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Crone, Donald John (1923–1994)

by Mark Dunn

This article was published online in 2018

Donald John Crone (1923–1994), architect, was born on 25 July 1923 at Brighton, Melbourne, second son of Herbert John Crone, accountant, and his wife Margaret Jane, née Westmore. Donald was educated at Wilson Street State and Hampton High schools. Having gained the Intermediate certificate, he joined Brooks Robinson & Co. in 1938 as an architectural draughtsman, while studying at Melbourne Technical College.

Mobilised in World War II, Crone enlisted as a draughtsman in the Citizen Military Forces on 9 September 1941 and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in October 1942. He served in Port Moresby at the headquarters of New Guinea Force (1942–43) and at Hollandia, Netherlands New Guinea, and Morotai in the Maluku Islands at Advanced Allied Land Forces Headquarters (1944–45). In 1943 he was promoted to acting sergeant (substantive 1944). His AIF service ended in Melbourne on 27 November 1945.

On his return to Melbourne Crone enrolled at the University of Melbourne under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme (BArch, 1951). On 11 January 1947 at St Andrew’s Church of England, Brighton, he married Swiss-born Annalies Arbenz, a clerk. Graduating among the top of his class, he had begun work in 1950 at the firm of Mussen & Mackay. He then worked briefly for (Sir) Roy Grounds before moving in 1956 to Stephenson & Turner. While with Grounds, he had designed a modernist house at Black Rock for the cricketer Lindsay Hassett. This house has been identified as the earliest of his commissions and as the only known example of his work in Victoria.

Relocated to Sydney with his family in 1957, Crone worked as lead architect on the munitions factory at St Marys, before returning to Melbourne in 1958 to Stephenson & Turner. He moved back to Sydney to work on the expansion of the General Motors Holden plant at Pagewood in mid-1958, before returning to Melbourne once more in 1959. There, he was approached by the developer Stanley Korman to join his Stanhill Consolidated Ltd, and subsequently resigned from Stephenson & Turner.

With Korman, Crone shifted again to Sydney to design the Chevron-Hilton (later Chevron) hotel at Potts Point. Planned as a two-stage development for Hilton Hotels International, it consisted of two towers at right angles to each other perched on the ridgeline in Macleay Street. Stage 1 included a 15-storey, 220-room hotel, with stage 2 adding a 35-storey wing creating a total of 1,200 rooms. These plans would have made it the biggest hotel in the southern hemisphere and the tallest in Australia. While stage 1 opened in September 1960, however, stage 2 never eventuated. Despite lacking the additional tower, the Chevron-Hilton was Sydney’s first postwar international hotel and propelled Sydney back into competition for the international tourist dollar. The use of a glass wall as the facade was one of Sydney’s first examples and considered by some to be the best of the period. Crone and others took advantage of the view in 1964 to watch the Beatles appear on a balcony of the Sheraton Hotel opposite.

Leaving Stanhill in 1961, Crone set up his own practice. During the 1960s Donald Crone & Associates Pty Ltd (later Crone & Associates) was commissioned to undertake numerous projects for David Jones Ltd, including the design of its distribution centre and alterations to existing department stores. Other major projects during this period included Bankstown Square shopping centre, the Prudential Building in North Sydney, the Bank of New South Wales in Pitt Street, the Imperial Arcade, and the restoration of the heritage building in King Street that housed his firm’s offices. He received an award from the New South Wales chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects for best heritage refurbishment for the latter in 1979.

The AMP Society commissioned Crone to design a new retail complex and tower in Sydney. His concept, reputedly first scribbled on the back of a napkin in 1968, complemented his wider vision of pedestrian networks for Sydney via underground and overhead tunnels and bridges linking retail spaces in the central business district. He believed the tower would act as a central marker for the growing city. Crone worked with the structural engineer Alexander Wargon to realise his vision. Work on the street-level retail stores began in 1970, with the first shops opening in 1972. The tower construction, which was itself an engineering marvel for the period, began concurrently with the retail centre and continued over the next ten years. The complexity of the project resulted in long delays, with the tower not opening to the public until 1981. Despite mixed reactions, the public embraced Centrepoint’s Sydney Tower as the tallest building in Sydney (which it remained in 2018) and a major tourist attraction.

Having learned to fly, Crone also ran an air charter company, Coral Ayer Executive Flight Services, Sydney. In 1986 he retired from his architecture practice, with his son Greg taking over. His nephew Peter Crone, inspired by Donald, also became a prominent and award-winning architect, while another nephew, Barry Crone, worked as an industrial designer. Following his retirement Crone lived with his wife on a farm at Mangrove Creek, where he indulged another passion, the collection and restoration of vintage cars. Described by Neville Gruzman as a ‘swashbuckling’ and ‘ebullient character’ (1994, 13), he had transformed the skyline of Sydney. He died on 12 March 1994 at Hunters Hill and was cremated after a service at All Saints’ Anglican Church; his wife and their son and daughter survived him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Crone, Greg. Personal communication
  • Earle, Jim. ‘Donald John Crone F.R.A.I.A.’ Architect, April 1994, 15
  • Gruzman, Neville. ‘Daring Architect Who United a City.’ Australian, 21 March 1994, 13
  • Hogben, Paul. ‘Double Modernity: The First International Hotels.’ In Leisure Space: The Transformation of Sydney 1945–1970, edited by Paul Hogben and Judith O’Callaghan, 51–69. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2014
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX116214

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Mark Dunn, 'Crone, Donald John (1923–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/crone-donald-john-27658/text35189, published online 2018, accessed online 26 March 2019.

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