The Museum of Perth is lucky enough to be housed in the beautiful Atlas Building, itself a historical gem within the City of Perth located at 8-10 The Esplanade.
The images and research below was compiled by Project Leader Reece Harley and Volunteers of the Museum, proudly supported with funding from Employment Plus.
9 July 1929
The Atlas Assurance Company announces its intention to have its own building in the city of Perth.
The Manager in Western Australia, Mr G E C Strode, stated today that his company recently purchased the property at the corner of the Esplanade and St George's Court, having a frontage to the Esplanade of 46ft by a depth of 110ft for £15,000. Plans are now being completed by Mr F G B Hawkins for the erection of a five-storey building and basement.
These will shortly be forwarded to London, and it is anticipated that the work, costing about £50,000, will be commenced before the end of the year.
The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950),
Tuesday 9 July 1929, page 6
The Atlas Building - A Handsome Facade
The Atlas Assurance Company’s reinforced concrete building, on the corner of St George’s Court and the Esplanade, which was opened by his Excellency the Governor Sir William Campion on Tuesday, is a handsome addition to the architecture of Perth.
The design of the front elevation, which is rather restrained, with an air of dignity and solidity, is a free treatment of Renaissance architecture. A cornice and capitals to the columns are in copper, and in the central feature above the front of the building is the company’s device, Atlas supporting the world.
The building, which was constructed by Messrs Todd Bros, contractors, is thoroughly fire-resisting; the most modern fire fighting appliances have been installed on each floor. All windows are steel framed. Natural lighting is a conspicuous feature, about 75 percent of the outside walls being occupied by windows. Strongrooms are provided for all suites.
The whole of the facade, with the exception of the steel windows, is a Wunderlich production. It is faced with Wunderlich architectural terracotta of a graduated salmon brown tone, mottled with black and white with a tooled surface, with an attractive matt semi-glaze finish. The company’s emblem is also modeled and produced in architectural terracotta, with a nice ivory finish, the figure supporting the globe, being heavy sheet copper. The massive bronze entrance doors, 9 feet wide, by 16 feet high, sheathed and studded, the bronze grilles, the lift cage, the mailbox, the bronze lift doors, the ornamental copper cornice, and the attractive spandril panels are also of Wunderlich manufacture.
28 April 1931
Atlas Assurance Company Opening Ceremony for its new Perth Premise, the Atlas Building
During the proceedings one of the company’s local directors Mr H B Jackson presented his Excellency Colonel Sir William Robert Campion KCMG DSO with a memento in the shape of a gold replica of the Atlas Assurance Company’s emblem with the first insurance policy written in the new building insuring the emblem against all risks.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Wednesday 29 April 1931, page 10
1931, A B Webb’s Art School
Artist Archibald Bertram Webb (1887-1944), was born in England and migrated to Perth in 1915. Webb worked as a commercial artist and as an art master at Perth Technical School. Among his students were Hal Missingham, Ivor Hunt, Edith Trethowan and Beatrice Darbyshire. He taught fine arts at the University of Western Australia (1927-1932), succeeded Linton as head of the art department at Perth Technical School in 1932 and exhibited with the Perth Society of Artists. In January 1937 the A B Webb School of Art opened in the basement of the Atlas Building, where he continued to teach and show his work until his death.
Classes will be held at the school from 10 am to noon, from 2 pm to 4 pm and from 7 pm to 9 pm, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and there will be a special class for school children on Saturdays, from 10 am to noon. Tuition will be given in elementary drawing (freehand, light and shade, perspective), Still life drawing, fashion drawing, commercial art, advanced poster design, landscape painting, and lino cutting.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Friday 29 January 1931, page 16
‘Mr Horace Benson Jackson Injured’
Mr H B Jackson KC opened the lift door yesterday intending to proceed to his office on the third floor of the Atlas Buildings. The lift, however, was not at that floor, and Mr Jackson, who lost his balance, fell down the lift well. He suffered a fractured pelvis, a fractured elbow and abrasions.
Geraldton Guardian and Express (WA : 1929 - 1947), Thursday 2 November 1933, page 116
The Parliamentary Standing Committee has arranged for Professor Beasley to give an address on “Hitlerism” this evening, at Atlas Buildings, Bazaar Terrace, at 8 o’clock, under the auspices of the Perth Junior Chamber of Commerce.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Thursday 16 November 1933, page 14
'Perth Junior Chamber of Commerce Meeting'
The Deputy Master of the Royal Mint (Major Corbet) will deliver an address entitled “Gold- From the Raw Material to Currency” at a meeting tonight of the Perth Junior Chamber of Commerce. The meeting will be held at the Atlas Building, Esplanade.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Wednesday 13 December 1933, page 7
18 February 1935
Wheat Beyond Price - But…
Securely locked away in a basement room in the Atlas Buildings are about a dozen bags of wheat. Intrinsically they are worth under £4, but actually their worth is much more, for they could not be replaced. Until Wednesday every care will be taken of the wheat, but after that it will be worth but the market price. It is the wheat on which the faq Standard for the State will be determined.
The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), Monday 18 February 1935, page 4
At 10 am Wednesday there will assemble in this basement room those charged with the determining of the State's fair average quality sample of wheat. Among those who expect to be present are the Director of Agriculture (Mr G L Sutton), president of the Primary Producers' Association (Mr J S Teasdale), the representative of the Flourmill Owners' Association (Mr W Padbury) and representatives of the wheat shipping interests, and the Perth and Fremantle Chambers of Commerce.
2 November 1939
Attempted burglary of the Perth Road Board offices on the first floor of the Atlas Building After forcing open a rear door of the Atlas Building, Esplanade, intruders broke into the office of the Perth Road Board on the first floor during Tuesday night. Office drawers were opened but nothing was taken and when and examination was made yesterday morning it was found that the office safe could not be opened. Apparently an attempt to open the safe with explosives had jammed the door. The safe had to be removed from the building to enable safe experts to open it. It was found that the contents of the safe were intact.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Thursday 2 November 1939, page 8
18 February 1942
Air Raid Safe Buildings
Thirty city buildings have been adjudged reasonably safe shelters in an air raid. With concrete floors and sound general construction, the buildings in which people should seek shelter are: Esplanade: Atlas Building, ground and first floors; Newspaper House, ground and and first floors of St George’s Terrace section; Temple Court, ground floor; Lawson Flats, four lowest floors.
Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 - 1950), Wednesday 18 February 1942, page 132
Women’s Australian National Services Activities
It was announced by the Women’s Australian National Services in Perth yesterday that applications are wanted from women willing to assist with vegetable growing for which basic wage rates would be paid. Anyone who is interested in this work is asked to get in touch with the WANS office, First Floor, Atlas Building.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Tuesday 21 April 1942, page 5
Australian National Committee of the United Nations (WA)
Prizes totalling approximately £1,234 are to be awarded to professional artists who are successful in the United Nations “Poster of the Year” competition. The judging of this world-wide competition will take place in Paris during the meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Full information regarding the contest may be obtained on application to the chairman of the West Australian division of the Australian National Committee of the United Nations (Mr Harold Boas), Atlas Building, Perth.
West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), Tuesday 3 August 1948, page 10
Until 1969, there was an imposing life size figure of Atlas supporting the globe crowning the building. Due to ongoing maintenance issues, the figure was permanently removed. The Atlas emblem can still be observed in some of the remaining door hardware throughout the building.
Geyer Perth Showcases Heritage Location during Open House Perth, blog Posted/09
Heritage Listing of Atlas Building
The Atlas Building, a four-storey commercial building, has cultural heritage significance as a fine and intact example of an Inter-War Free Classical commercial building of the 1930s with Art Deco decorative themes incorporated throughout the building, especially a rare demonstration of Wunderlich architectural terracotta cladding.
Margaret Lillian Pitt Morison was the daughter of renowned Australian artist George Pitt Morison, educated at Girls’ High School (now St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls) and Perth Modern School. Architect Leonie Matthews’ article ‘My Brilliant Career’ in The Architect of March 2009 describes how Margaret matriculated at 16 and had aimed for a career in medicine, but her parents could not provide the financial support required.
It was in 1920 that a chance meeting with Reg Summerhayes, son of architect Edwin, changed
the course of Margaret’s life. She had spent her life, to that point, learning how to be a wife and
homemaker but after much persuasion her father relented and Margaret began her training with
She finished her training with Summerhayes in 1924 and became WA’s first female architect. After a year off, and another working and studying in Melbourne, she returned to Perth. In 1929 she started working for Frederick George Brudenell Bruce Hawkins and worked on the designs and detailing for the Atlas Assurance Company building.
Retrenched from Hawkins’ firm in around 1931 at the height of the Depression, Pitt Morison was then invited to join Poster Studios with fellow unemployed architects Colin Ednie-Brown, Harold Krantz and John Oldham. With Krantz she designed the Myola Club in Claremont in 1934 and with Harold Boas, the designs of Lawson Apartments. She went on to work for Oldham, Boas, Ednie-Brown undertaking the interior design of the Adelphi Hotel (demolished), the Emu Brewery (demolished) and the redesign of the Karrakatta Club, then at 186 St George’s Terrace (demolished).
In 1940 she worked in partnership with Heinz Jacobsohn, a refugee from Nazi Germany. During WWII she worked as camoufleur, designing military camouflage, before moving to Melbourne
where she worked for architect Hugh Vivian Taylor, a specialist in acoustic architecture. She returned to Perth in 1948 and taught architecture at Perth Technical School until the early 1960s.
From 1967-1971 Margaret worked in Planning at the City of Perth. Then, well beyond the usual
retirement age but with skills and plentiful knowledge to impart, she moved to UWA’s School
of Architecture and Fine Arts as a lecturer and researcher. She was still working at UWA when she died on 12 December 1985, aged 85. In honour of her legacy, there are several annual
architectural awards UWA established the Margaret Pitt Morison Memorial Prize, which is
awarded annually to outstanding environmental design students.
The Margaret Pitt Morison Award for Heritage, presented by the Australian Institute of Architects in 2016, was awarded to the State Buildings. Together they designed several residences, the Ruse flats in Kanimbla Road, Nedlands, and Marginata Flats on the corner of Goderich and Hill Streets, Perth.
ATLAS ASSURANCE COMPANY
Atlas Assurance Company was a British Insurance Company which was established in London in 1808. The company specialised in providing policies for life assurance and fire insurance. In its early years of inception, Atlas also operated a private fire brigade.
In the second half of the 19th Century, Atlas expanded its operations and opened offices in Canada, United States, India and Australia. Atlas's first Australian office was in Melbourne in 1890, and then soon after, they opened in Brisbane and Sydney. In 1931, a Perth office was opened in its own building which was specifically built for the insurance company. They occupied offices on the second floor up till 1949.
In 1958, Atlas merged with another British Insurance Company - Royal Exchange Assurance and then in 1968, another merger took place with Guardian Insurance. Today, Dutch insurance company Aegon N.V. owns both Guardian and Royal Exchange businesses.
A.B. WEBB SCHOOL OF ART
The A.B. Webb school of art was open from 1937 to 1944, in the basement of the Atlas Building. The school was run by Mr Archibald Bertram Webb the famous artist and Art Master of the Perth Technical College for which the school was named after. Webb was known for his woodcuts using local woods, watercolours and lithographs.
Webb held classes in the graphic arts, special tuition was given in all branches of commercial art, including label and poster design. On Saturday afternoons landscape painting classes were held outdoors.
Webb also exhibited some of his colour wood-cuts and a selection of his water colours and other works in the basement of the Atlas Building. Some examples of Webb's work can now be found in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, National Gallery of Victoria and the British Museum in London.
COMMONWEALTH CROWN SOLICITORS OFFICE
The Commonwealth Crown Solicitors Department was established on 1st July, 1903 to provide legal services to the Government of Australia and its agencies.
The Crown Solicitors Department had offices on the second floor of the Atlas Building during the period of World War II, and had moved offices from the Supreme Court of Western Australia where they were housed before the outbreak of hostilities.
In 1983-84, the department was renamed Office of the Australian Government Solicitor and in 2015 it was consolidated within the confines of the Attorney Generals Department. The current Perth office of the Australian Government Solicitor representative is located across the road from the Atlas Building at Exchange Plaza on Sherwood Court.
CONIGRAVE & CO. - ESTATE AGENTS
Conigrave & Co leased an office on the third floor of the Atlas Building in 1940, before relocating to Fremantle. The firm was established by Mr John Fairfax Conigrave a well known South Australian businessman who moved to Western Australia in 1896. While Conigrave died in 1920, his name was still was kept as part of the business name. Conigrave & Co's speciality was dealing with deceased estates.
HILL, MCLEAN PTY. LTD. - WOOL BUYERS
Hill, Mclean Pty Ltd were a Western Australian wool buying firm who occupied offices at the Atlas Building between 1938-39. One of the firms partners Mr W Mclean was also a Chief Judge for the Woolclassers Association of Western Australia, who ensured that the wool being classed was being done correctly.
The firm became W & D Hill (WA) Pty Ltd in 1941, and stayed at Atlas Building throughout World War II and up to 1949.
H. J. ROBERTSON - ACCOUNTANT
The firm occupied office space on the 2nd floor at The Atlas Building from 1932 to 1938. This company of accountants specialised in administering repossessed property due to bankruptcy for creditors and were also designated trade assignee's.
H. S. HOLT & CO. (WA) LTD. - WOOL BUYERS
H. S. Holt & Co. was a Wool Buying company based in New South Wales whose main principal was Mr H. S. Holt, and they opened an office on the 2nd floor of the Atlas Building in 1933 and remained there until 1937. Mr W. Mclean who would assist in creating his own company - Hill Mclean Pty. Ltd. in 1938 (and also occupying office space at the Atlas Building) was a wool buyer for H. S. Holt, here in Perth.
I HERMAN PTY. LTD. - MERCHANT
I Herman Pty Ltd occupied offices on the second floor of the Atlas Building between 1942 and 1949. The company provided many services which included spirit merchant, travel agent for P & O Cruises and Western Australian airline MacRoberston Miller Airlines (MMA) which serviced destinations in WA. I Herman also had an office in Geraldton where the business originated from.
JACKSON, LEAKE, STAWELL & CO. - BARRISTER & SOLICITOR
The firm took up offices on the second floor in 1932 as Jackson & Leake. In 1933, they changed their name to Jackson, Leake and Stawell as high profile barrister Charles Leslie Stawell KC joined. Stawell was the son of Sir William Stawell, who was the former Chief Justice of Victoria. Stawell was educated at Cambridge University in England and practiced law in Victoria before moving to Western Australia during the gold boom. He first practiced law in Kalgoorlie before moving to Perth working at a variety of practices before joining Jackson & Leake. Stawell specialised in civil law and was regarded as one of the best civil lawyers in Perth. His colleague Horace Jackson was a specialist in Constitutional Law and Industrial Arbitration. Jackson was the uncle of Sir Lawrence Walter Jackson, another lawyer who became the Chief Justice of Western Australia.
They occupied the 2nd floor offices at the Atlas Building until 1939. The name Jackson is still synonymous in legal circles in Western Australia through law firm Jackson McDonald which came from the merger between Jackson, Leake & Co and Nairn & McDonald in 1940.
JOHN SANDERSON & CO - WOOL BUYERS
John Sanderson & Co was the Australian subsidiary of Scottish agricultural company - Sanderson & Murray which was established in 1844, by John Murray and William Sanderson. John Sanderson was the nephew of John Murray and on a wool buying trip to Australia in 1858, it was decided to make him a partner of the company and to open an Australian office. They traded as John Sanderson & Co, and soon after expanded and became independent of the parent company. They occupied office space at the Atlas Building in the period between 1936 and 1941. During the rest of the World War II, they didn't have a presence in Perth but in 1947, they reopened an office in King Street Perth.
LEGAL SERVICE BUREAU
The Legal Service Bureau occupied offices on the third floor of the Atlas Building between 1945 and 1947. It was set up by the Commonwealth Government to provide legal advice to serviceman and women on their return to Australia from World War II. They provided free advice on a variety of subjects which including housing repossession, rental issues, land settlement and marriage and divorce issues.
MORRIS CRAWCOUR - BARRISTER & SOLICITOR
Morris Crawcour was a well known legal practitioner who practiced law in Perth since 1910. He moved into the Atlas Building in 1932, the year after the building opened and continued to operate offices there up until at least 1954. In 1945 he entered into partnership with Fremantle based solicitor - ME Solomon and became known as Morris Crawcour & Solomon. In 1983, it merged with another longstanding Western Australian legal firm Lavan to become known as Lavan Solomon, the precursor to Lavan (formerly Lavan Legal).
PERTH ROAD BOARD
Before the establishment of individual local councils in 1961, all suburbs in the Perth Metropolitan Area were administered by the Perth Road Board which was established in 1919. This board was in charge of residential and business building approvals, collection of rates and the upkeep and maintenance of the roads in the area. The Board occupied offices in the Atlas Building from 1932 to 1939.
STOWE & STOWE/STOWE, SAW & CO - ACCOUNTANTS
These two accountancy firms occupied office space in the Atlas Building from 1933 through to at least 1949. Mr A. F. Stowe was the principal of both firms and was the State Secretary of the Federal Institute of Accountants, Secretary of Fremantle Harbour Trust and Secretary of the Fairbridge Farm School in Pinjarra which housed orphan children from Great Britain.
The firms specialised in general accountancy practices, trust management and being the Western Australian representative for businesses from the Eastern States who didn't have a physical presence in Perth.
WOMEN'S AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL SERVICE
Women's Australian National Service (WANS) was an organization of women that was established during World War II, most notably to provide assistance and training on the home front. It had branches in Sydney, Newcastle and Perth.
The Perth branch was founded in 1941, by Mrs Florence Hummerston, a very well known Perth identity who had previously worked for a variety of community organisations. Once formed WANS approached the management of the CML Building to seek suitable accommodation for their offices, which they were given rent free. Unfortunately by October 1941, they had to vacate the offices due to one of the other armed services requiring the space. The management of Atlas Building then offered space in their building for free and WANS stayed there throughout the rest of the war. WANS ceased operation in 1946, and moved out of the Atlas Building. During their time at the Atlas Building they assisted in the war effort by running fundraising efforts at various city canteens such as the one at Young Australia League on Murray Street and the Red Cross and Blue Gum Tearooms just off Hay Street Mall.