Alexandra Street is an entry point to the peninsula and contains examples of many of the principal types of 19th century architecture. Its sandstone cottages formed part of the earliest settlement – from which a village developed on the scenic eastern section of Didier Joubert’s extensive landholding.
An 1850s subdivision on the northern side brought craftsmen and stonemasons, with many of their cottages erected on Alexandra and Madeleine Streets. With Passy occupied by the French Consul and a population of stonemasons and builders, promotion of the area increased with a New Year’s Day Regatta of 1858 and by 1861 population numbers met the requirements of the Municipality Act. Didier Joubert had commissioned the architect William Weaver to design the Chapel Schoolhouse in Church Street, an essential addition for a new population.
The area around Lukes Bay (at the bottom of Wharf Road now Ferry Street) was originally set aside for Whalers Grant by the Government to encourage whaling. However in 1831 it was decided that other development would be more suitable and houses were built in the 1850s and by the 1860s and 1870s, shops were kept to supply the passing trade which Jeanneret’s ferries delivered to the wharf. The earliest ‘public’ building c1861 was at the Ferry Street corner, John Cuneo’s conspicuous Garibaldi Hotel and with an adjoining baker and butcher this would develop as a commercial and social centre.
The site chosen for the Town Hall is opposite one of the early villas ‘Merilbah’ (1858-9), on the corner of Stanley Road and set at an angle towards Parramatta River and the city, and a neighbouring house built by Count Gabriel de Milhau, later enlarged.
Development slowed in the 1860s and significant buildings associated with public needs – a Public School and Congregational Church – appeared after 1870 both with generous green space setting. Vienna Cottage has kept its orchard while no trace remains of Luke Robinson’s farm c1850, a detailed plan of which shows a small cottage with a vineyard, orchard, vegetable plots, and a creek marked on the site.
Civic, educational and religious needs were met within a tight space until major developments like the Gladstone Hotel on the north eastern corner of Alexandra Street came in response to the popularity of Numa Joubert who ran the ferry service along Lane Cove River and the Avenue Pleasure Grounds. It was 1881 when Frederick Nelson built his two-storey stone, store and shop with wide verandah, shown in postcards with horses and carts. The distinctive set of three terraces opposite contrasts with the modest proportions of earlier buildings.
It would be the bolder scale and bulk of Vernon’s Post Office, built to the pavement edge in 1891 that would dominate the streetscape, responding to the needs of a growing population as well as major industries at Pulpit Point, Woolwich Dock and the Engineering Works. The tall Masonic building provides a visual balance between the Town Hall and Post Office as well as signifying a larger, more established, population.
The character of Alexandra Street changes east of the Ferry Street corner where a group of 19th century sandstone houses gives way to large allotments. It is strictly residential in appearance with design details typical of the late Victorian, Edwardian or Arts and Crafts movement; although for example ‘Orroroo’ no. 59 (1893) and ‘The Eagles’ no. 74 (1890) with wide verandahs, both operated as schools.
Historically, the most important residence is ‘Moocooboolah’, Jules Joubert’s splendid example of a marine villa, its lower level hidden from view due to later road formation. There is some almost eccentric external detail, recorded in photographs taken when he was deeply involved with Sydney’s International Exhibition (1879) and which show him with family members in its mature, secluded garden.
On the opposite eastern side is Hunters Hill architect Henry Budden’s house at no. 74, and with prominent tennis courts occupying the frontage of each corner are ‘Caro Nido’ no. 80 and 2 Kokera Street.Almost all nearby houses in this vicinity retain their original form and garden setting to Alexandra Street and also contain an extraordinary variety of stone walls.