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MoB Sunday Stories: The School of Arts

An enigmatic beauty that sits astride the hustle and bustle of the city, the School of Arts building is a heritage home nestled between the modern high rises of Brisbane’s CBD.

Built between 1865-66, the palatial homestead was then known as the Servants Home, and its purpose was to provide accommodation for single adult women who had moved to the city in search of employment as domestic help.

Designed by H Edwin Bridges, the building comprises a ground floor and two upper galleries. However, the palatial verandas that wrap the first and second floors were not added until 1877.

School of Arts Building - Exterior View - 166 Ann Street 1985. Courtesy Brisbane City Council

In 1871, the homestead found a new philanthropic purpose with benefactor Ann Drew, wife of wealthy landowner Richard Drew, who turned it into a refuge for unmarried and unsupported mothers. This project was just one of many incredible philanthropic efforts from Ann who spent four decades championing women’s rights in Brisbane.

Despite being purchased by the trustees of the North Brisbane School of Arts in 1873 (for the princely sum of one thousand pounds), Ann’s women’s refuge continued to operate out of the house until 1878 when it transformed into the School of Arts.

Brisbane School of Arts Library 1966. Courtesy Brisbane City Council

During its first years of operation the School of Arts ran exhibitions, lectures, a literary circle, drawing classes and boasted a library of 7,000 books for its 600 subscribers. In later years, some welcome additions were made to the house to accommodate a Technical College that offered new subjects including cooking, languages and mathematics.

Brisbane City Council purchased the building in 1965 where it became the home of the Central City Library until 1981 when it closed again for restoration.

If you’d like to explore more stories about the history of some of Brisbane’s most unique design icons, click here to dive into our free exhibition Bauhaus Now: art+design+architecture, a legacy of migration and modernism in Brisbane.

The Brisbane School of Arts Building - Ann Street 1925. Courtesy Brisbane City Council
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