Rupert V. Minnett

Rupert Villiers Minnett was born in North Sydney in 1884, the son of the insurance manager John Alma Villiers and Ellen Minnett of ‘Nengah’, Merlin Street, North Sydney.

The Minnetts were part of Sydney’s managerial and professional elite, many of whom lived in the eastern suburbs or lower north shore, in particular North Sydney, Neutral Bay, Cremorne and Mosman. Many, if not most, belonged to exclusive men’s clubs such as the Australian, the Union and the Athenaeum, which provided comfortable premises in the city for networking and socialising; and sporting clubs such as the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and the newer Motor Yacht Club. Both John and Rupert were featured in Sydneyites as we see ‘em, an affectionate series of caricatures of well-known figures from the business and professional world assembled by the Newspaper Cartoonists Association between 1913 and 1915. Both father and son had a love of motoring at a time when ownership of an automobile was rare. John was a founding member of the Automobile Club of Australia – later the Royal Australian Automobile Club of RACA.

Rupert was articled to the architectural firm Spain and Cosh in 1904. This association may have been facilitated by familial connections as the principal of Spain and Cosh, Alfred Spain, had long term links to North Sydney and shared a love of boating with John Minnett. Young Rupert played cricket, as was usual in anglophile Sydney, but he was also a pioneering baseball player which suggests an affiliation with America - Australia's 'brother of the blood' across the Pacific. Spain and Cosh's signature building was Culwulla Chambers influenced by the design of Chicago's skyscrapers, and Sydney's tallest at 164 feet. Rupert probably had American skylines in mind when he co-designed the 140 foot New Zealand Insurance Building as his father’s company headquarters. In 1912, alarmed at the prospect of a city of skyscrapers, the State Parliament passed an act that limited building height to 150 feet.

Minnett began his own practice in 1913 just before World War One changed life in Sydney forever. Some 4,000 men from North Sydney alone volunteered for service. Possibly because of his professional commitments Minnett enlisted in 1918. He quickly received a commission as Second Lieutenant, as was usual for those from the professional classes.

There is no evidence of Minnett’s local work through the 1920s. But, in 1934, Minnett designed extensive new premises for North Sydney Church of England Grammar ‘Shore’ School including accommodation for staff and dormitories for boarding students. It was this work which essentially demolished Holtermann’s mansion ‘The Towers’. The old house had served as the school’s main building since the late 19th century. In 1936 Minnett moved his practice from the city to Crows Nest. He began a long-term partnership with North Sydney Council, sympathetically enlarging the Edward Jeaffreson Jackson designed house, ‘Kelrose’, that had served as Council Chambers since 1926. His own commercial work was in the streamlined style of Modernism, typified by the landmark OJ Williams building at Crows Nest, while his domestic work was a simple conservative form of Modernism which occasionally featured classical elements. Minnett gave his time freely to design an Anzac Memorial Hall for North Sydney Council which opened in 1941.

In 1938 Minnett was partnered by Grandison Cullis-Hill in 1938. They designed at least two large homes on the last lots to be subdivided on the Berry Estate including the 'Patchell House'. In 1948 the firm also designed one of the first blocks of flats in the Wollstonecraft area – in Tryon Avenue – an unremarkable building of three storeys that, nonetheless, anticipated the arrival of medium density dwellings in that area from the 1960s.