Drive-in Shopping - Allan & Stark to Westfield

  • First Drive-in Shopping Centre in Australia
  • Three major floods 1985, 1994, 1997
  • Four major fires 1972, 1978, 1993, 2006
  • Five major expansions 1966/7, 1974-78, 1985-87, 1998-2000, 2005-6

Courier Mail 30/5/1997 commenting on the changes of 40 years in shopping noted:

"The shopping centre has become the community centre - particularly on Thursday, which is pension day with late-night shopping. It is tempting to think that if it were not for the need to be delivered and dispatched, they could spend their lives in a shopping centre like battery chooks in artificial light and artificial air."

Ten years later, in 2007, the comment is still appropriate

Allan & Stark at the Smarter end of Queen Street

This sketch from the Courier Mail Supplement at the opening of the shopping centre shows Allan & Stark's Queen Street building, presumably in 1957. It was accompanied by the announcement "We've rolled out the red carpet from the Smarter end of Queen Street to the Chermside Shopping Centre."

Allan & Stark - The Inner City Firm

Part of the imposing 1910 facade of Allan & Stark's Queen Street Drapery Store. It was one of the leading stores in Brisbane for many years. (Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library)

Allan and Stark started on the Southside in the 1882 and built a solid reputation as a Drapery Store. Unfortunately the site of their store was subject to flooding and in the 1893 flood the store was flooded up to the first floor. The photo in the right side bar shows the inundtion.

Consequently, in 1885 the firm moved to the Northside and built on Queen Street in the heart of the city. The building at 94-108 Queen Street eventually extended, in two sections, to Adelaide Street. In 1926, by Act of Parliament, they were authorised to build a subway under Burnett Lane to connect the two sections.

Burnett Lane is at present being redeveloped by the Brisbane City Council as a mini mall.

Allan & Stark, being a long established city firm, had a good reputation and people travelled by train or tram to shop there. After World War II the motor car became more common and customers wanted to drive in to do their shopping but lack of parking space was preventing them.

At the same time a director,Thomas Weedman, toured the United States and noted how the motor car had affected the retail industry. There, the motor car was already common and people were using it for weekly shopping, rather than make a daily short walk to the corner store.

Realising that Australia would soon move fully into the automobile age he saw the need for inner city retail firms to rethink their future planning.

Allan & Stark - The Concept of the Drive-in

The Drive-in idea was revolutionary in Australia at the time. In hindsight we wonder why didn't every large shop do this and the answer was that the widespread of motor cars was still new and nobody knew how this was going to change our shopping habits. The concept of the Drive-in was summed us as "An island of retailing in a (big) lake of parking."

The establishment of the Drive-in Centre by Allan & Stark marked a seminal change in the history of Chermside and district as well as in retailing in Australia. It was a new method of retailing tailored to take advantage of the major change that was taking place in private transport in Australia. The age of the motor car had begun and Allan & Stark was putting their future on the line with their pioneering venture and they were going to change the face of retailing in Australia.

A survey of the Chermside district showed that there were 100,000 people living within 3 miles (4.8km) of the centre of Chermside which made it an ideal site for a major shopping centre. Tram and bus services were available and many suburban people were buying motor cars. Also, Chermside was one of the most rapidly growing areas in Brisbane.

The factor which finally made Alan & Stark choose Chermside over other possible suitable sites was, according to T J Weedman, "In October 1955 the block of land upon which the Centre now stands became available - 28 acres". (11.8 hectares) This area, known as Early's Paddock, had remained vacant and was subject to flooding but was used occasionally as a site for Bullen Brothers Circus to pitch their tent when they came to town.

The proposal to build was opposed by many and the Brisbane City Council received two petitions, one on 1st November, 1955 and the other on 8 November, 1955, protesting against the establishment of the above proposal on the ground that the existing shopping centre would deteriorate, and requested that the Council reconsider its decision to allow the project to proceed.

Also some of the Valley shops, Waltons-Sears, McWhirters and T C Beirne, soon began to fight against the new competition from the Drive-in, probably by reducing prices. The prophets of gloom had a field day arguing that the venture was bound to fail. Nobody needed all that land for just a few shops.

Chermside Drive-in 1957
The aerial photo shows the small size of the buildings in relation to the size of the land. There was room for 700 cars all in the open and plenty of room for future expansion. In fact all the houses on the left of the photo would be bought as well as the buildings in the bottom left corner. Hamilton Road on the bottom of the photo was the southern boundary while Banfield Street towards the top was the northern boundary. (Phto courtesy of the Library of Victoria)

The Concept of the Shopping Centre

Every suburb had a shopping centre, there was nothing new in that. But this one was to be built from scratch in an old established shopping centre and it was going to be under one roof.

The new air-conditioned centre contained the Allan & Stark department store of 3,791mē, the Brisbane Cash and Carry Supermarket and 25 shops in the Arcade and Mall. Surrounding the buildings was space to park 700 cars and it was described as "An island of retailing in a lake of parking".

Drainage of the 28 acre site was expensive and four six-foot (1.82m) diameter pipes were laid from Hamilton Road to carry Somerset Creek beneath the parking area into Downfall Creek to the north; later however they proved inadequate and serious flooding occurred in the centre.

The entire cost was 600,000 pounds ($13.6m in 2004 values) which was split into 250,000 pounds for buildings and 350,000 pounds for site development. In 1957 it was an astronomical amount and represented a make or break risk for Allan & Stark because this was the first drive-in shopping centre in Australia with a huge parking space; it was unheard of! It was a success and it grew rapidly.

Three measure of the success the new Drive-in were: First in September 1959 Allan & Stark sold out to the Melbourne based Myer Emporium. Second in 1961, Sergeant D P Mahoney, in an application for additional police at Chermside, mentions that there were 240 persons employed in the complex and the parking space had expanded to hold 900 vehicles. Third was the speed which other drive-in shopping centres appeared in other parts of Brisbane and the rest of Australia.

Allan & Stark Buildings Chermside 1957
A shopping centre under one roof in the existing Chermside Shopping Centre caused much trepidation among the local businesses. The large main section in the top is Allan & Stark's Department Store, the two parallel arcades with a mall in between housed 25 specialty shops while Brisbane Cash & Carry, the supermarked was in the building labelled BCC. The photo was taken from the north west and clearly shows the separate buildings. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Victoria)

Numbered Sketch of Shopping Centre

  • 1. The Mall an open air section between two rows of shops.
  • 2. The powerhouse which controlled the electric supply.
  • 3. Brisbane Cash and Carry - the supermarket of the time.
  • 4. The Cafeteria which was the first large eating place in Chermside.
  • 5. Professional Offices.
  • 6. Allan & Stark Department Store.
  • 7. The Bus Station which extended along the side of Allan & Stark.
  • 8. The Arcade of shops which extended underneath the Cafeteria.
The sketch appeared in the Courier Mail Supplement at the opening of the centre in 1957. In contrast to the preceeding photo it is from the south west and shows the bus station area which is concealed in the photo above. Also the artist did not get the BCC building correct, it was not joined to the Mall buildings, but he/she did a good job anyway.

The Helicopter was the Highlight of the Opening in 1957

In 1957 not many people had seen a helicopter close up, so here was their big chance. To keep up with the 'modern' theme Santa arrived by it; after all this was Australia and there was a shortage of snow and reindeer and it was only May. The mixture worked well and 15,000 people crowded into the shops and kept the police busy trying to keep order. It was described as a shopping frenzy and spelt success.

The helicopter also flew around dropping ping-pong balls with numbers on them. The finders could cash them in at Allan & Starks brand new Drive-in.

The helicopter was state of the art in 1957 and to use it would gain much publicity. Allan & Stark needed all the publicity they could get, the new Drive-in had to suceed or their gamble would fail. (Photo courtesy J. Campbell)

The Low Profile of the Buildings

The new buildings were single story partly because of the sqampy nature of the land which had two creeks running across it. Flooding was to be a constant problem for many years.

Another reason for low buildings was the desire to keep all the shops on the one level so that customers could walk easily from one place to another. This theme has continued right through the history of the centre. Myers is an exception where there are three floors but they are connected by lifts and escalators.

In later years when upward expansion became necessary it was made possible with the assistance of deep concrete piles forming a base for the huge concrete floors above. There must be as much reinforced concrete below ground as there is in any one of the floors above.

The white building on the right is Allan & Starks Drapery Department Store. The Brisbane Cash and Carry Supermarket is in the middle while the brick coloured section is still a mystery. The area in the foreground is part of the parking area and the angle of the photo gives some idea of the spacious aspect of the site. (Photo courtesy of J. Campbell)

The Cars are Coming and Coming

The idea of having 700 car parking spaces seemed to be unimaginable in 1957. People were used to crowds of people but not crowds of cars. That perception was going to change very quickly and within a few years another 200 spaces were provided. Soon thousands of spaces would be necessary.

With full employment more or less taken for granted people were more affluent than than they had ever been and cars were high on the list of the younger generation. The United States was already getting into the two car family bracket and Australia was not far behind.

The cars of 1957 were, by modern standards rather plain motors, some were still being crank started. There was a wide variety of petrol brands but all were much the same type of petrol. English makes were still common and the emphasis was on low cost cars and very cheap petrol. (Photo courtesy J. Campbell)

First Major Expansion by 1967

After the Myer take over in September 1959 growth continued and by 1961 the parking spaces reached 900 and some 240 persons were employed in the complex.

In 1965 Building extensions with escalators, air conditioning and a restaurant were added while the following year Woolworths opened in July at "Australia's Most Progressive Shopping Centre" at a cost of more than $500,000 ($4,528,000 in 2003 values).

The 1967 aerial photo shows two new blocks were added to the original buildings. (Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library)

Woolworths Devestated by Fire 1972

This aerial image gives a graphic picture of the utter devestation caused by the 1972 fire at Woolworth's. This photo enables the viewer to locate Woolworth's on the 1967 aerial photo above. (Photo courtesy of John Oxley Library and Newspix)

Second Major Expansion 1974-78

(We need an aerial photo for 1978)

Target opened in September 1972 and at 7am on 19 December the first major fire virtually destroyed Woolworths and caused extensive damage to Myer and Clark Rubber plus several specialty stores. The damage estimate was between $1.5 and $3 million ($10.5 to $21 million in 2003 values).

In June 1974 under the slogan, "New Project to Rise from the Ashes", a four year redevelopment plan costing $16 million ($90,257,000 in 2003 values) was announced.

It proposed to expand Target, build a new three level Myer store and another 40 specialty shops. The retail area would expand to 33,445 sq metres (6,000 in 1957), there was to be provision for 2,500 cars and the existing bus terminal would be upgraded. It seems that the project was finished in June 1977 when the new three level Myer Department store was opened.

The following year a second fire damaged Woolworths necessitating another round of repairs while, in December late night shopping began on Thursdays to give greater flexibility to shopping times.

Third Major Expansion 1985-87

(We need more information on this section)
In August 1985 the Myer Emporium Ltd and G J Coles & Coy Ltd merged becoming one of the largest Australian Corporations, Coles-Myer Ltd. This was followed by a severe hail storm which flooded the ground floor of Myers. Another expansion began which was completed in 1987 with the addition of, among other improvements, 22 specialty stores.

In 1993 the third major fire occurred in the main plant room behind Target on a Saturday in March led to an evacuation of the centre. This was followed in January1994 by a severe thunderstorm which flooded the site causing damage to 60% of the centre. This was the second major flood.

This photo is a photo of a photo measuring 1220mm x 710mm (4ft x 2ft 4in) which was found in a rubbish skip. The photo was taken after Westfield bought the centre in December 1996 since both the capital M is seen along with the name Westfield on the Gympie Road sign. This photo of the centre would have included the 1974-78 expansion and the 1985-7 expansions. (Photo courtesy of Westfield)

The Expansion that Wasn't

In May 1996 Coles-Myer announced plans to double the size of the centre by extending over Banfield Road on to the Commonwealth land where the Telstra Training Centre was located.

The expansion did not take place because in December Westfield Trust purchased the 39,000 square metres Shopping Centre and on Christmas Eve it became known as Westfield Shoppingtown Chermside. The purchase included adjacent Telstra land on the Northern side of Banfield Street

On Easter Monday of the following year a severe hail storm wreaked havoc causing Myer and Target to close for 3 days during the busy school holiday period; 80% of retailers affected by water and ice. This was to be the third and last of the major flooding incidents as the new owners had plans in hand to prevent them.

But, in spite of the disasters the past four decades the centre was flourishing and the Courier Mail 30/5/1997 commenting on the changes of 40 years in shopping and the popularity of the centre noted:

The shopping centre has become the community centre - particularly on Thursday, which is pension day with late-night shopping. It is tempting to think that if it were not for the need to be delivered and dispatched, they (the customers) could spend their lives in a shopping centre like battery chooks in artificial light and artificial air."

Fourth Major Expansion 1998-2000

The new owner, Westfield, which specializes in building and managing shopping towns set about to radically reshape the centre and eliminate the flooding problem.

Aerial photo of Westfield Shoppingtown, Chermside was taken in August 2005. It shows the expansion of 1998-2000 to Banfield Street. It also shows the preparations for the 2005-6 expansion northward towards Downfall Creek. On the left side can be seen the first high rise apartment building , Chermside Central, rising in Playfield Street. The new drainage system outlet can be seen in the bottom left of the building emptying into the old creek bed. The trench for the extension of the drainage system has been dug to carry the water further north and turning east downstream. (Photo courtesy of Westfield)

New Drainage System Installed

In January 1998 the complete reorganization of the centre started with the excavation of a double box culvert drainage system for Somerset Creek under the east side of the site. (Size 7.2m wide X 3.6m deep) This replaced the previous triple pipe system installed in 1957.

This system carried Somerset Creek to Banfield Street underneath the shopping centre and drained into the natural bed of the creek. This was the first time Banfield Street actually bridged the creek. There may have been a ford there in the very early days of Downfall Creek/Chermside.

The double box culvert drainage system could carry much more water than the earlier (1957) pipe system. The cylindrical concrete pipe on the right may be one of the earlier 1957 drainage pipes.

Structure of the New Buildings

The basic pattern of the new buildings is clearly seen in this photo. The lower level is the underfloor parking area which is just high enough to allow customers cars to enter easily. The middle section which is the Mall or Retail section is much loftier and allows shops scope to show their wares along with signage and advertising. The roof top parking area is just that, no permanent cover although shade cloth covers are now used.

All existing buildings were either expanded or demolished and rebuilt with the exception of Myers which was already on three levels.

When the drainage was completed by the end of February 1999 the driving of concrete piles began to form the underpinning of the new buildings which consisted of ground floor for parking, first floor for shops and roof top for parking.

No Frills Underfloor Parking

The underfloor parking is purely functional. Some spots are reserved for handicapped drivers, there is a section for car washing and some parts have time limits on their use.

The new policy was to use the open space parking areas for buildings and double the parking space, using the space under and over the Mall.

Wall Slabs Being Made

Wall slabs are being made on site in this photo. The two square blocks in the middle and lower right corner are piles of slabs with each slab separated from the one below. The technique is to lay the steel reinforcement and pour the fresh concrete on it. When the mixture dries another slab is poured on top until the pile is complete.

Concrete wall slabs, a comparatively new method of building walls, were widely used on the new buildings. They are made of reinforced concrete and can be made for any shape or size of wall with openings for doors and windows if needed.

Wall slabs require special techniques and skills for their manufacture and erection. They may be made on site or in a factory and trucked to the building site. Both methods were used at Westfield.

Wall Slabs Being Erected

The erection of the slabs requires the services of a well trained, well co-ordinated team of workers. The concrete slabs are very heavy and somewhat fragile because of their shape, they have to be handled carefully. On the other hand they can be quickly erected and speed the process of building.

Very large cranes equipped with special rigging are used to take the slab from the horizontal to the vertical position before it is lowered into place.

This shows the erection of three very long, narrow wall slabs to form part of the southern wall of the Megaplex movie theatre. The size may be gauged from the size of the worker in the lower right corner. The rigging on the crane is attached to special attachments on the outside of the slab. By lengthening and shortening the lines the slab can be manoeuvred to the vertical position and lowered into place. Once in place the slab is secured using steel props on the inside.

Features of the Expansion

New features included a Food Court, under floor and rooftop parking, more specialty stores increasing the total to 230 and the 16 cinemas in the new Multiplex.

Retail area increased from 39,000 to 70,000 square metres while 2,700 new car spaces were added with half of them under cover. It was all completed ahead of schedule by October 2000 and at a total cost of $235 million.

Changes in Routine

Sunday trading began in August 2002 and introduced the seven day trading week - not all business people were happy about it - some small traders felt that it only made it harder to keep their profit margins and they would have to work harder to compete with the larger firms. A seminar was held at the Brisbane Hilton to help the small traders cope with the changes.

Round the clock shopping was introduced in 2003 when the centre was open for 32.5 continuous hours from 9am on the 23rd till 5.30pm on 24th Christmas Eve. This was judged a success and has become an annual event.

Fifth Major Expansion 2005-6

The plan shows the new building area bounded by Banfield Street on the left (South), Downfall Creek on the right middle (North), Gympie Road at the top (West) and Playfield Street lower middle (East) Banfield Street is now mostly covered by the mall and roof parking but open at both ends. Now it is possible to drive from Gympie Road to Kittyhawk Drive. Prominent in the plan was the planting of trees and lawns in all the open areas, including the open car parks. The water for all these areas came from roof top run off stored in three huge water tanks near David Jones.

The building development included extending the entire structure of the retail, ground floor and roof top parking areas over Banfield Street to the present northern boundary of Downfall Creek.

There was demolition of some existing structures but most of the land was vacant. It had been used as a training centre for Telstra employees and much of their line training was done in the open. The land was owned by the Commonwealth and no longer needed.

Demolition of Telstra Buildings

There were several double story brick lecture rooms which were easy to demolish but this central building was much more difficult job. It seemed to be largely built of reinforced concrete and had to be demolished with extremely large jack hammers mounted on mobile excavators. Instead of a scoop bucket for digging there was the jack hammer for demolishing.

This expansion began in 2005 with the clearance of the Telstra buildings on the northern side of Banfield Street and extending the drainage system from the existing site along Somerset Creek to the outlet in 7th Brigade Park to the east of the centre.

Once the area was cleared and levelled the new buildings swept like a tsunami across the area till it was covered.

Corporal French VC Bridge

Downfall Creek never looked so neat and tidy; a sure sign that it had been tamed, for the moment. The stone has been brought in to protect the banks from the natural erosion of a living stream. Floods have a habit of removing boulders and reasserting nature's dominance. The bridge is all reinforced concrete and the girders spanning the creek are very heavy. The huge mobile crane brought in to lift each girder into place was capable of lifting 200 tonnes.

Westfield contributed $10m of 'in-kind works" towards the extension of Kittyhawk Drive linking Murphy and Hamilton Roads and crossing over the Corporal French bridge spanning Downfall Creek.

Kauri Pines have been planted along Kittyhawke Drive and will form a stately avenue in the future.

The Completed Work 2006

Aerial photo of Westfield Shoppingtown, Chermside in October, 2007. On the left can be seen the extension of Kittyhawk Drive to Murphy Road north of Downfall Creek. Also three high rise apartment building have appeared in Playfield Street. (Photo courtesy of Westfield)

The fourth major fire occurred on 6/8/2006 in "a partially completed two story building next to Westfield Shopping Centre" - Six crews battled for an hour to control the blaze in what was to be the gymnasium. Buildings were evacuated, dense black smoke billowed from the fire which may have been caused by an electrical fusion welder.

The expansion added 50,000 square metres of retail (Lettable) space (total 122,000, almost 18 football fields), another 130 specialist shops (total 350), increased parking spaces to 6,200 (5.5 spaces for each 100 square meters of Lettable space), new retailers included Woolworths Big W, Borders, JB Hi-Fi, three mini-majors and David Jones (from August 2007), a new Dining and Lifestyle precinct the Parkland Pavilion overlooking Downfall Creek and 7th Brigade Park and about 2,000 square metres of office space.

The Westfield Chermside Shoppingtown became Queensland's largest shopping centre and created more than 2,500 new part and full time jobs and the cost was between $200 and $230m. At the opening on Thursday 19th October 2006, 70,000 shoppers, double the normal daily count, came but the expected traffic chaos did not materialise; 'and a good time was had by all'.

Westfield intended to erect four accommodation towers of 8, 8, 12 & 15 floors for 463 apartments on 1.478 ha of land at the north east side of the shopping centre. However this project was abandoned and the land offered for sale at a price of $20m. The land was bought by the Australian Affordable Housing Association Inc for an undisclosed amount.

Later the land was acquired by other developers who are continuing the project.