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CLOSING NIGHT FOR THE KOGARAH MECCA

On Wednesday night, 27 February 2013, a small group of dedicated locals and heritage activists gathered by candlelight opposite the old Mecca theatre site at Kogarah. We shared Fantales and choc tops, listened to tones of the original Christie 2/7 Victory theatre organ “broadcasting from the wilds of Kogarah” and showed poster billboards of The […]

REMEMBERING THE MECCA

mecca_flyer

mecca_flyer

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.

The final curtain...

The final curtain…

Last glimpses of an icon.

Last glimpses of an icon.

mecca_banner

The sign says it all. They will pass the blame to NSW Planning but they did tick the DA approval box. It’s a combined failure.

Another day, another icon lost... Images Inheritance.

Another day, another icon lost… All images Inheritance.

72 years of history disappearing before our very eyes.

93 years of history disappearing before our very eyes.

Now showing at The Mecca – THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY

The Good

Mecca Movie City has been a name synonymous with the St George suburb of Kogarah for decades – many of us still hold memories from the 80’s and 90’s, “catching a flick” at Phil Doyle’s beloved institution on one of the special $5 movie nights. The tones of the Wurlitzer organ, the smell of popcorn wafting through the foyer, sticky carpets, choc tops and a film reel crackling flickering images onto a scarlet curtained screen, these are the images I can recall. I remember bugging my older brother many times over to take us kids down to the Mecca to catch the latest offering from Hollywood, walking up the garden path and grabbing a slice of pizza (there was a pizzeria next door if my memory serves correct), filing in and slumping down into a seat, and letting the fun begin.

But the history of the Mecca goes way back before this.

A brief timeline by movie historian Ken Roe. cinematreasures.org

Located in the southern Sydney suburb of Kogarah. The Victory De-Luxe Theatre was opened on 17th November 1920 with a seating capacity of 1,800. The opening film was “The Brass Bullet”. It was equipped with an American Seeburg Electrical Orchestra pipe organ, with 2Manuals on the console and 3Ranks of pipes in the organ chambers located on each side of the proscenium. In August 1928, a new Christie 2Manual/7Ranks theatre organ was installed and opened by organist Leslie V. Henry formerly organist at the Prince Edward Theatre, Sydney. Other organists to play this instrument were Horace Weber, Eddie Horton & Knight Barrett. From 9th November 1928, the theatre was re-named New Victory Theatre.

The Victory Theatre was re-modeled in 1936 in an Art Deco style to the plans of architectural firm Crick & Furse. The exterior was given a modern deco style. Inside, there were Chevron style decorations on the side-walls and similar decorative features on the ceiling. The seating capacity was reduced to 1,534. Organist Denise Palmistra reopened the organ on 10th October 1936.

Margaret Hall, organist in residence 4 years
image: Rod Blackmore’s Australasian Theatre Organs

The Christie organ was removed in the early-1950’s. It was briefly re-named Avon Theatre in the 1960’s. Taken over by Mecca Theatres on 9th December 1971, it was renamed Mecca International Theatre. A Conn electronic organ was installed at that time. It was remodeled again in 1975, giving the theatre a new ceiling and a false proscenium. A 3Manual/8Ranks Wurlitzer organ was installed, which had originally been installed in the ABC Ritz Cinema, Richmond upon Thames, England, UK. Pantomimes and live shows were introduced to supplement the film programming.

In 1990, the cinema was divided into four screens, and was closed in September 2003.

The famous Wurlitzer
image: Rod Blackmore’s Australasian Theatre Organs

The Bad

Since 2004 the Mecca cinema has remained dormant and unoccupied, a shadow of its former self. Passers by have long been wondering what will eventually become of the once mighty Mecca, when or if it would re-open, until now. A 21 million dollar Development Application has been lodged with Rockdale Council, and with 4 levels of basement parking and 10 stories of residential and shopfront above ground this is no short trailer, this is a feature length epic. A King Kong sized towering block perhaps more at home on the boulevards of Manhatten rather than the back streets of Kogarah. Remembering, there are numerous tall buildings around the main centre of Kogarah and up towards the hospital precinct, but nothing on this suburban side of the railway tracks, nothing of this magnitude.

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The Ugly…

So, we are losing another art deco theatre, one that had a proud history in the St George area. See the pictures of its sister cinema the stunning 1832 seat Hurstville Mecca (formerly Savoy Theatre), which eventually shared the same fate of demolition and redevelopment back in 1995. The National Trust’s president at the time, Barry O’Keefe, QC, said that the Hurstville Mecca was”the most significant surviving cinema after Sydney’s State and Capitol theatres”.

A Sydney Morning Herald report by Geraldine OBrien reported back in 1991: ‘In 1957, there were 660 cinemas and theatres in NSW. In 1983, a report commissioned by the NSW Heritage Council recommended retention and protection orders for 13 of these, all considered gems of the “picture palace” age. Today, seven of those 13 gems have been smashed under the wrecker’s hammer, two – the State and the Cremorne Orpheum – have been retained and restored, another – the Hurstville Mecca Savoy – is about to be demolished and the future of the last three is in grave doubt. One proposal put forward by the trust is the development of “provincial theatre”, a venue for the “out-of-town” try-outs which are standard practice in London and New York. Australia can ill-afford to lose its few surviving cinemas from the great era of “moving pictures”, the trust says.’

While the Kogarah Mecca interior has been altered to the point of having little heritage value, the outside facade with its frescoes still holds some period charm and could possibly be included in any future residential development as a nod to the site’s cultural beginnings as well as a locally unique addition to any future building, something like the Yellow House in Kings Cross. Inheritance recommends this option.
But realistically we will lose the whole lot.

Another option, given the changing demographic of the Rockdale-Kogarah area with large influx of Indian migrants, could be to turn the Mecca into a specialist cinema, running foreign films or art features. Imagine a Bollywood cinema here! That would be grand.

click on image to view the forlorn campaign to save the magnificent Glenelg Cinema

Back in 2011 a famous art deco theatre, the Glenelg (formerly the Ozone) with significant original heritage value inside and out, was demolished in Glenelg, Adelaide, despite a 1200 signature petition and a chorus line of vocal opposition. Fast forward one year and guess what, they want to build a new $20 million, seven-screen cinema above the council-owned Cowper St carpark right there in Glenelg. Click on this picture and try not to shed a tear.
With six submissions here we have no chance of saving the Mecca.

The question then becomes, when is ‘big’ too big?
Well, this is too big. There is nothing around it that is anywhere near that scale. If this was to pass then Rockdale Council is effectively creating a whole new high rise precinct within a suburban area. Tiny Station Street will struggle to cope with the excess traffic and parking issues. The garden rimmed path of Victoria Way will never look the same again. And what of the charming Federation shopfronts nearby, will they share the same fate as this ugly brute?

The St George Leader ran a brief article on the development, only a short grab which was far too insignificant for something of this nature and stature, and as a result only six submissions were received against the DA. I personally had to do a double-take on the story when I noticed, almost in the fine print, that 4 levels of basement carparking were proposed. 4 Levels!! We may not be able to save the famous Mecca, but lets not allow the spread of high rise into this part of the suburb so easily.
If you have any memories of the Mecca or ideas you may like to add, please leave a comment.
And remember Rockdale Council, we are watching your actions.

“…and one final note”   (please click)

ST GEORGE UNDER SIEGE 3: ‘UNITS, UNITS, EVERYWHERE!’

Residents of the St George area are certainly feeling ‘growing pains’ of late. It seems each time you turn around you see another block of units going up. If you are lucky you may be able to catch a glimpse of the builder’s fence of doom surrounding a heritage cottage before it is swiftly disassembled, smashed up and torn down. In its place inevitably rises something far bigger and of greater scale and bulk, sometimes ludicrously so, to the extent that neighbours’ views are extensively impeded, solar access is significantly reduced and general streetscape ambience is destroyed. Nowadays it is not strange in the St George area to see a small cottage sitting side by side with a newly completed six storey block of units. As I’ve said before it is no longer a case of the development fitting in with the street, it is now becoming a case of the street fitting the development.

Residents’ concerns are being totally ignored at both council and state government levels. It seems that growth of the building industry is the ultimate goal at any cost, and the St George area appears to be an epicentre of overdevelopment at the moment, just as the formerly leafy suburbs of Kuring-gai have become over the past few years. If you want to see the impacts of unrealistic population growth and what happens when the building industry is slated as the next economic windfall after mining, come and have a look at some of these areas. A walk around Hurstville or along the Princes Highway Rockdale will put you in no doubt as to where the future of this city is headed.

Recently a number of Development Applications and approvals have raised alarm bells for groups of surrounding residents who try to cling bravely to some semblance of what their suburbs represent, of the lifestyles and the atmosphere they have invested into over many years, often an entire lifetime. They have made the choice to live here for certain reasons, under certain conditions, and that inevitably comes down to quality of life, being part of a community, living in suburbs that aren’t dominated by highrise but instead offer a variety of building styles; free standing homes with gardens, trees and open space, respect for heritage. This is all being stripped from many suburbs of St George at breakneck speed. And unfortunately many unit developments are based around financial targets that mean fitting as many individual dwellings onto the land parcel as possible, which is in direct conflict to preserving open, low rise, garden suburbs and healthy community lifestyles.

Planning Gone Mad…

In Kogarah recently a DA was lodged to redevelop a freestanding building at 44 Montgomery St with a total of 31 units, half being studio sized, on a site with a frontage of only 12.19m. Despite not complying with council minimum standards for site width, floorspace ratio, height, setback and carparking, the DA was somehow approved by council. The nine storey building will be shoehorned onto a site so tiny and with such limited vehicular access that a car lift will need to be installed to get cars in and out of the pokey basement. The owner claims that such lifts are commonplace in Europe – maybe in the centre of Paris, yes, but in the backstreets of suburban Kogarah, really? The local Chamber of Commerce has made strong complaints to council, who clearly are out of touch with their constituents. This comes at a time when peak train services are being culled from the bustling railway station of Kogarah – that’s right, not increased, culled.

44 Montgomery St, One freestanding building to become NINE storeys. Image Fairfax.

44 Montgomery St, One freestanding dental surgery to become NINE storeys.
The dentist-developer now has a healthy grin. Image Fairfax.

In Carlton on the site of an old plant nursery at 399-403 Princes Highway big growth has been announced for a structure that towers six storeys over the surrounding mostly single storey houses in an area governed by a DCP that allows only two stories maximum. Neighbours rightly believe this kind of development doesn’t belong in their quiet suburb, and would set an unsuitable precedent for future growth of the area. Railway transport is nowhere near this development, neither are grocery shopping centres or other facilities. Moreover, they argue, is why should a developer be allowed “to exceed planning controls, not by 100 percent, but by 200 percent?”

New plans for the old nursery site. Six storeys here is like development on Dynamic Lifter. Image Fairfax.

New plans for the old nursery site. Six storeys here is like development on Dynamic Lifter. Image Fairfax.

At Sans Souci and Ramsgate several large blocks of units are either rising or have been proposed along Rocky Point Rd, with little or no regard for residents’ wishes. Cottages are disappearing with their gardens, and being filled with multi-storey apartments… The site of the Darryll Lea chocolate factory is one such example, with plans recently revealed to convert the industrial site occupied since 1963 into residential highrise after the confectionary business moves out in September 2014. It is then that 430 dwellings will be squeezed onto the 3.3 hectare site in buildings of up to 12 storeys high, producing a sweet financial result for former owners of the bankrupt business the Lea family, but perhaps a sickly aftertaste in the mouth for nearby residents and commuters who have to battle traffic along the busy thoroughfare every day. Again the rail corridor is nowhere near this site, only adding to congestion on the already ‘Rocky Roads.’

The famous Darryll Lea chocolate site. The Lea family will win a sweet windfall from real estate values after failing dismally as bonafide business operators.

The famous Darryll Lea chocolate site. The Lea family will win a sweet windfall from real estate values after failing dismally as bonafide business operators.

Nearby at Ramsgate Beach another plot, a former caravan park on the Grand Parade known as the Grand Pines and famous for offering caravan and cabin holiday rentals on the shores of Botany Bay within site of the city, is being turned into a 51 dwelling townhouse complex. Quite a tight fit for a narrow site in quiet suburbia, and like the others, nowhere near railway transport.

Another site nearby at 183-189 Rocky Point Rd. intends taking over a petrol station and three heritage shopfronts, bulldozing and remodelling with 65 residential units, much to the despair of surrounding neighbours who will have to look over their back fence at a concrete wall six storeys in height. The DA started life as a 41 apartment complex five storeys high with retail component, but the local Ramsgate DCP allows only four storeys. Interesting that what is proposed now is a six storey monolith comprising 65 units, many of small scale with no cross-ventilation, eight commercial tenancies and basement parking.

'Six does go into four'... This site is set to become six storeys, under a local DCP that allows only four. You do the math.

‘Six does go into four’… This site is set to become six storeys, under a local DCP that allows only four. You do the math. Kogarah Council can’t.

Ramsgate's 'Rocky Road'... service stations are making way for extreme development.

Ramsgate’s ‘Rocky Road’… service stations are making way for extreme development.

These heritage shopfronts will be bulldozed soon.

Rocky Point Road. These Federation heritage shopfronts will be bulldozed soon…

Directly opposite, these are the replacements... bulky, square, obtrusive, frightfully ugly money makers... Note the driveway access cutting straight through the footpath.

Directly opposite, these will be the replacements… bulky, square, obtrusive, frightfully ugly money makers… Note the driveway access cutting straight through the footpath.

By comparison, the southern side of Ramsgate maintains buildings of a more suitable scale.

By comparison, the southern side of Ramsgate maintains buildings of a more suitable scale and character.

But this scenario is mirrored all along Rocky Point Road, such as the 18.85 metre tall block at 124-144 Rocky Point Rd known as the Jameson. This site has been under construction for several years already and has been constantly evolving even as it is being built. Just recently the developer lobbied to apply for extra single bedroom units to bring the total from 70 to 77. The alterations were passed by Rockdale Council officers without the councillors being involved. In actual fact it is surrounded by single storey homes and the odd two storey shop, nothing on the scale that we are seeing come up here. The nearest railway transport is literally miles away and bus services in the area are already overstretched. Traffic is gridlocked at certain times of the day and about to get much worse on this main north-south artery.

The Jameson. A monolith rising above a quiet suburban landscape.

The Jameson. A monolith rising above a quiet suburban landscape.

Like the wild, wild west…

I haven’t even mentioned some of the really massive developments going up around Rockdale, Hurstville (such as the former Dominelli Ford caryard known as Highpoint with 320 units proposed for completion 2015-16), Kogarah (such as the former Kogarah Mecca theatre site known as Grand Central comprising 92 units due for completion next year). And then there is the former Amcor Packaging site on Forest Road Hurstville now known as East Quarter, a series of massive towers taking over the landscape. All of these projects are selling off the plan, many to offshore investors in China keen to park their money somewhere ‘safe’ like Australia. Their gain may be to our childrens’ detriment, but who in power is really concerned about that…?

Hurstville Councillors Jack Jacovou and Nancy Lui spruiking the benefits of highrise at the East Quarter. Click for Leader story. Image Fairfax Media.

Hurstville Councillors Jack Jacovou and Nancy Lui spruiking the benefits of highrise at the East Quarter, gleaming with pride. Click for Leader story. Image Fairfax Media.

New precedents are being set, and quiet, suburban streetscapes are being radically transformed all over the area. Perhaps this is a sign of things to come under the Premier’s new planning reforms being passed through the NSW Upper House now, perhaps it is a sign of developer-biased decisions made in councils that turn healthy profits and show total disregard for community values, perhaps it is just the fate of a city that has chosen to grow at such a rate that it has forsaken its own residents in favour of accommodating many more new arrivals, at levels that simply are not desirable nor sustainable at any measure of the imagination.

Like a wild west gold rush these forces are being played out to the detriment of all around, and like a wild west gold rush some will get rich very quickly, but the effects of the methods and the physical scars will be felt on the surrounding environment for many years to come, and probably never will be fully reconciled.

Following gallery all images by Inheritance. Please click on the image for a slide show. Please read the captions as they describe even more obtrusive development in the area.
Title image at top of page is new development on Princes Highway, Kogarah. Image by Inheritance.

But wait, there’s more! Please find the time to watch these disturbing ACA videos. This describes some of the frightful planning decisions being enacted on Rocky Point Road, and is what can now happen to anyone if they just happen to find their home next door. Click on both images below, thank you.

Click here for ACA video #1

Click here for ACA video #1

Click here for ACA video #2

Click here for ACA video #2

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.

The architecturally sickening Research Building the hospital would rather retain. (???)

The architecturally sickening Research Building that the hospital would rather retain. (???)

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)

 jogarah fire station1  jogarah fire station2 kogarah school of arts1kogarah school of arts2 kogarah heritage2kogarah heritage3 kogarah heritage1

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 inheritance@tpg.com.au if you are interested ASAP.