GRIFFITH HOUSE O’FARRELLED!
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.