5 June 2024

Provisional heritage listing recognises historical value of original Kingston shops

| Ian Bushnell
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The first shop to open at the Eastlake, now Kingston, shops, JB Young. Photo: The Canberra Page.

A section of the Kingston shops has been provisionally listed on the ACT Heritage Register, a year before they celebrate their centenary.

The ACT Heritage Council’s decision on the Early Kingston Shops covers a row of small, predominantly single-storey shops forming an L shape along Giles and Kennedy streets (Section 21, Blocks 1, 23-24, and 3-10 and associated streetscape).

This part of the shops had the most significant impact on the development of the ACT, being built quickly and with little government control, and from 1925 gaining an early competitive advantage over other shopping precincts at Civic and Manuka.

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ACT Heritage Council chair Duncan Marshall said the Early Kingston Shops comprised the first shopping precinct developed in the ACT.

“They were the premier shopping destination in the new capital from the 1920s until the late 1950s,” he said.

“These shops were the first fully formed shopping precinct in Canberra. They were essential for goods and services, but they were also a centre for socialising and employment.”

Mr Marshall said their development meant that the first public servants and those who constructed Canberra didn’t need to order goods and groceries from canvassers going door-to-door or make the trip into Queanbeyan anymore.

“Instead, they had a central group of shops that sold almost everything they wanted,” he said.

aerial shot of proposed heritage area

The area comprising the Early Kingston Shops. Photo: ACT Heritage Council.

The council decision said the amenity contributed to the popularity of the place in the burgeoning community, which in turn reinforced its centralised role, making the Early Kingston Shops the preeminent shopping precinct during the early formation of the capital.

“As important as Kingston was in the early days of the ACT, post-war development slowly moved the population to the north, and later planning developments moved the focus away from Kingston,” it said.

“The Early Kingston Shops have heritage significance for their role as the premier shopping destination in the new capital.”

The council reviewed three existing nominations for parts of the larger Kingston shopping precinct before deciding to provisionally register a smaller section of shops that date back to the original development of Kingston.

The council said registration did not stop ongoing or sympathetic new uses, nor will it stop all change.

It noted that the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings had been on the ACT Heritage Register since 1997 and continue to be used and sympathetically adapted when necessary.

Giles Street in 1928

Giles Street, Eastlake, now Kingston, in 1928. The premier shopping destination in the new capital. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Kingston Barton Residents Group president Richard Johnston welcomed the council’s decision but said it was more about the historical significance of the original shops rather than any architectural importance.

“We’re happy with the fact that the original shops are proceeding towards registration for heritage,” he said.

“We understand that there is still capacity for some modifications to the buildings.

“The registration is not so much for the architectural value of the buildings, it’s more the age, the fact that they’re the first shops developed in Canberra.”

Mr Johnston said KBRG was a bit disappointed that the nomination for Jardine Street and Green Square had not proceeded but remained hopeful it might still be taken up.

While the shops’ centenary is in 2025, commemorating when JB Young on the corner of Jardine and Giles streets opened for business in December 1925, KBRG was pursuing an event to mark the centenary of the first lease sold on 12 December 1924 to the company.

JB Young actually stole a march on competitors by trading from July 1925 at the back of the still-to-be-completed building.

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Mr Johnston said traders were keen to be involved in the Kingston centenary, but events might happen over a couple of years given the spread of historical dates.

“There’s plenty of scope for the centenary to be recognised, but maybe over a period rather than a year,” he said.

The public can comment on the provisional registration until 1 July.

The council is also offering consultations with the owners of the shops and others to help explain the provisional registration and seek feedback.

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The first centenary is this year on 12 December. On that date in 1924 the very first sale of leases in the then Federal Capital Territory was held. Private businesses got a look in for the first time. The first leases to be sold were at Eastlake (now Kingston) and the very first lease sold was to J.B. Young of Queanbeyan. That lease was where Winning Appliances is now.

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