Restoration of 'Erica' at Coorparoo

Erica has been listed in the Heritage Register Planning Scheme Policy in Brisbane City plan 2000 since January 2004. Harrison Constructions won a Silver Award at the Heritage Awards for the restoration work done on this property.

The house was originally built by Thomas Mulhall King in 1890 to the design by prominent Brisbane architect J. J. Cohen.  It was prominently sited on the crest of a large estate on Cavendish Road, Coorparoo. The house was deceptively large with richly decorated and panelled formal sitting and dining rooms and a formal entrance Hall. In addition, it contained a breakfast room, study, five bedrooms, a billiard room and a large kitchen wing with a separate larder room.  The name ‘Erica’ was possibly recalling Mount Erica in Prahran, Melbourne were King previously lived.

In 1925 the house was sold to the timber merchant family of Isaiah and Edith Lahey. During their time, some crude additions were made to the house. 

In 1947 the house was sold to the Catholic Church who established the Xavier Home for Crippled Children. During this time, it is thought that the building was encased in brickwork and a labyrinth of ramps constructed around the outside.1

In 2007 the property was purchased by The Village Retirement Group with the intention to develop retirement accommodation around the edges of the site and adaptively re-use Erica as a community facility for the complex. 

An assessment of the extant original fabric was undertaken to establish the original form of the house as built by Thomas Mulhall King. This work was undertaken by Riddel Architecture as part of a Statement of Impact Assessment for the development application to Brisbane City Council in 2007.

The early approval process was difficult with the project languishing until approval was achieved in the Planning and Environment Court. The appeals in the Court related to the new medium rise retirement buildings on the site and not the re-use of Erica.

The project brief was to adaptively re-use Erica as the community hub for the retirement village complex. This re-use provided a good fit with the original layout and rooms being used without significant impacts to the cultural significance of the place. The project involved S3 Architects who detailed the reconstruction work which was undertaken with advice from heritage architect Ruth Woods. Over a period of 18 months, the reconstruction works were detailed and then constructed.

The task to return Erica to its former glory was a significant undertaking.  Behind the brick carapace, many of the original weatherboards had been damaged or demolished by termites and a number of the original foundations, brick piers, had been removed. The extensive verandahs had been enclosed with balustrades removed; later internal partitions had dissected the original dining room and parts of the wall panelling demolished. Many original doors and windows had been removed and the main bedroom had been unsympathetically extended to form a chapel.  Notwithstanding the destruction that had occurred, there was enough physical and photographic evidence available to reconstruct the missing or damaged elements.  An example of this is, external paint scrapings were undertaken and cross checked with the tonality of the early photographs. The colour of the original weatherboards was an Indian Red and this was used on the house exterior.

The cultural heritage values of Erica have been significantly strengthened with the large scale reconstruction work that has been undertaken. It now presents to Cavendish Road as the same home built by Thomas Mulhall King in 1890 and the re-newed Erica is now available for the many retirees and their visitors to enjoy.

'Erica' Before

'Erica' After

Historical research undertaken by Riddel Architecture 2007


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