The McNess Royal Arcade is located on the corner of Hay Street Mall and Barrack Street in Perth. Built in c.1896 by William Wolfe the building is one of the oldest arcades in Perth. William Wolfe was also responsible for the design of His Majesty’s Theatre, which is located further up Hay Street.
The three storey Federation Free Classical building forms an arcade between Hay Street and Barrack Street and features decorative pediments over the entrance, decorative pilasters with stucco works, emphatic entablature arched windows, decorative parapet and triangular pediments.
Sir Charles McNess
The arcade was built for owner Sir Charles McNess who was one of Perth’s leading philanthropists of the inter-war period and founder of the Young Australian League , located on Wellington Street.
McNess was born in 1853, in Huntingdon, England . He came to Western Australia in the 1880’s to start up a tinsmith and ironmonger business. On arrival he bought a plain single storey building on the corner of Barrack and Hay Street and set up shop. People would often see him running his wire netting out onto the Hay Street footpath while he made his measurements.
At this time Western Australia was in the midst of gold rush and property development was in full swing. McNess sold nails and gunpowder to prospectors from his store. Mr Holland who worked for McNess recalls the dangerous practice of using a hurricane lamp to search for the gunpowder under the sometimes dark counter.
It also seems even in those days councils were making life hard for retailers. They served him a notice forbidding him from placing shop displays outside his shop.
McNess’s interest soon shifted to real estate and he became an agent. The smart business savvy McNess began investing his money into city properties. By 1915 he was one very wealthy man.
He demolished his modest corner building and replaced it with a larger more ornate one, the McNess Royal Arcade.
One Of Perth’s Leading Philanthropists
McNess wasn’t one to sit on his laurels. Along with travelling, his greatest joy was sharing his wealth. He donated greatly to charities, churches and patriotic funds. In fact he contributed a substantial amount to the State War Memorial in Kings Park and to ANZAC House.
During the depression he founded the McNess Fund, which provided £20,000 relief to those out of work.
In 1931 the quiet , unassuming man was knighted and became Sir Charles McNess. One of his last gifts to the State was a donation of £11,625 towards the construction of Lady McNess Drive (now known as McNess Drive) in Roleystone in honour of his late wife. He passed away in June 1938, after a long illness, having given away over £250,000 .
Son Sells McNess Royal Arcade
In 1953, several years after the passing of Sir Charles McNess the building was sold to a syndicate of business men for £200,000