So sad to see The once mighty Kogarah Mecca in this state. Please come along on Wednesday night and help bid farewell to a local icon.
Opened 1920 as the Victory Theatre. Demolished February 2013. R.I.P.
For further details on the theatre, click here.
For a blog with beautiful images of what still lies within the walls of the Mecca, click here.
Late last year we looked at a proposal to demolish heritage listed Griffith House on the grounds of St George hospital, an elegant 1896 Italianate Villa of some historical significance, being the home of Peter Hermann, one of the founding fathers of not only St George Hospital in 1894 but also the Kogarah area fire station, and mayor of the Kogarah municipality. It is the only heritage asset remaining on the hospital campus, making it even more precious in its function of telling the story of this suburb’s history to future generations who will otherwise have nothing to replicate it and instead have to try and guess what the hospital may have looked like at its foundation.
After a bitter back door campaign that saw overwhelming public support for the retention and re-adaption of the two storey villa, approval has been swiftly granted by NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, disregarding completely the aesthetic values of the building, the significant documented heritage and history of the building and its occupents, insufficiencies of the plan to deal with future parking and logistics issues both onsite and off, complete lack of public consultation and awareness, and a backlash of opposition ranging from hospital workers to former councillor and hospital board member Anne Field, to 70’s green bans legend Jack Mundey.
The speed and tenacity with which this approval passed through the planning system seems to indicate that it was a fate accompli even before opponents got wind of it. From simple little tricks like putting the public notice up on old canteen walls away from the general public, to denying press access to the ‘public’ meeting, this proposal and its deliverence were thrust upon unsuspecting residents as Anne Field told the Leader “like stealth in the night.”
To make matters conceivably worse, Griffith House is being removed to make way for nothing more than an entry ramp into the Hospital’s internal morgue and a few small car parks, all of which could be accommodated, quite easily, if the monstrosity eyesore building that is the Research and Animal testing building on Kensington Street was sacrificed, as it should be, instead of the irreplaceable beauty of Griffith House.
At the closed ‘public discussion’, concerned opponents were told by Terry Clout, CEO of South East Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service (SESIH), that 50 options were considered by the Health Dept, none of which allowed for the retention of Griffith House. Well, nobody present bought any of that, as all 50 options sounded fairly similar to one another, all leading to the claim that the adjacent ugly Research Centre couldn’t be moved at all, for reasons still unbeknown to anyone in the room apart from maybe the CEO himself. We all know Cherie Burton local MP was never going to get out of sorts but where was Kogarah Council during all this talk of destruction of perhaps the suburb’s most important architectural asset? Strangely, silent.
Considering the amount of heritage framework immediately surrounding the hospital including Peter Hermann’s 1907 Federation style fire house and the nearby 1887 Kogarah School of Arts, it is quite shameful on behalf of council that this area hasn’t been defined and publicized as a local heritage precinct offering quality point to point historical walks for locals and tourists alike. Here is a small gallery of just some of what lies within short reach of Griffith House. (all images by Inheritance)
This is an epic fail of the current planning system in this state, a system that fails to protect the heritage and now has set a precedent for destroying heritage buildings on public land, choosing instead to find the cheapest option available using bulldozers and fumbling PR spin in order to sell their inadaquecy. Fortunately the Kogarah public led by Anne Field saw right through and gave them a decent fight til the end, which, unfortunately, may well be upon us within a matter of weeks.
Surely a major part of any architectural briefing on a project of this scale and magnitude must include as one of its primary objectives to examine, assess and if possible retain any heritage aspects present on the site. By failing to consider the importance, value and public pride in Griffith House this project, no matter how great they tell us the redevelopment is at opening time and in years to come, will always be, at least in part, a massive failure. Why would the Department of Health sink 40 million dollars of taxpayers’ money into a project that is doomed to become a failure from the start, in its refusal to protect the core heritage values of the site.
Architecturally, it is hardly a challenging prospect considering the footprint of the new emergency wing only intersects with Griffith House over a couple of square metres, and conceptually, we are talking about a service road and parking area that could just as easily be moved to Kensington Street with the removal of the ugly Research building that nobody wants, that is the gold plated solution. There couldn’t be an easier alternative for the architects. What’s missing is the political will here, and the courage. The courage to create something that is a win-win-win outcome – something that delivers good value for taxpayers’ money, a world class facility, with full respect to heritage values… unfortunately this project fails on at least one, if not three of those objectives.
As a wash up of this disgusting mess, supporters of Griffith House, supporters of heritage in general, are going to gather on the lawns of Griffith House one last time this upcoming Sunday 24th February at 2pm. This will be a sombre affair, a chance to meet and talk over the events that led to this great house’s foreseeable demise, and the dire state of planning and heritage we now find ourselves in, in NSW 2013 under the leadership of this disgusting poor excuse for a government led by O’Farrell and Hazzard.
Griffith House, home of Peter Hermann, founding father of the municipality of Kogarah, the Kogarah Fire Station, and St George Hospital, you’ve been O’FARRELLED!
Please join us at Griffith House this Sunday 2pm.
PS. Also in Kogarah, if you are interested in remembering the once grand Kogarah Mecca Movie City, we are planning a candlelight farewell before the theatre is demolished, please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested ASAP.
The citizens of Newcastle NSW are being taken for a ride. Or rather, they’re not being taken for a ride, at least not a train ride anyway. The O’Farrell Government recently approved a move to cut the railway line at Wickham, eliminating the Newcastle Central terminus thereby freeing up a considerable stretch of near waterfront railway land for possible open space or private development, depending on how much spin you are willing to swallow. Following the recent success of land sales of Honeysuckle Wharf precincts the developers have had their eyes on larger chunks of Newcastle, from the CBD to beachside areas and now the holy grail, the city’s railway. It seems nothing is sacred anymore.
In what should be considered a great loss of infrastructure and a blow to public transport options in the city, especially for out of town commuters who now look at the possibility of ending a long train ride with a lengthy wait for buses to come along and ferry them to the CBD or city beaches, this state government hasn’t hesitated in approving cutting the city’s rail artery in favour of possible land redevelopment. And outside of the decision they are not giving much away in the way of prospective transport options. Really, only a light rail or tram option would suffice in place of the crippled train line, but that seems highly unlikely.
Planning Minister Brad Hazzard claims the rail land will remain in public ownership, although, as reported by the ABC, he wouldn’t rule out the government considering a “brilliant idea” in the future from a developer. Others are far more skeptical. Save Our Rail has been campaigning to keep the railway line and Newcastle stations over several years. Joan Dawson, the group’s president, says the government only held one public consultation, and most of the people present were totally against the plan. “There’s no way that that valuable land will be left sitting there for public use,” she believes.
Redevelopment of the Newcastle CBD adjacent to the railway has been on the radar for some time already, with developer GPT buying most of the buildings in the Hunter Street mall several years ago, meanwhile threatening that their proposed shopping plaza style redevelopment wouldn’t work without access to the land currently occupied by the dreaded railway. And yes, they did partially pull out from their $600 million deal when they didn’t see eye to eye over the railway land with the former state government, selling off two thirds of the retail buildings they own in the mall to, guess who , Barry O’Farell’s state govt. development body Landcom. Now a massive area of city land bound by Perkins, King, Newcomen and Hunter streets is on the menu for redevelopment or as Barry chooses to sell it, ‘urban renewal’.
Many if not most of these buildings in the mall have significant heritage value, from the ornate Victorian warehouses to Art Deco shopping arcades, and under Landcom/GPT’s proposed redevelopment, and the state government’s policy of buyout, are now at serious threat of being bulldozed. Being wholly owned by GPT and the state government doesn’t bode well for these historic buildings, nor the picturesque mall as a whole. David Jones closed its store recently and many of the grand old buildings of yesteryear have suffered from neglect as developer forces argue out how their grand shopping/residential wedding cake should take shape. How many stories perhaps, or how much glass and concrete they can utilise in just one mall.
The cutting of the rail line and the purchase of the Hunter Street mall land by the state Government signifies a step in the direction of mega-development; People of Newcastle, you’ve been warned, this has been looming for years. Will you let them destroy your beautiful heritage precincts for a short sighted burst of greedy monotonous overdevelopment? I for one feel Newcastle is too precious a beauty to bulldoze and ruin in that way. The fact that one massive developer together with Barry O’Farrell is about to decide the fate of how your city will look, to concrete over your main heritage mall, and now, to cut your rail line and turn your main terminus station into history (and possible highrise) to me is almost beyond belief. Are we at the stage now where developers decide how your city will look, shop, live and travel? It seems so.
All this just as post-industrial Newcastle itself is starting to find its vibe. The streets are coming alive to a more cosmopolitan feel, cool cafes and shops are starting to spring up, the buildings are once again being occupied, change is in the air, set to the background of a wonderful working harbour and heritage tapestry of architecture.
Renew Newcastle has done an exemplary job of moving artists and creative merchants into dormant building niches, such as the former David Jones, in a scheme of grass roots urban renewal that is now being replicated in cities such as Geelong and Adelaide. A short stroll through Hunter Street and around will tell you Newcastle has got a lot going for it – the harbour, the heritage, the beaches, the weather, the topography, the transport, and now an arts scene coming to fruition. It’s a unique place that deserves state protection and sensitive heritage-flavoured development, NOT overdevelopment. I have always found it fitting that the train line and port both seem to converge at the edge of the CBD, that will now come to an end. And as for alternative transport options, many of the roadside carspaces along that side of the city lay abandoned even on weekends due to exhorbitent parking meter prices charged by greedy city councils – will that change once the rail is gone? I doubt it.
To lose your main city railway station is one thing, and a big thing at that, especially for the many people who depend on rail transport as the most efficient means of getting into town. To lose your open, leafy, airy, unique heritage shopping mall to make way for a Westfield style air-conditioned mono development would be a travesty for Newcastle. I hope to never see that day.
Images below show some of the heritage buildings of Hunter Street Mall that may be at risk under redevelopment plans. All these buildings need protection. Interior shots are of Renew Newcastle’s Emporium artisan merchant shops. All Images copyright by Inheritance.