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?
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.
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.
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
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 […]
This gallery contains 12 photos.
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 […]
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.
Late last year we looked at a proposal to demolish heritage listed Griffith House on the grounds of St George hospital, an elegant 1896 Italianate Villa of some historical significance, being the home of Peter Hermann, one of the founding fathers of not only St George Hospital in 1894 but also the Kogarah area fire station, and mayor of the Kogarah municipality. It is the only heritage asset remaining on the hospital campus, making it even more precious in its function of telling the story of this suburb’s history to future generations who will otherwise have nothing to replicate it and instead have to try and guess what the hospital may have looked like at its foundation.
After a bitter back door campaign that saw overwhelming public support for the retention and re-adaption of the two storey villa, approval has been swiftly granted by NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard, disregarding completely the aesthetic values of the building, the significant documented heritage and history of the building and its occupents, insufficiencies of the plan to deal with future parking and logistics issues both onsite and off, complete lack of public consultation and awareness, and a backlash of opposition ranging from hospital workers to former councillor and hospital board member Anne Field, to 70’s green bans legend Jack Mundey.
The speed and tenacity with which this approval passed through the planning system seems to indicate that it was a fate accompli even before opponents got wind of it. From simple little tricks like putting the public notice up on old canteen walls away from the general public, to denying press access to the ‘public’ meeting, this proposal and its deliverence were thrust upon unsuspecting residents as Anne Field told the Leader “like stealth in the night.”
To make matters conceivably worse, Griffith House is being removed to make way for nothing more than an entry ramp into the Hospital’s internal morgue and a few small car parks, all of which could be accommodated, quite easily, if the monstrosity eyesore building that is the Research and Animal testing building on Kensington Street was sacrificed, as it should be, instead of the irreplaceable beauty of Griffith House.
At the closed ‘public discussion’, concerned opponents were told by Terry Clout, CEO of South East Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service (SESIH), that 50 options were considered by the Health Dept, none of which allowed for the retention of Griffith House. Well, nobody present bought any of that, as all 50 options sounded fairly similar to one another, all leading to the claim that the adjacent ugly Research Centre couldn’t be moved at all, for reasons still unbeknown to anyone in the room apart from maybe the CEO himself. We all know Cherie Burton local MP was never going to get out of sorts but where was Kogarah Council during all this talk of destruction of perhaps the suburb’s most important architectural asset? Strangely, silent.
Considering the amount of heritage framework immediately surrounding the hospital including Peter Hermann’s 1907 Federation style fire house and the nearby 1887 Kogarah School of Arts, it is quite shameful on behalf of council that this area hasn’t been defined and publicized as a local heritage precinct offering quality point to point historical walks for locals and tourists alike. Here is a small gallery of just some of what lies within short reach of Griffith House. (all images by Inheritance)
This is an epic fail of the current planning system in this state, a system that fails to protect the heritage and now has set a precedent for destroying heritage buildings on public land, choosing instead to find the cheapest option available using bulldozers and fumbling PR spin in order to sell their inadaquecy. Fortunately the Kogarah public led by Anne Field saw right through and gave them a decent fight til the end, which, unfortunately, may well be upon us within a matter of weeks.
Surely a major part of any architectural briefing on a project of this scale and magnitude must include as one of its primary objectives to examine, assess and if possible retain any heritage aspects present on the site. By failing to consider the importance, value and public pride in Griffith House this project, no matter how great they tell us the redevelopment is at opening time and in years to come, will always be, at least in part, a massive failure. Why would the Department of Health sink 40 million dollars of taxpayers’ money into a project that is doomed to become a failure from the start, in its refusal to protect the core heritage values of the site.
Architecturally, it is hardly a challenging prospect considering the footprint of the new emergency wing only intersects with Griffith House over a couple of square metres, and conceptually, we are talking about a service road and parking area that could just as easily be moved to Kensington Street with the removal of the ugly Research building that nobody wants, that is the gold plated solution. There couldn’t be an easier alternative for the architects. What’s missing is the political will here, and the courage. The courage to create something that is a win-win-win outcome – something that delivers good value for taxpayers’ money, a world class facility, with full respect to heritage values… unfortunately this project fails on at least one, if not three of those objectives.
As a wash up of this disgusting mess, supporters of Griffith House, supporters of heritage in general, are going to gather on the lawns of Griffith House one last time this upcoming Sunday 24th February at 2pm. This will be a sombre affair, a chance to meet and talk over the events that led to this great house’s foreseeable demise, and the dire state of planning and heritage we now find ourselves in, in NSW 2013 under the leadership of this disgusting poor excuse for a government led by O’Farrell and Hazzard.
Griffith House, home of Peter Hermann, founding father of the municipality of Kogarah, the Kogarah Fire Station, and St George Hospital, you’ve been O’FARRELLED!
Please join us at Griffith House this Sunday 2pm.
PS. Also in Kogarah, if you are interested in remembering the once grand Kogarah Mecca Movie City, we are planning a candlelight farewell before the theatre is demolished, please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested ASAP.
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.