Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear: we love the Dominion League. One of those cosy bars with such a fashionably dark environment you can’t read the menus without the aid of your phone flashlight. We still love it, though.
It’s the building containing the bar that is, let’s say, problematic. The fault lies with four issues: the subsequent history of the area, the changing nature of retail, the client, and the architects themselves. All four will be explored below, but first one common myth to clear up. Despite what it might look like, the building was not erected in 1899.
It’s common to assume that a four-digit number on the front of a building tells you when it was put up. But not always. In this case, 1899 is the foundation date of the United Friendly Societies, and the place was designed by Wright, Powell & Cameron in 1911. If you don’t believe us check out the badly installed (probably repositioned) inscription below.
For the later history of the area, look at the building on the left of the Dominion League. This was erected in the early 1920s as a billiard saloon and linked the Ferguson Building (1907) further to the left with our place. The cornices on the linking building make no attempt to line up with those on the Dominion League and just smash into empty space. This was a builder (we doubt there was an architect involved) who clearly gave no f*cks. And let’s not talk about the monstrosity set back on the right. Just no.
The 1911 building was commissioned by the United Friendly Societies to operate as a pharmacy on the ground floor with residential flats above. As the nature of retail changed, along with different construction technologies, the bottom of a commercial building could now have large plates of glass enabling shoppers to more clearly see the goods on display. This resulted in the absence of structural pillars on the ground floor, since the frontage was no longer structural.
Which leads to the two Corinthian piers (the rectangular ones at the edges) and columns above the shopfront. Since there are no structural elements below, these simply terminate on a concrete beam. Although we cannot be certain what the original shopfront looked like, it is unlikely that any architectural elements carried the piers and columns visually down to ground level. They don’t even line up with the door on the right which gave access to the flats. In theory, the verandah is meant to introduce a visual break, and allow the columns to sit happily above a modern frontage. It doesn’t work.
And the pediment is grotesquely oversized, with far too many twiddly bits, with no relationship to the scale of the building below. All in all, it looks like the client’s ego demanded a classical building but with a modern shopfront, and the whole had to look really impressive, but not cost too much to put up. We imagine the conversation went something like this:
Client: Make us a classical building on this spot. With modern retail on the bottom.
Architects: It won’t work. How about a nice entirely modern building instead?
Client: No, we want classical and modern and cheap.
Architects: Here is a quick sketch of what such a monstrosity would look like.
Client: We love it. Make it happen.
But, and there’s always a ‘but’, for all its flaws the Dominion League has its own endearing quirkiness on the outside and needs to be retained as an example for future architects about what not to do. Oh, and keep it for the wine list inside as well. Definitely for the wine list.