If you are a lover of Art Deco as am I, you may be slightly miffed by the loss of one of Sydney’s only remaining original 1930s full service stations. If you have been swayed by the Petrolmania craze that has taken over our televisions you may be a little saddened by the closure of one of the last purveyors of oil from glass bottles and classic automobile nostalgia. And if you are simply a fan of good old-fashioned driveway service you may just miss the welcoming sight of the Salisbury Service Station at Stanmore for it is about to be wiped from our motoring maps and minds forever.
You certainly won’t miss the rising concrete frame of yet another block of boutique apartments with an overzealous moniker, this time known as ‘The Radius’, perhaps as some kind of bizarre lip service homage to the semi-circular floorplan of the Art Deco structure it is destroying.
The family-run business is set to shut up shop and leave the Percival Road location it has graced since 1930, having being sold to a developer who will make full use of the prime inner west location and valuable crossroads pocket of land.
Current owner Norm Iacono doesn’t seem to be all too upset with the outcome. He took over the reigns from his grandfather in 1997, ran the shop for several years and is now happy to be moving the business to Summer Hill while selling the Stanmore site for a king’s ransom. Pointing the blame at higher running costs due to petrol storage laws, his comments to media that “A lot of people come in and say what a great building it is, but the building was built in the 1930s, so there is no real significance for architecture” initially struck me as slightly odd for a small business owner who has traded not only in petrol but also nostalgia for so many years. After all, you don’t see too many Art Deco service stations from the golden era in such original unchanged working order. But when you consider he is set to benefit financially by the full demolition of the site you can see how quickly nostalgia is pushed to the side like some old rattle gun that has come to the end of its useful life.
Norm is hopeful however that the developer will pay some sort of tribute to the heritage of the site, by displaying the oil bar near the entrance to the restaurant or something to that effect… It could have a Model T Ford parked in the foyer for all I care, it will still be just another oversized concrete box with a Model T parked in its foyer. There is simply no substitute for the original item.
It would have been nice to retain at least the drive-through frontage part of the structure and re-purpose that as an outdoor cafe – I mean, we are talking a matter of a few square metres for pity’s sake, would it be so hard to retain at least that much heritage within the total area of the site?
Unfortunately this buy-up of prime service station sites across Sydney is not confined to just this fine example. It is happening all over and many old independent stations are being bought and converted into apartments as developers fight to get hold of these prime main arterial slices of land. Among others, another Art Deco workshop at Princes Highway Tempe recently closed and is slated for residential redevelopment.
And sadly the lack of understanding and protection of Art Deco is not limited merely to the destruction of petrol stations. Retail shopfronts of the era are also making way for the modern. This one in particular at Liverpool Rd. Ashfield, a beautiful example of 1930s expression, is set to go. A DA for the total removal of the Koles Foto/Manchester shopfront was approved in August by Ashfield Council who don’t seem to appreciate the beauty of their own area enough to respect its architectural merits. What will rise in its place will undoubtedly not share the same level of pizazz this shopfront exudes. Sad times indeed for fanciers of Art Deco and Sydney heritage moreover…
Main title image Daily Telegraph.
A stunning heritage-listed funeral parlour near the waterfront in Gosford that has ushered out the lives of many local identities is itself facing the possibility of an untimely end. Creighton’s Funeral Parlour at 37 Mann Street was built in 1938 in the Art Deco style by architect F. Vanderwyck Snr. The Creighton’s family business was known in the area since 1844 and was involved in building and demolition work before becoming funeral directors in 1872. Six generations of the Creighton family practiced locally under the business name.
The building is treasured not only because of its association with the well renowned family, but because it is such a marvelous and rare example of an Art Deco purpose-built funeral parlour.
Externally, a grand central arch surrounded by decorative red brickwork heralds the main entrance. This is flanked on either side by secondary arches with quality timber framed lead glazed windows, and the theme is continued on the upper floor with a trio of balconettes showing ornate cast iron balustrades, and three magnificent streamlined parapets at roof level surging into the sky. Decorative balustrades also surround the lower windows. The construction is of textured cement rendered brick, comprising two stories at Mann Street, sloping back steeply to become one storey at the rear.
On the Georgiana Terrace side (left hand, facing) is an enclosed balcony made of locally quarried rock-faced ashlar sandstone while on the opposite wing is a sandstone garage consisting of twin Tudor arches and matching parapet. Behind the garage doors are open concrete pits to allow access for working on the funeral hearses. This has been currently re-purposed as a cocktail bar, showing clever use of a heritage asset. Rather interestingly, the roofline on the Georgiana Terrace side is scalloped while the garage side is straight-lined.
Internally, a central porch leads to the house chapel that extends below street level and is surrounded by small offices. An interesting feature are the backlit frosted glass windows obviously created due to a lack of natural light filtering into the room. Original drawings for the floorplans show that very little has been changed since 1938.
The parlour is located right in the middle of an identified heritage precinct containing several unique buildings, some of which the Creighton family were involved in constructing, including the heritage-listed 1929 former School of Arts directly opposite. According to the Australian Govt. heritage database:
‘The site is located on the main street of Gosford within a precinct of civic and commercial buildings, including Gosford Council Administration Building, the Sydney Electricity building, the Old Gosford Court House and Police Station (now a branch of the Conservatorium of Music), the School of Arts building, the Post Office, Gosford Public School and several churches including a small sandstone church designed by Blacket. This precinct is located near Gosford Wharf which served as the main transport link to the area before the railway was opened in 1887. With the opening of Gosford Railway Station, the main commercial area re-established itself about 0.5km to the north in close proximity to the station, leaving the earlier civic buildings in a group near the wharf.’
Such a beautiful, rare and significant local building that has indeed been heritage-listed because of its qualities should never come under threat. However current owners Zenith have submitted a DA to turn it into a 15 storey skyscraper with 4.51:1 floor space ratio while only retaining the façade of the original Creighton’s funeral parlour, completely overwhelming any heritage reference to the site while destroying the interiors and the structural make up of the building.
This outcome is simply unacceptable. While the developers will claim they are retaining the façade, the fact is they are destroying the heritage of the building and simply paying lip service to what has stood there and served the people of Gosford since the pre-WW2 era. There is no way that sticking a façade onto the end of a 127 apartment vertical glass monster is any substitute for the genuine heritage this site commands. What’s more is that the façade of the parlour will not be able to be left standing in situ while excavation takes place all around it. Rather, it will be deconstructed and pasted back together as an afterthought using new artificially aged and recycled materials, meaning the original fabric of even the façade will be completely falsified.
While we may not be able to stop unsightly highrise development from infecting waterfront areas up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia, we certainly should be able to stop the wanton destruction of locally listed heritage assets such as this one. The DA, being rushed through council currently, only allows comments until 24 September. The controversial rezoning of the site to a 36m height limit by council has opened the door for this kind of overdevelopment. I strongly urge people to use the link on the council website to oppose the demolition of this building in any shape or form by clicking here. Even a simple comment is helpful.
Remember, September 24 is the cut-off date. Save local history Gosford City Council, do not even think about sacrificing this very unique heritage treasure. A façade is not heritage. It is only a glimpse of what was once there…
Having endured in recent times an allegedly corrupt mayor, excessive developer-biased rezoning and a rapid changing of the character of their suburbs, Sutherland Shire residents now face the very real prospect of losing their oldest building, thanks to an errant council who seem determined to dig up, sell off and knock down as much as they possibly can during their time in the sun…
Sutherland Shire Council seems intent on pushing through its draft LEP, which will not only raise the building densities of many of the beachside suburbs, but also seeks to remove its oldest house from the heritage list. The worker’s cottage, at 5 Evelyn Street North, known as ‘Gunyah’, dates from c.1870 and formed part of the vast Thomas Holt Sutherland Estate. It is in fact the only remaining physical link to the estate and widely recognised as the oldest house standing in the Shire.
All this hasn’t stopped council from seeking to de-list the building, claiming restoration costs as being prohibitive. But there are a few fishy smells coming from Sutherland Shire’s reckless decision making… remembering council actually owns the site, and has let the building slip into disrepair over a period of more than a decade through total lack of maintenance.
And also remembering that the entire draft LEP springs from the troubled tenure of former mayor Kent Johns, who resigned both his mayorship and pre-selection for the state seat of Miranda in disgrace after allegations of corruption following his famous last-minute Mayoral minute, these are all reasons for concern. He remains on council, and many of his Liberal colleagues are still running the show, such as Cr Kevin Schreiber.
And the fact that this decision contradicts advice from not only council staff, but also the State Government independent review panel means councillors intend acting without any given mandate, neither from the public, nor state government, nor even their own council officers. This simply defies logic.
By de-listing the house they stand to now make a massive profit by on-selling the land as a greenfield development site. Perhaps rezoning is on the cards, as has occurred directly across the road where townhouse-units are now being built. The property minus the cottage would be worth a pretty penny (reportedly up to $1.8 million), considering its proximity to the shoreline and desirability of location.
Cr Kevin Schreiber, a Liberal councilor who served as deputy mayor 2012-13 next to Johns, told Fairfax “As much as we like to keep our heritage sites, … the cost far outweighs the benefit to the community.” But we can take what he says with a little grain of salt. Schreiber himself was referred to ICAC for questionable development approvals and political donations back in 2008, along with three other Liberal councillors including our friend Kent Johns.
Schreiber and Johns denied the claims, which related to 30 non-compliant approvals within two years, but all the councillors were de-listed from the Liberal party at the time and forced to register as Indepedents. That makes three times since 2002 by my reckoning Kent Johns has been involved in ICAC referrals, and yet this character remains a B ward councillor in the Shire still making planning decisions. Is there any wonder the LEP has turned out like it has?
Current deputy mayor Tom Croucher, another member of the Liberal dream team, claims the council can’t afford restoration. “The council has no funds to restore it. I ask it be removed from the heritage list,” he said. Simple as that…
Okay let’s assume that to be true. That they can’t afford it. It may well be… So what gives them the right to de-list the building as a heritage item? Just because they can’t afford to fix it? It makes no sense to me at all, am I missing something here? If you or I own a heritage-listed house, and we decide we can’t afford to renovate it, does it then get de-listed, and sold to the highest bidder as a development site? Is that how it works? I really don’t think so. I could be wrong, but I didn’t think it worked that way. If it did there wouldn’t be many heritage listed homes left.
The clear and logical solution for Sutherland Shire Council is, if they really can’t afford to renovate the cottage – this asset to the people of the area, this visual link to early European settlement – then don’t. Sell it as a heritage listed item for somebody else to renovate, or lease it as a museum for people to enjoy. Don’t destroy the very local heritage you are meant to protect just to turn a bigger land sale profit, that is not the right thing to do. It may sound clichéd but once it is gone, it is gone for good, there is no bringing it back. And buildings of this vintage, in this locale, with heritage links to our founding forefathers, are already few and far between.
I implore people, residents and non-residents alike, to contact Sutherland Council, and ask that they not go ahead with de-listing and demolishing this important cultural asset as it would be an irreversible loss to a community so closely tied with the early European settlement and growth of Australia.
Email Sutherland council firstname.lastname@example.org
The safety fence has already gone up around the house, this is not a false alarm.
Well, time flies and we’ve already notched up two years within the blogosphere here on these pages of Inheritance…
It seems just about ripe for a format change too, as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with the state of heritage loss currently being enacted all around us… time constraints, life getting in the way, etc. etc. and more openly it’s getting a little monotonous writing the same old story that generally reads something like this: “beautiful building neglected, beautiful building acquired by developer, developer knocks down beautiful building, ugly big building rises where beautiful building once stood…”
I had thought we would be learning collective lessons by now and while I believe the general public may be cottoning on ever so slowly, single-minded politicians and the development lobby still hold the trump cards and aren’t afraid to use them to keep the current wave of urban renewal riding off strongly into the sunset. Meanwhile residents are held to ransom and left to watch in horror as wonderful heritage assets are systematically stripped from their neighbourhoods wherever the wrecking ball of developers decides it wants to swing.
So now we will take a more general overview of current heritage issues, in order to cover more ground more succinctly and keep updating while still maintaining the original focus of publicizing heritage neglect and destruction that keeps people like me in business and gives us something to do with all our otherwise misguided energies…
Heritage Brief August 2014
Art Deco waste in Chatswood
Another day, another demolition… This time it will be a beautiful art deco block of units at 745 Pacific Highway, Chatswood which sold in late 2013 for a reported $3.5 million and will be replaced by, you guessed it, another modern block of shop-top apartments reaching five stories in height and no doubt maximising real estate value of the highway frontage by leaning right over the footpath and every border of the property.
A shame to see the beautiful stylised brickwork of this building and symmetrical forms sacrificed for more faceless monolithic residential stock. No building that replaces it will ever have the same level of workmanship or quality of design that this art deco wonder had, that much I can guarantee. So it’s overdevelopment 1: heritage nil.
If anyone is local and handy with a screwdriver I would suggest going over and salvaging this beautiful set of art deco doors from the jaws of the bulldozers. The owners obviously don’t care and shame on council for not making removal of doors and fittings part of the deal.
Ramsgate shops lost
Not much was left of this charming row of Federation shops along Rocky Point Road in Ramsgate. A real estate agent in a shopfront to one side had originally opposed the DA (surprisingly), and for some time their little corner of the site was left standing. Now they too have decided it was a better option to get out, leaving nothing behind of the heritage architecture but a gaping hole in the ground soon to be filled with more units that actually rise above what the local DCP allows for by a massive two stories. With Rockdale council controlling one side of Rocky Point Rd. and Kogarah Council the other, it seems both parties have engaged in a race to decide who can ruin their side of the street the quickest. (For more info read here). Overdevelopment 2: heritage nil.
Princes Hwy, Highway to Hell
Further along at Princes Highway Rockdale, the story emerged of an elderly couple who decided they didn’t want to sell their family home of 60 years, when a massive eight storey development took shape next door. Instead of bowing to the pressure by developers, Barry and Betty Dickson decided to stay put, and after several months of jack hammering and earth moving going on just over the fence, health effects are starting to take their toll on the resolute couple… perhaps they regret not moving after all.
But then again, “you show me where there’s a house on a corner block with room to park five vehicles close to the hospital and with a shed” said Barry to Fairfax reporters. Let’s hope he can continue to live the way he wants to, without too much bad karma from the ruthless encroachment of land grabbing all around. Overdevelopment 3: heritage nil.
Nearby on the corner of the rapidly changing Gray St, an old converted Federation doctor’s surgery is about to make way for ever more units. This street is also home to the yet to be opened new Emergency Department of St. George Hospital, and every house opposite (currently old cottages) is on the chopping block. Quite an interesting planning strategy, putting a new ambulance thoroughfare on one side and multiple blocks of units on the other, considering the street is already gridlocked during peak hours. I hope nobody I know will be waiting for an ambulance once this is completed, it may be a nervouse wait… Overdevelopment 4: heritage nil.
Kogarah is gone…
Expect to see much more desecration around Kogarah. At the council meeting of July 29, the motion to send the new ‘Kogarah Housing Strategy 2031’ to the NSW Department of Planning to go on exhibition, was won by 10 votes to 1. One councillor, Lachlan Mclean, who prides himself on not supporting overdevelopment, made these comments against the motion:
The proposal is an extreme overdevelopment of North Ward and I refer to 3 key examples that will anger residents and ultimately detract from our lifestyle:
1) The change to allow buildings of up to 11 storeys or 33 metres in peaceful residential streets such as Palmerston Street, Victor Street, Victoria Street and Stanley Street.
2) The change to allow buildings of 39 metres on Railway Parade backing onto Bellevue Street and the Kogarah South Heritage Conservation Area.
3) The change to allow buildings of 21 metres or up to 7 levels on the Princes Highway backing on to John Street in Kogarah Bay and Wyuna Street in Beverley Park.
…Some will say, let the proposal go to the Department and then let the residents have their say. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that so many North Ward residents will be outraged by these changes and I don’t want to put them through the stress of having to justify why 11, 12 or 13 storeys shouldn’t happen next door to them.
…This proposal doesn’t strike the right balance and won’t provide residents with a better lifestyle. It is all very well to speak about the needs of future generations, but there is no evidence that the necessary infrastructure will be in place to support these changes – our roads will be gridlocked and will struggle to cope with future population growth.
Wise words indeed from the North Ward councillor. Yet his thoughts are clearly in the minority on this council. Kogarah, unfortunately, like many other suburbs, has NO chance of a sensible planning strategy now. Well done Lachlan for rejecting the draft. Shame on you, Kogarah Council, for burying your ratepayers in high rise, many of whom, wouldn’t even see it coming.
Sports Club calls last drinks
South Hurstville Sports Club has become the latest casualty in the shrinking world of bowling clubs closing its doors after 57 years of service. The struggling club called for last drinks on Saturday June 28 as they move to amalgamate with nearby Peakhurst Bowling Club. The classic Art Deco building is owned by the Catholic Education Office, and we strongly hope the owners will be able to repurpose the wonderful architecture, however no plans have been announced for the site. I will be personally contacting the Catholic Education Office to suggest this.
This news comes on the back of the St George Bowling Club at Rockdale being completely demolished by council after arsonists caused damage to the roof structure. This was a superb piece of architecture on a prime ‘development site’ and it appears Rockdale council have done nothing to save it. (For more info read here).
It never ceases to astonish me that every time a club like this closes, more isn’t done to protect the site from private development. The local population are losing amenity, a place to congregate, a place to mingle, to socialise, and to gather… When that former social space becomes a closed door development, the whole community loses out, especially the elderly.
Kyle Bay’s future outlook
Nearby at picturesque Kyle Bay, residents are fighting to keep their leafy bay ‘leafy’, after a hushed rezoning push-through and development has been proposed for the 24,000 square metre Kyle Williams estate. The privately-owned bushland site that currently occupies much of the expensive hillside is much loved by locals who fear the loss of natural amenity. Indeed this is one of the last natural areas of remaining bushland so close to the mouth of Georges River.
The land was bequeathed by Caroline Milne Williams who ran a respite home for convalescing children until her death in 1939. Currently the heritage-listed Legacy House continues that tradition on site, however the Greek church-affiliated Estia Foundation is proposing a massive and potentially uncapped expansion via the rezoning. More than 200 objections have been sent to council.
For those who water down concerns of residents stating they only want to hold on to their million dollar views, well, wouldn’t you? If you invested into a house and suburb with a certain natural outlook, and all of a sudden that outlook is threatened, and the prospect of watching new development rise up becomes a reality, then why wouldn’t you complain… Amenity of the estate is not the issue here, it is suitability of the site. Overdevelopment 5: heritage nil.
Gosford council recently looked at a motion to rename Brisbane Water and the Broadwater ‘Mariners Cove’, however the motion was defeated after observers including our own NSW Heritage Network scrutinized the renaming in connection to the Central Coast Mariners football club, of which Gosford City Council is an official major partner. And rightfully so – if renaming of geographic sites starts here, where will it end – ‘Bluetongue Bay’ or ‘The Coffee Club Ranges’…?
In Eden, the case of Hotel Australasia has gone before the Land and Environmental Court recently as a Section 34 mediation, as the developer Great Southern Developments tries to sell the merits of a third supermarket in a town that doesn’t really need it, on the site of the historic and characteristic local pub. The result as it now stands will see the hotel completely demolished.
The developer had indicated they would spare the 1951 front skin of the building while seeking financial compensation of $460,000 for lost rental space as a result of retaining the facade, but council decided this was too much to pay, leaving concerned residents and local heritage with nowhere to stand. Hotel Australasia has long been described as the ‘heart and soul’ of Eden, now the township will have to survive without it.
This is what happens when mediocre councils shy away from heritage listing in the first instance – you lose old pubs and so forth, you get big developments cropping up, parking and congestion issues to boot, and supermarkets nobody needs. Not the best outcome for a town like Eden. (For more info read here).
And the saga of Avoca Beach Theatre continues… It has been reported that council is seeking donations from the cinema owner under a Voluntary Planning Agreement (or VPA) to allow for a redevelopment of the cinema that, again, none of the locals seem to want or need. These costs will cover refurbishment of adjoining Hunter Park, and resurfacing of a nearby carpark (without providing extra parking spaces). It should be noted that the redevelopment will not include any onsite parking for theatre-goers or staff… None. It should also be noted that the redevelopment also includes luxury apartments that will directly overlook the park.
And so it appears that the owner may well be able to do whatever they want, provided they throw generous amounts of money in the general direction of council. Ahhh democracy, it’s a wonderful thing… (For more info read here). (For an interesting video link click here).
If you have any local issues to cover, please email email@example.com with the subject Heritage Brief.
Occasionally one gets relegated to the sidelines in this age of heritage mayhem while family matters, other choirs, and real jobs get in the way. But then something happens – a misguided decision by an ignorant council or a just plain silly comment by some rogue councillor that lights a spark inside that makes you want to take up the charge again.
This time the council is Marrickville, and it relates to their decision to totally ignore the advice of their own heritage advisor’s report and not heritage-list the unique 1886 brick warehouse at 6 Livingstone Rd. Petersham owned by Beynon & Hayward furniture removalists and storers. The building was linked for many years to James E. Gould, a local produce merchant who served as Alderman and Mayor on Marrickville Council over a period of over 18 years, and was purpose-built to suit the narrow triangular site over two stages between 1886 and 1904.
Certainly the shape of the building is quite individual, and from some angles almost looks like something conceived by the mind of the great Dutch illusionistic artist M.C. Escher. That combined with the corrugated iron roof and a real ‘wild west’ silhouette has made the warehouse quite a landmark for locals and visitors passing by on their daily commute.
Already the council has been slammed by the Australian Institute of Architects and the National Trust for not considering the much loved warehouse important enough to place in protection of a listing. On the contrary, certain councillors are calling for it to be demolished in favour of units or a carpark. Independent councillor Victor Macri has notably referred to it as “an eyesore”, seemingly oblivious to the rare heritage qualities of the shape and form of the classic 19th century warehouse.
I think it is a wonderful building, and find Cr. Macri’s attitude extremely dangerous for a councillor in a renowned heritage area such as Marrickville to have. I don’t believe he reflects his ratepayers’ beliefs in any way, and if you are a resident within the Marrickville council area with any sort of knowledge and respect for Australian merchant heritage, perhaps you should think very carefully before giving people like this any semblance of power at the next local elections. Hopefully the building will still be standing by then.
Looking at an aerial view of the site, council’s intentions become clear. To expand the neighbouring council-owned carpark by simply eliminating the warehouse is just taking the easy option. The fact that Cr. Macri owns a hairdressing salon on Marrickville Rd. may tilt his opinion on the need for more local parking somewhat.
In any case the thought of replacing a heritage building such as this with a carpark is an outdated one. One similar example that comes to mind took place at Mortdale a couple of years ago when a local Masonic Hall was bulldozed to make way for an unnecessary carpark, and was widely deplored by residents all round.
The need for more carparks will be totally dependent in the future on the use or over-use of cars. The car as a mode of transport will one day become redundant as the road system fails to cope with the increase in traffic to the point where it simply breaks down to total gridlock altogether. Certainly in the current phase of government initiatives there is little contingency for this forecast situation except for building more carparks. Will that solve the problem of over-congestion, or will it simply encourage more of the same? Marrickville Council seems to think it is part of the solution, and aims to sacrifice important local heritage to achieve this short-sighted goal.
At least some voices of reason on council still seem to recognise the importance of putting heritage ahead of whimsical planning folly. Liberal councillor Mark Gardiner stated to Fairfax “It’s not for councillors to decide what buildings are important. It’s for councillors to take the advice of heritage experts and they are saying strongly that this building is important.”
Indeed it is important… As a general rule if an expert heritage report states an item is important, it probably is. That’s why it is written by an expert. And if a council is voting on the future of a heritage building, but that same council owns a carpark next door that it wishes to expand, that, to me is called a conflict of interest. Will this conflict of interest be the death of another iconic heritage building in Sydney’s suburbs? We all have the right to voice our concerns and condemn what we know is wrong.
Inheritance has written to Marrickville Council to formally object to their decision.
Main title image by Jo Catherine.
This is another good news story – amazingly that makes our second for the year, I think I need a Valium. It relates to a former synagogue in Strathfield, and the local council’s unusual move to heritage-list the building against the wishes of its owners. This doesn’t happen every day, for some councils it doesn’t happen every year, and for many it doesn’t happen at all. So first and foremost our congratulations go to Strathfield Council, who passed the motion 4-1 at its 21 May meeting, and of course Mayor Daniel Bott who initiated the heritage listing.
Naturally for every good deed there is a denier, and in this case it is the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, who represent the building and the land it sits upon, and have declared their intention to sell off the synagogue as a prime development site. This is despite Strathfield Synagogue vice-president Sam Steif telling the Australian Jewish News in 2011 that “the only way we are going to get a minyan is if we put a mirror on the wall, but we will not sell the synagogue… If we got to that point I would go to the Jewish Communal Appeal and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and do anything I could to save it because this is a war memorial synagogue and we need to keep it.”
Unfortunately for the Jewish Board’s plans for sale, the heritage listing has complicated matters somewhat.
Built in 1959, the synagogue, known as the War Memorial Synagogue due to its internal plaques adorning the walls that commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, was closed in 2011 as a result of shrinking congregations. The multicultural area was once rich with postwar Jewish immigrants, but over the ensuing decades the demographic has obviously changed as many of the Jewish families have moved away.
A preschool that operates on the site was initially set up for Jewish children but now caters for the greater community, and despite the closure of the synagogue, the site still operates at a profit thanks to the ongoing preschool lease.
Samuel Tov-Lev was the resident Rabbi for 15 years but his contract has since been terminated and he was effectively locked out of the site. He has campaigned for the heritage listing of the synagogue against the Board’s aspirations, and gathered 12,000 signatures in support. He sees the heritage of the building as unique in the area and deserving of recognition and retention. When asked about the successful heritage listing by Australian Jewish News he replied “I’m pleased but at the same time I’m very sad to see people calling themselves Jews fighting to destroy the holy and sacred synagogue.”
The Jewish Board of Deputies sees it only as an unexceptional building that contains plaques that could readily be moved to the centralised Sydney Jewish Museum. They have even gone so far as to say the naming of the ‘War memorial Synagogue’ was purely for taxation reasons, as memorial items attracted tax concessions at the time.
What they fail to acknowledge is that the heritage of the site is more than just the plaques that can be lifted and replanted elsewhere. It is, as with all heritage listed items, the synergy of the whole… It is the presence of the plaques, within the community where it was created, it is the modernist building design that reflected a new life for many postwar Jewish immigrants, away from the trauma of war, to a new country, a new community, so welcoming and accepting of refugees and settlers from all corners of the globe, and the symbolism that represents. It is the growth of that community to form a new society in a land so far away from their roots. It is the freedom and acceptance that made Australia such a reliable refuge for peoples removed from their homelands. And the simple walls of this synagogue represent much of that sentiment.
I think, despite the Jewish Board’s opposition, that Jewish people in general would be grateful for the protection of this historic suburban synagogue. I think that residents of Strathfield would be grateful for their council’s bold actions. And I think Australians in general would be grateful for the preservation of a piece of multicultural heritage, a small contribution to a country so great that people traversed the globe en masse because they wanted to live here – and part of keeping that country great, an important part, is maintaining its heritage for future generations to see, not just internal fixtures but the physical structures – and that blinding truth, unfortunately for some, far outstrips the requirement to make real estate profits to the maximum level.
Main image courtesy Australian Jewish News.
Thanks to Quentin Dempster on ABC’s 7.30 New South Wales for publicizing the story.
On a golden Autumn afternoon in Sydney I decided to take a stroll around the Botanic Gardens with my little daughter in tow. To one side, the idyllic aspect that every tourist knows, a postcard scene – the Sydney Opera House with its gleaming sails of iridescent white, and the iron-clad Harbour Bridge, hanging over a dreamy jade body of water, ferries plying the glistening waves en route to Woolwich or Manly or somewhere similarly exotic. To the other side, a slightly less celebrated but no less beautiful vista of harbourfront workings – Garden Island with its sleepy naval fleet, grimy Woolloomoolloo with its workers’ pubs, pie carts and Finger Wharves jutting out from crowded streets, and standing above it all bathed in afternoon sunshine, the genuine industrial grandeur of the Hammerhead Crane that marks the spot so well and has been a permanent fixture on the Sydney horizon for more than fifty years…
Of course I knew all that was about to change. Mounted high on top of the Hammerhead Crane there are smaller demolition cranes already working away picking apart and lowering pieces of the giant icon one girder at a time. Like soldier ants crawling over a stricken carcass they rummage through at a steady pace and soon enough the entire structure will be nothing more than an unidentifiable decomposing pile of scrap.
It didn’t have to be like this…
Department of Defence bureaucrats set the wheels in motion some time ago, and the matter was put to bed by a former Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities Tony Burke who is now nursing his cushy job as The Manager of Opposition Business in the House, while another pack of equally inadequate politicians take hold of the reigns of power.
When the sad news broke, I tried to garner support for the retention of the crane. I wrote the successive Ministers, without response. I wrote the proprietors of similar cranes in Scotland who have turned their investments into feasible tourist attractions. I wrote the nearby Art Gallery of NSW for support from an arts perspective, the State Library of NSW, Sydney writer’s groups, all without success. I even tried UNESCO as the removal of the Crane poses a clear contravention of the World heritage guidelines for the Sydney Opera House which recognise that the views and vistas between the Opera House and other public spaces within that buffer zone contribute to its world heritage value, and should they be altered, the World Heritage status of the Opera House would be seemingly diminished.
But support was difficult to find in any quarters…
Andrew Woodhouse, President of the Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society shared my concerns and offered his voice to the cause, but more opposition was needed… Much more, and it wasn’t forthcoming… I would certainly have expected more resistance, in a city of five million, pertaining to what many would consider the death of a city icon, indeed a very important piece of naval heritage – either it was misplaced or just wasn’t there at all.
On this day my daughter’s eyes were drawn to the crane from a grassy verge on the western side of the Botanic Gardens… “Crane!” she exclaimed. “Yes. Let’s go and look at it” I suggested, knowing it would probably be both the first and last time she would see it, or at least recognize it as a crane. We ambled over the hill to a pleasant view above Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton Pool, and cast our gaze over the bay. As usual, a couple of old navy hulks were tied up to the wharves. The Hammerhead stood with as much effortless grace as ever, despite being infested by the demolition cranes, clinging hungrily to its massive frame.
My daughter watched in awe as I explained to the fragile mind of a two year old, that, as beautiful and significant as it was, she may not be able to see the crane again. “Big crane going down” she quipped, and burst into a shower of tears. “Yes,” I calmed her before lightening the tone… “Little crane going up” she consoled herself, but it became crystal clear in my mind, that a two year old girl seemed to have more respect and regard for the heritage of our working harbour than the knuckleheads who had anything to do with the demise of this icon – and they are knuckleheads, I couldn’t think of a less insulting term to conjure up for these bureaucratic buffoons who play silly games with things of state and national signidficance they don’t have the right to. Illustrative of this point, is the outrageous display of public money that was sunk into a fireworks display for the recent Navy Fleet Review to celebrate Naval ‘heritage’, a cashpot that would have gone quite some way into saving this crane, the tangible evidence of naval industrial heritage in Sydney harbour for half a century. Instead we had a fireworks display that lasted minutes.
We turn and walk into the fading sun. At this time of the day it dips sharply over the Domain and through the concrete shadows of the nearby city. Our return way meanders past the successfully re-purposed (and once slated for demolition) Finger Wharves, exuding maritime heritage, before passing right by the sandstone edifice that is the Art Gallery of NSW, and the shady Speaker’s Corner of the Domain before finding St Mary’s Cathedral and Hyde Park. Such a historic walk through the richly textured layers of old Sydney, a walk that will now be somewhat poorer for the loss of the Crane…
A plaque on top of the Speaker’s Box reads “Stand up and speak your mind.” If more of us don’t head this call, if we don’t stand up for our heritage, if we sit idly by and allow it simply to fall away, if we allow these knuckleheads and bureaucrats to win we will all be the poorer; much more will be lost until there is almost nothing left to preserve, and nothing will ever, ever change. We will all be the poorer for it. The unnecessary and negligent loss of the Hammerhead Crane will become lasting proof of that.