THE STORY OF OUR BUILDING
The building that now houses the Watertower was formerly McMurtrie’s shoe factory. The building, mainly constructed of iron bark timber uprights and bearers with a brick skin, was built in stages. The western side of the building, along Cornwallis Street with a narrow frontage in Marian Street, was constructed around 1903. McMurtrie's added to the original building during the 1920s to encompass most of the block bounded by Rosehill, Marian and Cornwallis Streets. The northern tower façade was added later to screen the water tank that was added to provide additional gravity-fed water pressure for the leatherwork in the factory. The brick chimneystack that used to soar high above the building was removed during the residential redevelopment.
As well as a more general range of footwear, McMurtie's shoe factory supplied boots for the Australian Army during two world wars. They continued to operate until the late 1960s when competition from cheaper imported shoes began to make it difficult to operate profitably. The photographs currently hanging in the building’s foyer provide some impressions of the building’s past character and history. When McMurtrie's moved out, the building stood abandoned and increasingly derelict for some years.
In the late 1970s architect Peter Mulroney, through his development company Remulro, began the challenging project of transforming the old factory from its dilapidated state to one of the first warehouse apartment conversions in Sydney. The development was plagued by problems including the difficulty of gaining approval for what was then an unfamiliar type of building project and by industrial confrontations.
Even though Peter Mulroney was forced to compromise some of his original vision for the project he was able to retain many valued characteristics of the building’s industrial heritage – its high ceilings, the massive hardwood columns and rafters that are the structural supports for the building, and the huge window spaces. The courtyard that originally served for deliveries to the building was converted to accommodate a swimming pool and tropical garden. All residents have benefited from Peter Mulroney’s vision that created the apartments as individualised living spaces rather than as endless replications of the same design.
The development was opened in 1984 by Clover Moore, now Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. The first residents moved into the building in 1985 and the initial Owners Corporation (then the Body Corporate) convened early in 1987. Over time the Watertower community thrived and developed its own characteristics and spirit. Some residents have lived in the Watertower since its inception, and many residents – both owners and renters – have lived in the building for significant periods of time. Owners of apartments have always played a very active role in the management of the Watertower which contributes to a sense of joint ownership and responsibility for Watertower community matters.