Best known for designing the Austral Stores (known as West’s Coffee Palace) in Hindley Street, Adelaide, Albert Conrad’s work is both eclectic and distinctive amongst Adelaide’s architecture.
Albert Selmar Conrad was born in Adelaide in 1868, the son of a German migrant Leopold Conrad and Elizabeth Ann (nee Smith) who was originally from Cornwall, England. Leopold Conrad was a well-known businessman, who ran a large butchering firm in Adelaide. The family included eight children, six boys and two girls. Albert Conrad attended Christian Brothers College where he showed great interest in drawing. Following his schooling Conrad was articled to local architect Daniel Garlick between 1884 and 1889. He then worked under C.E. Owen Smyth in the Works & Buildings Department of the South Australian Government. In 1893 he started his own practice, taking on his younger brother, Frank Herbert Conrad (b.1878), as an articled pupil in 1898. In 1906 Frank was offered a partnership in the practice which became known variously as Conrad & Conrad or A.S. & F.H. Conrad. Albert Conrad married and had one son, Neville, who, although articled to his father, was unable to continue this career as an architect due to the 1930s Depression and became a valuer. Albert Conrad retired from practice in 1934 and died in 1948.
In 1906, Conrad travelled widely and visited England where he spent several months becoming ‘acquainted with the best examples of Gothic work and domestic architecture’ (Burgess 1907: 545). As a Fellow of the South Australian Institute of Architects (SAIA) he was their representative at the 7th International Congress of Architects in London. Whilst in London he qualified to become a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He then toured Europe and visited ‘Athens and Constantinople for the purpose of making an archaeological study of the buildings of ancient Greece, and Byzantine art’ (Burgess 1907: 545), continuing around the world to the United States of America to study modern forms of steel and reinforced concrete construction. On his return he wrote a pamphlet titled ‘Architectural Impressions’ in which he gave his observations on architecture overseas with topics such as: civic improvements, ecclesiastical buildings, modern churches, hotels and cafes, New York skyscrapers, and the rebuilding of San Francisco (Conrad c.1907).
Conrad had an interest in town planning and became a member of the South Australian Town Planning Association, established in 1914. Conrad wrote a paper on ‘Town Planning Suggestions for Adelaide and the Metropolitan Area’ which was read by Charles Reade at the First Australian Town Planning Conference held in Adelaide in October 1917. In this paper he wrote about the park lands, North Terrace, public parks and the city environs pointing out the importance of planning for their future development (Conrad 1917). Conrad was vocal about the importance of passing the 1916 Town Planning Bill through the Parliament quickly. He was commissioned by the Adelaide City Council to report on the ‘disposition of public buildings and civic garden spaces of England and Continental municipalities’ (‘Death of Well-Known Architect’). Conrad was also elected to the National Pleasure Resorts Advisory Board by the Government to advise on public recreation parks in South Australia.
Albert Conrad was a member of various community organisations. He was President of the Glen Osmond Institute and the Parkside Bowling Club. He acted as honorary secretary of the Adelaide Lyric Club and was a foundation member of the Orpheus Society and the Commonwealth Club. Both Albert and his brother were musically talented, providing some of the programme at the SAIA Majority Dinner of 1907 (‘South Australian Institute of Architects Majority Dinner’) and at the Catholic Refuge at Norwood’s celebrations of St Mary Magdalen’s day, where he contributed by singing ‘Clang of the forge’ for the musical afternoon (‘Catholic Refuge, Norwood’). Much of his architectural work was for the Catholic Church and this led to his work for charity such as designing the stalls for the Adelaide Charity Carnival of 1898 based on international architectural styles such as Chinese, Turkish, Persian, Grecian, Roman, Norman, English and Australian (‘Adelaide Charity Carnival’).
Conrad’s architectural commissions comprised hotels, residences, ecclesiastical buildings, schools and banks. He gained awards in Victoria and New South Wales for competitive work and the partnership of Conrad & Conrad won third prize in the Model Bungalow competition of 1917.
Ecclesiastical work by Conrad seems to have been commissioned mainly by the Catholic Church and ranged from churches and chapels to schools and residences. The Archbishop’s residence opposite the Roman Catholic Monastery, Glen Osmond (1897) (Press 1991), was designed in a ‘modern domestic Gothic style of architecture, rugged and picturesque’ (‘The Archbishop’s New Residence’). On the same site he designed additions for St Paul’s Retreat (1900). ‘The walling is executed in Mitcham freestone in special selected tints, and relieved with sandstone dressings, bands, and gable on the southern side, surmounted with moulded cross’ (Southern Cross 1900).
Conrad also carried out extensions for his old school, Christian Brothers College, Wakefield Street, Adelaide for which he designed the Gothic style bluestone eastern wing with freestone dressings enclosing a quadrangle ‘in typical college fashion’ in 1897 (Marsden et al. 1990: 155). Designs for a School at Commercial Road, Port Adelaide, for the Marist Brothers was followed by a girls’ school at Church Street, Port Adelaide for the Sisters of St Joseph in 1902. The Church of St Peter and Paul at Gawler (1897), designed in Romanesque style, was constructed of stone with red brick dressings and terracotta cornices, capitals and turrets. Reynolds Memorial Chapel (1898) at St Vincent de Paul’s Orphanage at Goodwood was also in the Romanesque style with stone and terracotta being the main materials. Other ecclesiastical work included the Catholic Church at Murray Bridge (1907) and work at St Joseph’s Refuge, Fullarton (1901).
Conrad’s commercial work included the Grosvenor Hotel, Victor Harbor (1896), for Mr Humberstone, with some sixty rooms. A two storey brick warehouse in Rundle Street, Adelaide (c.1898) for Mr Kuhnel, pianoforte importer which was described as: ‘effective in its character and picturesque in appearance, being in modern treatment of the Romanesque or Lombardic style of architecture’ (‘Some New Buildings’). Conrad also designed a two-storey brick gymnasium for Messrs. Leschen, gymnasium instructors, in Pirie Street, Adelaide (1899) which was ‘a pleasing adaptation of early Gothic and Norman work’ (‘A New Gymnasium’).
However by far the best-known of Conrad’s work is the Austral Stores, later known as West’s Coffee Palace, Hindley Street, Adelaide (1903), which featured stuccoed dressings, red brick and terracotta tiles. This building was designed for Conrad’s father’s business, which had been trading in Hindley Street since 1869. The Austral Stores provided space for twelve shops and dwellings, including bakers, a tailor, a cabinetmaker and his father’s butchery with yards at the rear of the building. The style was described at the time as ‘a conventional rendering of Byzantine architecture, with a scheme of decoration [based] on examples of characteristic Eastern forms’ (‘The Austral Stores’ 1903).
Civic buildings designed by Conrad include the Murray Bridge Institute completed in 1911 which was designed in the Italian Renaissance style and the Waterfall Gully Kiosk for the Advisory Board of National Pleasure Resorts of which he was a member: ‘[h]e gave his services gratuitously in designing the kiosk at Waterfall Gully, with its picturesque garden approach’ (‘Death of Well-Known Architect’). Constructed of rough stone and timber the kiosk is a castellated building surrounded by verandahs. Also in a garden setting was the Glen Osmond Soldiers Memorial, at Ridge Park, designed by Conrad c.1916 for which he waived his fee and which featured an obelisk, pedestal and plaque in a garden.
Conrad designed many private residences notably a house at 176-180 Mackinnon Parade, North Adelaide for William Pryor (1919) which has a complex roof featuring steeply pitched gables. Other domestic commissions were located mainly in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide and included those for C. Hayward at Medindie, J.H. Vaughan at Kensington Park and C.B. Chewings at St Georges. His last work was the 1930 State Bank at Strathalbyn which was recognisable for its heavy appearance and use of stone with symmetry about the diagonal.
Conrad worked predominantly in the Gothic or Romanesque style using stone and brick broken up with banding to create a highly decorative appearance, unique among South Australia’s architecture of the era.
Collins, Julie, 'Conrad, Albert Selmar’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=11]