The Council moved to new accommodation at Redleaf, Double Bay in 1947. Redleaf, built as a private residence was converted and adapted for new use as chambers and offices for councillors and staff.
Council chambers at Redleaf, 2010
Redleaf, a Victorian Italianate mansion overlooking Sydney Harbour at Double Bay, was designed by the architect George Allen Mansfield and completed in 1863. The house was built for William Benjamin Walker, businessman, member of the Legislative Council and first commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, on land he had acquired from Daniel Cooper’s Point Piper Estate. Following the death of Daniel Cooper in 1853 the trustees of his estate (which covered 1130 acres of the Woollahra district) offered a number of 99 year leases in Double Bay, Bellevue Hill and Woollahra. The Redleaf site (known as lot 13) was one such lease, and after a series of assignments it was taken up by William Walker in August 1862.
The house was tenanted during part of Walker’s ownership with Henry Dangar, barrister and businessman, occupying the house from the end of the 1860s to 1871. In 1872 the Hon. William Busby acquired the leasehold to Redleaf, due in part, according to Nesta Griffiths, "because his family had outgrown Edgecliff House, and also because his neighbours used to drown unwanted cats and dogs in his well".
The next resident of Redleaf was the merchant Frederick Lassetter, who lived there from 1889. Lassetter acquired the leasehold in 1891 and purchased the freehold to the property, comprising just over 3 acres, in 1905.
The gates to Redleaf on New South Head Road, c1900
In 1897 Lassetter built the house St Brigid’s (now the Double Bay Central Library) on part of the grounds of Redleaf as a home for his second son Arthur. The English architect Frederick Moore Simpson was engaged to design the house.
At the time of Frederick Lassetter’s death in 1911, Redleaf and St Brigid’s remained on the one title. In 1912 the land, in readiness for its sale, was subdivided into two allotments. Redleaf was reduced to an area a little over 2 acres and St Brigid’s to an area a little under 1 acre. The Redleaf property was then purchased by the merchant Thomas Storie Dixson while St Brigid’s was bought by Cecil Moulder.
Redleaf was next transferred in 1919 to the grazier William Hooke MacKay. Following MacKay’s death in 1939 the property was inherited by his sons John and Francis who, in 1940 sold the house and grounds to Woollahra Council. While the house was eventually to become the Council’s chambers, it was not for this purpose that it was purchased.
Woollahra Council's initial intention in securing Redleaf and the gradual resumption of St Brigid’s was to protect the foreshores of Seven Shillings Beach from inappropriate development and to enable the area to be used for public bathing.
By the 1930s, Seven Shillings Beach, of which the Redleaf property was a part, had become a popular bathing place. Most of the bathers, numbering as many as 2,000 people at the weekends, accessed the beach through private property. Following enquiries, the Sydney Harbour Trust advised Council that the boundaries of the private properties along the beach extended to high water mark and as such there was no foreshore reserve on which municipal bathing facilities might be built.
The question of providing public access to the beach and of protecting the foreshore from future private development remained on the Council agenda and in late 1939 the Council resolved to seek a loan to acquire Redleaf and its grounds, and construct swimming facilities including a sharkproof enclosure, dressing sheds, lavatories and reserve improvements.
Redleaf Pool dressing sheds under construction with Redleaf behind, 1940-41 (photograph J.D. May)
In July and August 1940, plans for a sharkproof enclosure at Seven Shillings Beach were submitted to the Maritime Services Board and approved. A sharkproof bathing enclosure was then built by the contractor F. Jenkins and Redleaf Pool was officially opened by the premier the Hon. William McKell in 1941.
From 1943 to 1951, neighbouring St Brigid’s was progressively resumed by Woollahra Council as part of its interest in preserving the foreshore associated with Redleaf and enhancing the amenities of the newly built Redleaf Pool. In 1943, the first resumption took place being an area of St Brigid’s land on high water mark, and in 1946 a second resumption was made of part of the property which included the garage (originally the stables to Redleaf and today known as the Annexe).
Finally in May 1950 Council resolved to acquire the house St Brigid’s and the remainder of the grounds, and in March 1951 the transfer from St Brigid’s owner Miss Constance White for the sum of £18,000 was finalised.
Following the Council's purchase of Redleaf in 1940 the house was initially leased to Caroline Hall for use as a guest house and reception centre. From 1942-1946 the house was taken over by Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Eastern Area Command for use as a sergeant's mess and airmen's barracks.
In January 1947 the mayor of Woollahra Council, Alderman Reginald Thornton, suggested that Redleaf could be used as the headquarters for Woollahra Council and it was decided to move the chambers from Ocean Street to Redleaf. The first meeting of Council held at Redleaf was on the 11 August 1947.
With space requirements at a premium by the late 1990s the decision was made to restore and undertake redevelopments at Redleaf. The architectural firm Allen Jack + Cottier undertook the design and Buildcorp the construction of the project creating new office space and restoring the historic building. The restored and extended building was officially opened on 22 February 2001. Allen Jack + Cottier, in association with Design 5, won the Energy Australia and National Trust Heritage Award for their adaptive reuse design in 2001.