Electra House was built in 1901 for the Citizens’ Life Assurance Company. Architects John Quinton Bruce, William Cumming and Ernest Bayer were responsible for the design of the company’s new office building. John Quinton Bruce was the architect behind several important city buildings, including Carclew in North Adelaide and the Freemasons Hall on North Terrace. The new three-storey building with its ornate external pillars was described in the local press at the time as “one of the finest suites of offices that Adelaide would possess”. It also boasted the city’s first electric lift, installed in 1905, complete with hemp ropes.
The building was also once an important communication hub, connecting Australia to the rest of the world through telegraphic communication. During the early colonial period, letters sent between the Australian colonies could take weeks to reach their intended destination by mail coach, and letters for overseas travelled for several months one-way by ship. The development of the Morse telegraph in the 1840s dramatically changed the speed and ease of communication between colonies, countries and continents. South Australia successfully established the overland telegraph line that connected Australia to the rest of the world. The Eastern Extension Australasia and China Telegraph Co. Ltd., the company that controlled the overseas telegraph cables, moved into the King William Street office building in 1921. In 1940, it became known as ‘Electra House’, named after the Greek mythological figure Electra, 'the bright one'.
In 1949, the government acquired Electra House, ending its time as a cable station. From there it changed hands several times, serving as the Post Master General’s technicians’ school and the home of a telecommunications museum. In its recent history, the once busy city building has sat empty and neglected, other than briefly serving as an art space and also the Fringe Festival’s Tuxedo Cat venue in 2011.
After a $10 million renovation, historic building was given a new life in 2015. Electra House is now the home of a new bar and the Greek restaurant Olea, and also includes private functions spaces and a beer garden. Original features of the heritage-listed building were sensitively retained during the renovations, including the electric lift, pillars and high internal ceilings. The interior designer, Daniella Elia told The Advertiser that Electra House had “so much character…When you walk into a new building you don’t get the same soul as this.”