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Railway Square (formerly Central Square), circa 1913

This photo gives a vivid impression of the size and sophistication of tramway operations in Sydney just before the First World War. Compare it with the snap of Railway square taken about 1908 and this one from the opposite diection, in 1922. The 1908 photo was probably taken from under the far right-hand corner of the tram terminus building in the centre of the square. The turret above the tram terminus housed a sort of control tower for tram movements at this critical junction.

Looming in the centre is the sturdy late Victorian building that then housed Marcus Clark & Co's department store. In 1903, Central Square was the heart of the city's modern retail district, a role enhanced by the presence of Central Station and its adjacent hotels, erected to serve the thousands of country folk arriving in Sydney by train.

Railway Square began to decline in importance after the city's underground rail loop came into operation between 1926 and 1932. This revitalised the older, and intrinsically more attractive, area of the city closer to the harbour, after which major retailing around Railway Square went into a steady, and ultimately terminal, decline.

Note the row of young London plane trees on the right. Nearly 100 years later they're still a beautiful feature of the area. Note also the white canvas blinds that have been lowered behind the collonaded awning on the west (left) side of the Marcus Clark building – a simple but very practical way of shading the display windows from the harsh afternoon sun.

In 1913, the street was still very much part of the pedestrian realm. Only one motor vehicle can be seen (parked on the right near the row of plane trees). in the shot taken only nine years later, cars predominate over horse-drawn vehicles.