Adelaide Arcade is a well preserved example of a Victorian shopping arcade. The Arcade runs between Rundle Mall (formerly Street) and Grenfell Street. It is lined with small speciality shops on the ground floor and small businesses on the upper level. The façades are each surmounted by an octagonal dome bearing a coat of arms and crowned by an imposing Italianate dome. Balconies below the towers were meant for orchestral concerts. When it opened in 1885 it comprised some 50 shops on two levels. Today it has twice that number and is one of Adelaide’s favourite shopping experiences. Adelaide only achieved two nineteenth-century domes, the other one, of the Exhibition Building on North Terrace, was lost in 1962 when that building was demolished. The Coat of Arms that adorns the Rundle Mall entrance to Adelaide Arcade shows an early attempt at a national Coat of Arms that pre-dates Australian Federation by 16 years (Note the positions and poses of the Kangaroo and Emu shown).
Adelaide Arcade is joined to the east by Gays Arcade which leads into Twin Street. Surprisingly, the two arcades took only five months to build and a further two months to let and fit out the shops before they opened to the public. More than two million bricks were required to complete the structure and 50,000 square feet (4 645 square metres) of glass was used. Ornamental cast iron from Messrs Fulten & Co was used extensively and marble slabs flanking the entrances were supplied by the Kapunda Quarries. It was planned that each of the original shops would retail wares from the ground floor with a workroom on the first floor. Each shop had an inside staircase to this end. Two hundred workmen were engaged to undertake the construction under the Contractor W Pett & Sons.
The foundation stone was laid on May 6th 1885 by the Mayor of Adelaide, William Bundey Esq JP. Adelaide Arcade was officially opened by the Governor Sir William Robinson on December 12th 1885. An orchestra played an specially composed polka, (named The Adelaide Arcade Polka) prepared for the occasion by Signor R Squarise.
The whole building was illuminated by electric light and was one of the first buildings in Adelaide to use such lighting. The extensive use of cast iron, plate glass and electric lighting suggests that the architectural firm was extremely progressive and able to respond to design requirements and new construction materials and techniques of the time. In August 1885, Gays Arcade was announced in course of construction with a 100 foot frontage to Twin Street and a depth of 119 feet to Adelaide Arcade. N W Trudgeon built Gays Arcade for 11,000 pounds. The architect was James Cumming who was also the architect for the Australian Mutual Provident Building in King William Street.