Caro Estate Flats
2-4 Blue Street and 1-3 William Street, North Sydney

The worst years of the Great Depression, from 1930 to 1932, were hard times for Sydney’s architects and builders.

However, by the end of the decade, business had picked up and construction was almost back to the ‘boom’ levels of the 1920s.

In 1937 alone more than 60 building applications for flats were received by North Sydney Council. It was in this period that North Sydney’s landscape was transformed by the construction of dozens of two and three storey ‘walk-up’ brick flat blocks. Once the preserve of the middle class and well-to-do, apartment living was being ‘democratised’.

Much of the activity occurred in Kirribilli but, in 1937, ‘12 magnificent flat sites’ were released as the ‘Caro Estate’ by the local real estate agents Cramer Brothers. The lots sat back to back within William, Blue and Miller Streets near the centre of North Sydney’s commercial area. They were very close to the tram and the new North Sydney train station – opened with the Bridge in 1932. Cramer Brothers duly emphasized the convenient transport options for city commuters claiming that the flats were only ‘five minutes’ from Wynyard Station. A trip to ‘town’ probably took a bit longer than that but the Bridge did effectively bring the city closer, compared to the days when ferries were the only transport option across the water. Within a few years the Caro Estate and William Street were filled with walk up blocks of flats.

Three of the Caro Estate flat developments were designed by JE and ER Justelius with ND Frederick in 1938 and 1939. All are typical of the streamlined ‘functionalist’ style that drew upon European modernism and the curvaceous sleek styling of ocean liners. Some refer to the style simply as ‘art deco’.

The Justelius Brothers were well practised in this idiom as they worked regularly for the brewer Tooheys Ltd designing similarly-styled pubs such as the Blues Point Hotel, built at this time just a short distance away in Blues Point Road, and the Kirribilli Hotel which is also contemporary. Both of these hotels survive.

‘Conway Court’ in Blue Street is the larger of the developments and comprises two adjacent blocks of three storeys containing 23 single bedroom flats. A passage courtyard separates the blocks and this leads to another similar two-storey block facing William Street which contains two bedroom flats. All three blocks, then, form a type of compound which may have helped create a sense of neighbourliness among residents.

In those pre-strata title years, the residents were almost certainly renters. The 'Conway Court' complex was built for AO Cropley Esq. A fourth block in William Street, identical to its two-storey neighbour, was built for Gordon Luscombe Esq.

The architects used the sloping block under No.4 Blue Street to accommodate four car garages – an indication of the growing rate of car ownership. By the 1970s the provision of at least one car space per unit was essential for the success of any development.

When they advertised the site, Cramer Brothers also noted the ‘unsurpassed views of the Harbour, city and suburbs’. While there was undoubtedly some typical marketing exaggeration in this claim, it was true that the harbour was a visual presence from many of the steep streets of North Sydney. Those on the upper floors of ‘Clifton Court’ could have watched the ships come and go. Today high-rise offices and apartment buildings have blocked harbour views from here and most other places in central North Sydney.