When Woolloongabba was Wattle Scented

Monday, January 30, 2012

Waltons Building Fortitude Valley. Celebrating 80 Years of Pedestrian Impediment.

The Walton's building in Fortitude Valley is in the news again with pedestrians forced to access the Fortitude Valley rail station from Brunswick Street in a stand-off between property owners. The issue of pedestrian access to the railway station has been going on for over 80 years and the current situation just proves the more things change the more they stay the same.

The red brick building fronting Wickham St referred today as the Waltons building is part of an L shaped group of buildings and originally was a wing of the Overells building that frunts Brunswick St. The original Brunswick St building and its ornate Victorian facade were burnt to the ground in a fire that claimed the life of an employee in 1904 . The Wickham Street wing survived the fire and Overells traded from this building whilst the Bruswick St Building was rebuilt and an additional 3 stories were added to he building in 1926. There is a narrow laneway beside which is mapped as Overalls Lane, this laneway procvided an access point for deliveries to the Overells store and Valley Rail Yards.

Illustration of planned extension to Overell's Wickam Street building, 1926.

 The Waltons Building, as it is known today.

 The Bruswick Street premises of Overells, destroyed by fire in 1904.

Overells Lane. Used to provide access to the Brunswick Street Rail Yards.

The original Briunswick Street Railway Station stood just a short way up from Overells store and  was nothing more than a narrow ramp from the street down to the platfroms, if you were to stand down on the valley platforms today and imagine that the shopping centre above was not there, there you'd have it. There was no fancy building, just a cloakroom, ticket office and parcel lodegemet window situated adjacent to the ramp This letter to the editor titled "Brunswick Street Scarmble",  desribes the plight of catching a train from the valley in 1938.

The  brown brick shopping centre, office tower and concrete carpark were constructed over the plarforms in the 1970's and was a vast improvement over any station facilities that had stood there before.  In the 1930's the parcel office was often so busy that freight often covered the entire footpatrh forcing pedestrians onto Brunswick Street. No one hated this more than the owners of the Valley department stores who saw the lack of freight facilities in the Valley as adding costs to their huge mail order businesses. The following article appeared the the Brisbane Courier in 1935.

A plan approved by the Brisbane City Council in 1935 allowed the widening of Overells Lane to 10 metres and providing direct access to one of the railway platforms, but by 1937, the modest improvement to pedestrian access had morphed into a very grand scheme indeed.

The plan announced in May 1937 was supported by the Valley Chamber of Commerce and proposed a new post office and railway station. It would have provided excellect access for pedestrians from Wickham Street, a tram termiinal was included at the rear of the building, allowing an easy transit for passengers and a brand new and convenient parcel distrubution network for the Fortitude Valleydepartmet store moguls.

The Fortitude Valley Chamber of Commerce lobbied state authorities but it was a short and fruitles effort. The grand Australian tradition of too many governments and to few decisions was the major impediment, with the railway a state resposibility and affairs of the postal services a matter for federal authorities. But at the end of the day it came down to a lack of money in a post depression economy.The only concession was by the Commisioner for Railways, who announced in July 1937 that a new parcel office would open in the rail yards which would be accessed by Ballow Street but no improved access for pedestrians.

The situation today isn't much better than it was all those years ago. The owners of the Overells site (red outline), Mount Cathay Pty Ltd  have closed the fire doors on either side of the easement (green 'x' marks the spot) blocking access from Wickham St. to the Valley Metro Plaza, and as a consequence, Fortitude Valley Railway Station. Pedestrians have been forced out on the streets and according to media reports a number of Valley traders in the McWhirters building  are doing it tough.

The owners of the Overells site,Mount Cathay Pty Ltd and the Happy Valley building (yellow square) building are allegededly locked in a dispute over who should foot the bill for the maintenance of the floor tiles in the disputed easement area. The Overells site has been in ownership of the same Brisbane family via Mount Cathay Pty Ltd. since 1987, no doubt they have recieved income from tennants but have not spent a single cent on basic maintenance on the site for over thirty years and this tradition continues with them just closing the easement rather than spend money on any basic maitenance works.

The Brisbane City Council claims it's hands are tied and has no power to do anything (mind you, if you need to resume a property for a new road...not a problem). Perhaps there is an obscure piece of state legislation that makes it illegal to block accesss to essential state owned infrastructure? Maybe the Australian Taxation Office could audit the accounts of Mount Cathay Pty Ltd. and see how much money they claim to spending on the building maintenance for tax purposes? The current situation is deplorable and the business owners in the McWhirters building have become pawns in the battle with a very greedy property owner. Mount Cathay Pty Ltd. ! The traders, workers and residents of Fortitude Valley thank you. Not!


  1. The Overells building has some of the best quality brickwork in Brisbane. It is really beautiful. The condition of the marble street fronts breaks my heart.

  2. I liked your historical perspective. For a history of the Waltons building and the current owners, see http://waltons.wikia.com/wiki/Waltons_Wiki

    1. Wow! Somebody put an awful lot of time and effort into that entry. Thanks for sharing the link!!

  3. This building really needs to be converted into a major 1500-2000 seat theatre for live touring shows. It would give Fortitude Valley Entertainment Precinct an actual live entertainment destination to host productions like musicals, music concerts, dance productions, variety and vaudeville acts, film festivals and comedians. Brisbane needs another main house theatre, and if we don't get The Regent Theatre rebuilt, it should be in the Walton's building as next best option.

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