The Nicholas family built their fortune on other peoples pain. When World War I cut off the supply of aspirin from German manufacturer Bayer, Melbourne pharmacist George Nicholas saw an opportunity. He developed a process for producing pure acetylsalicylic acid, and together with Henry Woolf Shmith and his brother Alfred, was granted a licence to manufacture the product in September 1915. While the trademarked Bayer name of "Aspirin" was available under wartime legislation, Nicholas feared that Bayer might be able to reclaim it when hostilities ended, and so the name "Aspro" was born. Despite early manufacturing and financial difficulties which saw Woolf Shmith leave the company, the brothers were eventually able to expand internationally and amass a huge fortune on the back of their small white pills.
They were generous with their riches, endowing many schools, hospitals and charities. They also turned their hand to real estate development, building the Nicholas building on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane. Built in the ornate Chicago Style, it was completed in 1926. The Nicholas Company never planned to occupy the building, seeing it as a speculative office and retail development. The internal layout of the heritage listed building remains largely unchanged since the 1920s, making it unsuitable for the majority of modern businesses. However, it has become something of a creative hub, housing galleries, jewellers, architects, studios and an interesting mix of small businesses. It has also retained many of its original architectural flourishes, and while some are somewhat the worse for wear, they still retain much of their classic charm.