The Lewis Motor House, Gawler Place South, Adelaide, 1909 - 1925

Vivian Lewis Limited, The Motor House, Gawler Place South 1913

The Gawler Place South building was the centre for the growth of the motor business of Vivian Lewis Limited, and as the business grew so did the Lewis buildings at Gawler Place South.

Lewis purchased the building in July 1909 from the Standard Shoe and Leather Company (see image B 5270 at the State Library of South Australia) and immediately set about renovations. Despite a near disaster with a fire amid the builders' rubble, the new Lewis Motor House was open for business in January 1910.

The line drawing above comes from the 1913 Lewis booklet About buying a motor car and shows that the building occupying 174-180 Gawler Place at that time was little changed from the Standard Shoe days. The location is the western side of Gawler Place, between Flinders Street and Wakefield Street. The artist was looking to the south west, so that the front of the building (with "Lewis Motor House" high on the ornate facade) is in Gawler place, and the north side most likely fronted on to what is now Bray St, but was at that time a private right of way.

In the 1912 Lewis Cycles Catalogue, the uses of the building were listed:

174 to 180 Gawler Place, ADELAIDE.

HEAD OFFICE     'Phone 1903
MOTOR CAR SHOWROOMS
MOTOR CYCLE SHOWROOMS
MOTOR CAR REPAIRS DEPARTMENT
MOTOR CYCLE REPAIRS DEPARTMENT
BODY BUILDING DEPARTMENT
CAR TRIMMING DEPARTMENT
MOTOR PAINTING DEPARTMENT

Inside, it seems from this c1912 photo appearing in the 1914 Motor Cycles catalogue, the ground floor was devoted to motorcycle production and repairs. The nine tall windows that line the left wall of the workshop in the photo no doubt correspond to those shown in the artist's impression at the top of the page.

Inside Vivian Lewis Limited factory, 1913

Perhaps surprisingly, the motor body building department was located on the first floor, above the motorcycle factory. Fortunately the lift that provided access was said to be "... powerful enough to elevate the heaviest car in South Australia".

By 1925, when the photograph below was taken, the buildings had been substantially extended and the address was listed as 168-188 Gawler Place. The caption accompanying the photograph in the State Library of South Australia tells us that the near side of the Lewis premises (presumably at the "Reo Motor Repair Works" sign) was 35 yards south of Flinders Street, and that the frontage was 47 yards. However the premises extended further south, behind the houses whose front fences can be seen in the photograph. This photograph represents the final days of Lewis on this site.

It is a little difficult to follow the growth in the Lewis presence on Gawler Place South. Around 1913, the Lewis address changed from 174-180 Gawler Place to 168-180 Gawler Place, suggesting the acquisition of the buildings at 168-172 to the north of the original buildings. However studying directories and maps, I can find no evidence for Lewis occupying building to the north of the original Standard Shoe factory - the 1913 change in address was likely an administrative renumbering. The building in the left foreground of the photograph housed the Service Department of Mitchell Auto Repair Services.

Major expansion occurred c1921, when the front section of the original building was extended to the south to occupy numbers 182-188. In the photograph above, the 1912 buildings can be clearly identified (by the facade and upper windows) closest to the camera, with the 1921 facade of similar style and size, but slightly darker paint, extending southward into the photograph. A large single-level building continued south behind the houses fronting onto Gawler Place. When the buildings were put up for sale in March 1924, the advertisement described the final form of the buildings in some detail.

Vivian Lewis Limited left Gawler Place South in June 1925 to move across town to Waymouth Street.

From 1927, it seems that the building was divided, with Yellow Cabs (S.A.) Ltd occupying the southern half, while the northern half was used as a "parking station", which was I believe a euphemism for "motor garage". Listed in 1927 and 1928 directories as the Morris and Hogan Parking Station, from April 1928 until the early 1940s it was known as the Lewis Parking Station, operated by Lewis Parking Station Limited, which as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lewis Cycle Works Limited. During the war, the building was used by the Defence Department. From 1946 it housed the workshops of Elliott Brothers, another of Adelaide's prominent cycle manufacturers.

Like the Lewis Cycle Works building at 111 Gawler Place, the Motor House building survived into the 1950s. Photograph B 12361 in the State Library captures it in October 1952, by which time it was still wearing the Elliott Brothers banner but looking a little tired. The site is currently occupied by a multi-storey car park.

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