This is the Strand Arcade which runs between Pitt St mall & George St. Most of the following information comes from the Strand Arcade’s official site www.strandarcade.com.au.
The Strand is a beautiful Victorian arcade designed by architect John Spencer & is named after the famous London Street linking the City of London to the City of Westminster. It opened on the 1st of April 1892 (no joke!). It is 104m long & 3 stories high. At each end are cedar staircases & hydraulic lifts that were state of the art at the time. The roof was made of tinted glass to reduce glare & the top floor was projected to shade lower levels making it one of the first buildings designed with Australia’s climate in mind. In its early years it was known as a friendly place & a haven from the busy city streets. Especially during extreme weather given awnings were uncommon in Sydney at the time. It was also one of the first places in the city to be lit by electricity & people would travel to the city just to see its lights.
The basement itself has a colourful past. Story has it that there an incident at the Wentworth Hotel between a “lady in a low cut dress” around the 1920s caused a man to be evicted. The man’s name was Percy Stewart Dawson who was an early version of Justin Hemmes (@justinhemmes) if you like. That’s because as he vowed never be thrown out of a club again he simply decided to build his own. He built it in the basement of the Strand & named it “The Ambassadors Cafe”. In the fifties the basement was known as Chequers Night Club. Owned by the infamous Wong family complete with a six foot Chinese manageress.
In 1976, the George St end of the arcade was damaged by a large fire. An article I found online from The Australian Woman’s Weekly in 1977 shows a photo of the collapsed 3 levels of the arcade. It dramatically describes the heartache of people at the time, tears were flowing & bouquets of flowers were thrown into the wreckage.