Adaptive Re-use · Aesthetics · Architecture · Attachment to place · Burra Charter · Business · Business History · Camden · Camden Town Centre · Collective Memory · Colonial Camden · Community identity · Country town · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · Economy · Edwardian · Entertainment · Family history · First World War · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · History · Interwar · Living History · Local History · Local Studies · localism · Memory · Modernism · Place making · Placemaking · Retail history · Retailing · Ruralism · Sense of place · Shopping · Small communities · Stereotypes · Storytelling · Streetscapes · Tourism · Urban development · Urban growth · Victorian

Whiteman commercial buildings in Camden, an example of adaptive re-use

The wonderful Victorian colonial building that was once the Whiteman’s General Store has had a new lease of life through the Burra Charter principle of adaptive reuse. There has been a continuous retail shopping presence on the same site for over 135 years.

While the building has also had new work and restoration, it is an excellent example of how a building can be adaptively re-used for commercial activities without destroying the integrity of the building’s historic character and charm.

Camden Whitemans Store 1923 CIPP
The Whiteman General Store in 1923 were a universal provider of all sorts of goods to the town and country folk across the Camden district from Menangle to Burragorang Valley. The store would deliver to your door in town just like parcels purchased online today. (Camden Images)

Adaptive reuse maintains the historic character of the streetscape and the sense of place that is so important to community identity, resilience and sustainability.

Adaptive reuse is not new and has been going on for a long time.  In Europe, hundreds of years old buildings continually go through the process of re-use century after century.

The Tower of London – a building with a fantastic history of adaptive re-use

The Tower of London has been re-used over the centuries since the White Tower was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a fortress and gateway to the city.

Over the centuries, the Tower of London complex has been a royal residence, military storehouse, prison, place of royal execution, parliament, treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, storage of crown jewels, royal armoury, regimental headquarters, and most recently a centre of tourism.

London Tower of London 2006 PPikous-Flckr
The Tower of London has gone through many usage changes across the centuries. (P Pikous, 2006)

Adaptive re-use in Australia

In Australia, the adaptive reuse of historic buildings comes under the Burra Charter, which defines the principles and procedures for conserving Australian heritage places.

The Burra Charter accepts the principles of the ICOMOS Venice Charter (1964) and was adopted in 1979 at a meeting of ICOMOS in 1979 at the historic town of Burra, South Australia.

The Burra Charter has been adopted by heritage authorities across Australia – Heritage Council of NSW (2004).

Adaptive re-use is covered by Article 21 of the Burra Charter and states:

Article 21. Adaptation 21.1 Adaptation is acceptable only where the adaptation has minimal impact on the cultural significance of the place. 21.2 Adaptation should involve minimal change to significant fabric, achieved only after considering alternatives.

The explanatory notes say:

Adaptation may involve additions to the place, the introduction of new services, or a  new use, or changes to safeguard the place.  Adaptation of a place for a new use is often referred to as ‘adaptive re-use’ and should be  consistent with Article 7.2.

Other countries and adaptive re-use

In other countries, there is legal enforcement of reuse of historical buildings and precincts.

In Irish planning, a conservation ensemble is known as an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA). ACA status provides statutory protection to existing building stock and urban features, and applies strict design and materials standards to new developments. Protections prohibit works with negative impacts on the character of buildings, monuments, urban design features, open spaces and views.

The architectural principles of adaptive reuse can be contested and contentious within communities.

The objectives of ensemble-scale heritage conservation can be highly political – sense of place, ownership of space and local politics come together in this process.

Reasons for adaptive re-use for historic buildings

Architects advance several reasons why historic buildings should be adaptively re-used. They include

  • Seasoned building materials are not even available in today’s world. Close-grained, first-growth lumber is naturally more robust and rich-looking than today’s timbers. Does vinyl siding have the sustainability of old brick?
  • The process of adaptive reuse is inherently green. The construction materials are already produced and transported onto the site.
  • Architecture is history. Architecture is memory.

[Craven, Jackie. “Adaptive Reuse – How to Give Old Buildings New Life.” ThoughtCo, May. 22, 2018,]

Whiteman commercial building

The Whiteman family conducted a general store in Argyle Street on the same site for over 100 years.

Camden Whitemans General Store 86-100 Argyle St. 1900s. CIPP[1]
Camden Whiteman’s General Store, 86-100 Argyle Street, Camden c1900s. The customer would go to the wide-wooden shop counter with their list of requisites and receive personal service from a male shop assistant who would fill their order. (Camden Images)

In 1878 CT (Charles Thomas) Whiteman, who operated a family business in Sydney, brought produce to Camden. He purchased a single-storey home at the corner of Argyle and Oxley Street and ran his store from the site. (SHI) In 1878 a fire destroyed the business.

CT Whiteman was a storekeeper in Goulburn and Newtown and later married local Camden girl Anne Bensley in 1872. Whiteman was a staunch Methodist and was an important public figure in Camden and served as the town’s first mayor from 1892 to 1894.

CT Whiteman moved to premises in Argyle Street in 1889, occupied by ironmonger J Burret.  Whiteman modified the building for a shopfront conversion.   (SHI)   The store was later leased to the Woodhill family from 1903 to 1906.

Camden Whiteman Bldg Tenant Woodhills General Store c1906
The Whiteman’s commercial building was leased by the Woodhill family as a general store for many years after Federation. A coach service like the one in the image plied a daily service between Camden and Yerranderie, leaving at the corner of Argyle and John Street run by the Butler family. (Camden Images)

From 1889 to 1940, the building was known as the Cumberland Stores. The store supplied groceries, drapery, men’s wear, boots and shoes, farm machinery, hardware, produce and stationery. (Gibson, 1940)

The original Argyle Street building was an early timber verandahed Victorian period store.

The building was a two-storey rendered masonry building with a hipped tile roof, projecting brick chimneys. The second storey had painted timber framed windows shaded by a steeply pitched tile roof awning supported on painted timber brackets. (SHI)

A two-storey addition was constructed in 1936, and the verandah posts were removed in 1939 when this policy was implemented by Camden Municipal Council.

Later shopfront modifications to the adjacent mid-20th century façade street-frontage included wide aluminium framed glazing and an awning to the ground level of the building. (SHI)

The Whiteman’s General Store sold various goods and became one of the longest-running retail businesses in Camden.

Camden Whitemans Store 1978[1] CIPP
By 1978 Whiteman’s General Store had undergone several extensions and provided a range of goods from men’s and boys’ wear to haberdashery. Produce, hay and grain for local farmers could be obtained at the rear of the store from the Hill Street entrance. The mid-20th-century building extension is to the left of the image. Upstairs were several flats that were leased out to local folk. (Camden Images)

The Whiteman’s Store was trading as Argyle Living when it closed in 2006 under the control of Fred Whiteman. On the store’s closure, the Whiteman family had operated on the same site in Camden for 123 years.

On the closure of Argyle Living, the store sold homewares, clothing, furniture and a range of knickknacks and was the largest retail outlet in Camden with 1200 square metres of space.

Current usage of the Whiteman’s commercial building

After 2007 the building was converted, through adaptive reuse, to an arcade with several retail outlets and professional rooms on the ground floor, with a restaurant and other businesses upstairs.

Camden Whitemans Going Upstairs (at Freds) 2018 IWillis
Image Going Upstairs (at Freds) to the restored rooms, once small flats and accommodation above the men’s wear downstairs. The first restaurant was developed by David Constantine, called Impassion, in 2005. David said, ‘I like to think we are just caretakers for a while. I’ll treat it well and ensure it’s here for someone else’s lifetime’. (I Willis, 2018/Camden History, September 2007)

Camden Whiteman Bldg Upstairs (at Freds) 2018 IWillis
The old flats Upstairs [at Freds] in the Whiteman’s building have been converted into a restaurant and performance space. This conversion was initially completed in 2005 by restauranter David Constantine of Impassion. Here Lisa DeAngeles is entertaining a small and enthusiastic crowd in the room in the restaurant Upstairs at Freds. The front verandah is out through the doors to the left of the room. (I Willis, 2018)

The building has largely retained its integrity and historic character and delight in the town’s business centre.

The Whiteman commercial building adds to the mid-20th century streetscape that still broadly characterises the Camden town centre and attracts hordes of day-trippers.

Camden Whiteman's Building Upstairs (at Freds) 2018 IWillis
A quiet function room with a historic flavour in the restored area Upstairs at Freds. The scenes on the left show the Australia Light Horse Infantry on a forced from the Menangle ALH Camp in 1916, marching down Argyle Street Camden past Whiteman’s General Store. The image on the right in the Whiteman’s General Store in 1923. (I Willis, 2018)

Camden Whitemans Building 2018 IWillis
The Camden Whiteman’s building is shown here from the street frontage in Argyle Street. The building has undergone adaptive reuse following the Burra Charter (ICOMOS) and continues to be a busy retail outlet as it has done since the Victorian days. This means that there has been a retail outlet continuously occupying this site for over 135 years. The current building usage continues to contribute to the Camden town centre’s delight and charm, attracting thousands of tourists every year. (I Willis, 2018)

Learn more

State Heritage Inventory

Julie Wrigley, ‘Whiteman family’. The District Reporter, 8 December 2017.

Updated on 15 May 2023. Originally posted on 1 October 2018 as ‘Adaptive re-use and the Whiteman commercial buildings in Camden NSW’