At the back of the Napier Building, there is a set of stairs with ornate cast iron fencing. These are the last surviving link to a spectacular building that was once on this site.
To celebrate 50 years since the colony's founding in 1836, the South Australian government planned a jubilee exhibition. Architects Latham Withall and Alfred Wells won a competition to design an exhibition building. Construction began on North Terrace in 1885. A special railway line was laid from the site to the Adelaide Railway Station to transport building materials. The building was completed in time for the celebrations in 1887.
The new Exhibition Building opened to the public on 20 June 1887. The year was also Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year, and that date marked the 50th anniversary of her coronation. The Argus newspaper described the opening ceremony:
"Adelaide put on her festival attire to-day. Flags floated from all the public buildings. Business was entirely suspended. The streets were thronged with visitors from far and near, and from an early hour in the morning there was a steady influx of people… it is believed that the opening of the Exhibition will prove the turning point in the future of South Australia, and that a renewal of confidence in the minds of her population will be followed by a renewal of prosperity."
Inside visitors could find ballrooms, theatres, and more than 2,200 displays of objects and materials from 26 different countries. From the exhibition's opening to its conclusion on 7 January 1888, nearly 790,000 people visited the site.
Various organisations later used the building. Among them were the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Show, and the School of the Mines and Industry. It was also a hospital during the Spanish Influenza epidemic after World War One, a shelter for homeless men during the Great Depression, and even a roller skating rink!
In 1925 the Royal Show moved to Wayville, and the once busy Exhibition Building became largely neglected. In 1929 the land and building were transferred to the University of Adelaide. In 1962, the Jubilee Exhibition Building was demolished to make way for the Napier building.
These stairs are all that remain of the Jubilee Exhibition Building. They are built of masonry with slate-capped steps to connect the building to the lower levels of the university campus.
Other traces of the bulding are still around in the city. Perhaps the most well known is the water fountain in front of Adelaide Arcade in Rundle Mall. Once at the entrance of the Jubilee Exhibition Building, it was given to the City Council by the State Government in 1908.