Fighting the British, one arch at a time

claremont

All arches are created equal

Some buildings are revolutionary. Literally. Like kick-out-the-Brits type revolutionary. And you probably wouldn’t think that a humble church hall in Claremont would be the place to start looking for this. But you should.

If you travel down Stirling Highway, probably cursing the traffic as you crawl along, you’ll notice Congregational Hall at Claremont, which was built in 1896. The church, on the right in the picture above, was erected a decade later. While it might not seem much to look at now, the hall was part of a movement to rid ourselves of British influence.

When people in the 1890s started talking about Federation and a new country, architects were not going to be left out of this exciting new movement. Henry Stirling Trigg was the first qualified architect to be born in Western Australia so, unsurprisingly, he wanted to contribute. But if English architecture was to be abandoned, where was he going to look for new ideas? He needed a country that had also broken free from the motherland and formed its own identity. Naturally, he thought of the good old U. S. of A.

The Americans call the style the ‘Richardsonian’, but we decided it was sexier to described the architecture as being ‘American Romanesque’. The easiest way to spot it is to look for rounded arches and, quite often, rustication, which is where you cut back the edges of the stone leaving a perfectly regular block with a rough surface in the middle.

The entrance to Congregational Hall and the windows above are good examples of the American Romanesque at work. Even better is the very fine Trinity Church on St George’s Terrace, also by Henry Stirling Trigg and opened in 1893. Although it’s in brick not stone, this is American Romanesque at its finest.

Trinity

Or nearly its finest, because there was an even better building which we have now lost. On the corner of St George’s Terrace and Howard Street used to be Surrey Chambers. Designed by Edward Herbert Dean Smith in 1903, this was one of the greatest buildings ever to be put up in Perth. Just look at those rounded arches. And, if you feel like being depressed, go and look at what’s replaced it.

Surrey

So, there you have it. An imported style of architecture specifically intended to be not-British for a new nation which saw itself coming into being. Next time you see these rounded arches, you’ll know that it wasn’t just a fashionable design, it was a political statement.

The home of tomorrow, 1944 style

kitchen

Yes, we would like to live here.

We here at Dodgy Perth have lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked “Where was the most futuristic house in Western Australia?” Actually, the number is zero. But that’s never stopped us from imagining people asking such questions.

Anyway, even though you don’t care, the answer is a large residence on First Avenue, Mt Lawley. Unfortunately, the house number appears lost to history, but if you have any additional information please let us know.

In 1944, an RAAF man had some brief leave and decided to turn the family home into something out of Star Trek. The first thing you would notice is that the front door bell automatically triggered a light over your head. Now that’s space-age.

Then he modified the grandfather clock’s pendulum to work with two magnets, meaning it never needed winding and kept perfect time. This clock was wired to half-a-dozen other timepieces around the house, which ensured they always told the same time.

Both husband and wife were musicians, so the house was wired with an amplification system, which was reported as being one of the very best. We’re sure the neighbours would have loved that.

After this, it gets a bit weird. There were many other electric gadgets, all beautifully designed and finished from Tasmanian woods. But part of the house was a self-contained flat leased to tenants. And as the newspaper report cryptically put it:

There are naturally certain domestic offices which have to be shared by householder and tenants. To obviate any embarrassment, electric gadgets flash signals to the house indicating whether or not they are in use.

Embarrassment? What kind of electric devices would cause embarrassment if you were to be discovered using them? So you had to flash signals to the house? What? How? Why?

Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re sure there is an innocent explanation. Surely there must be an innocent explanation.

Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1841

united-service

United Service Tavern shortly before demolition

As New Year’s Eve rapidly approaches, the Dodgy Perth team will be undertaking their usual ritual of preloading followed by a night out in a pub with live music, followed by drunkenly trying to get a snog at midnight. Naturally, the venue will not be the Brass Monkey, but you probably guessed that already. (Please note that Dodgy Perth does not condone excessive consumption of alcohol. If you do, it means less for us.)

Which made us wonder which Perth hotel threw the first ever NYE party. And we believe the answer is the United Service Tavern, pictured above. Sadly, this long-standing pub on St George’s Terrace was demolished around 1970 and was replaced by a fairly ugly building.

The original tavern was opened in 1835 by James Dobbins, formerly a private in the 63rd Regiment, who had arrived on the Sulphur accompanying the first wave of colonists in 1829. Keen to attract his former military colleagues to sink a couple of pints, James called the pub United Service Tavern and painted large pictures of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington on the front. That what was passed for equal opportunities in the 1830s: both army and navy were welcome.

united-service-2

The original United Service Tavern, pictured here in the 1860s

In 1840, the tavern was taken over by Henry Cole, known locally as King Cole, because apparently that was funny in the 19th century. And it was Henry who seems to have organised the first ever NYE public event in the Swan River Colony for 31 December 1841. Gentlemen’s tickets were 10 shillings each, while ladies only had to pay 7s 6d. Presumably because they would eat and drink less than the blokes, rather than a tacky stunt to get more females into the bar. Maybe.

nye

We object to gendered pricing policies. Even from 1841.

Later the building came into the hands of Henry Strickland and Stephen Chipper, before being leased by John Giles who added a new front to the original building. It was this frontage, and the 1835 hotel behind it, which were demolished in 1970, including original stables and outbuildings.

So, if you’re heading out tonight to a historic venue, remember to be thankful not everything has been knocked down. Yet.

Watersports

subioval

The 1935 entrance gates pictured on completion

We read in the news that the Minister for Heritage has declined to register all of Subiaco Oval, much to the disappointment of the local authority. Although allegedly against the advice of the Heritage Council, the government seems happy with just having the 1935 gates heritage listed.

But in all this discussion we’ve not seen anyone comment on the fact that the current Subiaco Oval is not the first Subiaco Oval, but the second. Most people know the stadium first opened in 1908, but Subiaco Football Club was founded way back in 1896. Do you imagine they had nowhere to play and train for their first twelve years?

Towards the western end of Nicholson Road is a reserve called Shenton Park and it was here, in 1897, that Subiaco FC made their home. It was simply known as Subiaco Oval at the time. Trouble was, to the south of the ground was a large lake, and during the winter months the water on the playing field proved impossible to drain.

The local government spent a small fortune trying to make Subiaco Oval playable, but there were still times when games were played wading ankle-deep through the water. But play they did, because footballers were harder back then.

In the end, the council gave up trying and instead decided to develop a new oval on Mueller Park, starting work in 1906. And how did the Subiaco locals react? As you would expect: with outrage. Angry letters were written to the newspapers, protest meetings were held, and people were generally grumpy. How dare they fence off part of our park and charge admission for football games? This is the people’s park, and those dirty footballers should stick with their current ground in Shenton Park.

Of course, like all good councils, Subiaco ignored the protests and built a new Subiaco Oval anyway. And with a new stadium due to be opened soon, the future does not look bright for the historic ground. Well, at least we’ll get to keep the gates as they develop the oval into yet another housing complex.

Sinister kangaroos

 

coat_of_arms

What you looking at?

Dodgy Perth promises this is the last time we will ever deal with this controversial issue. Especially since we are going to put it bed for once and all time.

Take a look above at the Australian coat of arms on Perth’s GPO, freshly installed in this photo, with the kangaroo looking the wrong way. As is well known, the sculptor didn’t get paid so the roo is looking in an accusing fashion towards the treasury building.

Wait, did we say this was the GPO? Our mistake. This is a picture of the coat of arms installed on the new parliament building in Canberra in 1926. So, evidently this sculptor didn’t get paid either. What is it about sculptors not getting paid in the 1920s?

 

1-gpo-george-facade

Oi, look at me when I’m talking to you!

But sculptors haven’t been getting paid for a long time before the 1920s. Oh yes. This is the old Sydney GPO, which predates the Commonwealth, and the roo is looking in an accusing way towards… Well, something presumably.

Every time this story gets a mention on local radio, someone rings up and claims their father (or grandfather, or uncle) made the GPO coat of arms, and the legend is completely true.

Well, we’re sorry to say folks, that this is just how Post Offices did their fancy shield things. Just is. Nothing more interesting than that.

 

 

Stop all the clocks…

Midland Town Hall

How Midland Town Hall should have looked

This is a story about a very Australian approach to life. The one where we have a complete disregard for expertise and just adopt the ‘she’ll be right, mate’ attitude. Only, in this case, she wasn’t right at all. Welcome to Midland Town Hall.

As you can see from their design above, architects Hamilton and Upton planned a single clock face right over the main entrance. Had they had the money and competed the building, the citizens of Midland would now have one of the greatest town halls in Western Australia. But they didn’t have the cash, so the design had to be trimmed back, and one of the losses was the clock.

After WWI every local area collected money for a memorial to the fallen. Many places decided not to put up a statue, but to erect something useful for the district and call it Memorial Something-or-Other. So WA is full of Memorial Halls and Memorial Gates and the like. In Midland they decided they needed a clock, so people knew when to catch their train. And not just any clock. But a really big and heavy clock, with four faces.

(There is a local myth that the clock was a rejected one intended for Midland Post Office—even the Heritage Council repeats this story—but there is no truth to this at all.)

In early 1923, the Memorial Committee asked the council to build them a tower to hold their clock. But when the council realised how much it would cost for a good tower, they proposed simply knocking the top off the Town Hall dome and sticking the clock there. Unfortunately, the architects told the council the brickwork wouldn’t take the weight, since it was never designed to have a clock on top of it.

Like any good council should, they ignored the architects and turned to a local builder, who told them he could put the clock on top of the dome really cheaply, and he was sure the Town Hall would be fine. Plus, he didn’t even ask for any money for himself, which saved council a bit more. And so the skilled architects were ignored, and plans quickly knocked up.

And so the top of the dome was cut off and the clock placed on top, completely disfiguring the look of the Town Hall, since it doesn’t fit and to this day looks like a job done by cowboy builders. Which it was.

Clock_Midland

Who could possibly think this was a good idea?

 

One problem was that the clock hardly ever worked, so people kept missing their trains anyway. It required constant maintenance, for which there was no budget, so a local man agreed to look after it, for free, to the best of his ability. Which doesn’t seem to have been a great success, but at least it occasionally told the right time.

A couple of years after the clock had been installed large cracks started appearing in the Town Hall’s brickwork. Some were so large you could actually put your finger between the bits of brick. Guess what? The architects had been right all along and 5.5 tonnes of clock, casing and steel struts were ripping the building apart.

So another architect had to be called in, the great Edwin Summerhayes. His report was damning. There was no structural support for the clock, it had been badly installed anyway, and it desperately needed a framework put in to carry the weight down to the foundations. Since this would destroy the Mayoral Chambers, Summerhayes said the only solution was to remove the clock and put it in its own tower, just like the Memorial Committee had originally requested. Failing to do so, risked the whole building falling down.

Everyone agreed that the clock would have to come down, but no one was willing to pay for it to do so. Instead, the council decided to drop the matter and just hope no one was killed by falling brickwork. And that’s exactly what happened. More money was spent over the next couple of decades patching up the dome and Town Hall than it would have cost to move the clock. But that’s how councils often work (or don’t work).

Today, the clock still ruins the look of a beautiful town hall. Just to save a bit of cash.

Should we save our corner shops?

malz

Ours are all skinny flat whites

You may have seen in the media about the poor deli owners in Scarborough who have been forced into a rooftop protest to save their business. It is due to be knocked down at some point to make way for yet more high-rise apartments. Read all about it here.

The Dodgy Perth team are not usually ones for taking sides in property disputes, so we’ll restrict ourselves to the simple question: is this deli a heritage building? And like all simple questions, there is no simple answer. And there’s no simple answer right now because no one has done the leg work to find out.

Once you could find these corner shops everywhere, but in an age of late-night supermarkets and 24-hour garages they are becoming increasingly rare. This Scarborough deli was built around 1940 and was thought of as a very modern shop for its time. After World War II, the owners added an asbestos residence next door with lounge, two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, laundry, garage and (of course) yet more asbestos for a roof.

Looking at a historic photo, the building has remained much the same as when it was built, except for the inevitable loss of its cantilevered verandah. The shopfront windows are particularly interesting, because they seem to be identical to the original (or may even be original!).

Is this enough to make a building a heritage place? This Scarborough deli is not, by any stretch, a fascinating building. In fact, it’s quite ordinary as a corner shop. But that might be exactly what makes it have heritage value. It is typical of its era, typical of its type, and could probably tell a thousand stories of its owners and customers.

And delis were often run by New Australians and women, and New Australian women for all we know. Do we have enough heritage places where we can tell their stories? Could a real-life and still open deli not be a great place to have heritage and a coffee at the same time.

If you feel like trying to save it, give the State Heritage Office a call on 6552 4000 and say you’d like to nominate the deli on the corner of Brighton Road and Hastings Street in Scarborough. They’ll make you fill out a form (it is a government department, after all), but it’s not difficult to do. And then at least we’ll know if this place is worth saving.