Leaville, East Brisbane

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Ian contacted me regarding his bungalow “Leaville”, built in 1910 by the prominent construction contractor Arthur John Dickinson on Latrobe Street, East Brisbane. The original name of the house was “Lesville” after a 6-year old son who died in a tragic accident just as Arthur was preparing to build his family home. Ian has done an great job researching the history of his house and I'm pleased to include the story in this collection.

 

The European story of the neighbourhood begins in 1854, when the reverend Thomas Mowbray (1812-1867) purchased just over six acres of land south of the river in what is now East Brisbane. This was one of many portions owned by Mowbray, forming a continuous holding between today's Mowbray Tce, Wellington Rd, Heidelberg Tce and the river.

Crown land purchased by Thomas Mowbray in the area later referred to as Mowbraytown. Click to enlarge.

Thomas, his wife Williamina and their children had emigrated from Scotland to NSW in the early 1840s and moved to Moreton Bay in 1847. They built the house Riversdale in the current location of Mowbray Park and established a local Presbyterian congregation to service the south side of the river. Thomas died in 1867 and Wilhelmina later sold the land, which came to be known as the suburb of Mowbraytown.

 

In 1886 two acres passed to William Quinton Markwell (1855-1916), a 31 year old clerk of the Postmaster General’s department. William had joined the 1880’s land bubble with great enthusiasm but the 1890s depression plunged him into insolvency like so many other property speculators of his time. In 1892 the Brisbane Courier advertised a public auction of his assets, including the Mowbraytown land and more than 50 acres of assorted lots from Coolangatta to Caloundra.  

32 lots purchased by William Markwell, 1886. Click to enlarge.

The undeveloped land was subdivided by successive owners until 1910, when three lots of 1,600 sqm were purchased by the builder Arthur John Dickinson (1873-1940) and his wife Sarah Jane (1874-1956). The couple, who were both raised in the East Brisbane neighbourhood, married in 1897 and by 1910 they had two sons and a daughter. 

Arthur John Dickinson

Arthur became one of Brisbane's leading contractors of the 1920s and 1930s and the builder of many well-known landmarks, some of which still stand today. Examples from his portfolio of projects included:

 

The Wintergarden Theatre, completed in 1924 to satisfy the growing demand for a combined movie and stage show venue. Designed by Valentine and Hare of Melbourne, the 2,000-seat theatre dazzled citizens with its sheer size and eastern palatial fitout. The auditorium featured a hidden lighting system comprising thousands of coloured bulbs that could be dimmed and blended to create a fantasy canopy, and sliding walls that allowed the sides of the room to be opened on warm summer nights.  This magnificent building was demolished in 1981 to make way for the wholly uninspiring Wintergarden shopping centre.

Wintergarden Theatre. 

Ascot Chambers was Brisbane’s first skyscraper and remained Queensland's tallest building until the 1960’s. Erected in 1925 on a small lot on the corner of Queen and Edward Streets, the ten story brick and steel frame highrise was designed in the contemporary commercial palazzo style. It was demolished in 1995 and replaced with the Tattersall’s building.

Ascot Chambers.

Hotel Embassy, completed in 1928 and still standing on the corner of Elizabeth and Edward Streets.

Hotel Embassy.

The McKimmin’s Sundae Shops, which were located on the northern side of Queen Street in the current location of Queens’ Plaza. The shop was custom-built in 1929 for a purveyor of soda fountain drinks, ice creams and pastries. The two-storey building, designed in the contemporary Spanish Mission style, had a lavish fitout of Queensland maple and American tiles and featured a range of innovations previously unseen in Brisbane, such as a wide front door which could be lowered into the basement during business hours. The soda fountain serviced a 66ft counter with leather-upholstered bronzes stools.

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McKimm's Sundae Shops

The Hoyts Regent Theatre, another icon of the dying days of the roaring twenties. The narrow façade, entry and foyer with their magnificent Spanish gothic features still remain on the southern side of the Queen Street Mall but the auditorium on the Elizabeth St side was demolished in 2011. This was one of the most beautiful of contemporary theatres of Australia with 2,600 seats, a mezzanine lounge inspired by the ballroom of the Versailles and the stage at 56 ft wide ranking as the largest in the country.

Hoyts Regent Theatre

Descendants of the Dickinsons have confirmed that Arthur was also the builder of many private residences in the region although records of these projects have been lost.

 

When Arthur purchased the land on Latrobe St in 1910 the family was mourning their 6 year old boy Leslie who had died only a few months earlier. The accident happend at Cleveland, where little Leslie had chased his hat over the edge of the jetty, slipped and hit his head on a rock. Living relatives of the family have described how Sarah cradled her boy in her lap all the way to a Brisbane hospital, where he died shortly after arrival. When the house was completed later that year it was named Lesville in his memory.

1922 surveyor plan of Lesville overlaid on a contemporary aerial photo. The property to the right was built on land subdivided in 1940. Click to enlarge.

A second tragedy struck in 1918, when the 17 year old daughter Emily Victoria died of what was suspected to be lead poisoning. She had the habit of stroking the veranda ballustrade with her finger as she walked past and then putting her finger in her mouth, evidently causing a slow poisoning from the high concentration of lead in contemporary paints. Perhaps this was why the house left the Dickinson family in 1920. Over the following 97 years it passed through another 14 owners and changed name to "Leaville", before being purchased by Ian who researched much of its history and is now restoring it to its former glory with the addition of a lower floor.

 

Thanks to Ian for giving us the opportunity to look at his home and for introducing us to Arthur Dickinson, Brisbane's builder of iconic venues during the roaring 20s. 

Key sources:

- Personal communications with the current owner Leaville

- Deed of Grant and historical Title Deeds for the property, sourced from Queensland DNRM
- TROVE historical newspaper archives
- Genealogy.com, for family trees, census records, electoral rolls and passenger lists
- Post office directories from the 1870's through to the 1940's
- Pugh's Almanac, 1859-1927
- NSW and Queensland Government Gazettes, 1836-1900
- Aerial photography, BCC PDOnline
- Miscellaneous texts on Queensland history
- Parish and miscellaneous maps, courtesy of the Queensland State Archives