Holbrook House estate formerly Holbrook Avenue, Kirribilli (demolished 1922)
‘Holbrook House’ was built, and its garden laid out, on vacant land at Kirribilli in 1875 for the stock and station agent George Matcham Pitt who founded the firm Pitt, Son and Badgery.
In 1878 Pitt became an alderman for the Borough of East St Leonards, prior to its amalgamation with St Leonards and Victoria and the consequent formation of North Sydney Council in 1890. He was Mayor from 1879-1883. Pitt died in 1896 but 'Holbrook House' remained in the family until 1915.
The house had been put up for auction in 1913. The advertising prospectus described an ‘exceptionally well built [house] of solid stone’. It claimed the place had 22 rooms while North Sydney Council Rate and Valuation records record a two storey house of 12 rooms. Photographs and maps from earlier years show a two storey symmetrical Georgian structure as the main building with a large two storey wing extending off on the northern end. There was a boat house at the end of the long garden.
'Holbrook House' was a very late expression of the Georgian style. Pitt’s somewhat old-fashioned choice may have been influenced by his memories of early life in Richmond – the town where he was born some 60 kilometres to the west of Sydney. Richmond was one of five outlying towns established by Governor Lachlan Macquarie between 1810 and 1820 and was therefore characterised by colonial Georgian architecture. Pitt could trace his family back to the First Fleet. That George had an ongoing affection or relationship with the place of his birth is suggested by the fact that he was buried there in 1896, rather than at the local well-respected St Thomas Anglican Cemetery in Crows Nest.
Between 1913 and 1916 'Holbrook House' was marketed as ‘an excellent home for a Squatter, Merchant or Retired Gentleman’. However, profitable redevelopment was also an option. Waterfront real estate in North Sydney, which was given away in grants a century earlier, was now very valuable both because of its proximity to the city and the beauty of the Harbour. So 'Holbrook House', it was suggested, might be converted as a boarding house and the Estate subdivided and sold off in pieces.
Indeed, that is what occurred. The Georgian-style ‘mansion’ was sold in 1915 and catered for wealthy boarders until around 1922 when it was demolished and the estate cut up for several large blocks of well-appointed flats built down to the waterfront. The names of these carried an air of exclusivity: ‘Huntingdon’, ‘Brendalan’, ‘Mayfair’, ‘Renown’, ‘Tiverton’, ‘Walder’ and ‘Warwick’. Another block was called‘Holbrook’ in memory of what once stood there. Its base was made from sandstone blocks that may well have come from the old house.
Audio: Listen to Florence Innes recall Kirribilli in the early 1900s and 'Holbrook House' in its last years as a boarding house, with Ailsa McPherson in 1992. Merle Coppell Oral History Collection, OH42