Is this Perth’s greatest building?

newspaper house

Welcome to the Stripped Classical, our favourite architectural style named after our favourite way of not wearing clothing. You are certainly familiar with Newspaper House on St George’s Terrace, but probably only because it now leads to a range of different drinking establishments behind. But before you drop into Print Hall for a glass of Shiraz, take a moment to study the façade.

If the building looks almost perfectly proportioned, that’s because it is. Designed by warrior-architect J. J. Talbot Hobbs and opened in 1933, every ratio, every line, every window is exactly (and we mean exactly) according to the rules laid down by architects from the Renaissance onwards. To see what we mean, look at the building below.

deutsche bank

This is the Deutsche Bank building in Bremen, Germany, which was finished in 1891 and is designed in the Historicist Style. It obviously has many more pretty bits than Newspaper House, but if you were to overlay a picture of Perth’s building onto the German one every column and window and floor would line up perfectly. Talbot Hobbs did not copy this building, he just used the same mathematical rules as the German architects.

But where are all the famous columns, entablatures and architraves (and other technical words it is necessary to know to convince people you are a real architectural historian) that we associate with classical architecture? They are simply missing. Well, except for two Ionic columns we will return to later.

Stripped Classicism is a response to two things: Modernism and the Great Depression. Modernists were obsessed with getting rid of all the decorative elements on a building, and façades should only reflect exactly the function of the rooms behind them. No ornament, no trimmings, no colours, just arrangements of spaces. A mechanised architecture for an increasingly industrialised society. And, yes, Modernists thought this was a good idea.

The Depression meant developers had less money to spend on buildings, so anything that saved cost, like not having ornamentation on the outside, suited them perfectly. Yet Newspaper House is not a Modernist building, and its shape does not simply reflect the functions going on behind the façade. So what is going on here?

There is a big argument in the history of architecture as to whether the Stripped Classical is anti-Modernist or just another development of Modernism. We won’t go into details here, but simply state that we hold to the second opinion. Talbot Hobbs was Modernist enough to want to get rid of details, something the owners, The West Australian, would have loved, but didn’t want to go down the route of plain white concrete walls. Instead, he chose classical proportions and allusions to pillars, while keeping the building thoroughly modern and cheap(ish).

munster house

For a very different Stripped Classical building, although slightly less naked than Newspaper House, look at Munster House on Murray Street, not too far from King Street. Designed by Frederick Upton and opened in 1929, it has slightly more going on at the top and a few more twiddly bits, but exactly conforms to the mathematical principles of classical design.

So, if Stripped Classicism was cheaper than standard classical architecture, and more pretty than Modernist buildings, why did it only exist for a such a short time? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is two people: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. They fell in love with Stripped Classicism and many Nazi and Soviet buildings show exactly the same design principles. After World War II, doing things that Hitler liked was, for some strange reason, not very popular, so it fell out of fashion.

DSCF0246

And now to return to those two Ionic columns in the middle of Newspaper House. Why are they there? Did Talbot Hobbs suddenly regret his use of a modern idiom and start to long for a return to older architectural motifs? Probably not. The answer almost certainly lies in the fact that Newspaper House was built in the centenary year of The West Australian, and they would have wanted this connection with the history of the State to be reflected. Look at what they hold up: the words ‘Newspaper House’. The whole building is supported by real history, although thoroughly modern at the same time.

So Talbot Hobbs created one of Perth’s most interesting buildings, by combining history, modernity and the needs of the owners. And now you have our permission to go inside for a glass of wine.

Gay clubbing in 1918

Julian_Eltinge_(the_fascinating_widow)

1910s professional female impersonator, Julian Eltinge

What was it like to go to a gay club in 1918? To find out we need to follow an undercover reporter and his friend into one of the best Perth had to offer. At least he said he was ‘undercover’. Strangely, our hack seems to know almost everyone present. But we’ll play along, and assume he was there strictly for journalistic reasons.

Back in the gold boom days, the best gay club in town was ‘Flora Dora’, which was so established it seems people didn’t mind being seen there, but there were others. But just after World War I, only one club was up and running for men who wanted to hang around with other men, unless you count such places as the Weld Club. Which we won’t.

In 1918, underground advertisements for ‘The Misogynist’s Ball’ started circulating. We assume the event name was ironic, or perhaps a simple way of being able to not invite the wife. “Darling, I’d love you to come, but you would hate all those misogynists.” The sale of tickets was kept very private, only available to those in the know, and almost everyone attending wore fancy dress and a mask to keep their identity secret. Or, at least, to pretend to keep their identity secret. The advert ran:

Almost all the social elements of a large city have their club or meeting place—the fat, the bald, the bachelors, the widowers—why not the misogynists?

The location was one of Perth’s well-known dancing halls, and our ‘undercover’ pair entered around midnight. Dancing was going on, to the music of a good orchestra. Naturally, it being the past, the air is thick with tobacco smoke, preventing the newcomers from making out the details of the scene. Most of the people were masked, and very few in formal dance wear of suits and ballgowns. But now our intrepid couple can make out one lady, who pirouetted in front of them, cigar in her mouth, and with a small beard half-hidden by makeup. She was now talking to someone dressed as an angel, in tights, with an exposed breast and bare arms. You won’t be surprised, and nor was our journo, to find out these were “men dressed as women!” [Exclamation mark in the original.]

Someone dressed as a clown was speaking “tender words” to a ballet dancer, with his arm around her waist. Despite her good figure, her brilliant earrings, her necklace, her “shapely shoulders”, and all the other hallmarks of the fair sex, the ballet dancer also turns out to be a man.

On the other hand, some who are clearly identifiable as men are behaving effeminately. With his carefully trained mustache, makeup and blackened eyebrows, a salesman from one of the larger confectioners is sporting an elegant black gown, gold bracelets and a fan held in white gloves.

Perhaps in another corner, our journalist explorers can discover some normality. Several elderly gentlemen are gathered round a group of ladies who have amazing breasts, although they are all drinking and cracking indelicate jokes. These, at least, must be real ladies, declares our hero. His companion corrects him. The one on the right with the brown hair is a barber, the blonde with the pearl necklace was a tailor who appeared tonight as Miss Ella, while the third was a well-known female impersonator from Perth’s stages, the famed Lottie.

Our hack is shocked. Lottie has a great waist, an amazing bust, and delicate arms! Even so, Lottie was once an accountant, and now makes a living by being a professional woman, tonight singing in an experienced contralto voice. Somehow our ‘undercover’ reporter is well acquainted with the fact that this former accountant wears an embroidered night-dress after dark. Let’s not ask how he knows this.

Perhaps unexpectedly, there are cis women at the ball. But they seem to keep to themselves, while the males ignore them. Perhaps some cis women went to a gay club like some might today: to find a space where they can have a good night out without anyone hitting on them.

Anyway, Perth’s gay and transgender community was very much present in 1918, as they were before, and have been ever since. They were here, queer, and it seems a pity it took so long to get used to them.

Slander in suburbia (not to mention the pyjamas)

suburbia

Fences make for good neighbours. Allegedly.

Edwin Oswald was an elderly man, who in 1925 lived with his wife in Bayswater. But, like many a married man before and since, he decided he wasn’t getting enough at home, so resolved to get some elsewhere in exchange for a monetary transaction. If you get our meaning.

Fortunately for Edwin, he knew where some was available on King William Street in Bayswater and wrote a very precise letter stating the date and time he would turn up, together with a few somewhat explicit lines detailing what he would require when he got there. Then he put the missive in the mailbox and waited for the appointment.

At 7pm on his chosen day in March 1925, he arrived and knocked on the door. The door was opened by Mrs Ethel Drew who demanded to know what he wanted. After telling him she didn’t want him there, he replied with the romantic words “But I want you.” At this point, one Constable White stepped forwards from the shadows and arrested Edwin for using insulting words towards a lady.

But this was not a simple case of a mistaken address, for Edwin had good (if wrong) reasons for believing his indecent request would be fulfilled, for it was common knowledge that Ethel was King William Street’s most available prostitute. Only she wasn’t. She was a war widow with two young daughters, and nothing but gossip to link her to the world’s oldest profession.

The rumours had been started by one of Ethel’s neighbours, Edith Nelson. The pair had once been friends, and had fallen out for some reason or other now lost to us. Edith told everyone who would listen that more than a dozen men a week would go in and out of Ethel’s house, and that she only ever paid tradesmen with (ahem) gifts in kind.

She went around the neighbourhood letting mothers know that all sons should beware of a certain house on King William Street. And Edith was not without good evidence. Oh no. Not only had Ethel started dressing better of late, Edith, with her own eyes, had seen men’s pyjamas drying on the washing line. And why would an innocent widow have pyjamas on a line unless she was a hooker? Why indeed, we would still ask today.

So, like the good Christian she was, Edith went straight to the parson of the church where both Edith and Ethel worshipped, and demanded he denounce her neighbour from the pulpit. Rather understandably, Rev Howes declined the offer, even though Edith pointed out that the church was now in the unenviable position of taking offerings each Sunday from a woman of ill repute.

The visit of Edwin Oswald to her door seems to have been the last straw for the much-maligned Ethel, who sued her neighbour for slander. After a case which very much entertained the reporters, his Honour decided that Edith was indeed a slanderer, and she now owed her neighbour £60 in damages. Which presumably meant that Ethel could dress very nicely indeed after that victory.

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.

Dry hair: our proposal to save traditional marriage

bathing

This is what we must stop. And soon.

Something is endangering the very foundation of marriage. And we at Dodgy Perth are taking a stand. We would like, no we insist on, a plebiscite to defend the very core of traditional holy matrimony.

What can this awful thing be, you ask? Is it mixed-race marriages? Is it a Roman Catholic marrying an Anglican? Or is it The Gays demanding the right to be as miserable as their heterosexual counterparts? Nope. None of those. It is much, much worse. We refer, of course, to the horror of mixed bathing.

As Western Australia left behind the values of the 19th century, the question of whether men and women should be allowed to enter the same stretch of water at the same time became the most pressing issue of the hour.

Take Kalgoorlie, for example. In 1912 the council had to decide whether to allow ‘family bathing’ in the local pool. The experiment had been tried at Claremont, they were told, but it required the local police and three private security guards to be on patrol at all times, otherwise who knows what might happen? Kalgoorlie wisely decided to delay any decisions on the matter

And they were right to do so. As the newspapers explained the following year, bathing suits have a bad effect on the male libido and marriage rates plummet as a consequence.

In times gone by, men were entranced by the sight of girls daintily and modestly attired, and affection sprang from a kind of worship of something which charmed. Are bare necks, bare arms and bare legs, with ugly skull caps, a bewitching spectacle? What effect has the ungraceful ‘flopping’ of the feminine figure on the male emotions? The desire to harpoon it rather than embrace it is probably one result.

The debate raged on for years, but by 1920 science had definitively settled the question. Marriage rates were dropping because the mere sight of the bathing female kills all possibility of reproduction: “The spectacle of a girl in a dripping bathing costume, with wet hair hanging over her eyes, and looking like a bedraggled Skye terrier, has been responsible for many a man taking an oath of celibacy”.

So there you have it. This is the line which must be drawn. Marriage must be protected from change. And mixed bathing is change. Demand the plebiscite now.

 

Getting it on at Maccas

maccas

Buy Em By The Bag. We dare you.

As you probably know, the good citizens of Guildford are rejoicing over having fought off plans for a 24-hour Maccas to be built at the back of the Guildford Hotel. Even the local MLA, Michelle Roberts, is against any new fast food outlets in the town.

One of the reasons given for opposing the chain was that it was too close to a primary school. In other words, “Won’t somebody think of the children?” But this is far from a novel complaint about hamburger bars.

Although the media had regularly written accounts of how exciting Americans found them, the first burger bars seem to have arrived in WA only during World War II. And, just like the proposed Maccas, these were all-night joints. Which some sections of society found problematic.

In 1943, the head of the Salvation Army demanded that Perth should ensure all burger bars were closed at midnight, or society would be destroyed. How? you might ask. Well, they are “places of temptation”. And not just a temptation to supersize your order, oh no, temptation between the sexes.

You see, burger bars had become pick-up joints. (For young people: a pick-up joint is like Tinder, but without the need to register your email address.) “Perth has held such a fine place in moral standards that it ought to be the vital concern of every citizen to keep it in that position,” thundered the Salvation Army’s commissioner.

And he was not alone. The Women’s Service Guild wanted early closing on hamburgers, as did the Children’s Court magistrate and the Child Welfare Secretary.

Won’t somebody think of the children?

We suspect that the problem with burger bars was they were simply too American for the taste of Perth’s leading citizens. What was more likely to corrupt young minds than being exposed to Yankee food?

Anyway, Guildford has managed to protect young people (at least for the moment) from both the pleasures of a thick shake and the pleasures of the flesh. So we salute them.