1884: Gunsler’s Cafe, Pitt Street, Sydney, New South Wales

Gunsler’s Café in Pitt Street Sydney was built in 1884 to the designs of Melbourne architect Lloyd Tayler and had ornamental stained, coloured, and plate glass decorations supplied by the Ferguson and Urie Stained Glass Company of North Melbourne.

Photos: The historical engravings of Gunsler’s Sydney premises were published in the Illustrated Sydney News, NSW, Tuesday 23rd September 1884 and the Melbourne premises were published by May & Ebsworth in July 1879.

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Illustrated Sydney News, NSW, Tuesday 23rd September 1884, page 3.

“Gunsler’s Cafe, Pitt Street.
It has always been a source of surprise to visitors, that a city like ours should be so inadequately supplied with first class restaurants. Efforts have been made within the last few years to remedy this want, but it has remained for an enterprising man like Mr. Gunsler, known for years as the leading caterer in Australia, to go into the matter thoroughly, and by long acquired experience, combined with a large expenditure of money, to provide Sydney with an establishment second to none in the southern hemisphere. Mr. Gunsler, encouraged by the patronage received at the temporary establishment in King Street, secured the premises known as 175 Pitt Street, close to the Federal Bank, and having obtained suitable designs from Mr. Lloyd Tayler, of Melbourne, has erected an admirably arranged building…”

“…The shop windows are of plate-glass, the upper compartments of the lights being filled in with coloured glass of various designs. The upper portions of the windows above are similarly treated, and the effect produced by this artistic ornamentation of the frontage is highly pleasing. In the central compartment of the tower is written on glass “Gunsler’s Café,” and the electric light apparatus is fixed up at the back, by means of which establishment will be splendidly advertised over the length and breadth of the city. A clock is inserted in the pediment that forms the central feature of the structure. Above the shop windows in the frieze of the main cornice the words “Gunsler’s Café” are again prominent, standing out clearly in gold lettering on a ground of plate-glass; the light over the main entrance is filled with ground glass bearing the word ‘Café” embossed in gold letters…”

“..The general contractors for the building were Messrs. White and Coghill, of Paddington. The fittings were supplied by Mr. James Aylward, of Redfern; the ornamental coloured-glass and plate-glass by Messrs. Ferguson and Urie. Mr. F. Messenger acted as clerk of works…”

John Ferdinand Gunsler (c.1827-1911).

In April 1873 John Ferdinand Gunsler entered into partnership with Charles James Hughes as “Hughes & Co”, pastry cooks and confectioners, at 29 Collins street Melbourne[1]. By September of the same year the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent[2] and Gunsler brought out Hughes’s share of the business but traded under the same name until early 1874 when he then began trading under his own name.

Having gained special appointment as caterer to the Governor Sir George Ferguson Bowen in September 1874[3], he quickly gained widespread recognition as reputable caterer and restaurateur and for many years was chosen for many significant government, sporting, regal and private events around Melbourne as the preferred caterer for all occasions.

In February 1878 he admitted Henry George Iles (1850-1899), a gold buyer and investor, as a financial partner in the business and then traded under the name of “Gunsler & Co”[4]. In August of the same year they purchased an allotment of dilapidated buildings in Collins Street known as ‘Petty’s block’ from the estate of Mr George Petty[5] and under the direction of architect Lloyd Tayler[6], proceeded to build Café Gunsler which opened in June 1879[7]. In later years the Café was known as the Vienna Café (1890-1915). The Australia Hotel was built on the site c.1940 and is now home to the “Australia on Collins” shopping centre at 260 Collins Street Melbourne.

Gunsler’s reputation as the very best in the catering business allowed him to expand his operations substantially. In October 1879 he brought the lease of the Victoria Club in Melbourne[8] and in May 1881 Gunsler & Co advertised that they had purchased the South Australian Club (Adelaide Club Hotel) at North-Terrace[9] and in 1882 they purchased the former Bank of South Australia building in Adelaide which was converted to a family Hotel[10].

In January 1884 Gunsler ventured into New South Wales and advertised from temporary premises at 110 King Street Sydney[11] and later built the opulent “Gunsler’s Café” at 175 Pitt Street Sydney which had the ornamented windows supplied by the Ferguson & Urie stained glass Company of Melbourne.

Gunsler obviously had a great affection for the architectural work of Melbourne architect Lloyd Tayler, having engaged him to oversee the design and construction of his Melbourne premises and the later Sydney premises. The other choice of having the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company of Melbourne provide the glazing is also unusual, considering that by 1884, a number of local Sydney firms such as Ashwin & Falconer and Lyon & Cottier could have easily undertaken the work. What is most likely is that Lloyd Tayler had chosen Ferguson & Urie to complement his designs which possibly means that Gunsler’s Melbourne restaurant may also have had decorative glazing done by Ferguson & Urie, but there has been no evidence found to support this.

Gunsler’s Café in Pitt Street Sydney burnt down on the 27th January 1889[12].

John Ferdinand Gunsler died in Sydney on the 28th November 1911 aged 84[13].


[1] The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Friday 18th April 1873, page 3.


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