Between the 1890s and 1974, Sydney’s Rowe Street was a slice of bohemia in the heart of the city. Known as Brougham Street from the 1840s, it ran parallel to Martin Place. To the east was Castlereagh Street and the Hotel Australia (Sydney’s ‘meeting place’, where ‘all roads met’), while Pitt Street bounded its western end.
Rowe Street was a place where art and culture flourished. For many, it was considered exotic and a little bit racy, with a touch of Montmartre.
Its Bohemian reputation was consolidated in the 1920s and 30s. This was in no small measure due to the establishment of the Playbox Theatre in 1925 by ‘Pakie’ and Duncan Macdougall, and the Notanda Gallery, opened in 1935 by Margo Lewers and her husband Gerald. It was later run by Margo’s brother Carl Plate.
Rowe Street had tea rooms, cafes and bars, and it was filled with shops selling the latest French-inspired fashion, jewellery, music, furniture. Roycroft Bookshop and Library, run by Frances Zabel, had a fine collection of ‘general literature, biography and fiction’, although it also sold banned books. A number of artists, including Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo and Lionel Lindsay, had their studios on Rowe Street.
The popularity of Rowe Street increased after the Second World War.
By 1974, the party was over. Rowe Street and its fashion boutiques, cafes, galleries, book and music shops, and artists haunts were sacrificed to make way for the rather soulless edifice of the MLC Centre.
This website, put together and hosted by the Powerhouse Museum, will tell you everything you need to know about Sydney’s Rowe Street: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/inspired/rowest