This gallery contains 10 photos.
On Wednesday night, 27 February 2013, a small group of dedicated locals and heritage activists gathered by candlelight opposite the old Mecca theatre site at Kogarah. We shared Fantales and choc tops, listened to tones of the original Christie 2/7 Victory theatre organ “broadcasting from the wilds of Kogarah” and showed poster billboards of The […]
So sad to see The once mighty Kogarah Mecca in this state. Please come along on Wednesday night and help bid farewell to a local icon.
Opened 1920 as the Victory Theatre. Demolished February 2013. R.I.P.
For further details on the theatre, click here.
For a blog with beautiful images of what still lies within the walls of the Mecca, click here.
The citizens of Newcastle NSW are being taken for a ride. Or rather, they’re not being taken for a ride, at least not a train ride anyway. The O’Farrell Government recently approved a move to cut the railway line at Wickham, eliminating the Newcastle Central terminus thereby freeing up a considerable stretch of near waterfront railway land for possible open space or private development, depending on how much spin you are willing to swallow. Following the recent success of land sales of Honeysuckle Wharf precincts the developers have had their eyes on larger chunks of Newcastle, from the CBD to beachside areas and now the holy grail, the city’s railway. It seems nothing is sacred anymore.
In what should be considered a great loss of infrastructure and a blow to public transport options in the city, especially for out of town commuters who now look at the possibility of ending a long train ride with a lengthy wait for buses to come along and ferry them to the CBD or city beaches, this state government hasn’t hesitated in approving cutting the city’s rail artery in favour of possible land redevelopment. And outside of the decision they are not giving much away in the way of prospective transport options. Really, only a light rail or tram option would suffice in place of the crippled train line, but that seems highly unlikely.
Planning Minister Brad Hazzard claims the rail land will remain in public ownership, although, as reported by the ABC, he wouldn’t rule out the government considering a “brilliant idea” in the future from a developer. Others are far more skeptical. Save Our Rail has been campaigning to keep the railway line and Newcastle stations over several years. Joan Dawson, the group’s president, says the government only held one public consultation, and most of the people present were totally against the plan. “There’s no way that that valuable land will be left sitting there for public use,” she believes.
Redevelopment of the Newcastle CBD adjacent to the railway has been on the radar for some time already, with developer GPT buying most of the buildings in the Hunter Street mall several years ago, meanwhile threatening that their proposed shopping plaza style redevelopment wouldn’t work without access to the land currently occupied by the dreaded railway. And yes, they did partially pull out from their $600 million deal when they didn’t see eye to eye over the railway land with the former state government, selling off two thirds of the retail buildings they own in the mall to, guess who , Barry O’Farell’s state govt. development body Landcom. Now a massive area of city land bound by Perkins, King, Newcomen and Hunter streets is on the menu for redevelopment or as Barry chooses to sell it, ‘urban renewal’.
Many if not most of these buildings in the mall have significant heritage value, from the ornate Victorian warehouses to Art Deco shopping arcades, and under Landcom/GPT’s proposed redevelopment, and the state government’s policy of buyout, are now at serious threat of being bulldozed. Being wholly owned by GPT and the state government doesn’t bode well for these historic buildings, nor the picturesque mall as a whole. David Jones closed its store recently and many of the grand old buildings of yesteryear have suffered from neglect as developer forces argue out how their grand shopping/residential wedding cake should take shape. How many stories perhaps, or how much glass and concrete they can utilise in just one mall.
The cutting of the rail line and the purchase of the Hunter Street mall land by the state Government signifies a step in the direction of mega-development; People of Newcastle, you’ve been warned, this has been looming for years. Will you let them destroy your beautiful heritage precincts for a short sighted burst of greedy monotonous overdevelopment? I for one feel Newcastle is too precious a beauty to bulldoze and ruin in that way. The fact that one massive developer together with Barry O’Farrell is about to decide the fate of how your city will look, to concrete over your main heritage mall, and now, to cut your rail line and turn your main terminus station into history (and possible highrise) to me is almost beyond belief. Are we at the stage now where developers decide how your city will look, shop, live and travel? It seems so.
All this just as post-industrial Newcastle itself is starting to find its vibe. The streets are coming alive to a more cosmopolitan feel, cool cafes and shops are starting to spring up, the buildings are once again being occupied, change is in the air, set to the background of a wonderful working harbour and heritage tapestry of architecture.
Renew Newcastle has done an exemplary job of moving artists and creative merchants into dormant building niches, such as the former David Jones, in a scheme of grass roots urban renewal that is now being replicated in cities such as Geelong and Adelaide. A short stroll through Hunter Street and around will tell you Newcastle has got a lot going for it – the harbour, the heritage, the beaches, the weather, the topography, the transport, and now an arts scene coming to fruition. It’s a unique place that deserves state protection and sensitive heritage-flavoured development, NOT overdevelopment. I have always found it fitting that the train line and port both seem to converge at the edge of the CBD, that will now come to an end. And as for alternative transport options, many of the roadside carspaces along that side of the city lay abandoned even on weekends due to exhorbitent parking meter prices charged by greedy city councils – will that change once the rail is gone? I doubt it.
To lose your main city railway station is one thing, and a big thing at that, especially for the many people who depend on rail transport as the most efficient means of getting into town. To lose your open, leafy, airy, unique heritage shopping mall to make way for a Westfield style air-conditioned mono development would be a travesty for Newcastle. I hope to never see that day.
Images below show some of the heritage buildings of Hunter Street Mall that may be at risk under redevelopment plans. All these buildings need protection. Interior shots are of Renew Newcastle’s Emporium artisan merchant shops. All Images copyright by Inheritance.
Almost two years ago in January 2010 an iconic Melbourne art deco building, Lonsdale House, built in 1934 from two previously standing Victorian warehouses of varying size, was handed over to the wrecking ball and lost forever. Owners of the site, Myer applied to demolish the building in order to allow a new entranceway to their new Emporium super shopping centre, and the City of Melbourne graciously agreed, despite a howl of public protest and the formation of supporter websites, petitions and the inauguration of the Melbourne Heritage Action group. Even having its famous stylised towers appear on the cover of Robin Grow’s Melbourne Art Deco history book couldn’t save Lonsdale House; now that famous tower lives only in photographs and fading memories.
Author and president of the Art Deco & Modernism Society, Robin Grow, was bemused at the time… ‘‘They just gave it up. They said they were more than happy for it to be demolished,’’ he said. ‘‘If the City of Melbourne isn’t prepared to defend buildings that are subject to heritage overlays then what is the point in having the heritage overlays, it is outrageous, What we are getting is replacing a classic building appreciated by people all over the world with another set of shops, What’s this going to look like in 10 years?’’
So what’s the replacement, why the need to tear down an irreplaceable piece of unique 20th century architectural history? Well, quite shamefully, it was actually demolished in order to widen the service lane for Emporium retail deliveries. And what has risen in its place is another gaudy glass box screaming at passers-by to come in and buy from the cavernous retail sprawl so similar to anywhere else in the world. So an icon of Melbourne, a tourist attraction, a building worth pointing out, is gone … replaced by more inane glass and scaffolding shopping boxes.
Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art building on the shores of Circular Quay has long been a shining monument to the Art Deco style in locally quarried Maroubra sandstone fashioned during a time of our great nation building. Its location alone is supremely accessible and iconic, drawing visitors from far and wide. When arriving by ship or ferry, it comes into view straddling the docks where vessels tie up; by train it can be seen from the top of the observation deck of Circular Quay station commanding a fine view; even by car, as seen from the Cahill freeway, it stakes its claim as the prominent landmark on the western side of Sydney Harbour, golden when bathed in afternoon sunlight. The building itself is worthy of such a position, being designed by Government architect W H Withers in 1939 but not taking shape for many years due to the intervening war shortages, finally opening in 1952 as the Maritime Services Board building, later becoming the MCA as we know it today.
Now the Musuem has added its 53 million dollar prize extension by architect Sam Marshall, ‘the Mordant Wing’, and unveiled it to ‘mixed’ reviews. Andrew Andersons, the architect who converted the former Maritime Services Board building as it was into the MCA, descibed it as ”insensitive… As you get closer and closer to a building there should be finer details that hold the eye and delight. With this building as you move closer there is nothing more to see. That’s why it is likened to scaffolding.” He also noted the lack of windows on the North eastern corner, essentially wasting any use of the potential harbour view that may have evolved from a smarter building. Another critic, prominent Sydney architect Philip Cox said “Circular Quay is sacred. There was a one in 500 year opportunity to do a great building at Circular Quay.”
I myself am not here to pass judgement on the merits of this new age building which would no doubt have some modern art aficionados head over heals lusting over its sharp lines, the dialogue between the old and new(?), crisp cubic forms within the black and white contrasts or clever use of time and space. To me it looks like a bunch of boxes stuck together at random and painted in the cheapest colours that happened to be on special at Bunnings that calender month.
What I do have to question is how this extension fits with the original building. Does it do the heritage of the building justice, or the site? How is it inspiring, how does it invigorate and how is it sympathetic to the form of the current building? Is the scale of the extension appropriate, seeing as it seems to dominate the existing facade from every angle. How do the flat black and white textures compliment the timeless glowing Sydney sandstone, the commanding art deco lines; how does the shape fit as a whole with the original template that was there, and how does it sit in relation to the gentle curves of the lapping foreshore so near? Is this building worthy of being part of, in fact commanding this iconic location? Does it pay homage to the history of the immediate area, to the First Fleet’s landing, to the cultural meeting of European and Aboriginal Australia, to the early days of colony, to the rich maritime heritage of Sydney Harbour? The answer, I believe, is that it fails significantly and detrimentally.
Not only has the architect boldly patched on a totally self-indulgent non-descriptive non-relating wall of monochromatic lego blocks that looks like some puzzling game of 3-D scrabble on an oversized scale, but he has also had the indignity to place glass fronted upper levels over the top of the classic MCA facade, something akin to fitting the Opera House with roller shutters. And this is, essentially, after the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the third most prominent building on our most important harbour, in our most important heritage precinct, metres from where Phillip walked ashore and modern Australia was born. Clearly, this is a sign of the state of heritage building thought in modern Australia 2012, where a beautiful 20th century building such as this just can’t be left alone to shine forever more.
If a new wing had to be built here on this site, then couldn’t it at least have it’s origins and influence in either early maritime Australia like so many of the surrounding (indeed adjoining) buildings, or alternatively pay respect to the previous inhabitants of Sydney Cove, the Cadigal Aborigines… An extension based on the forms, colours and tones of local Aboriginal design, holding inside a modern Australian art gallery – that would have fit perfectly and done the site justice and our city justice, finally showcasing to the visiting tourists of the world as well as locals, that there was a rich and thriving Aboriginal history here before European settlement and it deserves to be looked at, and it can in fact blend with what we think of as modern day Australia.
Now all you modern art marvellists, before you shake your head and shrug off my theories as heritage ego rambling, let me say this. This is a heritage blog. The building, this 53 million dollar edifice, wouldn’t even rate a mention here, if it wasn’t tacked on to the side of the important, sublime art deco MCA building like some digitalised tumor, in this important, sublime location on the shores of Sydney Harbour.
In fact I believe it should have been built, but not here… In Parramatta, or Liverpool, or North Sydney, it would have made a significant contribution to the culture and arts scene of these areas, and be welcomed as a means to share and decentralise our state’s culture base from the old, historical, rustic heart of Sydney that is the Rocks and Circular Quay. It may have even encouraged tourists and Sydney-siders alike to venture further afield bringing their arts-seeking funds with them. Imagine a ferry ride from historic Circular Quay along the Parramatta River, charting the flow of an evolving Australia, to a modern gallery in a hub of the city worthy of international praise.
Instead we have this, a heritage building compromised, heritage values lost, open park space by the harbourside lost, irreplaceable views lost, and an opportunity gone begging.
Black-and-white boxes is what we have gained. 53 million dollars worth of black-and-white boxes.
Interestingly, architect Sam Marshall was quoted at a mediation meeting as saying “I would have demolished the building if I could,” referring to the original MCA. So we have a project architect working on a heritage building that he has absolutely zero sympathy for to begin with – is it any surprise the extension doesn’t work?
In what can only be described as a planning joke, residents of picturesque Ramsgate Beach are to be marooned with a six storey block of units on an already busy intersection directly across from a shopping centre that struggles with vehicular traffic on a daily basis. The 21.5 million dollar Helm Developments proposal at 158-162 Ramsgate Road has just been unanimously approved by the Joint Regional Planning Panel comprising three state government nominated professionals as well as two local council representatives.
The funny thing here is how a six storey block of units gets the green light so easily on this site. This has occurred after both Rockdale council and the NSW state government have admitted there was a ‘bungle’ on the revised height limits for the so-called ‘Ramsgate Beach small shopping village’ (which is not so small after this). After council upgraded the limit to 16 metres in December last year, somehow it was passed by the Planning Department at 20.5 metres, and apparently now is locked in, pending what Rockdale council terms ‘community consultation’ over maintaining the new, higher limit. Helm Developments saw their window of opportunity and quickly upgraded their development to take full advantage of the height increase. In the context of the area, this apartment block is clearly over sized and would dominate the beachfront dramatically. In fact where the building would sit is currently occupied by two single storey cottages and a double storey dwelling. So increasing that to 39 units plus six commercial shops over six stories totaling 20 metres would be, to say the least, a dramatic change.
The aesthetics of the area would be altered from a small beachside suburb to a high-rise high-density inner city style hub in one fowl swoop should this development proceed. The increased traffic, increased congestion during and after building completion, lack of public transport options (where is the nearest railway station?), the fact this is situated smack-bang on one of the main city-south motor carriageways, overshadowing, loss of views, destruction of the character of Ramsgate beach, precedent for further developments in and around Ramsgate and along the foreshores of historic Botany Bay – was any of this considered by the so-called expert panel and if so how did it pass?
The fact that the zoning height limits are basically on hold and only in place due to a planning error means that any development application should be put on hold until the zoning issues are resolved, and actually both council and the Planning Department should be investigated in a legal sense for breaching the trust of their ratepayers. New mayor Shane O’Brien on one hand claims to oppose the development while on the other wants to investigate retaining the 20.5 m limit because this Helm DA has already been lodged and the Rockdale council is still playing blame games with the Planning Department over the cause of the issue… I mean, C’mon Shane, this is not cricket. You are a newly elected Mayor, this is not a good first public impression for you. A bureaucratic bungle in zoning that we as residents are supposed to just sit back and cop sweet, and even now you want the error in zoning to stand? You must think your ratepayers are a bunch of small brained idiots. Let’s get this right, let’s go back to the drawing board and come up with something worthy of the area. This isn’t the inner city after all.
Title development image courtesy The Leader.
Rockdale Council area is being besieged by over-development at the moment, with little regard for heritage values or appropriate sizing. Just down the road from Ramsgate beach lies Dolls Point. After a recent development of units replaced a service station, a neighbouring house has just been sold as a development site, showing how one block of units leads to another, and the scourge spreads. See image below.
Five minutes the other way along the Grand Parade, Brighton Le Sands is undergoing massive highrise changes. Small seaside blocks of Art deco buildings don’t stand a chance, particularly with the O’Farrell government’s plans to allow developers to buy-out whole blocks of units with only 75 percent consent of owners compared with 100 percent previously. This gem below known as Romax Court is being sold as a development site.
In another part of the Rockdale council, at 1 Caledonian St Bexley stands a charming deceased estate Federation house on 1278 square metres of land. This home occupies a quiet area just around the corner from the heritage precinct of Dunmore Street, but that hasn’t stopped it being listed as a development site for 7 townhouses. “Developers came from everywhere” said Real estate agent Doug Turnbull but the house was passed in at $1.175M. It is only a short reprieve before another magnificent Federation is lost and replaced by ever more townhouses.
On Bay Street Rockdale new blocks of units are rising where single storey dwellings were. There is a seismic shift happening as seen below, where a couple of rather forlone looking cottages cling on to their small patch. Now they too are for sale by the ironically named Good View Property, seeing as the owners enjoyed the good view of development next door so much they just had to sell.
Mecca Movie City has been a name synonymous with the St George suburb of Kogarah for decades – many of us still hold memories from the 80’s and 90’s, “catching a flick” at Phil Doyle’s beloved institution on one of the special $5 movie nights. The tones of the Wurlitzer organ, the smell of popcorn wafting through the foyer, sticky carpets, choc tops and a film reel crackling flickering images onto a scarlet curtained screen, these are the images I can recall. I remember bugging my older brother many times over to take us kids down to the Mecca to catch the latest offering from Hollywood, walking up the garden path and grabbing a slice of pizza (there was a pizzeria next door if my memory serves correct), filing in and slumping down into a seat, and letting the fun begin.
But the history of the Mecca goes way back before this.
A brief timeline by movie historian Ken Roe. cinematreasures.org
Located in the southern Sydney suburb of Kogarah. The Victory De-Luxe Theatre was opened on 17th November 1920 with a seating capacity of 1,800. The opening film was “The Brass Bullet”. It was equipped with an American Seeburg Electrical Orchestra pipe organ, with 2Manuals on the console and 3Ranks of pipes in the organ chambers located on each side of the proscenium. In August 1928, a new Christie 2Manual/7Ranks theatre organ was installed and opened by organist Leslie V. Henry formerly organist at the Prince Edward Theatre, Sydney. Other organists to play this instrument were Horace Weber, Eddie Horton & Knight Barrett. From 9th November 1928, the theatre was re-named New Victory Theatre.
The Victory Theatre was re-modeled in 1936 in an Art Deco style to the plans of architectural firm Crick & Furse. The exterior was given a modern deco style. Inside, there were Chevron style decorations on the side-walls and similar decorative features on the ceiling. The seating capacity was reduced to 1,534. Organist Denise Palmistra reopened the organ on 10th October 1936.
The Christie organ was removed in the early-1950’s. It was briefly re-named Avon Theatre in the 1960’s. Taken over by Mecca Theatres on 9th December 1971, it was renamed Mecca International Theatre. A Conn electronic organ was installed at that time. It was remodeled again in 1975, giving the theatre a new ceiling and a false proscenium. A 3Manual/8Ranks Wurlitzer organ was installed, which had originally been installed in the ABC Ritz Cinema, Richmond upon Thames, England, UK. Pantomimes and live shows were introduced to supplement the film programming.
In 1990, the cinema was divided into four screens, and was closed in September 2003.
Since 2004 the Mecca cinema has remained dormant and unoccupied, a shadow of its former self. Passers by have long been wondering what will eventually become of the once mighty Mecca, when or if it would re-open, until now. A 21 million dollar Development Application has been lodged with Rockdale Council, and with 4 levels of basement parking and 10 stories of residential and shopfront above ground this is no short trailer, this is a feature length epic. A King Kong sized towering block perhaps more at home on the boulevards of Manhatten rather than the back streets of Kogarah. Remembering, there are numerous tall buildings around the main centre of Kogarah and up towards the hospital precinct, but nothing on this suburban side of the railway tracks, nothing of this magnitude.
So, we are losing another art deco theatre, one that had a proud history in the St George area. See the pictures of its sister cinema the stunning 1832 seat Hurstville Mecca (formerly Savoy Theatre), which eventually shared the same fate of demolition and redevelopment back in 1995. The National Trust’s president at the time, Barry O’Keefe, QC, said that the Hurstville Mecca was”the most significant surviving cinema after Sydney’s State and Capitol theatres”.
A Sydney Morning Herald report by Geraldine OBrien reported back in 1991: ‘In 1957, there were 660 cinemas and theatres in NSW. In 1983, a report commissioned by the NSW Heritage Council recommended retention and protection orders for 13 of these, all considered gems of the “picture palace” age. Today, seven of those 13 gems have been smashed under the wrecker’s hammer, two – the State and the Cremorne Orpheum – have been retained and restored, another – the Hurstville Mecca Savoy – is about to be demolished and the future of the last three is in grave doubt. One proposal put forward by the trust is the development of “provincial theatre”, a venue for the “out-of-town” try-outs which are standard practice in London and New York. Australia can ill-afford to lose its few surviving cinemas from the great era of “moving pictures”, the trust says.’
While the Kogarah Mecca interior has been altered to the point of having little heritage value, the outside facade with its frescoes still holds some period charm and could possibly be included in any future residential development as a nod to the site’s cultural beginnings as well as a locally unique addition to any future building, something like the Yellow House in Kings Cross. Inheritance recommends this option.
But realistically we will lose the whole lot.
Another option, given the changing demographic of the Rockdale-Kogarah area with large influx of Indian migrants, could be to turn the Mecca into a specialist cinema, running foreign films or art features. Imagine a Bollywood cinema here! That would be grand.
Back in 2011 a famous art deco theatre, the Glenelg (formerly the Ozone) with significant original heritage value inside and out, was demolished in Glenelg, Adelaide, despite a 1200 signature petition and a chorus line of vocal opposition. Fast forward one year and guess what, they want to build a new $20 million, seven-screen cinema above the council-owned Cowper St carpark right there in Glenelg. Click on this picture and try not to shed a tear.
With six submissions here we have no chance of saving the Mecca.
The question then becomes, when is ‘big’ too big?
Well, this is too big. There is nothing around it that is anywhere near that scale. If this was to pass then Rockdale Council is effectively creating a whole new high rise precinct within a suburban area. Tiny Station Street will struggle to cope with the excess traffic and parking issues. The garden rimmed path of Victoria Way will never look the same again. And what of the charming Federation shopfronts nearby, will they share the same fate as this ugly brute?
The St George Leader ran a brief article on the development, only a short grab which was far too insignificant for something of this nature and stature, and as a result only six submissions were received against the DA. I personally had to do a double-take on the story when I noticed, almost in the fine print, that 4 levels of basement carparking were proposed. 4 Levels!! We may not be able to save the famous Mecca, but lets not allow the spread of high rise into this part of the suburb so easily.
If you have any memories of the Mecca or ideas you may like to add, please leave a comment.
And remember Rockdale Council, we are watching your actions.
“…and one final note” (please click)