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GRIFFITH HOUSE LOST ON LIES

Campaigners for the retention of Griffith House, a late 19th Century Victorian Italianate villa on the grounds of St George Hospital, the very institution that the house’s original owner helped to set up, met on the lawns of the villa on Sunday 24th February dressed in black, as a sign of mourning the death of […]

HOSPITAL EXPANSION TO SWALLOW UP 1896 GRIFFITH HOUSE

It has come to our attention recently by local historian Anne Field and our friend Leesha Payor from the Kogarah Residents Association that Griffith House (formerly called Weruna) on the grounds of Kogarah Public Hospital is to be bulldozed as part of the expansion redevelopment of the emergency department. The Victorian Italianate Villa has a proud heritage, being built in 1896 by former mayor and German immigrant Peter Herrmann, who served four terms with council and played a leading role in Kogarah civic affairs. He worked towards incorporation of Kogarah as a Municipality, and was a founder of Kogarah Fire Brigade, of which a stunning heritage listed fire house remains adjacent to the villa. The Hermann family were one of the early European settlers of Kogarah, and maintained the house until 1920. The area’s early development can be largely attributed to the enterprise of market gardeners including the Hermanns.

The villa was incorporated into the hospital in 1961 and was named Griffith House in honour of Mr Thomas Arthur Clark Griffith, the Chief Executive Officer of St George Hospital from 1946 to 1981. It later became the St George Area Health Services Promotion Unit, opened by the Honourable Barry Unsworth on 9 November 1987, and the Orthopaedic Early Discharge Unit from 1989 to 1993. But its heritage goes way back to the late 19th C, representing the southern expansion of Sydney as part of the Bowns park Estate, after the opening of the Illawarra Railway Line in 1885. Under the proposed $34 million expansion of the Emergency Ward, this proud locally significant building is to be lost. While most would agree the hospital needs expanding, it shouldn’t be at the cost of such an important Kogarah landmark.

Historic Griffith House, image from Heritage Impact Statement

In a statement of significance within the Heritage Impact Statement of June 2012:
‘Griffith House (formerly called Weruna) is a late Victorian building c1890’s of local cultural significance.
The building has been strongly associated with the development of Kogarah. It was first owned and occupied by Peter Herrmann, a local identity who was associated with local government and the development of community services including the fire brigade and the St George Hospital.
In 1961 the building‟s relationship with community services changed from one of proximity and association to one of usage when it was acquired by the St George Hospital and utilised first as a residence for senior hospital medical officers and their families and then for accommodation of Health Promotion and Orthopaedic Early Discharge Units.
The building plays a role in demonstrating the standard of living of local civic leaders around the turn of the century however has been subject to alterations and is in a poor physical condition.’

In addition, the villa has been assessed to fit several criteria for heritage significance according to the Heritage Council of NSW, which can be used to make decisions about the heritage value of a place or item. Namely,

  • is associated with a significant activity or historical phase
  • is associated with a significant event, person, or group of persons
  • exemplifies a particular taste, style or technology
  • is important to a community‟s sense of place
  • has the principal characteristics of an important class or group of items

These characteristics as outlined in the Heritage Impact Statement should be enough to save the house from demolition and be retained as a significant item of local history.

Barry O’Farrell, all smiles announcing the expansion, with no regard for local heritage. Image aapnewswire.

The proposed demolition of this building has been kept under the radar by NSW Department of Health, and has yet to generate much interest publicly. After the story was published in the Leader today there may be some residents quite shocked to hear of it. Strangely, there is some debate on whether Griffith House is heritage listed or not. Cath Whitehurst, Director of Operations for St George and Sutherland Hospitals claims it isn’t. Yet Kogarah history librarian John Johnson says he knows it is on the heritage list, but when he looked recently found that it had been mysteriously pulled from the Heritage Office’s register.

If you are concerned about the fate of this significant and historic building, and you believe it can be part of the future of the St George Hospital expansion in one shape or form, then here is the forum to make your opinion heard. This building should be saved, it is part of our history and should become part of the future of the hospital, and the landscape of Kogarah. The DA is currently being assessed. Only with great support and many voices of the public can this be saved. Feel free to leave a comment…