Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What of the Hub ?

I'm not sure how it escaped the Mayor's attention, but last October, Marrickville Council thankfully rejected a development application to convert the Hub in Newtown to a 3 story combined retail and commercial premises. The full details, including plans, are on pages 303-323 of the Council Minutes (34MB - beware - and see comments below for download instructions). The text regarding the decision reads:

File Ref: DA200800185
Application to carry out alterations and additions to convert the Hub
theatre into retail space on the ground floor and two levels of open plan
commercial office space above. Four (4) submissions were received in
response to Council's notification of the proposal. A submission was
also received from RailCorp advising of certain matters, such as noise
and vibration and stray currents from railway operations, that should be
addressed in the assessment of the application. The proposed
development varies from the maximum floor space ratio prescribed
under Marrickville Local Environmental Plan 2001, and the applicant
has submitted an objection under State Environmental Planning Policy
No. 1 in support of the proposed variation. The proposed development
fails to provide car parking in accordance with Marrickville
Development Control Plan No. 19 – Parking Strategy. Council’s
Heritage and Urban Design Advisor does not support the proposed
development as the subject proposal equates to substantial demolition of
the existing building and will result in the loss of a significant social
icon, which is located in the centre of a key heritage precinct. The
application is recommended for refusal. The application is referred to
the Committee for determination due to the prominent location of the
site, the local significance of the theatre building and the excess gross
floor area proposed.

The Hub is now available for short term lease - presumably while a follow up DA is being prepared. Thanks to the anonymous tipster who pointed this out on the Newtown Eyesores post.

The Hub is a Newtown icon and deserves a better future than being chopped up and diced out like a piece of meat. Hopefully the owners can come up with better plans than that.

What should become of the Hub ? Is there room in Newtown for another live music venue, so close to the Enmore and Factory ? Do we bring back the skin flicks ? Is an ice-skating rink the answer ? A permanent artisan's market ? Are there any proposed short term uses ?

Your thoughts please !

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mayor's Top 5: Newtown Eyesores

Semi-abandoned property adjoining Newtown Station

Newtown is probably more famous for its cultural attractions than its physical landscape, yet part of its charm is consistency of the mainly Victorian period architecture, including both the ubiquitous terrace houses as well as the shopping precinct of King St, which has been described as "perhaps Sydney's largest and best example of 19th Century commercial architecture" and is listed on the Register of the National Estate.

However Newtown is not quite as harmonious architecturally as it could be, and at a certain point in time certain of my predecessors in council have taken their eye of the ball (possibly assisted by wads of something subtly placed in their pockets) and allowed the construction of what can only be described as architectural shockers to be built in the area.

In this first in a planned series of Top Fives, the Mayor of Newtown presents ... Newtown's Top Five Eyesores !

#5 Newtown Police Station

Somewhere in the world there is someone who will defend this as a wonderful example of Brutalism. That someone is not me; this ugly 70s monstrosity issues a giant up yours to its surrounding Heritage Listed examples of 19th Century civic architecture. Prince Charles is famous as a critic of Brutalism, having famously said of a London example: "You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe - when it knocked down our buildings, it didn't replace them with anything more offensive than rubble." While the mayor is a little more open to the charms of Brutalism in the right context, the Newtown Civic area is not it.

#4 Brown Street Apartments

This multi-dwelling apartment block is the only residential building to make the mayor's list of shame, despite some fairly serious competition from some of the recent additions to North King Street (you know who I'm talking about, Georgina apartments).

Like the Police Station above the main crime of this building is the sheer inappropriateness of the building's location. Dense mutli-living dwellings like this have their place - and this building would not look out of place in Mona Vale, for example. Yet I struggle to think who could approve the construction of a building like this next door to historic Newtown Library.

#3 Newtown Professional Centre

I don't think this one needs any words.

#2 The Dendy

Those whose only experience of Newtown is King Street could be forgiven for being surprised at this choice; at the street front the Dendy in someways epitomises what many people like about Newtown; a cool cafe, an indie cinema, record shop and book shop all in the same open complex.

Come around the back though, and things aren't so rosy. In fact the Dendy deserves two entries in this list - not only does it present a particularly squat arse to Camperdown Memorial Park (home to the Newtown Festival):

but recent renovations managed to add an even more offensive and out of place side profile to Mary Street, the split into two equally repellent lumps totally mocking the neighbouring Emily Terraces.

This development was the subject of a dispute between Marrickville council and the developers - apparently the council had imposed conditions on the developers that somehow they felt they could ignore. Does anyone have the latest on this ? The SMH article is no longer on-line.

This eyesore has been a reason for the mayor to boycott the Dendy cinema since the redevelopment.

#1 Telstra Exchange

The winner by a nose however is Newtown's Telstra exchange, located on an L-shaped property stretching from Mary Street (opposite the ugliness of the Dendy) to King Street (the carpark forms the wall of the 'I Have a Dream' mini-plaza).

This building would be ugly and out of place in almost any suburb in Australia (if not the world), but once again, particular offence is created here due to the location of the exchange, looming threateningly over the delightful 1885 Church Avenue terraces (above) and other adjoining terraces (below).

It's a relic of the time when Telstra was Telecom Australia, a federal agency that had no legal obligation to comply with local council regulations. The exchange on Oxford Street Paddington is another classic example. These days even councils have to comply with their own rules for their own developments which is a much improved situation.

There's an interesting picture from January 1980 of King Street during the construction of the exchange here; thanks to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts for permission to reproduce the web-sized version of their photo on this blog. I can recommend snooping around their site and learning more about the Heritage rules and how they apply, as well as for some cool old photos.

Copyright DEWHA. Photographer Charlton K

Here's what it looks like today, you can just see the exchange car park walls behind the trees.

Have I forgotten anything ? Are there any other eyesores that deserve to make this list ? Have I been too harsh on some of the buildings above. Comments please !

Friday, April 24, 2009

ANZAC Day in Newtown

Where do Newtowners go to celebrate ANZAC Day ? In the eyes of the Mayor, the best two-up is to be found at the Coopers and the Courthouse - not surprisingly two of the more authentic old-school bars in the area. Further afield, the Duck and Swan in neighbouring Chippendale (definitely within the Newtown sphere of influence) has a great outdoors two-up on the street, at least until the cops roll around at sundown to close it up.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Townie and the Carlisle Castle also were good places to be - has anyone spent ANZAC Day there in the past ?

So what's the verdict ? Anyone got comments on the above pubs or experiences anywhere else ?

PS Don't forget the Newtown Jets will be playing at home (Henson Park) on ANZAC Day at 3pm, against the Shellharbour Dragons (who walloped us 42-10 earlier this season) - a great post two-up option, complete with KB long necks and a real grassy hill.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pub Talk I - The Bank Hotel

The new NSW anti-smoking laws, as delayed and watered down as they are, have been the trigger for a wave of renovations of the bars up down and just off King Street recently. That and the fact that some of them were getting pretty tatty (not that that's necessarily a bad thing).

Over the next couple of weeks, the Mayor will cast his eye of the evolution of Newtown's drinking establishments over the last 3-4 years.

1. The Bank Hotel

The Bank has copped the most severe make over, and by all accounts the most expensive. The bar was closed for more than a year, the owners recently saying that Railcorp approvals were a a significant factor in the delays. Fundamentally there's been a rebuild from top to bottom. Thankfully Sumalee Thai is back; but the chaotic tropical jungle of yore has been replaced by a boxed in neat courtyard, which seems much smaller and more organised, losing that 'lost in the wilds' feel it had. The food however is as good as it ever was - those who complain about the price of the dishes tend to overlook the size of them - it's a great place for sharers.

The extensive new outdoors areas illustrate perfectly the good and bad of the new smoking legislation. On the plus side, Newtown now has two/three great new outdoors locations for afternoon drinking, even in winter thanks to the heaters. On the other hand, these areas are so choccas with smokers it's almost impossible to breathe there. Unfortunately the most appealing outdoors places in pubs are now practically 'smokers only' zones.

The indoor mid-level (front bar, and Sleepers cocktail bar - now pretty much a walkway to the deck) has been done up in a pretty sterile Surry Hills kind of way; the upstairs lounges are more original but certainly a change from the usual Newtown feel. At least Wednesday nights are still Wednesday nights at the newly christened Velvet Room - boys be warned.

The Bank was always the 'classiest' bar in Newtown (no great achievement that) - with this renovation it's now more Surry Hills than some Surry Hills bars. The good news is that it's no longer necessary to take a taxi out of Newtown to get a dose of eye candy. The bad news, though (not unrelated) is that the wanker factor is definitely on the up. Overall a mayoral thumbs up for the new upstairs areas, and thumbs down for the downstairs.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Welcome to Newstown

Newstown has been established by the Mayor of Newtown as a source of news and forum for discussion about the Sydney suburb of Newtown. As Mayor, I'll be keeping my ear out on stories of interest to locals of Newtown and surrounding suburbs, tracking the opening and closing of noteworthy businesses, watching Development Applications and occasionally reviewing favourite restaurants and pubs.

Newtown hasn't had a dedicated news source since the Newtown Chronicles folded in 1920. Today, rather as the suburb itself is split down King Street between the City of Sydney and Marrickville Councils, local news is covered sporadically by both The Glebe and the Inner West Courier, neither of them doing a particularly good job. In cyber-space, sites range from the Arts focussed Newtown Precinct to the quirky observational Nosey In Newtown. Newstown aims to be complementary (and complimentary) to these sites and more, and will hopefully fill gap for those curious and/or passionate about Newtown.

It's a big ask, and one I won't be able to achieve on my own. Once this blog gets up and running, I'll be looking forward to your help in contributing stories, gossip, and above all feedback !

In the meantime, please leave a comment if you've stumbled by, or even better some suggestions as to what you'd like to see covered here.

Newtown Station

Historic Newtown Station

The Mayor was recently invited to a discussion at the Newtown RSL (I can't bring myself to call it Petersham RSL or worse, @Newtown), called by the Newtown Business Precinct to discuss the state of Newtown Station and surrounds. Railcorp, the RTA and the NSW Government were all invited, but only Deputy Premier and local member Carmel Tebutt showed up, representing, according to the organisers, the absent organisations. The Deputy Premier herself was quite clear (perhaps wisely) that she was not representing the government agencies, promising only to pass on any messages received. Also present were the mayor of half of Newtown (and Marrickville), Sam Iskandar, and Councillor John McInerney, representing Clover Moore, mayor of the other half of Newtown (and the City of Sydney).

Railcorp Property adjacent to Newtown Station
The meeting started with an effective presentation from the organisers, using photos similar to the above, highlighting what a shambles Newtown station was; and wanting to know what had happened to the NSW government promise of making Newtown Station the first all-access station in the state seat of Marrickvile (which covers most of Newtown). 
A more general discussion was held on the run down state of surrounding properties, bus-stop over-crowding and the dangerous nature of high-speed King Street (outside of peak hours at any rate). Owners of local pub The Bank described the extensive delays caused to their renovations by the difficulties of negotiation with Railcorp, compulsory when renovating properties adjacent to Railcorp property.

Dead kebabery under the mayor's office on Railcorp property
The late arriving Deputy Premier had done her homework and was able to provide the latest information. In a nutshell: 
  • Existing Railcorp plans for Newtown Station access (which ALP election promises were based on) basically consisted of dropping a lift down from the station entrance to the platform. * Further studies had concluded that this approach was not feasible due to the narrowness of the platform
  • A new plan was being prepared based on extending the entrance concourse further over the rail lines. This new solution would be significantly more expensive than that planned.
  • It was highly unlikely that Railcorp would spend any money cleaning up the area or making plans for the station and adjoining property while this process was ongoing - this in response to an audience suggestion to use them as artists galleries or cafes while plans were ongoing.
  • Next planning phase was due to complete mid-year (3-6 months) after which she would report back to the community on the scope of the latest plans.

Newtown Station and abandoned tram sheds
Questions were also asked about the future of the tram sheds and associated land. Apparently the sheds had been sold off by the previous government to a developer but the deal had gone bad and ended up in the courts. Any further decision on their future was pending the outcome of legal proceedings due 'soon'. I have my own idea on what could be done with this property which I will be sharing soon.

Tram sheds from Angel Street
Your mayor will be attending the follow meeting and will inform everyone of the outcome. In the meantime, if you've got any ideas on what should be done with the station and surrounding properties, including the tram sheds, please share them here.

Who is the Mayor of Newtown ?

Not many people know that Newtown still has a Mayor. History records that Newtown Council, and therefore the role of Mayor, was abolished in 1948, as one of a never-ending series of power struggles between Sydney councils and the state government. The first Mayor of Newtown was elected in 1862, and in 1912 Newtown Municipal council issued a book to celebrate the Golden Jubilee, from where you can see a list of my early predecessors:

History, however, is written by the victors, and what it neglects to mention is that, like the House of Savoy, unceremoniously usurped from ruling Italy only 2 years earlier in 1946, the flame has been kept alive, and there are many supporters of the Mayor of Newtown waiting patiently for the time for the day when the illustrious office reappears and the Mayor can take his rightful place on the Mayoral throne in the Town Hall.

In the interim, I have set up office in the Town Hall Hotel, at the corner window on the first floor (above), from where, in addition to watching over the comings and goings on Kings St, I can gaze across the road to the eponymous Town Hall, temporarily occupied by usurpers from the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre.

It's a shame to see the Town Hall covered up like this - literally if you see the photo below, where the occupiers have attempted to negate the very existence of the Town Hall, an attempt which only came unstuck due to a timely Sydney southerly.

Newtown Town Hall today

When returned to my office, I plan to restore the Town Hall to its turn of the century splendour. Looking at the picture below only makes me more determined to right the historical wrongs that have left Newtown split between two uncaring councils and its Town Hall a banner-covered shadow of its former glory.

Newtown Town Hall in 1912

In order to introduce myself to the wider public, and establish popular support for my comeback, I have established this blog to communicate goings on in Newtown and nearby suburbs. I'm hoping that this will be a chance for those who like me love Newtown to follow the goings on and indeed communicate stories of their own.

Stayed tuned to these pages for more Newtown news - and if there's anything you'd like to see more information on, drop me a note at mayor of newtown (oneword) at gmail dot com.

P.S. Black and white images taken from the Jubilee booklets, which have been scanned and stored on the excellent Sydney council Newtown archives - check them out.