Burnham Beeches is a well known 22.5 hectare property located in Sherbrooke, adjacent to Sherbrooke Forest. It falls under the jurisdiction of the Yarra Ranges Council. A magnificent Art Deco mansion, it was built between 1931-33 for the Nicholas family. It was designed by Harry Norris.
The Art Deco mansion at Burnham Beeches was built between 1931-33 for the Nicholas family. The design by Harry Norris sits uniquely at the midpoint between the decorative zigzag Moderne of the 1920s. The vast three storey house, built in reinforced concrete, is a rare, elaborate example of its type in Australia and comparable with works in Britain and the United States. Built for a wealthy industrialist Alfred Nicholas, Burnham Beeches is a period exemplar of the up-to-the-minute high style living and entertaining of the 1930s in Australia. The site is surrounded by significant gardens containing a mix of indigenous and exotic plantings, intact rockeries and extensive terraces as envisaged by the owner Alfred Nicholas, his designer Hugh Linaker, and gardener Percy Trevaskis. A large extent of the garden is now known as the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens and is managed by Parks Victoria. The site also contains a number of outbuildings, reflecting the self-sufficiency of the Nicholas family when in residence.
The property is classified by the National Trust and is Heritage listed. As noted, the well known Hugh Linaker was the garden’s designer. Linaker was a renowned Landscape Designer laying out the grounds at Sunbury and Kew Asylums, the Domain Parklands and other notable projects. Architect Harry Norris was a prominent Melbourne Architect responsible for many iconic buildings. These included the Kellow Faulkner Showrooms on St Kilda Rd, Melford Motors on Elizabeth St, the David Jones store (formerly Coles) on Bourke St and other well known Melbourne edifaces.
The property was featured in Australian Home Beautiful in March of 1934 and 1935.
Alfred Nicholas had only lived for a few years at the property when he died in 1937 and the family offered up the home for use as a 50 bed children’s hospital between the years of 1941 and 1944, seeing some alterations undertaken to the building. The house was vacant between 1944 and 1948 before Alfred Nicholas’s widow returned to residence in 1949 following renovations and refurbishment. In 1955 the house was leased to the Nicholas Institute (part of Alfred Nicholas’s business run by his son, Maurice) who operated their medical and veterinary research at the site until 1981. Alterations were made to the house to accommodate the required laboratories. By 1965 the large extent of the landscaped gardens proved difficult to maintain, and the lake with 32 acres of garden was donated to the Shire of Sherbrooke (now the Yarra Ranges Shire Council). Renamed the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens and opened to the public, the condition of the garden deteriorated during this time, including the controversial removal of almost 100 mature Mountain Ash trees from the entry to the gardens. Three acres of the garden were leased during 1971-73 to the Robson and Koslowski families who ran a miniature village known as ‘Kindyville’ on the lawn beside the front driveway. In August 1973 this part of the property was transferred to the Forests Commission of Victoria (now Parks Victoria) who maintain the garden to the high standards evident there today.
In November 1981 the property was put up for auction. Restaurateur John Guy bought the property, subsequently holding a clearance auction of furniture and equipment in 1982. His $3 million development of the site into a luxury hotel has been the blueprint for a number of proposals for the site since then. Works undertaken at the property at this time are the most substantial alterations to the Norris building to date, largely through construction of a luxury wing of guest rooms, known as the Forest and Garden Wing (or Annexes). The extension saw the demolition of the original pool and the tennis court. Constructed in a “sympathetic” Art Deco style imitating the mansion, to the untrained eye this wing may appear to be part of the original extent of the property.
While this imitation of the Art Deco style may not be seen as best practice in heritage extensions today, there appeared to be little objection to these works being undertaken at the time and the subsequent offerings of the hotel were praised in the contemporary press. Between 1983 and 1990 it is understood that the property changed hands two more times, once to Aman Resorts operated by Adrian Zencha (a Hong Kong company) and subsequently to Raymond Hall and Michael Wilson in 1989, whose management of the property continued to be praised by the local press. The National Trust classified the property in 1987. In October 1990, the Historic Buildings Council (now Heritage Victoria) examined the property, resolving to hold a hearing into the architectural and historic significance of the place in December 1990, placing an Interim Preservation Order on the property in November of that year. The property was formerly added to the Victoria Heritage Register on 27 March 1991.
Over the next twenty years, the building was subject to plans varying from a retirement village to a resort hotel.
Fortunately none of these projects came to fruition with the property being purchased by its current owners Adam Garrison (a developer with considerable Heritage experience – the GPO in the city and ‘Redcourt’ mansion in Armadale) and well known restaurateur Shannon Bennett. Their company is known as Burnham Beeches Pty ltd.
A long drawn out process has since focussed on the Masterplan proposed by the owners for the future of Burnham Beeches, one that claimed with multiple ‘owners’ of the sub-divided site there would be a capacity to maintaining an overall heritage perspective for the various subdivisions of the original titled property.
Eventually the National Trust in its Statement of Significance commented as follows…
The National Trust statement of significance for Burnham Beeches highlights integrity of the place: “a property renowned for its completeness and attention to detail: Burnham Beeches comprised extensive residential accommodation, large garden, sufficient rural land to enable self-sufficiency and a complete range of complementary outbuildings.” The proposed adaptive re-use of these heritage outbuildings features a provedore retail space, and the focus on produce throughout the proposed uses for the outbuildings provides an interesting link to the self-sufficiency model Alfred Nicholas had in mind when he established the estate in the 1930s. The current owners have experience working with heritage properties with sensitive outcomes, and on balance, their proposal, as currently exhibited, presents an opportunity to celebrate the cultural heritage of the property in a form that will allow ongoing public access into the future. Based on the advertised plans for the joint C142 Amendment and planning permit we are generally comfortable with the heritage outcomes proposed for the place with any issues expected to be resolved in the detailed design process required as part of any Heritage Victoria permit.
Not surprisingly the plans for ’80 Villa Units’ had been dropped by 2016. The planned number of patrons on site at any time dropped back from 1700 to 574.
And yesterday, as part of the planning approval permit from the Victorian State Government, the Historic Burnham Beech Trees, from which the property takes its name, have been saved. From the local newspaper, here is the report…
Shannon Bennett’s plans for Burnham Beeches approved
HISTORIC Burnham Beeches trees have been saved as part of a planning permit approval by the State Government.
The sign-off has been four years in the making after celebrity chef Shannon Bennett and developer Adam Garrison first applied to redevelop the estate.
But mystery still surrounds the exact conditions of the planning permit, which have not been publicly released.
Lilydale & Yarra Valley Leader previously reported almost 100 protesters staged a peaceful rally outside the estate to demonstrate against plans to cut down about 13 beech trees — synonymous with the estate —— to allow traffic to flow to the property.
State Planning Minister Richard Wynne approved the plans, but has made sure historic beech trees at the entrance to the property are preserved.
Plans for the site included removing a cap on patron numbers, turning the Norris building — built in the 1930s and now in state of disrepair — into a six-star hotel, and adding a microbrewery, shop and new restaurant inside the existing Piggery Cafe.
Monbulk MP James Merlino said the estate had State heritage significance and was protected. “We’re preserving these beautiful trees and the property’s heritage while bringing jobs and a great new development to the area,” Mr Merlino said.
Burnham Beeches Development Community Watch member Peta Freeman said while it appeared the community’s voice had been heard, the devil was in the detail.
“It sounds positive and if that’s the case then it’s fantastic,” Ms Freeman said.
“But until it’s released publicly, it’s difficult to know.”
In a statement by Mr Bennett and Mr Garrison, the pair said they were excited to be able to bring the historic estate back to life with an environmentally sensitive development.
“Now we look forward to delivering exciting new opportunities in tourism and hospitality to the Dandenong Ranges,” they said.
Burnham Beeches perfectly illustrates the difficulties in both maintaining heritage values yet ensuring financial viability. With a battle that ensued over 30 years, it now appears that a viable pathway forward has been resolved.
The property is unique, the location spectacular in its peace and solitude. Sometimes to protect and nurture the things of beauty and sensitivity, the whole project needs one thing. And the old adage is? Time is money.
Thus we arrive at it – the age old dilemma. How to protect those things that denote our character, our history, our very being? It’s the very essence of what we must put a value on and not deviate.
in any case, finally the vision of Alfred Nicholas will come to fruition. Exciting times. Let’s await the completion of what promises to be a most interesting destination in the old Dandenong Ranges.