Crown Lane changing right before his eyes

William Harrigan, Frederick Cooke, Victor Stumbles, Alf Brickwood, Herbert Harrigan and Keith James in 1915. Picture: THE COLLECTION OF DOUGLAS HARRIGAN

William Harrigan, Frederick Cooke, Victor Stumbles, Alf Brickwood, Herbert Harrigan and Keith James in 1915. Picture: THE COLLECTION OF DOUGLAS HARRIGAN

The transformation taking place around Wollongong's Crown Lane has been keenly observed by West Wollongong man Robert Brown.

The 81-year-old has been recording images on his camera since work started on GPT's $200 million Wollongong Central expansion in late 2011.

The tall, contemporary concrete structures are a different but nonetheless pleasing streetscape to what Mr Brown remembers growing up in Crown Lane in the 1930s.

Mr Brown lived in a residential house, at No 8 Crown Lane, from his birth in 1933 to 1937 when the family moved to another Wollongong address.

Crown Lane 1966. Picture: COLLECTION OF DOUGLAS HARRIGAN

Crown Lane 1966. Picture: COLLECTION OF DOUGLAS HARRIGAN

Crown Lane in 2012. Picture: PHIL HARRIGAN

Crown Lane in 2012. Picture: PHIL HARRIGAN

He lived at the Crown Lane site with his older sister, Hazel, and their parents, Joseph Brown and Gertrude (nee Tressler).

The house was previously the home of Mr Brown's maternal grandparents, William and Elizabeth Tressler, around the turn of the 20th century.

"I do remember that I used to get up to the front window of our house and look up and down the street," he said.

"There was a Christian Brothers school at the top of the hill and the brothers used to walk down the street. I used to call out: 'Hello, brother'."

Mr Brown also recalls playing at the back of Harrigan's garage: "There was a flat area above their building."

His interest in the locale has also been sparked by the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the narrow triangular block at the corner of Crown Street and Crown Lane, which is being turned into a cafe and rooftop bar.

The site at 226-228 Crown Street is the old Harrigan building, which featured prominent signage for Humber and Hillman vehicles.

As a homage to its previous use, the three-level business will be known as Humber - Kitchen Bar & Rooftop when it opens later this year.

Mr Brown has copies of old newspaper advertising, which shows his uncle, Thomas Tressler, was operating a tailor's business from 226 Crown Street, opposite Harrigan's garage, in 1926.

Mr Brown can remember the building being used to accommodate dentist rooms, a Singer sewing business and a Bennett & Wood cycle shop.

He also has photos of a memorial that stood at the intersection of Crown Street and Crown Lane, in the early part of the 20th century, to those who lost their lives in the 1902 Mount Kembla mine disaster. The memorial now stands in the Mount Kembla village cemetery.

Mr Brown has compiled a list of residential properties and residents in Crown Lane from 1900 to 1950. In addition to his own family, Mr Brown remembers the Baker, Russell and Wynn families living in the lane.

The information has been supplied to Wollongong City Libraries and the GPT Group.

"I have talked to my children about where I lived when I was born - in my grandparents' house," he said. "I have been writing this information down for future generations."

One of the best-known buildings in Crown Lane was Bert Harrigan's garage. He opened the first motor garage in Wollongong in 1907, operating on the southern side of Crown Street, on the site of today's Commonwealth Bank.

In 1912, he moved to the premises in Crown Lane, around the same time he established Harrigan Ford.

In addition to Fords, the company also sold Humber, Sunbeam and Hillman vehicles, and carried out general mechanical repairs.

In 1947, Bert and his sons, Ron and Douglas Harrigan, formed Harrigan and Sons Pty Ltd.

The business moved to 180 Corrimal Street in 1972 when the family sold its interests to John Elliott, a former secretary of the company.

Mr Brown also remembers the traffic around the Wollongong CBD before the F6 freeway was built.

"All the traffic would go down Keira Street and then up Crown Street to get down to the south," he said.

"Easter time was shocking."

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