Most South Australians and many other people from other parts of Australia and around the world will know about John Martin in connection with retail history in Adelaide. Partners Otto Peters and John Martin established a drapery store at 94 Rundle Street on 24 October 1866. The new shop was advertised in the South Australian Advertiser on that day advising the public that they would be able to by general drapery and clothing – dresses, paletots (jackets). mantles (cloaks), ribbons, gloves etc. Eventually Peters left the business and the shop was expanded along Rundle Street (now Rundle Mall). Martin continued as a sole trader until he brought the Hayward family into partnership with him.
John Martin died in 1889 aged only 49 but a long tradition followed his death.
During the years that the John Martin store existed in Adelaide, it was associated with the Christmas tradition of the Magic Cave (opened in 1896) and the Christmas Pageant started by John Hayward in 1933. From the following year, the pageant ended with Father Christmas entering the Magic Cave. It may also not be generally known that when the Beatles toured Australia in 1964, it was the John Martin company that sponsored them to perform in Adelaide as this city was not originally included in the itinerary. The John Martin company was also a major sponsor of the Adelaide Festival of Arts.
John Martin closed in 1998 and despite public pressure to keep the art deco building that fronted onto North Terrace, the new owners (David Jones) had the building demolished in 2000 to make way for the Adelaide Central Plaza. The building that had previously been David Jones’ store was sold and remodelled as Rundle Mall Plaza, opening in 2000.
The commissioned art work on the North Terrace facade is the work of Adelaide artist, Catherine Truman. The work called A Way of Seeing was installed in 2000. It is made up of several autumn leaves in bronze and fibre optics pinned like brooches to the building. When Tiffany & Co decided to open in Adelaide, the building was remodelled, the facade altered and some of the leaves removed to make way for Tiffany’s entrance.
In November 2007 some wonderful artwork was photographed on the old building west of the David Jones building on North Terrace. I haven’t been able to find any other photos so here is a link to Anny Studio. I doubt if this artwork is about the leaves on the David Jones building. Some reports say that the finger was in protest against the John Martin’s building being demolished. There are also reports that the occupier of the heritage building was unhappy about disagreements about the use of the lane separating it from the David Jones building. I am not sure what the real motivation was – perhaps someone has the answer.