Stanley Street (or Stanley Quay as it was first known) was identified on Brisbane's first Town Plan in 1842. By the 1860s the street had been subdivided and gradually small shops and timber hotels were constructed. The 1880s was a growth period for South Brisbane as Queensland experienced an economic boom. Thus Stanley Street developed into a major thoroughfare and retail centre, second only to Queen Street.
Commercial development flourished and Stanley Street became lined with the premises of grocers, ironmongers and bootmakers. Recognising the commercial potential of Stanley Street, prominent retailers such as Allan & Stark and J & T Heaslop established businesses there. The fire station and post and telegraph office were erected near the intersection of Stanley and Vulture Streets, making this region the civic centre of South Brisbane. Stanley Street became inadequate for the increasing volume of traffic and in 1883 the street, between Vulture Street and Annerley Road was widened. Stanley Street, between Annerley Road and Merton Road, was widened by the Woolloongabba Divisional Board in 1886.
During the 1890s, a period of economic depression, there was a decline in the economic activity in Stanley Street. The situation was aggravated by severe flooding in 1890 and 1893, which caused many retailers to move to higher ground on the north side of Brisbane. The construction of Melbourne Street station in 1891 also took customers away from Stanley Street and into the city. As the Queensland economy improved in the early twentieth century, development returned to Stanley Street.
Prior to the property being sold to Thomas William Short, the vacant site was owned by Dalby surveyor, William Wakeling. It was his widow who sold the land in 1879. In 1883 Short was first recorded in the Post Office Directories on the site. He had a two-storey brick building with two ground floor shops and two first floor dwellings constructed. Before this date there had been a bakery built on the corner of Stanley Street and Merton Road at No. 659. In 1885 Short was listed as a storekeeper and between him and the bakery was JA Touzeau, a chemist, demonstrating the existence of the two shops.
The first available reference to the building being called ‘Short’s Buildings’ was in 1886. The Telegraph published an advertisement, “Wanted Known – Mrs. Arnold, Short’s Building, Stanley Street, South Brisbane” (Telegraph, 18 February 1886, p6). Short continued to run his business from the premises until his death in 1911.
From 1912 and well into 1913, the property was for sale with Short’s widow placing a succession of advertisements in various newspapers:
Two brick shops and dwellings known as Short’s Buildings, Stanley Street, Woolloongabba. Subdivision 2 of eastern suburban allotment 76, parish of South Brisbane, area 20 perches, having 10.3 feet frontage to Stanley Street, between Merton Road and Church Lane, and having thereon two double brick shops and dwellings of two stories, with kitchen wing, laundry with brick copper, stables, harness room, and buggy shed, built of brick and stone, in good order (Telegraph, 26 February 1913, p12).
In 1913 Henry Howard Smith bought the property as an investment and the retail leases continued throughout his time of ownership including a bootmaker and a confectioner.
The property was once again transferred to a new owner in 1920. William Henry Granville Johnson was a picture framer and established his business in Short’s Buildings from 1921. He owned the building until the 1940s.
Short’s Buildings is an important part of the Stanley Street historic streetscape and demonstrates the street’s prominence as a retail and commercial centre in the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. The two-storey masonry building has two ground floor shops and two first floor dwellings with rear verandas. At the rear of the property the two original brick kitchen wings remain as well as one of the original kitchen chimneys. There are two sheds at the rear of the property. The largest, originally the stables, retains the original brick side and rear walls. The front of the structure has timber cladding and this is recorded on the 1922 Surveyor’s Book Drawings. The small brick shed was built after 1923 and before 1946 as it is not drawn on the 1923 Water and Sewerage Map, but is in the 1946 aerial photograph.