The Town Hall, at 483 George Street, was designed by John H Willson (1822-72), who won a competition to undertake the work, though he did not live to see the completion of the first stage in 1880, and it is suggested that 11 architects worked on it. Nevertheless, he has been credited with its concept, and Council’s City Architect, Alan Bond, with its execution. Once described as a ‘bride cake’, the architecture of Sydney Town Hall is a composite of neo-Classical and French Second Empire elements, combining the imperial antiquity of ancient Greece and Rome with fashionable French architecture made popular in the public buildings and grand chateaux constructed during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-1870), in particular the Hotel de Ville in Paris. It was built on what was the Old Sydney Burial Ground between 1792 and 1820. Construction of the Town Hall began in 1869, very much reflecting the wealth and status of Sydney. It was extended between 1884 and 1886 with the Centennial Hall built to the west side. Jan Morris described it as ‘a defiantly eclectic mix of intentions, crowned with a five-layered, arched, columned, windowed, porticoed, architraved, buttressed, domed, urned and flag-staffed clock-tower’.
Sydney Town Hall has always been the civic office of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the day. It was also once a hub of offices for the city engineers, architects, surveyors and inspectors whose services are now located in Town Hall House. Council’s civic staff, protocol and venue management are now located here, ensuring that the public use of Town Hall is well managed and monitored. It is another imposing and impressive building in Sydney.
During the 1880s and 1890s, it was here that plans to turn Australia into a Federation were discussed. Until the Opera House was opened, this was where guests such as members of the Royal Family were welcomed.
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