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Adelaide’s historical Dimora

One of Adelaide’s most affluent streets, East Terrace is home to some of the city’s grandest heritage-listed mansions. Dimora, located at 120 East Terrace, is a 20-room manor graced with design features from the late Victorian era.

Built in 1882, Dimora’s design and construction was commissioned by one of Adelaide’s most prominent socialites of the time, Harry Lockett Ayers. Son of Sir Henry Ayers, the eighth premier of South Australia who served five terms between 1863 and 1873, Harry Ayers and his brother, Arthur Ernest Ayers, were part of Adelaide’s elite. Harry was a founding member of the Adelaide Club in 1863 – an exclusive gentleman’s club that was part of a wider network of high-profile social clubs, known as the Adelaide Establishment.

After the founding of Adelaide by European settlers in 1836, the city became a hub for wealthy English migrant families, who soon took over the young city, securing land and commissioning buildings for themselves. This no doubt meant that up until the significant world events of the early 20th century, Adelaide was politically and socially influenced by members of the Adelaide Establishment. Of course, the Ayers family was central to the scene; Harry married Ada Fisher Morphett, daughter of prolific landowner, politician and freemason Sir John Morphett.

Harry Ayers purchased the land on East Terrace in 1867. At the time, the land extended approximately 150 metres back down to Hutt Street, and Harry and Ada Ayers lived at Bray House on the property after marrying in 1866. In 1878, however, the property was subdivided. The western half of the property down towards Hutt Street (including Bray House) was purchased by legal practitioner and politician John Bray. As such, Harry Ayers employed the services of architect and surveyor William McMinn, who had previously designed the University of Adelaide’s first building in 1877 with partner Edward John Woods.

McMinn’s design was a grand, multistorey manor with 20 rooms and a ballroom facing East Terrace. Complete with high ceilings, bay windows and ornate fixtures characteristic of the late Victorian era, Dimora oozes classic details. The external aspect features stuccoed, rendered walls, contrasting a cast-iron verandah frame – all notable qualities of McMinn’s much-loved designs.

There is little publicly known about Dimora throughout the 20th century; however, following her husband’s death in 1905, Ada added her own touch to Adelaide’s design legacy. As a memorial to both Harry and the six children that they had lost at a young age to illness (mainly tuberculosis), Ada commissioned two stained-glass windows to be made by America-based Tiffany Studios in 1909, for installation at St Paul’s Church on Pulteney Street. The ‘Angel of Faith’ window is dedicated to Harry, and the ‘River of Life’ window is dedicated to the children.

When the church was decommissioned in the 1980s, the windows were moved to several different locations, but are now on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia after they were donated in 2001.

As for Dimora, it has been renovated and subdivided for different occupants. Despite all the works, the fittings and detailing of the original interior and exterior have been preserved, and the dwelling today remains an important relic in Adelaide’s history.

Cover image: Dimora, circa 1901–1904. Image courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

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