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Holyman House: a fine art deco legacy

HOLYMAN House on the corner of George and Brisbane streets was said to be the largest office block in Launceston when it was built in 1936.

Designed by local architectural firm H. S. East & Roy Smith, the building was the new headquarters for shipping and airline company W. Holyman and Sons Pty Ltd.

After the financial pain of the Great Depression the new headquarters were to project the modern and optimistic outlook of a successful and growing local business.

W. Holyman and Sons was formed in the early 1880s at Devonport by mariner William Holyman who developed it from one small sailing vessel into a shipping company that was trading to numerous Tasmanian ports and across Bass Strait.

His sons William junior, Thomas and James all captained company ships and around 1900 the business moved its operation to Launceston.

In 1919 they had built offices near the corner of Charles Street and The Esplanade, close to where their ships berthed in Launceston at the North Esk wharves.

By the mid-1930s William Holyman junior's son Ivan was establishing Holyman Airways that became Australian National Airway in 1937, while James Holyman and his son Keith were running the family's shipping and other various business interests.

The Examiner of 25 January 1936 reported that their new headquarters in the Launceston CBD would extend from the side of the Plaza Theatre in George Street to J. and T. Gunn's premises in Brisbane Street.

It was replacing the two-storey Blundell's China and Glass Emporium that had been on the site since 1880.

The roofline of the new building was 20 metres above the street but a spire and specially designed and electrically lit "Holymans" sign high on the front facade reached up 26 metres.

As well as new offices for Holymans' shipping and airways activities, it was initially planned that there would be a car showroom and shops on the ground floor.

Holymans had major investments in motor business Northern Motors and timber merchants K. D. Atkins Pty Ltd.

There were to be offices for let on the upper floors and a restaurant on the top floor with outdoor dining on the roof. J. and T. Gunn won the tender to build the office block at a price of £30,000.

It was said to be the only building in Launceston constructed using a riveted steel frame with concrete walls and floors. The interior featured granite from Coles Bay, a sweeping staircase and extensive use of Tasmanian timbers.

When Holyman House was completed in January 1937 the car showroom and restaurant hadn't eventuated with Holymans' offices and a shop occupying the ground floor.

It became the booking office and departure lounge for ANA and passengers and their luggage were taken to Western Junction on company buses.

By the end of the 1930s there were also Holyman Houses in Hobart and Melbourne. In 1957 the airline became Ansett-ANA and in 1980 Ansett bought the building from the Holyman family.

Now regarded as Launceston's finest example of art deco architecture, Holyman House has since had several owners and last changed hands in 2017 for $3 million.

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 21 June 2020)

Top image: Holyman House today, image courtesy The Examiner. Bottom image: The former Holyman offices on The Esplanade in Launceston, Weekly Courier, 4 October 1932.

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