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MoB Sunday Stories: Brisbane Arcade celebrates 100 Years

For a century, Brisbane Arcade has enchanted shoppers young and old with the promise of luxuries as varied as couture and toys, fine stationery and ribbon sandwiches. One of the city’s great architectural treasures, the Arcade’s old-world charm has been preserved with much love, while the shops it houses have changed to meet the tastes of the times.

Brisbane Arcade. Photo: Mitch Lowe. 


Brisbane Arcade was designed by architect Richard Gailey Jr for the great philanthropists Dr James Mayne and his sister Mary Emelia Mayne. Construction began in 1923. Positioned on a long narrow strip, that connects Queen Street to Adelaide Street, the Arcade was adorned with popular European fittings. All details which as one writer in 1923 put it, “presents a most pleasing appearance.”

With a push from Dr James Mayne, the Brisbane Arcade was officially opened in 1924 – a strikingly speedy build, by today’s standards. While the building is beautiful on the eye, it did not come cheap. “Of brick, with modern shops and plate-glass windows, this is considered equal to the best Sydney and Melbourne arcades and cost close upon £70,000,” wrote The Daily Mail in 1924.

Upon opening, early retailers such as George E. Adams cake shop, S Knowles and Sons Jewellers, Lind’s Umbrellas and Everest Chair Company (makers of theatre chairs, squatters’ chairs and chairs for ships) flocked to open stores in this promising new location. By the 1930s, it was reliably reported that “All those things that gladden the feminine heart are attractively displayed in the Arcade, and there are few women, indeed, who are not lured to stroll leisurely through its shady length whenever they visit the city.” Some fruitful businesses remained for more than 60 years.


Some years later, Brisbane Arcade became home to one of Australia’s most notable privately owned art galleries. Brian and Marjorie Johnstone opened the Johnstone Gallery in the basement of Brisbane Arcade in February 1952. In an interview with the Brisbane Telegraph, Brian Johnstone said, “My policy . . .  will be to exhibit in my gallery what I consider is the most creative art in Australia today, and in doing this I will include the work of a number of brilliant younger artists who are coming to the fore.” And this they did! During a five-year stint in their city location, the Johnstone Gallery exhibited the works of Margaret Olley, Margaret Cilento, Sir Sidney Nolan, Lawrence Daws, Arthur Boyd, Donald Friend and many more.

Though no longer home to an art gallery, in the 80s and 90s Brisbane Arcade cemented its status as a place for lovers of fashion. A cohort of promising designers including Lydia Pearson of Easton Pearson, Royce Facy, Tim Lindgren and Debra Kolkka all set up shop alongside big retailer Sportsgirl. In line with the larger retailers, Kentucky Fried Chicken also opened a store on the lower ground which fed many a late-night partygoer.

After more than 65 years of operation, in 1992 Brisbane Arcade was awarded a heritage listing and repairs began to restore it to its old-world glory.

Fast-forward to 2024 and Brisbane Arcade’s 100th birthday is upon us.  Brisbane residents continue to enjoy shopping and dining in this historic destination in the heart of our city to this day.

Want to learn more about Brisbane Arcade? Join a Brisbane City Walking Tour: Past and Present.


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