty of Versailles to the  Australian War Memorial in honour of his brother (Herbert) who was killed in Pozieres, France in 1916.poppies-france

Australian War Memorial, elements i love, blog
The Signing of the Treaty of Versailles by Joseph Finnemore

Have you researched your family history? My father Kelly is passionate about history and researching his family tree. Perhaps the fact that I am a collector of sorts is not such a surprise after learning about my great grandfathers past… I’ll keep researching, who knows what i might discover! x Brooke

A few references of articles & posts:
The Radical Terrace  – a great post recapping the history, thanks Kyle !
Garden Island Info
 The Twentieth Century Society of NSW/ACT
May Gibbs Nutcote Neutral Bay
SMH 1986 – put on the market by Lorna Crowle



    1. Hi Colin – thanks for your comment, I wanted to leave a little mystery around the story and let folks make their own discoveries if they wish 🙂

      1. Hello Brooke

        We are current residents at Flat 3 in Wyldefel Gardens. We love it. Everyone who lives here treasures the building and the gardens. It is an oasis. Thanks for the history, Helen Tribe

  1. Hello Brooke
    Tony and I are living very happily in number 3 Wyldefel Gardens. We adore it and sadly this is a temporary stay for us while we build a new house. Wyldefel Gardens is a wonderful community, everyone who lives here treasures the place and it is a peaceful and extremely beautiful oasis. Thanks for this wonderful history. Helen Tribe

  2. Bill Crowle shared this with me and I loved reading it. I don’t know Sydney well but I can still appreciate how wonderful this architecture is.

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