Remember your parents describing someone with, “He’s got more front than Foy and Gibsons”. It was a uniquely Adelaide saying that stretches back to before the middle of the last century and is now very rarely used.
Foy and Gibsons was a department store which originally opened in 1924 in a beautiful, large and opulent building that had previously been the Grand Central Hotel on the corner of Rundle and Pulteney Streets in the city, described as “Adelaide’s Dorchester ”.
The original building on the site had been the York Hotel, which dated back to the mid-1840s. That was demolished in 1909 to make way for an ambitious redevelopment, a grand hotel for the heart of the city and a building to equal anything in the Empire.
The Grand Central Hotel was completed in 1911. Its imposing proportions dominated Rundle Street, the giant facades were decorated with a complex pattern of string courses, pilasters and mouldings of every description. The bay windows rose to almost the full height of the building, and the corner bow window was capped with an open turret. It has been described as a strictly Edwardian building and the only example of giant high Victorian style that Adelaide possessed.
Despite all its grandeur and extreme comfort, and even royal patronage when the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) stayed there in 1920, it was a disappointment to the owners. They sold the building in 1924 to Foy and Gibsons, one of Australia’s earliest department store chains, modelled on the European and American Stores of the period. A large range of goods were manufactured and sold by the company including clothing, manchester, leather goods, soft furnishings, furniture, hardware and food.
Because the building dominated both Rundle and Pulteney Street, it gave the shop a huge frontage with large windows in both streets, thus the saying, ‘more front than Foy and Gibsons’ was born.
The company continued to trade from the famous building until 1955 when it was bought out by the Cox Brothers Group who moved the business to newly-built premises further west along Rundle Street and changed the name to Cox Foys.
The grand old building then housed several government departments, including the Electricity Trust of South Australia. Its new use led to a number of detrimental alterations, especially to the interior, although some of its former grandeur remained, including the marble floor in the foyer.
In the mid-1970s, the building was finally demolished to make way for a multi-storey car park which, although it has won several design awards, can never compare with the beauty of its ornate predecessor.
However for the boomer generation the name lives on as we can still remember it in a description of anyone who is thought of as too pushy or to big for their boots; “He’s got more front than Foy and Gibsons”.