IT’S not exactly the most beautiful site in Brisbane but the old Howard Smith Wharves have two things going for them – the intriguing old buildings under Story Bridge and access to Riverwalk.
Mind you, much is about to change as plans are advanced for regeneration of the area, the last undeveloped site on this part of the river.
The current overgrown and rundown space is basically the missing link between the City Reach boardwalk heading down past Eagle St and the beautiful Riverwalk.
It’s worth looking upwards though, as the site is right under the bridge and the craggy cliffs are quite spectacular from this angle. (The bridge is supported by cliff not pylon at this end).
As well as the wharf offices and storage buildings, there are also World War II bunkers tucked into the bottom of the cliffs in a nest of overgrown grass behind wire fencing, so the area was heritage listed in 1997.
It all began in 1934 when the wharves were built in conjunction with construction of Story Bridge.
They were to be the Brisbane Central Wharves but after the shipping company Howard Smith and Co. held the lease from mid-’30s to the early ’60s the name stuck.
First to be built was a two-storey, reinforced concrete administration building which was ready in 1936. Three berths and five new storage sheds were planned and construction continued through until the early 1940s, although the third berth was never finished.
The five air raid shelters were built in 1941-42.
Shipping facilities have been steadily migrating downstream since the Commissariat Store opened at North Quay in 1829, ending up now at the river mouth as the Port of Brisbane.
Howard Smith & Co duly left in the 1960s and moved downstream and the site provided a handy spot for the Water Police, until they too moved downstream. The Works Department happily used the sheds for storage.
One of the wharf buildings collapsed into the river in 2000 but the others still stand as one of the last reminders of Brisbane City as a 20th century port, while the bunkers are the most intact shelters left in Brisbane.
Talk of regeneration of the 3.5ha area began in the 1990s and in the days when the Brisbane City Council listened to the people, a proposal for extensive commercial development of the site was rejected because the community wanted more public space.
The latest incarnation, approved in December 2015, is to be built this year and is scheduled for opening in 2017.
It will include a new riverside parkland and commercial development with a 5-star hotel, and dining, markets, exhibition and retail precinct with lifts to the top of the cliffs.
With a bit of luck, the bunkers and the old wharves buildings will be given the treatment of their kin in The Rocks in Sydney.