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VICTORIAN PARTY HOUSE NO MORE

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.

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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.

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BATTLE BREWING FOR HOTEL AUSTRALASIA, EDEN

A battle is brewing in the NSW South Coast seaside port of Eden. It involves something very dear to the hearts of residents of any Australian country town, the local pub. The famous Hotel Australasia on Eden’s main street has stood like a fortress overlooking the fishing hamlet for 110 years… It has quenched the thirst of former whalers, seafarers and sleeper cutters and has welcomed in more recent times the throngs of summer tourists that come to Eden for a taste of the authentic south coast experience.

Sadly the pub, known affectionately by locals as ‘the pit’ closed down in 2013 as the family owners struggled to come to terms with expensive repair work to the roof and structure of the building. It was put on the market and eventually bought up by Great Southern Developments, a company that quickly sold on the poker machine licences for a tidy profit, and now intends only to knock down the historic hotel, and replace it with a generic big brand supermarket, a liquor store, and retail shops.

History-conscious locals have petitioned the Bega Valley Shire Council into taking a stand and putting the building on the local heritage register. They fear the town will lose a big part of its character should an integral landmark like this disappear, only to be replaced by another modern day dreary box of consumerist bricks and mortar, one that would render the town no different to any other that allows such soul destroying bland architecture in place of the heritage that once stood (Ulladulla, anyone?)

In fact it is a crime to even contemplate knocking down a pub as outstanding and historic as the Australasia, one that helped shape the township of Eden, over many decades, one that has been at the centre of the community, one that tourists and locals alike can immediately associate with its surroundings. The pub is the town and the town is the pub. And even if the pub is not a pub anymore, then the building should remain for posterity.

It has been suggested that the facade at least would remain, but that notion has recently been flatly rejected by the developer who obviously wants to cash in on every square metre of their investment, regardless of what is wrong or right. Talking to locals recently I learned that many even question the need for a third supermarket in town, two serve the population adequately as it stands.

Council’s Heritage Adviser, Mr Pip Giovanelli, Heritage Architect stated in a 14 May 2013 report:

“Full demolition of all buildings on the site would not address heritage values or community expectations. It would lose an important urban design element from the Imlay Street streetscape and would deny the option for a future owner to restore the building and reinstate a potentially very valuable tourist element into the town. This last point is very important as it is often the historic buildings that are sought for restoration and adaption when towns such as Eden cycle into economically more prosperous times. The recent restoration of the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan is an excellent example.

…Retaining the historic front part of the building and erecting a supermarket behind would appear to be a workable strategy. A similar example of this approach is currently being done in Gipps Street Bega, where the historic Central Hotel is being retained as a two storey frontage behind which is the main supermarket accessed via the former carriageway. The rear of the supermarket will have a sympathetic frontage to the Coles carpark.”

It is right for council to nominate the hotel as a heritage item, but the developer is now taking the case to the Land and Environment Court. They believe the listing has come too late, and feel they have a God-given right to do with the land whatever they want to. So on one hand we have the concerned residents who simply and justly wish to retain the heritage and individuality of their town for future generations to enjoy, and a council that has heard their concerns. On the other hand we have the cashed-up developer who has snatched themselves a bargain property right in the town’s high street, doesn’t give two hoots about the subject’s history or visual townscape impact, and is acting like they are doing the townsfolk a swell favour by building another supermarket that they don’t actually need.

There is a simple solution to all this, and it is a win-win. And this could apply not just to Eden, but statewide, in fact nationwide… Leave the historic building alone, keep mundane and ugly oversized modern development OUT of high street, and build it on the fringes of town or somewhere less intrusive and somewhere where it is going to cause, oh I don’t know, less embarrassment to the people of the township… Everyone’s a winner and then not every town will look the same within about ten years. People can still then take their friends for a walk and point out the beautiful heritage of buildings like the Australasia and say “that’s a century-old watering hole…” rather than, “oh that’s another Woolworths, Coles or IGA…”

Appeal date in the Land and Environment Court is 28 April 2014.
Click on thumbnail images in gallery for slideshow… Colour images Inheritance, historic images courtesy Angela George’s collection / State Library of NSW.

THREE GENERATIONS OF BAY ST. FELLED FOR UNITS

Three generations of architecture sitting side by side are to make way for units along Rockdale’s busy Bay Street leading down to historic Botany Bay. A simple 1800s workers’ cottage, a free standing Victorian villa complete with original slate roof, and a brown brick Federation have been vacated and await demolition surrounded by a fence of doom, in an area that has the highest expansion rate for unit building currently in the state. A DA to turn the site into 19 strata units was lodged in December 2013 by applicants J & M Faddoul Pty Ltd, at a building cost of $3,275,000.

Rockdale Council seems to find no heritage value in these items that have stood for more than a hundred years and overlooked the constant march of progress stemming up from Botany Bay and down from the town centres where Thomas Saywell’s famous steam tram once traversed. Instead more and more units have now become the order of the day. Even a now rare workers’ cottage can’t stand in the way, nor a stunning double storey Victorian villa with many ornate original features, reminiscent of the recently lost Griffith House on the grounds of nearby St George hospital.

It seems an unnecessary shame that buildings like this are allowed to be felled continuously in this so-called enlightened age, in fact the rate of heritage loss seems to be increasing as large swathes of Sydney are rezoned for unit development, a trend which will no doubt spell the end for many similar buildings especially in areas such as Rockdale, where councils simply don’t have a clue as to their duty of guardianship, choosing rather to tow the Liberal state government line of urban renewal at all costs.

Rockdale Council is currently assessing another potential overdevelopment on the nearby Darrell Lea site on Rocky Point Road. The chocolate factory is to make way for between 350 and 600 dwellings, rising over the 3.3 hectare site in towers up to 12 stories high, within a LEP that currently allows four. In order to accommodate this scale of development, the land would have to be rezoned to R4 high density residential, a move which Rockdale Fifth Ward Ratepayers Association disagrees with, citing privacy, traffic congestion, and lack of amenities (there is no rail station nearby). However Rockdale Council has already adopted a motion to support the planning proposal, meaning residents may just be left as innocent bystanders in the process. Long live democracy in Australia… At least the developers have theirs.

All images by Inheritance. Click on gallery below for slide show.

East West elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

East West elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

North South elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

North South elevation of 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

Photo render of the development, 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

Photo render of the development, 93-97 Bay St Rockdale.

OLD BOOT FACTORY SKATING ON THIN ICE

It seems unfathomable in this day and age that a council-owned heritage building such as the Old Boot Factory in Bondi Junction could be slated for demolition, but in this era of Liberal dominated ‘heritage hate’ anything and everything is unfortunately possible.

In a move that has outraged the local community and stirred up a whole new wave of heritage activism, Waverly council has announced that it will bulldoze the last free standing heritage building in Bondi Junction due to foreseeable maintenance costs of one million dollars. In a special meeting of 29th April the Liberal majority voted to overturn a recission motion that would have postponed the demolition pending proper consultation and investigation. They should be ashamed. As it is a physical structure of bricks and mortar, and a community asset there will always be costs associated with a building such as this, that should be a given; for the council to shirk their responsibility and put it down to a dollar value is quite frankly pathetic and unacceptable… protection and upkeep of buildings such as this are part and parcel of their service to the local community, like removing the rubbish or keeping parks clean. Imagine the outrage if they decided to finish these services due to lack of funds.

In any event one million dollars is not a whole lot of money when it comes to buildings in the area, considering it wouldn’t buy a resident much outside of a two-bedroom unit down at Bondi or Clovelly. I know of another coastal council that recently spent over $100,000 just in putting up ‘no overnight camping’ signs along its beaches and guess what, the campers are still there camping. Great value for money that was… And if council are so cash strapped when it comes to heritage then perhaps they could apply for a grant from their Liberal government buddies on Macquarie Street, not that it would be forthcoming.

Considering the council has owned the site since 1984 and has let it run down to the point it is at now, they should take some of the responsibility and be made to clean up their lack of foresight and maintenance, rather than just being given the easy option to sacrifice the building altogether. In fact mention was made of the council’s stewardship over the years, and blame pointed to the previous councils (naturally). Councillor Leon Goltsman commented “Over the [last] 20 years, had it been maintained properly… there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be making this decision. It’s like a patient on life support, one of the hardest things is for the family members to decide to switch off the life support and this is what we’re doing. There’s nothing more that can be done to keep it alive.” (nothing more… nothing more? Try putting your hands in your pockets and funneling some of those exorbitant council rates into local heritage protection, that may be a start?)

The Boot Factory, at 27-33 Spring Street, Bondi Junction, is one of only two remaining in Sydney, and is remarkable as a rare surviving local example of a Late Victorian Free Classical factory building. It has been standing for over 120 years, being built in 1892, and hasn’t fallen down yet, and with advancements in structural engineering over the years, it certainly isn’t out of the realms of reality to save this building. In Europe for example, it is not uncommon to see 500-600 year old buildings standing proudly, many of which look more derelict than this one. Perhaps they don’t have Liberal councillors there. What is concerning is that no independent assessments by a heritage engineer have been made in this case. Instead, Waverly council has unfairly rushed through the process acting as owner, applicant, assessor and decision maker on their own DA.

The factory lends itself to being adaptively re-used as an art gallery, museum, restaurant, cafe or the like, if only Waverly Council can get past the monetary shadow and get on with the job people expect them to do, that is to protect a heritage listed significant building like this from being laid to waste. If the whole process wasn’t so rushed as it seems to be currently, perhaps the costs could be sourced by fundraising and targeting some wealthy benefactors who appreciate the value of local heritage in its existing form. And residents, you have a duty here too… You wouldn’t stand for them not emptying your bins, so why stand for this?

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Left to rot. Image Waverly Council

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In its heyday. Image Waverly Council

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Image rescue Bondi

Main image is a still from HeritageModeller. There is an excellent video including a 3D digital model of the Factory here.

Link to local resident group Rescue Bondi here.

FOREST ROAD, HURSTVILLE – A MOMENT IN TIME

The suburb of Hurstville in southern Sydney has long been a place of change. From transport hub to shopping megalopolis to high rise residential, the city hasn’t been spared the throng of development engulfing many centres around metropolitan Sydney. But Forest Road, the busy main thoroughfare lined with Asian eateries and grocery markets, still retains glimpses of architectural charm.

I enjoy a stroll along the bustling strip, now clearly influenced by a generation of Chinese migrants. Here you will stumble across butchers selling budget chops, rock star Vietnamese bakeries peddling pork rolls to the masses, Bok choy and Choy sum falling out of little boxes outside grocery stores, golden roast duck hanging gloriously from shopfront windows, noodle and dumpling bars exuding sweet aromas. And as its backdrop, a charming mixmatch of Victorian and Federation style shopfronts and art deco facades, even an early underground shopping arcade linking Forest Road to nearby Westfields, rumoured to be the first outside the Sydney CBD.

The place is a hive of activity, a successful working class migrant story, and it oozes an air of Oriental resourcefulness and prosperity. It’s good to see the Chinese community interact on Forest Road, the way they meet, the way they banter and communicate with one another. Elders are respected and their company is relished. You see it anywhere people of Asian backgrounds congregate. I believe westerners can learn from this sense of social connectivity on show.

But drastic change is once again in the air. A backflipping council, who previously claimed they would keep the CBD residential-free, now has big publicized development plans on the agenda. This is already taking shape along the northern stretch of Forest Road, just along from that massive former Amcor factory development, at 127-141 Forest Road, where a gaping hole has recently appeared and swallowed up a row of little shops and restaurants.

One of these shops was the Chinese grocer occupying Advance House, formerly known as Swans Hardware, a distinctive Art Deco warehouse that has been on the redevelopment radar for some time. There was a legal stoush between architect-developer Nick Katris (who also happens to be a Kogarah councillor) and Hurstville Council, which ended up in the Land and Environment Court. Katris and Associates lodged the original DA with no intention of keeping Advance House in any shape or form, but met an obstacle when Hurstville council’s heritage advisor, Graham Brooks, nominated retention of the Art Deco facade, being a listed item under Hurstville’s LEP. According to the court judgment, ‘Mr Brooks considered that there was an inherent conflict between the heritage listing in LEP 1994 and the site specific controls in the DCP, which permit large scale redevelopment that may overwhelm the retained element.’

At least they have left the façade for posterity, although far from acceptable, it’s better than nothing. It is only a wall after all, is that any substitute for a true heritage building?

The facade the was Advance House

The facade the was Advance House

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Article from the Leader, 2010

Article from the Leader, 2010

Katris and Associates approved development

Katris and Associates approved development. The heritage facade is a little overwhelmed to say the least.

Further along, opposite the railway entrance sits the Stokland (former Fosseys) building, a landmark example of an early department store, and quite an elegant example of its type. This council-owned building is now for sale, under a profit taking scheme to bulldoze and replace it with a small park standing over several new levels of underground shopping (that must be a first for modern-day planners; you can have a park, but it needs to make money, there needs to be a shopping centre beneath it!). The existing historic arcade is also at risk.

Stockland, former Woolworths, Fosseys art deco store, 1951. To be demolished by council 2013

Stockland, former Woolworths, Fosseys art deco store, 1951. To be sold and demolished by council 2013.

Hurstville Council, under pressure from the NSW planning department, now appears intent on bulldozing much more of Hurstville’s historic main street. Now it’s been revealed that village centres Riverwood, Peakhurst, and Penshurst won’t be spared either under new zonings set by Minister Hazzard, despite Hurstville Council trying to ‘funnel’ high rise into the CBD. How much will survive now that high rise development will be allowed to encroach into Forest Road and other centres. Many of these buildings are over 100 years old, in essence, an ‘old town’ streetscape that should be retained and protected rather than turned into glass and concrete high-rise.

There is nothing more soulless than new glass shopfronts supporting multi-storey units. Many of us prefer the rambling, human scaled, colourful, sometimes crumbling shopfronts of a Hong Kong style market, where street life abounds and takes on a meaning of its own. This won’t be the case with new mega-development from architect firms such as Katris and Associates, swallowing up any heritage, any vibrant colour that now exists on the Forest Road strip; heritage that has evolved over time to take on new generations, and suit their needs, and provide all that is required for a healthy shopping precinct to exist into the future.

HISTORIC WOODSTOCK SERVICE WING DEMOLISHED

It has been brought to our attention that a service wing of the Victorian mansion Woodstock, owned by Burwood council, is being demolished to make way for a new hall complex.

The service wing, dating from 1894, and adjoining toilet block, from 1981, are to make way for the 1.6 million dollar project commencing immediately, due for completion in late 2013, to be built by Rapid Developments. Woodstock itself is listed as a state-significant heritage asset, and known as the pride of Burwood, which makes it quite surprising that the attached period services wing can be bulldozed with little or no public consultation, and what seems total disregard for the completeness of architecture… The loss of this wing is subtractive to the overall Victorian era build of Woodstock, and diminishes the heritage feel of the structure as a whole. Washrooms and laundries were almost always placed in separate wings and although it was added slightly after the main 1873 building it does match in style and can be seen as integral to the structure.

The new hall has its own architectural style and I will let you be the judge of whether it befits a house of this historical stature or not. Certainly it will add to the amenity of the building which accommodates over 40 community groups including arts and fitness users and radio station 2RDJ-FM. However what is concerning here is the partial demolition of an important heritage building, and the way an ultra-modern hall can be lumped on to a Victorian mansion with what seems to be “heritage gay abandon”, completely convening the rules for state-significant listed properties. The new hall will crowd Woodstock and block one whole side from view.

The new hall, an artist's impression

The new hall, an artist’s impression. More pretty plastic people.

We asked for an Interim heritage Order to be placed on the demolition, but were denied by the NSW Heritage Branch due to the following (hardly satisfying) reasons:

“It is considered that an IHO for the site is not warranted; the reasons for this decision are outlined below:
· This matter has previously been assessed by the Heritage Branch and there has been no change in the circumstances of the approval or heritage assessment of the property;
· The heritage impacts of the proposal were considered in the DA process; and
· The main part of Woodstock is to be retained.”

A Brief History of “Woodstock” – 22 Church Street, Burwood NSW 2134

Mr. Edwin Penfold, one of Australia’s largest tobacco manufacturers, built Woodstock in 1873.

In 1914, Woodstock was sold to Mr. Keep, who renamed the mansion “Broughton”. The Keep family resided there until 1941.

The property was then transferred to Burwood Council for a short time until the Commonwealth Government acquired it in 1942 for use as Army divisional headquarters. After the war, the property remained vacant until 1949 when it was used as a migrant hostel until 1974.

In 1976, Sir William McMahon arranged a long lease for Burwood Council on the property and the council restored, renovated and converted it to the community centre it is today. It was officially opened by the Governor General, Sir Zelman Cowan on November 11, 1979.

Before his retirement from politics, McMahon the former Prime Minister and then Federal Member for Lowe, negotiated a sale, whereby the Council bought the property from the Commonwealth Government in April 1982 for $40,000.

The 100 square building set in several acres of land is home to at least 40 organisations and community groups. In a year, more than 80,000 people use its multitude of facilities. The building also houses the studios and offices of radio station 2RDJ-FM.

The name “Woodstock” was derived from Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England.

‘SICKNESS’ AND ‘SHAME’ – THE FINAL WORDS ON GRIFFITH HOUSE

The senseless demolition of Griffith House hit a last minute snag last week as workers arrived on Wednesday morning to the confronting site of protest slogans all over the white ‘shroud’ that had been set up to cover the crimes of their work.

A large banner was seen hanging from the very top of the structure with one word painted across it in blood red colour – “SICKNESS.” This is quite an apt statement to describe the state of affairs pertaining to the loss of such an important heritage asset on the grounds of St George hospital, the house of Peter Herrmann, a founding father who actually helped to set up the hospital. Perhaps the protestors were alluding to the current state of planning in NSW under the O’Farrell/Hazzard government, and the lack of sympathy given to protection of our heritage architecture. Or perhaps it refers to the state of mind the South Eastern Sydney Health Board were in when they controversially decided that it was more important to retain a rather sick looking Animal Testing Research centre on nearby Kensington St than to protect priceless heritage for the people of the Southern suburbs of Sydney, a decision that has since been revealed to be a lie, as neither building seems to be part of the final fabric of the redeveloped hospital.

“SHAME” was also blazoned across the sheeting, a word that perhaps could sum up what SES Health CEO Terry Clout may be feeling as he ponders his part in the decision making process, a process that left the site of St George Hospital stripped of its most important historic building, replacing it with a mundane looking Bunnings Warehouse-style Emergency Department, and left public interest strangely on the sidelines throughout the whole ordeal. It may sum up the silence of Morris Iemma, Chair of SES Health, who decided not to get involved amidst a row of communal disapproval, not bothering to respond to concerns that I myself made in communication to his office. Or it may or may not be part of Oatley MP Mark Coure’s vocabulary, a local politician who just doesn’t seem to get the heritage business at all. Or Cath Whitehurst, St George Hospital’s Director of Operations, who initially denied the house was heritage listed, when in fact it always was. And the final shame, of course, goes to NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, who rubber-stamped the wanton destruction of this locally significant historical landmark for the sake of an access road and a few parking spaces.

Above, a morning to remember: A series of photographs were sent to me and The Leader newspaper, taken by passers-by on the morning of Wednesday 17th April. Site managers and workmen were seen scrambling to clean off the protester’s words, wholly aware of the negative publicity this project has fought hard to avoid the whole way along. Perhaps too late for this building, but the message was clear enough.

The fact is there was an alternative here, a simple one that would have produced a favourable outcome for the hospital, for the users of the hospital, and for the residents of Kogarah moreover. The result it was not explored has left us with just two words, ‘sickness’ and ‘shame’, sickness being the cause, and shame the result. Hospitals are normally in the business of healing sickness, not causing it, but not in this case. Will we learn from this tragedy? If we don’t then the future of heritage retention in NSW is sealed.

Below, a last look at Griffith House. Perhaps it should have been renamed Peter Herrmann House in honour of its builder and resident, one of Kogarah Council, Fire and Hospital’s founding fathers. His legacy has now been all but erased by this senseless act of heritage vandalism, in the name of cheap cost cutting and short sighted politicism. I took a walk around just before the secret shroud went up and tried to remember what never should have been taken from us.

A final note
Here is an image of nearby Hurstville Private Hospital, 37 Gloucester Rd. Hurstville. Despite it’s extensive renovations and expansion, they have managed to keep their own heritage building as a centrepiece, on a real estate plot that is obviously much smaller than St George Public, and with resources far smaller. The question now becomes, how can the private system balance heritage values with first class hospital delivery, and the public system fail so badly?

Title image: Jane Dyson, The Leader

Hurstville Private Hospital

Hurstville Private Hospital