Welcome to Princes Highway, Rockdale… Constant choking traffic four lanes thick. Peak hour that lasts all day and is unrelenting in gridlock. Heavy vehicles, dump trucks full of excavation rubble from nearby building sites thundering past on their way to the tip. Smog heavy in the air. Noise from bulldozers and pile drivers, dust passing over in blanketing clouds…
Rapid redevelopment. As soon is one hole is filled in another is dug. Big gaping holes in the ground everywhere. Buildings that stood for many years, tumbling like dominoes, one after the other. Proud buildings that once lined the roads in a human scale, now trashed and forgotten. New people coming and going from every direction filling the spaces. Any sense of belonging, gone from this picture. Any sense of community seems not to exist…
Footpaths dirtied and deserted. Building sites line both sides of the road, competing for size and domination, left, right, and centre. More ground ripped open, houses and history torn apart. Bricks fall into rubble only to be swept away into manageable piles. Advertisements in real estate windows written in Mandarin lure the new money investors. A sign above an entry door to a store reads “Shopping Paradise”… but I don’t see a shopping paradise, nor any other kind. The only thing I see is a Developer’s Paradise…
You may think this is a place far away, of another country, another mindset even, but you would be wrong… This is your Sydney, this is the future, and this is only a sign of things to come. Welcome to Princes Highway, Rockdale. Welcome to your future…
All images Inheritance. Click on image for slide show.
On Sunday October 6 the classic Federation style St George Bowling Club on Harrow Road Bexley was burned down by vandals. Nearby residents awoke to see flames gutting the heritage listed building around 1.45am.
Three people, aged 19, 15, and 14 were arrested at the scene, but the 14 year old was subsequently released on a youth caution. A fourth man, 18, has also been charged with the arson attack.
The bowling club, founded in 1900 and relocated in 1919 due to railway expansion, had remained uninhabited and its greens overgrown for several years. At a time when bowling clubs are struggling to maintain membership, many are folding or seeking other options such as amalgamation. Two clubs in the St George/Sutherland region have sought amalgamation in the last year alone, while another, Mortdale Bowling Club, was closed and demolished last year. Others are left derelict such as the St George Bowling Club, and can easily become a target for vandals and arsonists.
It is upsetting to see any building lost to deliberate arson attack, but to see a beautiful and rare Federation example of a bowling club such as this go up in flames is devastating. As a result the area has lost one of its landmark buildings and heritage treasures.
Bowling clubs are true community assets – they retain open space for recreational activity, and foster vital social gathering among residents. Not only that, they hark back to an Australian way of life quickly disappearing before our very eyes, and are often, as in this instance, architectural gems that warrant retention. Occupying large swathes of open real estate, they are also targeted by dozer-happy developers for ever-increasing medium density residential supply.
It is our opinion that the site of the St George Bowling Club should remain a public asset, and if not suitable as a bowling and recreational club, should be re-purposed for child care facilities or something similar. The fabric of the heritage clubhouse appears to have escaped the brunt of the fire, despite the interiors being gutted and the roof structure showing extensive signs of collapse. Being a double brick structure, the clubhouse could be re-built in the original style and used once again as a communal facility.
For it to be redeveloped as residential units would be a travesty for the community and send a very clear message to developers that they can get their right of way over publicly owned sites once a heritage building is vandalised or partially destroyed by fire.
Considering the state of the building, Inheritance has formally requested Mayor Shane O’Brien and Rockdale Council to rebuild the clubhouse as a heritage item for adaptive re-use as a club or childcare facility. At this stage we are awaiting response.
We also believe the state government should be adopting a strategic plan for the future of lawn bowling clubs if and when they should reach the end of their useful life as a club. This should be a statewide policy that prohibits private development on bowling club lands, instead preserving the community assets for what they were originally intended, public open space and/or public amenity. Anything less is a sell-out.
A nearby club at Hurstville was partially converted into a communal vegetable patch a few years ago, and a highly successful one at that. Many former clubs have been re-purposed as child care or elderly care facilities, many more have been sold out to private development, a point that may resonate with members of the 50-strong Sutherland Croquet Club who have practiced their game on the lawns next to Waratah Park, Sutherland for over thirty years, and have now been told that the grounds are being redeveloped for highrise of more than 500 units. See that sad story here.
The value of a simple bowling club cannot be overstated, as a place to get together, as a place to meet and greet, to share a laugh, a story, or a beer. A place for our elderly to congregate and play their sport, out in the open, in the fresh air, and live a more helathy lifestyle at a time when our medical professionals are trumpeting the virtues of activity and well-being… When or if population dynamics and financial pressures dictate that a club is no longer viable as a bowling club, then it should be re-purposed, to suit the next trending requirement. But it should always remain a public facility, with open space, community, and heritage in tact. More than anything it is public asset. And let’s not forget, once an asset like this is lost, it is lost for good.
As for the brainless vandals that caused the devastation to the St George Bowling Club, they will probably never know the full extent of the devastation they have caused…
Title image: still from video by Storm Pickett.
This post relates to a previous one regarding a Federation house that was for sale at 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, for more details read here. As I feared at the time, the property was eyed off by developers in the hotly contested southern suburb of Bexley, and snapped up at auction for the princely sum of $1,446,000. As it turns out this was land value only, as soon afterwards the “fence of doom” went up and neighbours got their final glimpse of this beautiful Federation diamond in the rough that could have been saved, should have been saved, but was instead briskly turned to rubble.
The owner has advised council he will be subdividing the property and building three modern dwellings on the site at a proposed cost of $850,000 plus $10,000 demolition. Residents in the historic street are now banding together to try and stop inappropriate development taking shape on this block, hoping the new buildings will be more sympathetic to the current streetscape they value so dearly. As I reported in my previous post another owner tore down a similarly neglected Federation home on a corner block several years ago and after negotiation agreed to shape his new home in a style emulating that of a Federation house. Will the new developer be just as sympathetic, considering he proposes to build not one but three townhouses and has obviously bought the block to turn a profit?
That remains to be seen. What we do know is that the original house should have been protected from redevelopment in the first place, for a number of reasons.
First and foremostly it was a heritage building, a beautiful example of a Federation purpose built corner block, and it showed off many stunning period features that are now simply lost.
Secondly, it is located smack bang in the middle of a heritage precinct; its demolition detracts from the heritage value of the streetscape just as propping up three modern townhouses in its place would cheapen the entire surrounds. Whether Rockdale council has officially listed it or not as a heritage precinct is irrelevant, it is a heritage precinct, and certainly one of the best in the area and in fact southern Sydney. Rockdale council, which governs an area containing many fine heritage buildings, that also bond together to form some important heritage streetscapes, does not have any defined heritage precincts in their portfolio, meaning any street in any neighbourhood including the wonderfully embellished Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, is open for business to developers.
And don’t they just come rushing, especially when an unloved old building on a corner block like this, overgrown garden, probably a deceased estate, comes up for grabs. It doesn’t take much to look and see pure dollar value on this kind of investment; buy one, build three, triple your bottom line without too much effort exerted. And why wouldn’t they, more often than not they aren’t connected or affiliated to the particular area in question, they don’t walk around the streets and peruse the heritage quality of the neighbourhood or do the necessary groundwork to find out if their investment decision will have a negative impact on the area in which they have just bought – that’s the council’s job… And because they either refuse or can’t be bothered doing the research and making the decisions that will keep our heritage assets from falling, then it remains open season for developers, and houses like this will fall time and time again, only to be replaced with cheaply built office-like boxes overcrowded onto tiny blocks that do nothing at all to better the area they represent in any way, but return maximum profit to the said developer, who by now, is probably driving his brand new Merc AMG home to his concrete Mcmansion in a leafy suburb far, far away.
Meanwhile residents of Dunmore Street Nth, Bexley, are left to scratch their heads and gather together with placards saying “Developers not welcome here” wondering when did their beautiful heritage street that they have invested hard earned savings into start to go so horribly wrong. Unfortunately for the residents, who rightly claim some sort of ‘ownership’ to their street and their community are slightly off the mark this time – Developers ARE welcome here, they have been welcomed by council, they have been welcomed by the state government, in fact they are more than welcome, they are encouraged to build these sorts of over-sized monstrosities with heritage destruction as a by-product. The councils, the state government, they don’t really care about your heritage houses, your heritage shopfronts, your suburbs and your precincts – these are only in the way of more development. If they did, unlike in Rockdale Council’s case, they would have allocated neighbourhoods like Dunmore Street Nth Bexley a dedicated heritage precinct many years ago. But they didn’t, and so, as always, developers are welcome.
At least in the case of 26 Dunmore Street Nth Bexley, residents should have been given a chance to be informed about the demolition prior and as a result make submissions to the proposals. Under planning laws to be introduced soon by Premier Barry O’Farrell and (Bad) Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, even this simple right would be wiped away from neighbours. The first thing they would know or see would be the dreaded “fence of doom” go up by which stage, as we know, it is all too late. This is what we have to look forward to in this state once these reforms are pushed through… it makes no difference if the house is an ugly shack or a Federation diamond, if there is no heritage listing, it is fair game. And the fact that private certifiers are on the increase means council will have even less input and developers will have an easier and quicker path to get their foot in the door, or, perhaps more to the point, knock the door over.
The services of a private certifier were indeed utilised in the decision to allow demolition of this house. Almost within the blink of an eye the house was sold at auction and bulldozed without residents input. Remembering the response I received from council when I questioned the possibility of demolition immediately after the sale, it read “Any development application lodged to either demolish the building or undertake alterations and additions to the building would consider what impact such has on the nearby heritage items, with specific matters for consideration included in both Rockdale Local Environmental Plan 2011 and Rockdale Development Control Plan 2011…” In this case I don’t believe the private certifier has duly considered the impact of demolition on the nearby heritage items… Have they consulted with residents at any point? If not I believe residents would have a right to deem the legality of the demolition highly questionable.
Such is the future of planning in NSW under the state government’s exempt and complying development code, and White Paper reforms which are still being pushed through despite strong disapproval state-wide from many stakeholders. Welcome to the brave new world of planning in NSW, where heritage is seen as nothing more than something that ‘gets in the way’ of new development, and developers are clearly ‘welcome’ at every corner.
Inheritance Society has written to Rockdale Council with a submission against any new modern-looking development on site, while questioning how demolition was allowed when it so clearly impacted nearby heritage items, and also requested Rockdale Council to consider Dunmore Street and surrounds as its first official heritage listed precinct.
Title image by Chris Lane, The Leader.
There is a renowned heritage street in Bexley that holds many a fine residence… Victorian, Federation, Bungalow, Art Deco… a walk down Dunmore Street North is like stepping back in time. Bookended by classic main street shopfronts and churches up on Forest Road, down to the state heritage listed Seaforth Park at the lower end, the street and suburb it occupies are home to many splendid gardens as well, some immaculately pruned and tended, and some, let’s just say, a little rougher around the edges.
Look carefully at the jungle growing on a block at 26 Dunmore Street North. Between the trees and shadows you will find a hidden Federation masterpiece, waiting to be uncovered and have new life breathed back into it, like a dusty Rembrandt sitting unknown at the back of a museum storeroom. This house is ripe for renovation, and in the afternoon light stunning period features still shine and give away a hint of the extravagance waiting to be uncovered and brought back to their timeless beauty by someone with a keen eye for what constitutes smart ‘forward thinking’ real estate value and a worthy investment. Bullseye leadlight windows, turquoise Art Nouveau tiling, patterned brick archways, delicate balcony timber fretwork, this house has all the wonderful features of the period.
Federation homes were exceptional in their level of embellishment, quality of workmanship and attention to detail, as well as giving us our own national style of architecture; those on corner blocks were even more impressive as they were always built to suit the site, facing two directions to greet the outside world and often taking advantage of winter sun flooding through bay windows, while maintaining an air of coolness in summer with deep and richly decorated porches.
That’s the end of my real estate agent spiel; it may not be along the lines the agents are pushing this time, considering the land size of 1,176sqm lends itself to perhaps something of a different scale. As quoted from the Domain website by agents Raine and Horne:
*Original 4 bedroom federation full brick home in need of TLC
*Potential for Developement (STCA)
*Situated on a corner position
*Level clear block of land
*Approx 23.4 metre frontage X Approx 50.2 length
*Family orientated area, with excellent schools, transportation, and ease of access to Bexley shopping village.
Will be sold at Auction!!”
A few years ago a corner parcel came up for sale with a similar unloved Federation home at the bottom of the street. What happened next was a little strange. Residents at the time were concerned for the streetscape and lobbied for the new owners to retain the house. It didn’t stand for long, and was levelled and replaced by a large gaudy modern home ‘in the Federation style’, complete with sandstone foundations and stained glass. Why anyone would demolish a Federation house to build a Faux-Federation I don’t know but the trend has spread next door to where an almost identical building has sprung up.
Don’t let the developers get this one. The street is too picturesque and historically revealing to be ruined by duplexes. Any astute heritage buyers, this is the one for you. For sale by auction, Saturday 1st June. Be quick…
Click on images below to enlarge gallery…
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 […]
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)