Local Landmark: The Oliver Electric Apartments

November 10th, 2023 - by Brad Gillespie

Once lined with factories, Fountain Street is now a residential street and happening lifestyle hub featuring a Dan Murphy’s, Genovese Coffee House, Sushi Jones and Woolworths.

With its name emblazoned in big white letters on the original old brick facade, it’s hard to miss the Oliver Electric Co building at 15-17 Fountain Street. The building has shaken off its industrial past to reinvent itself as one of the suburb’s most coveted apartment buildings. We take a look at its history and re-development.

What was the Oliver Electric Company?

Established in 1942, Oliver Electric Company started out as an electrical equipment manufacturing business. A 1946 advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald shows the company had a base on Cleveland Street:

“ELECTRICAL FITTERS AND ARMATURE WINDERS, permanent positions, good conditions. OLIVER ELECTRIC CO.. 268 Cleveland Street”

A notice in Dun’s Gazette from 1950 under “registered companies” reveals a little more about what the company actually did:

“OLIVER ELECTRIC CO. PTY., LIMITED—Beg. 16/1/50.
Cap.: £50,000 in £1 shares. Objects: To carry on the business of manufacturers of and dealers in all classes of electrical equipment, etc. Subscribers: John T. A. Oliver and George McC. Sinclair (1 share each). Reg. office: Sydney. (Lodged by J. T. A. Oliver).”

Meanwhile, an ad in the Daily Telegraph from 1952 shows the type of employment Oliver Electric Co offered (this time at a different address in Bourke Street, Waterloo):

“FITTER & TURNER For Centre Lathe Work and General Fitting, Permanent Position and Good Money Offered to Good Tradesman. OLIVER ELECTRIC CO. PTY. LTD. 259 Bourke St., Waterloo.”

In 1953, the company advertised their goods and services in the Sydney Morning Herald. The Oliver Electric Company offered “ALL SIZES NEW OR USED MOTORS in stock for Sale or Hire”. From “NEW D C MOTORS” to “COUNTRY LIGHTING GENERATORS” and “WELDING ELECTROPLATING and ANODISING GENERATORS”. They also provided “prompt Repair and Service”.

Moving into Alexandria

In the late 1960s, the City of Sydney archives showed a DA for Lot 1, Fountain St Alexandria for the “Oliver Electric Co. P/l. Premises to be used by mechanical & electrical engineers ". In 1967, the Oliver Electric Company constructed a toilet block at the property and altered it to include an office and partitions.

A“request for allocation of street numbers:- ‘15/17 Fountain St, Alexandria’.” is recorded in the archives for what was previously known as Lot 1, Fountain Street.

In the early 1970s, further alterations and additions were made to the factory.

A photo of Fountain Street from the late 1970s shows just how much the area has changed over the past five decades, with a description that reads: “Old cars and scrap metal are in a warehouse yard at the corner of Fountain Street and Lawrence Lane, Alexandria. A red telephone box is on the street corner. Oliver Electrical Pty Ltd… is in the background.”

By 1990, the family-run company had diversified into party hire and tool and equipment hire. Now called Oliver Hire, it still exists today after relocating to Balgowlah.

Adaptive reuse: a development trend

Repurposing existing buildings is a development practice known as “adaptive reuse”. We see this often in our area, where old commercial and industrial land and buildings are transformed into residential. Buyers love the quirks and unique industrial warehouse vibe of these conversions.

Over the past two decades, there has been a wave of conversions where inner city warehouses and industrial buildings such as the Oliver Electric Building have been turned into residential apartments. Recently, we saw a stand-out adaptive reuse project where an expansive family home was created out of an old warehouse and bakery. We’ve sold it twice, and on both occasions, it broke the Newtown suburb record.

Reinventing an icon

According to Domain, the warehouse at 15-17 Fountain Street was on the market in 2001 but didn’t sell. The owners listed it again in 2007 before selling it for $5.5 million in 2008.

In 2010, it sold for significantly less - fetching $3.5 million.

In 2011, a heritage assessment was conducted on 15-17 Fountain Street. At the same time, a website promoting off-the-plan sales for the warehouse redevelopment described it as “a boutique development of 32 apartments in a serene urban oasis in one of Alexandria’s best locations at the junction of the suburb’s two best streets: Lawrence and Belmont Street”.

Construction on the Oliver Electric Apartments began in 2012 and was completed in 2013.

The redevelopment of this “well-regarded local landmark” was, at the time, on the doorstep of one of Australia’s largest urban renewal projects, the Green Square Town Centre project (now close to complete).

The design was thoughtful, with high ceilings, large balconies, oversized private courtyards and many apartments boasting sunny north and northeast aspects. It emphasised the “innovative architecture and a genuine respect for a historic and treasured local icon”.

The Oliver Electric apartments also pay homage to the building’s rich past. The developers retained its distinctive brick warehouse façade and used other recycled materials from the building throughout.

Relics of its previous life have been made an integral feature, with the original gantry crane in the courtyard paved with recycled brickwork and surrounded by beautifully landscaped common areas.

Properties in the Oliver Electric Building

Over the past decade, the Oliver Electric Building has carved out a reputation as one of Alexandria’s best developments. We currently have 27/15-17 Fountain Street Alexandria on the market.

A generous two-bedroom apartment in the complex, it offers a brilliant work-from-home study nook, two bathrooms, parking and storage cage, and a huge outdoor entertaining terrace. It goes to auction on 18 November with a guide of $950,000.

If you want to make the Oliver Electric Apartments on Fountain Street your home, contact us today.