Mark Foy's (Sydney, Australia)

Wandering through the Sydney CBD, an interesting combination of older historic buildings and more recent structures are likely to catch your eye. One of the more prominent buildings on the southern end of the city is the Downing Centre, part of the judicial district of Sydney and a short walk from Museum Station or a bus ride down Elizabeth Street.

The Downing Centre building, now home to the local and district court of Sydney, is located within the distinctive cream and gold-coloured Mark Foy's, advertising gloves, corsets and the like along the panels above the building's ground floor.

Golden niches, turrets and relief decoration enhance the ornamentality of the now obsolete Mark Foy's, alluding to the building's prior usage as a place of high fashion and luxury. The Mark Foy's department store, the original occupant of the building which still bears the store's name, was originally founded on Sydney's Oxford Street in 1885, with the megastore known as 'The Piazza' on the corner of Elizabeth and Liverpool streets being opened in 1909. The store, named by the Foy brothers after their father, provided all manner of items of opulence, from furniture and furnishings to fashion. A store 30 page catalogue issued in 1915 has been retained by Sydney Living Museums

Photo of Mark Foy's building

The Liverpool street building started as a three-storey structure, including the basement and two other levels, and by 1930 the building was linked to newly constructed Museum train station and was extended to eight storeys in height (detailed information about the remodelling can be found here). The Mark Foy's Piazza store was also the first building in Australia to have an escalator, a further emblem of the high status of the retailer, which was modelled on European department stores. 

Although this Piazza store was the flagship outlet for the retail chain, smaller stores were opened throughout the 1960s across Sydney's suburbs, including Rockdale, Eastwood, Burwood, Chatswood and Bankstown. Despite this expansion, the late 1960s and early 1970s saw the stores being acquired successively by a number of companies, which eventually resulted in Mark Foy's becoming defunct in 1980. Between 1980 and 1983 the Mark Foy's Piazza building was leased by the Grace Brothers retailer, which moved premises in 1983. 

Whilst Mark Foy's had starting losing its success in the 1970s, the upper levels were already being used by the justice courts, and in 1983 a government committee recommended a multi-court complex that included modification of the Liverpool street building to accommodate 16 new courtrooms; the modified building was opened in 1991.

Photo of Mark Foy's building and Elizabeth Street
Photo of Downing Centre entrance

The opulence of the original Mark Foy's store, reportedly once including an ice rink as part of a winter clothing display, contrasts with the somewhat austere current function of the building. Behind the trees lining the footpath, the entrance to the Downing Centre is much less conspicuous than the ostentatious exterior of the building it is located in.

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