History of Potts Point & Fitzroy Gardens

Macleay Street, Potts Point – January 1st , 1949

Darlinghurst, 1964

Potts Point

Macleay Street is named after Alexander Macleay, who was the colonial secretary of NSW from 1826-1837.

He arrived in 1826, with his large family and huge bug collection, taking up a 22ha land grant on the site of a former Aboriginal settlement known as Elizabeth Town.

In 1835 he started to build the ultimate trophy house, a shimmering, classical styled jewel box, perched in rugged bushland on the northern side of present-day Potts Point. Elizabeth Bay House, is still a magnificent waterfront house today.

Sydney’s colonial society loved to ridicule the colourful and controversial figure of Alexander Macleay. Macleay’s role as colonial secretary is now little more than a minor footnote in history but his magnificent Elizabeth Bay House is an outstanding legacy and remains the finest colonial mansion in New South Wales.

For the remainder of the 19th century and well into the 20th, Elizabeth Bay House had a chequered history. The property was subdivided, the gardens were reduced, and the house became home to a succession of tenants. In 1941 the grand rooms of the house had been subdivided into 16 ‘bed sit’ flats

Potts Point had evolved from a suburb of genteel villas and expansive gardens into one of low-rent flats, with a so-called unsavoury reputation as an enclave of artists and bohemians.

The modernist era from the 1950s and 1960s saw another small flurry of building, and a stronger bohemian artistic vibe. Then things took off again in the 1990s with more designer apartments as the area slowly became more gentrified and upmarket.

Today, Potts Point is a magnet for foodies while still maintaining its creative, eclectic buzz.

Florence Bartley Library

Image: My Darling Darlinghurst

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens at 60-64 Macleay Street, Potts Point, was originally part of the 1841 subdivision of Colonial Secretary, Alexander Macleay’s 54-acre Elizabeth Bay Estate.

The park was once partly occupied by a grand home, Osterley at 62 Macleay Street, built in the 1870s but demolished in 1927.

In 1958, Florence Bartley Library was built on the site. It was designed by the City of Sydney council’s own architects and won the prestigious Sir John Sulman Medal for architecture. Despite the accolade, the library was demolished in 1997.

In 1961 the El Alamein Fountain was installed in the park with its distinctive globular shape, soon to become a symbol of Kings Cross.

Further work in 1971 included the paving of the park to eliminate the ‘dustbowl’ effect created by its large trees.

The most prominent specimens are a Chinese Elm and Canary Island Palm both dating from around 1920, and a majestic, central, Port Jackson Fig and a Hill’s Weeping Fig.

In 1975 Elizabeth Bay Road was closed to traffic and, along with the former sites of 1-13 Elizabeth Bay Road, the road was absorbed into Fitzroy Gardens, increasing its size by one-third. However, part of this extra space was soon taken up by the anachronistic 1979 Kings Cross Police Station.