Remembering Rowe Street

Rowe Street was the narrow street between Castlereagh and Pitt Streets, Sydney that is remembered as the centre of Sydney’s bohemian life. Its buildings were demolished to make way for the MLC centre in the early 1970s.

With the 1891 Hotel Australia (home to the Sydney Push) at one end and the Theatre Royal nearby, Rowe Street’s tearooms, cafes, bars and shops were frequented by both famous visitors to the city and regular local habitués. In the years following World War II, migrants from Europe opened shops and galleries that brought new cultural experiences of fashion, design, art, music and food. All that remains today is a short laneway, however, Rowe Street is fondly remembered by thousands of people who value what it represented to them and regret its passing.

The significance of Rowe Street in Sydney’s design history is exemplified by the objects in the Museum’s collection with a connection to the street, including hats by Henriette Lamotte and Maggy Hutchison; Steven Kalmar furniture; Rhoda Wager and Anina jewellery; works by members of the Society of Arts & Crafts of New South Wales; Theatre Royal playbill posters and an early cartoon by Ken Done.

The look of the Remembering Rowe Street interface pays homage to the modernist design aesthetics of the 1950s and 1960s by sampling the colour palette and illustration style of fashion magazines of the era. The site’s main navigation tool is a simple street sign, and a map of Rowe Street illustrates the location of each documented destination.

This virtual archive draws on the Museum’s extensive research files and objects, and in particular the stories and archival material collected over three years during the Rowe Street volunteer history project. The Powerhouse Museum partnered with the Rowe Street volunteers to produce the multimedia archive. Key volunteer contributors included Andrew McMechan and Jane Burns who researched copyright and wrote the short essays for each archive entry. From the Powerhouse, Grace Cochrane curated the archive, Andrew Lawrence produced the multimedia interactive, and Kate Lamerton designed the interface.

This article was first published in Powerline, autumn 06, the magazine of the Powerhouse Museum.

Remembering Rowe Street