Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, Bexley’s most Iconic Residence… This Federation Masterpiece is full of Period features, including High Ornate Ceilings, Wide Hallways, 4 Original Fire Places, Tiled Foyer Entry, Lead Light Windows and Main Entry, Slate Roof, Pressed Metal Ceiling and much, much more…
Not my words, the real estate agent’s… And this gracious description accompanied by bright and airy photoshoped images obviously went some way in selling the unique residence… Late in 2015 the house at 580 Forest Rd Bexley known as ‘Brandlesome’ traded at auction for $2.77 Million. It was owned by the Formby family for four generations prior, but unoccupied for many years and as a result both cocooned as a period time capsule, while also showing some signs of decay such as rising damp that inevitably result from such lack of use.
Brandlesome represents an outstanding example of Federation architecture that has rapidly disappeared from the local area. The building exhibits some fine ornate features consistent with the era, including herringbone brickwork, high chimneys and terracotta features, and those wonderful lead light windows that worked as a selling point for the real estate agent… Even rare examples of half-timber work are present, and this is not seen on many local Federation buildings.
Additionally, the very layout of the building is unique, being transversely designed, with a central front porch and large looping ‘keyhole’ arch. This is highly unusual among the regular rectangular or square shapes of Federation housing common of the time.
The fact that this house has been owned by four generations of the Formby family adds immensely to the heritage value for the local community, not to mention the original front boundary fence and the fact the house is basically complete and unaltered over the decades as many others have been.
All this would point to local heritage listing. But there is none.
Naturally a certain sense of speculation surrounded the future of Brandlesome when it was put on the market after being tightly held for so many years. But all bets were off just a short time after when a DA was presented offering complete demolition of the Federation beauty, subdivision into three land parcels and construction of three separate modern ‘superdwellings’.
This could be seen as ‘very disappointing but very predictable’– words used by St George Historical Society president Bernie Sharah to describe the somewhat unsurprising outcome… Old house, big block of land, development biased council? We have seen it all before.
But one question still has to be asked, and that is this: Can this house be saved, and can it be saved while still making the new owner some financial gain?
The answer is Yes.
It has happened in other council areas such as Marrickville, whereby the development controls have been slightly altered to allow retention of the heritage property while adding value to the land by allowing more development in the surrounding parcel. In the case of Brandlesome, being slightly off centre on a large 2000 metre block of land, townhouses could be substituted down one side and along the back in an L-shape around the existing building, offering a better range of housing, and potentially increased profit for the developer, while most importantly retaining the heritage item.
This can be seen as a successful alternative to complete demolition, and one that offers a win-win-win situation by allowing the developer to increase their financial return, Rockdale Council to set a new standard for heritage retention mixed with quality new construction, and of course community benefit by preserving an extremely important piece of local heritage.
Far too many unique iconic houses are being lost in the area, as can be illustrated by another recent announcement that historic Halstead House in Mortdale, the oldest building in a heritage listed precinct, will be demolished in exchange for two modern dwellings. The owner says he doesn’t want to live in a heritage home, but then he should move out and leave it for somebody else. The reality is he wants to make a profit from the size of his land. And he certainly isn’t the first nor will he be the last. This will go on and on until many of our historic homes are lost.
And that is why we need councils such as Rockdale to act creatively, to work with developers for best results, to be strict and consistent with guidelines, and to put local heritage retention at the forefront when determining DAs. This isn’t happening at the present time, but we need it to, as the stakes are so high. Heritage only gets one chance. And houses like Brandlesome are way too precious to sacrifice for the financial gain of single owners who came in at the last minute just to turn a profit. That is no way to treat our architectural assets that mean so much to us all.
The fate of Brandlesome rests with Rockdale council. This is now a litmus test to see if a local council has the will to ensure survival of its historic buildings. The new owners have already decided to neglect their building, filling it with bags of rubbish, leaving the windows wide open and the lights on day and night. But not all is decided, and there is still time to write a letter of objection to council, or a quick email to email@example.com (quote Ref Number: DA-2016/137).
Images above by Ray White Real Estate. Title image Inheritance 2016.
What constitutes a gateway building? What does it even mean, this wildly encompassing propagandist term ‘gateway building’? Is it a building with a gateway attached or a gateway within a building? I believe it is a recent turn of phrase, coined by councils, developer lobby groups and probably the Liberal government, in order to raise the building heights to ridiculously grotesque levels on certain sites at main intersections at entry points to basically every suburb in the land. And that they do, to full extent. Oh they do love a good gateway. The bigger the better. Yep, you can’t beat a good gateway.
And while councils and developers are falling over themselves to create the next great gateway to some generic overcrowded hovel that isn’t really worth driving through in the first place, it may be time to reflect on an older school of gateway building, perhaps a different kind of gateway, built to a much more human scale than what is currently being offered up by the usual suspects who seem obsessed with leaving misguided legacies of their own Trump Towers overshadowing our once scenic suburbia.
Let’s look at Blackshaw Pavillion. Until recently, this inoffensive interwar red brick utility commanded a prime position on the corner of Forest Rd. and King Georges Rd. at the edge of Penshurst Park – a gateway of sorts to Hurstville, Penshurst and Beverly Hills. Unassuming and typically Australian in appearance, the site of the pavillion welcomed visitors to the park and the area for many decades. It was built for a former local alderman who had a love for the game of cricket, as a player’s pavilion overlooking the former oval.
Since then the oval has long gone, replaced by leaner practice grounds over the years and more recently a large aquatic centre-come-gym, which seems to be expanding and swallowing up more of the former green space every time you blink an eye. At one stage there was an old bowling club a little further into the park, but that has also been weeded out.
Now Blackshaw Pavillion is gone too, reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble, in the shadow of another new gateway building across the road, the massive towers sprawling along Forest Rd at the old Dominelli Ford site that appear more like a concrete fortress when approaching from the west.
Word has it that council wanted the pavilion gone due to asbestos, but the demolition was carried out without any proper removal or remediation of the site. In fact, the pile of bricks remained for a number of weeks without any covering. So what was the real reason? Well perhaps that will yet come to reveal itself. Chances are Hurstville Council just didn’t want to pay the upkeep of what it sees a redundant building. Meanwhile other councils have found ways of re-inventing disused maintenance buildings, like the very successful transformation of a pumphouse service shed in Bigge Park Liverpool which has flourished after being reborn as a trendy park café.
What is interesting or in reality more worrying is that Hurstville Council tried to demolish Blackshaw Pavilion before, a couple years ago, before meeting strong community opposition and pulling their plans at the eleventh hour. That resistance, this time, was not forthcoming. Which makes one wonder why. What has changed?
Perhaps the demographics have changed, the population that may have put in submissions against these developments in the area have either moved on or passed on. Others feel burnt out by development fatigue, no longer able to pick up the laptop and write off another submission to council for fear of fertilising their ever growing migranes or going completely and utterly mentally ill before their time. I know the feeling.
Whatever the case, the new gateways are arriving and the older, more human, more welcoming gateway buildings are disappearing or becoming just a throwback to another time. A time before councils were run as thinly disguised commercial building companies, before developer land frenzies and state government sponsored concreting booms altered our cityscapes forever. A time before ‘gateway building’ became a term, let alone a flashy catchcry to push through even more ugliness in place of sanity. I wish we could build a gateway back to building codes of past…
Title image by Tanya Jordon.
Sometimes a building finds itself the source of much community affection and attachment, and at the same time these are the buildings that by their nature often help to define a suburb. One such example is Victoria House in Bexley, an old 1855 mansion that served as a wedding function centre for 65 years until its closure in late 2014, by which time it had earned the enviable status of being the longest serving reception house in Australia.
On the weekend of 25-26th July the old girl threw open her doors one last time, not as a reception centre, but as an auction house, for the purpose of clearing out virtually everything that had come to adorn the graceful building both inside and out over the course of its meaningful life as entertainment venue come antiques museum. The walls were filled with Australian art, the floors with English Oak furniture holding up Oriental porcelain and Russian Religious icons atop Persian rugs, and the ceilings hung with dazzling crystal chandeliers, one of which belonged to none other than Dame Nellie Melba in her Dandenong Ranges property.
Outside the circular gravel entranceway was studded with Mercs and Jaguars all for sale, even the garden furniture and concrete planters were tagged, and of course, leftover cases of Pinot and catering equipment galore in the vast kitchen which has obviously seen its last crème brûlée come out on a silver trolley to the hordes of welcoming guests.
But the star of the show was the old girl herself, Victoria House. Constructed by John MacLeod, a master builder from the heydey of the colony who completed such famous structures as Town Hall and Fort Denison, as well as parts of the QVB, it was a wedding present for his son Hector, a renowned builder himself who sadly died at the age of 31 as a result of a work site accident. In the early forties the house was transformed into a reception centre and run by the same family for many decades, and now, Richard White, grandson of those original managers wants to convert the structure back into a private residence once more, resurrecting the old house name of Cluny Brae.
Having grown up nearby and passed by the estate many times but never really knowing what went on inside, I saw it as an open invitation to wander around and take it all in. Up through the time-tarnished Victorian porch and into a formal landing, two vast open spaces, the Edward Room and the Colonial Room sprawl out on either side separated from each other by the cavernous catering kitchen. The Edward Room is the original grand ballroom, with sprung dance floor, intricate curved ceiling reminiscent of a church nave propped up by slender Roman columns, leading to a beautiful stained glass window behind the stage. The Colonial Room was converted in the 1960s from an original billiards room, with its magnificent wood paneled bar and great feeling of pompousness embellished with fine period furnishings. Between the two rooms simultaneous gatherings could be catered for half an hour apart.
If only these walls could talk… They would surely speak something of the endless nights of heartfelt celebration, of blushing brides, gushing parents and boozy heads… It is easy to see that Victoria House is still revered, many of the people filing through spoke fondly of having their wedding receptions take place within its walls decades ago. I even overheard two young girls talking of when they worked here, not so long ago, and chatted to a former MC of the house who was taking one final look.
I turned and said how sad I thought it was that all this was coming to an end. “Not really”, he replied, “all good things have to come to an end…” and I reflected on it later – that wasn’t a throwaway comment, he was absolutely right. All good things do come to an end, and perhaps that is where we should leave them, rather than pine after them in some dimly lit memory for years and years to come.
For so many people this grand old building held a special place, and over this weekend in July 2015, she still knew how to turn it all on one last time.
EPILOGUE: Elsewhere in Bexley…
Just up the road from Victoria House, the Federation masterpiece known as Brandlesome, at No.580 Forest Rd. has recently traded hands after being neglected and unoccupied for many, many years. We hope the building’s heritage status will ensure it remains an asset to the area for generations to come (although knowing Rockdale council it may be surrounded by townhouses by the end of the year).
And down the road, another local icon has closed its doors for the very last time. Bexley Jewellers has ceased trading after 46 years. I remember this shop as a child and recently went in to find smiling owners Mona and Raymond Awad still tending the business of jewellery and watch repairs as they had done for decades. This really was an old school suburban jewellery store in the finest sense of the word. Mona and Ray will be missed.
Brandlesome photos Ray White, all other photos Inheritance 2015.
I recently had the privilege of rummaging through an old Art Deco cottage that had been sold at auction as the result of becoming a deceased estate. While the house was traded for an inconceivable amount, purely due to its land value alone, and will inevitably be bulldozed in the longer term, what I found inside was a veritable time capsule of that era, one that still retained many of the original installation furnishings and fixtures, including doors, light and bathroom fittings, masonry and tilework, even what were probably the original carpets and mattresses still in good condition.
To stand the test of time for so many decades, to remain usable even to this day, and to repel the heavy wear and tear that a house and all its surfaces must endure on an unrelenting basis, demonstrates just how fine a quality of finish the Art Deco suburban home was adorned with…
Bank vault doors still kept guard with heavy chromed handles. Magenta heirloom rosebuds looked up from vibrant carpets underfoot while emerald ivy climbed the halls across sheets of crisp wallpaper. Frosted spectacular triangle shapes pierced the windows like leadlight icicles. Jade ornaments bedazzled the bathroom between geometrical tiles like carved Maori offerings. Organic flying saucers filled the corners of the rooms with their soft yellow glow while an original Smiths Sectric Durban clock kept time upon the wall as it had done for decades.
As I took it all in I could only stand in awe at the level of workmanship and decoration that was crafted into these dwellings of the period, and was left pondering the question “why are we knocking down so many of these wonderful and graceful buildings only to replace them with cheaply built and unremarkable alternatives?” The answer still makes me feel dumb.
Inside the house there was an air of regality that I knew now could not endure, not with new owners, not in this day and age… The former owner, over 90 years old, saw no reason to change things. The new owner –any new owner– nowadays, will want to put their own stamp on their possession and customise things to their liking, breaking the entire synergy of the long held original.
As a result I noticed the old carpets were ripped up and placed out onto the footpath on first inspection. Not that I have any right to criticize that, not everybody wants 80 year old carpets in their living room… What I can rightfully lament though is the fact the house has definitely now lost a sense of originality and completeness; The time capsule, if you like, has had its lid torn open and its contents strewn out into the hard light of day. Nothing will be the same any more, not in this house, not in many more like it…
All pictures Inheritance 2014.
What is the next worse thing to losing a heritage building? Seeing it altered to the point it is barely recognizable as a heritage building…
I’ve always admired this Auto Electrical workshop at 3 West St. South Hurstville. And every time I drove by recently I was almost expecting the worst (some of you heritage die-hards would know the feeling)… So I cringe to think who could go out of their way to try and ‘modernize’ such a classic and unique piece of Australian automobilia heritage, just as this type of genre is coming back into rage.
I ignorantly assumed the building was locally-listed (or it would have been gone already by now), but have since been informed otherwise by Kogarah council. So I guess I should be thankful it still holds its place at the top of the hill… However it confuses and astounds me that the owners would choose to remove the fixed awnings, the workshop doors, the advertising signs and street lettering, and alter the colours to some ugly non-relatable paint scheme – almost everything that made it an automotive workshop in the first place is gone.
Now instead it looks like some disused army barracks trying hopelessly to resemble a modern office space. What a total failure on two counts – the obvious and clear willful neglect of heritage attributes, and the badly attempted rebirth imitation of a building into something it is clearly not.
More on the mark would’ve been an outcome that reflected the original features of the workshop. A café would work, a showroom of sorts, retail, (an auto electrician would you believe?), anything really that pays homage to the structure and heritage of the site. It’s a simple recipe that we fail to abide by time and time again. Normally the excuse is the overruling ‘need’ for highrise but that is not the case here, this is just plain dumb.
So, we still have the heritage building, but what is missing here? Everything that makes it a heritage building, more or less.
Again we have failed to give a rare heritage asset the protection it deserves. In effect an example illustrating in vivid red why we need heritage listings and rules to abide by regarding the presentation of heritage buildings. Instead we have a classic and rare shopfront that has been unceremoniously bastardized and probably won’t exist for much longer in any case. And a couple of key adjectives that go some way to describe this kind of behaviour – the words ‘dumb’ and ‘dumber’ spring to mind…
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…