Architecture and design

Preserving one of Chinatown’s rarest buildings

An early 20th century building that embodies the history of Sydney’s Chinatown has been recommended for heritage listing.

The former Kwong War Chong & Company building shop

A 3-storey brick Edwardian-style building in the heart of Chinatown is in the spotlight as one of the earliest buildings owned and operated by Chinese people in Sydney.

An independent heritage assessment has found the building, and its interiors and contents, have rare historic, aesthetic and social value.

Built in 1910, the Dixon Street building operated as a shop, store, dormitory and headquarters for merchants Phillip Lee Chun and the Kwong War Chong & Company.

City of Sydney historian Dr Lisa Murray said the shop was important for distributing goods, supporting the migrant community, and providing dormitories and meeting places for market gardeners.

Dr Murray said the shop showed how the location of Chinatown had shifted as Sydney grew and developed.

“They say the Chinese dragon of Sydney has its feet in the Rocks, its body in Haymarket and its head in Dixon Street,” Dr Murray said.

“Dixon Street is the heart of today’s Chinatown, but in the 1850s the Chinese community’s commercial and cultural centre was in The Rocks.

“By the 1880s it had shifted to Surry Hills and Haymarket to be around the market buildings, where cook shops and boarding houses met the needs of travelling market gardeners.

“Traders, merchants and providores followed in their footsteps. By the early 20th century, the city council built new produce markets close to Darling Harbour in Ultimo and Chinatown became focused around Dixon Street.

We have proposed the building be heritage listed. This will now go to the NSW Government. If approved, the proposal will go on exhibition for public comment.

Published 16 September 2019