Postwar development of the Adelaide CBD

Administrative history

Adelaide emerged from the Second World War a depleted and distracted city, its focus having been firmly fixed on implementing effective civil defence measures. 

During 1939-45 new civic infrastructure projects were pruned back to the bare minimum as financial and physical resources were redirected to supporting the all-important war effort. Instead of pursuing new landscaping and beautification of the Park Lands, the Corporation had taken the lead in building air raid shelters in Victoria Square and along North Terrace. Authorisations of private building works within the City had been severely curtailed, a situation that continued into the early postwar period due to an ongoing shortage of building materials.

The City Archives holds records that show how Adelaide recovered from this wartime disruption, and the part played by the Council in stimulating and managing its postwar development which, after a slow start, gained increasing momentum from the mid-1950s to the 1980s.

The main series of records relating to this significant transformation are listed below within the administrative context in which they were created within the City Council’s departmental structure.

These present an annual summary of developments in which the Council and Corporation as a whole participated. They were printed, bound and indexed, and until 1967 contained separate detailed reports of each of the Corporation's head officials including the Town Clerk, the City Engineer and the City Building Inspector.

The Building Surveyor's Reports are particularly useful in that they provide comprehensive schedules of new buildings under construction and of additions and alterations to existing buildings, as well as demolitions, together with descriptions of buildings, their structural design and types of materials used in their construction.

A considerable amount of information relating to the postwar reconstruction of the City's public infrastructure and changes in its commercial and civic character is also contained in the reports of the City Engineer, and to a lesser extent other Corporation officers (e.g. the City Gardener). Unfortunately, after 1967, the nature and content (as well as the frequency) of the Corporation's Annual Reports changed to a more glossy, colourful, photo-intensive overview type format with a corresponding decline in the volume of detailed information about developments.

These annual volumes date from the municipal year 1871-72, and are records of the business of the City Council. They contain Minutes of Council and Local Board of Health meetings, as well as reports of the various Committees of Council. They also provide references to Town Clerk's Department Dockets (the Corporation's main correspondence series) and the Town Clerk's Special Files relating to matters of substance dealt with by the Council (see below).

The Digests are printed, bound and indexed, including a detailed Town Acres Index which shows the type of building construction work which took place on each City Acre every year.

References to building and other construction activities generally appear in the fortnightly reports of the Public Works Committee for most of the postwar period, while the introduction of various statutory planning and development controls from the late 1960s ushered in a plethora of appropriately titled Committees of Council all of whose deliberations are closely recorded in the Digests.

The Digests can be used to follow the policies and directions taken by successive Council administrations since the end of the Second World War with regard to the development of the City, although because they were intended to be public documents they tend to present a strictly sanitised, and at times oversimplified account of proceedings, without much trace of the real cut and thrust of capital city local government politics (the verbatim minutes attached to the Town Clerk's Special Files mentioned below allow a much greater insight into the nature of Council decision making, and the impact and enormous influence that the Town Clerk of the day had on this process).

The Town Clerk's Special Files were created for matters of major importance which required ongoing administrative attention. They were usually made up initially of Town Clerk's Dockets but also often contained reports, correspondence, memoranda, newspaper clippings and extracts from Council and Committee Minutes relating to the particular subject. 

The Series dates from about 1905 to 1976, and consists of almost 700 separate file titles, most of which comprise multiple parts. File subjects may be identified from references in the Town Clerk's Digest of Proceedings (S35), and from a separate alphabetical Index and numerical Register of Special Files (Accession 25).

A vast array of municipal subjects are dealt with in the Special Files. The following Files are considered the most relevant with regard to the subject of Adelaide's postwar development 1945-65:

  • Special File No. 229 Zoning and Housing in the City. 
  • Special File No. 234 Widening of City Streets.
  • Special File No. 235 Housing Improvement Act, 1940.
  • Special File No. 250 Street Traffic.
  • Special File No. 255 Commonwealth Housing Commission.
  • Special File No. 261 Victoria Square Precincts - Future Development.
  • Special File No. 265 Future Policy on Park Lands.
  • Special File No. 268 Rehabilitation of City Squares.
  • Special File No. 269 Post War Works.
  • Special File No. 316 North Tee Development.
  • Special File No. 320 Coordinated Plan - Adelaide Development.
  • Special File No. 367 Future Development of City.
  • Special File No. 387 Town Planning Committee
  • Special File No. 390 Car parking in the City of Adelaide.
  • Special File No. 411 Overseas visit by Town Clerk, 1957.
  • Special File No. 418 City Market development.
  • Special File No. 452 Victoria Square redesign.
  • Special File No. 453 Tavistock Street Widening.
  • Special File No. 473 Town Planning Committee.
  • Special File No. 492 North Tee East - Widening.
  • Special File No. 496 Metropolitan area of Adelaide Development Plan, 1962.
  • Special File No. 499 Street Traffic.
  • Special File No. 512 Transport and traffic survey.
  • Special File No. 522 Building Programme by City Council.
  • Special File No. 559 Building Act Advisory Committee.
  • Special File No. 564 High Density use of Land - City of Adelaide.

Other series of Town Clerk's Department records which may prove useful are:

  • S3* Town Clerk's Dockets, 1945-76.
  • Accession 283 Newspaper Clippings Books - General, 1945-71.
  • Accession 288 Newspaper Clippings Books - Traffic, 1945-72.

*The Town Clerk 's Dockets (Series S3) are arranged in an annual single number sequence and may be accessed via the Digests of Proceedings (Series S35), Index to Town Clerk's Letters Received (Accession 4183) or the Register of Town Clerk's Letters (Accession 4182). 

    The series originated with the passing of a new Building Act in 1923 which required that copies of all plans for new work within the City of Adelaide be lodged with the Building Surveyor for approval by Council.

    The Registers comprise four volumes (two of which covers the period 1945 to 1970) which are arranged chronologically.

    Each volume has been divided into several columns in which details are shown of the building's location, name of owner, type of construction, name of builder, estimated cost of work, building fees and the dates when the plans were received and approved, and the work completed. The Registers also include Building Application Numbers which enables the plans to be located and retrieved for viewing.

    From 1924 copies of all plans of building construction work within the City were required to be deposited with the City Council under the terms of the Building Act,1923. The majority of these plans are still extant with those that are missing coming mainly from the early years. Plans of new buildings, as well as additions or alterations to existing buildings, together with their supporting documents (specifications, calculations, etc) were numbered in the order in which they were received by the Building Surveyor and recorded in the plans register (see above).

    From the end of the Second World War the level of building activity within the City was severely curtailed by the Building Materials Act, 1945 (which gave priority in the use of scarce building materials to the building of houses in the suburbs instead of City construction works), however with the lifting of these restrictions in 1953 a belated building boom began occurring within the CBD, sparking a sharp increase in the number and complexity of Building Applications lodged with the Council. The Building Application Plans are valuable in discovering how a building has been constructed and altered, and the types of materials and processes used in the building work. In cases of large multi-storey buildings, the Applications may comprise multiple sets of architectural, engineering and mechanical services drawings, together with related volumes of specifications and accompanying schedules of structural calculations.

    Registers of early Building Application Plans submitted to Council are available for viewing:

    The Building Surveyor's Dockets (also known as "Property Dockets") date from 1925 to 1977 and are arranged in an annual single number system. Essentially, they contain all documentation pertaining to a particular building site, including the "Notice of Intention to Erect, Construct, Add to, Alter or Underpin a Building", working sheets, approval letters, building fee notices and any other relevant correspondence.

    Be aware that should a building have been demolished, it was the practice of the Building Surveyor's staff to remove folios relating to the original building and retain on the docket only those documents which related to the existing building, however due to the amount of work this practice does not always seem to have been closely followed. The series is controlled and may be accessed through the Building Surveyor's Docket Register (Sl5).

    Note: A related series is the Building Surveyor's Files, single number order (S13), which were first created in the early 1960s when general subject matters were first included in the Docket series. They were introduced to minimise the development of excessively bulky dockets. Files were created for multi-storey buildings and on general "non-building" subjects where it was anticipated that there would be a considerable volume of correspondence. The creation of a file usually involved the destruction of a docket.

    Other series of Building Surveyor's Department records which may prove useful include:

    • Accession 4573 Notice of intention to demolish (or remove) a building or a substantial part of a building [forms], 1946-74.
    • Accession 4572 Development of Park Lands [unregistered files], 1958-64.
    • Accession 4568 Photographs used and/ or held by Building Surveyors, 1945-68.

    The two principal series of records created by the City Engineer's Department which would provide a source of information about postwar developments are the City Engineer's Dockets (Accessions 4612, 4874, 5223) and the City Engineer's Files (S144). The series are controlled by index cards (Accessions 4927, 5063). Some examples of subjects dealt with during the postwar years in these records are:

    • Widening and extension of City streets
    • Traffic management and rerouting
    • Design of City squares
    • Reconstruction of roads and bridges 
    • Land use projects
    • Redevelopment of the City Market and environs 
    • On and off-street parking
    • Metropolitan Adelaide Transportation Study City planning and development proposals 
    • Copies of contracts for engineering works

    Other series of City Engineer's Department records which may prove useful include:

    • Accession 2097 Newspaper Clippings Books, 1958-75.
    • Accession 4710 Reports held andIor used by the City Engineer's Department, 1945-58.
    • Accession 4687 Annual Reports of the City Engineer and Surveyor, 1945-68.
    • Accession 3261 Photographic albums relating to engineering matters, 1945-70.

    William Charles Douglas Veale was Town Clerk of Adelaide from 1947 to 1965, and before that he had been City Engineer for many years. Veale has been described as the chief architect of Adelaide's postwar municipal development: "no other man since Col. Light has left his imprint so ineffaceably on the City of Adelaide, or so transformed its character" was how the Advertiser summed up his 42 years Council service. 

    In 1957, Veale was sent on a five month overseas study tour to gather new ideas for Adelaide. He visited some 40 cities in Europe and North America and upon his return presented a number of detailed reports aimed at further developing the City's infrastructure, especially in regard to the problems of traffic management, car parking and civic administration. 

    The following records were created or used by W.C.D. Veale:

    • Accession 21 Town Clerk's (W.C.D. Veale) records, 1945-65. 
    • Accession 1102 Town Clerk's (W.C.D. Veale) working documents, 1945-53.
    • Accession 907 Records relating to the Town Clerk's visit overseas, 1957.
    • Accession 75 Publications collected by the Town Clerk during his overseas visit, 1957.

    In addition to these accessions the Archives also holds a complete set of the published reports which W.C.D. Veale presented to the Council upon his return from his overseas study visit. See also Accession 29 Item 5: Overseas Visit by Town Clerk of Adelaide - Schedule of Subject Matter for Consideration and Final Itinerary, March to August 1957.

    Note: Other records created andIor used by W.C.D. Veale may have been transferred by the Town Clerk's Department (C15), the Commercial Department (C13), and the City Engineer's Department (C16).

    Further information relating to Adelaide's postwar development may be found in the records of the following Corporation Departments held by the Archives:

    City Treasurer's Department

    • Accession 997 Photographs - [traffic and parking], 1950-60.

    Rundle Mall Management Office

    • Accession 2600 Publications used andIor held by the Rundle Mall Office including newspaper clippings, 1967-84.

    City Planner's Department

    • Accession 2600 Publications used andIor held by the Rundle Mall Office including newspaper clippings, 1967-84.
    • Accession 346 Land Use Survey field sheets, 1965.
    • Accession 347  Land Use Survey plans, 1965.
    • Accession 3246 Maps and plans of Adelaide relating to development, 1945-65.
    • Accession 3678 Aerial Photographs of the City of Adelaide, 1960-77.
    • Accession 4630 Department of Planning and Development (now Department for Infrastructure and Transport) Subject Files, 1954-65.

    City of Adelaide Development Commission

    • Accession 151 Development Control Publications, 1972.
    • Accession 153 Publications re City of Adelaide Plan and City development, 1972-75.

    Commercial Department

    • Accession 1132 Newspaper Clippings, 1976-81.
    • Accession 1258 Photograph Albums, 1945-63.
    • Accession 1526 Documents relating to parking in the City, 1959-65.
    • Accession 1558 Documents relating to proposed Adelaide underground transport system, 1949-65.
    • Accession 3036 Photographs [ including aerial views of Adelaide], 1960-70.

    Parks and Gardens Department

    • Accession 753 Newspaper Clippings Books, 1945-68.

    Deputy Town Clerk

    • Accession 26 Alphabetical subject indexes in note books apparently maintained by successive Deputy Town Clerk's, 1898-1973.

    City Inspector's Department

    • Accession 288 Newspaper Clippings - traffic, 1928-72.

    Town Clerk's Section

    • Accession 861 Land use zoning maps, 1949-58.

    Commercial and Development Department

    • Aerial photos of CBD, 1940-60.

    Properties Section

    • Accession 506 Morphett Street Bridge documents, 1963.
    • Accession 729 Reports andIor documents re Adelaide City Council building and development projects, 1958-69.
    • Accession 1220 Book of plans re Rundle Mall development, 1975.
    • Accession 1221 Adelaide Festival Theatre development plans, 1969-70.

    While many of the above-mentioned records contain photographic material, the major collections of photographs for the postwar period are:

    • S59 Historical Pictorial Collection (a typescript Guide has been prepared to assist in locating photographs), 1860-1955.
    • Accession 3554, 1950-80.

    Many of these photographs can be viewed in our image gallery.

    Note on Oral History Sources

    In addition to the archival collection, the City Archives also houses the City of Adelaide Oral History Collection which comprises taped interviews and transcripts of former Lord Mayors, Councillors and Corporation staff, and elderly residents of Adelaide.

    See a list of those interviews on which access restrictions have not been placed here.

    Need more information?

    For further information and assistance please contact the friendly staff at the City of Adelaide Archives Office:

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