Fredrick Dancker is probably best known for designing large residences in the Adelaide suburbs. The practice of Fredrick Dancker continued for over seventy years being continued by his architect son, Eric.
Fredrick William (Wilhelm) Dancker is presumed to have been born in Macclesfield in the Adelaide Hills. He was the child of immigrants who had migrated to Australia in 1851, his father from Germany and his mother from Britain. They settled in South Australia and raised a family of six children; Fredrick was the third. He was schooled at a private school in Aldinga and following his dream of becoming a naval architect he sailed to England in an attempt to gain training in this field. Unfortunately this proved fruitless and he returned to Australia to undertake architectural training in Melbourne. When Dancker returned to Adelaide in the 1870s he was articled to Daniel Garlick. He married Clara Anne Phillipps and together they had three children, Reginald Fritz, who died aged 14, Eric Phillipps and Gladys Clara (Russell 1997: 1).
Dancker opened his own architectural office in 1880 and worked alone until 1905 when he took his son Eric Dancker into the practice as an articled pupil. In 1912 one of his contemporaries described Dancker as ‘an old established steady going gentleman who has a good practice in better class residences’ (John Monash website). He admitted Eric into partnership in 1913 and from that time onwards they practised as F.W. Dancker and Son.
Dancker was an inaugural member of the South Australian Institute of Architects (SAIA) in 1886 and joined the re-formed SAIA in early 1920s. He practised until 1931 when, after being injured in an accident, he retired aged 79. Dancker died in 1936 (Russell 1997: 1) and Eric continued the practice until his own death in 1953.
Dancker wrote articles on architecture for magazines such as South Australian Homes and Gardens. His book collection shows the extent to which he read and educated himself on architecture and extensive clippings files show his active interest in design ideas (Russell 1997). This interest culminated in the publication of Dancker’s 1904 book titled 'Modern Dwellings: 100 selected designs' which illustrated designs for houses using plans, elevations and photographs. This text set out to educate the home building public and to help them ‘in constructing an almost ideal plan’ (Dancker 1904).
Dancker saw the style of a building as being achieved through its ‘leading features’ of gables, towers, roof treatment, bay windows, chimneys, verandahs and balconies. When discussing walls he wrote of favouring pleasing combinations of brick and stone. The designs illustrated show houses rich with ornament and detailing. Yet despite the apparent preoccupation with ornament, his philosophy was surprisingly modern. The book demonstrated Dancker’s approach to design: ‘Our endeavour is to produce designs whose only ornament is comprised in refinement of the graceful lines of strictly utilitarian features without assertive attempt at effect, but always pleasing in its subdued natural tones, without deception in material nor disguise in construction, but throughout honestly indicating its purpose’ (Dancker 1904). He also gave practical advice such as: ‘Sacrifice all ornament rather than risk sound construction’ (Dancker 1904).
In his early years Dancker was the architect for much of Willyama (now Broken Hill) in New South Wales where, in 1888, he called for tenders for a forty-roomed hotel, a hospital and a church (Jensen 1980: 790). Dancker waived his fee for the South Adelaide Creche (now demolished) in Gouger Street, Adelaide (AHPI). It opened in 1896 and it has been suggested that the building was designed on the lines of a doll’s house particularly because ‘A doll’s house owned by Dancker was on display at the opening of the Creche’ (AHPI). The Creche provided office space for the Secretary, living accommodation for the Matron and a dining/play room, dormitory and cot room below.
Dancker also designed Our Boys Institute, Adelaide (1896), the Macclesfield Institute at Macclesfield, and the Queen’s Home maternity hospital (later renamed the Queen Victoria Hospital) at Rose Park (1902). Religious buildings included St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Hahndorf, Malvern Uniting Church and the Rectory at Mt Barker.
Dancker’s house designs include Adare at Victor Harbor (1893) (State Heritage Register) which was designed for the Cudmore family. It is known for its ‘high quality of design and detailing and its grand scale. It is claimed Dancker was the first to introduce turret roofs into South Australia’ (AHPI). In 'Modern Dwellings' he suggested that ‘If possible, have some novel and interesting feature about the approach which will individualize that particular house’ (Dancker 1904), an approach which can be seen in Adare. Attunga, Toorak Gardens (1900), the former residence which is now part of Burnside Memorial Hospital displays Dancker’s style with prominent decoration and a turret. This residence was illustrated with a photograph and plan in 'Modern Dwellings'. Dancker was an advocate of terracotta tiles remarking that: ‘Our good friend corrugated iron has had a good innings’, stating that the benefits of tiles were that they were cooler, more durable and superior in effect (Dancker 1904).
Among his other residential work was a finely detailed and crafted English style Tudor house at Fitzroy Terrace, Thorngate built in 1912 (RAIA SA Significant 20th Century Architecture). For the exclusive residential subdivision of Springfield, the Estate office, stone bridges, signs and lamp standards were designed by the partnership F.W. Dancker and Son Architects although the designer of these within the office was E.P. Dancker. Not all of Dancker’s residential work was large residences. He described his own house at Rose Park as such: ‘For a small family the arrangement of plan has proved most convenient, snug in winter and easily kept cool through spells of hot weather’ (Dancker 1904). In 1929 F.W. Dancker & Son won the Adelaide Workmen’s Homes Trust competition for designs for cottages to be built at Hilton in an ‘Arts and Crafts picturesque vernacular cottage style’ (McDougall 1998: 256).
Commercial work by Dancker included shops in Rundle Street for McDonaldson and Walter and the Metropolitan Hotel, Grote Street, Adelaide (1883). Later, as F.W. Dancker and Son, the practice was responsible for ‘numerous residential and commercial including one of the “skyscrapers”: the nine-storey Slater House built on King William Street in 1928, which had a touch of the “commercial Gothic”’ (Page 1986: 148). Dancker’s works also included major additions to Menz’s Biscuit Factory at 82 Wakefield Street, Adelaide. Originally built in 1878 it was a two-storey bluestone factory in the Italianate style (Fischer and Seamark 2005: 54). Major additions were made in 1911-12 by Dancker. In 1912 H.G. Jenkinson, engineer for the South Australian Reinforced Concrete writing to John Monash regarding the Menz job described Dancker as one who ‘thinks wonders can be done with brick in cement’ (John Monash website). It is also claimed that Dancker was ‘the first South Australian to call for the use of reinforced concrete in walls’ (AHPI). However, despite the breadth of his repertoire, it is probably his elaborate residential work for which he will be remembered.
Collins, Julie, 'Dancker, Frederick William', Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=12]