The difference in heritage values Cultural Vs Architectural sees the end of Melbourne’s Iconic Metro.

Originally a theatre, now known as the Metro Nightclub, the building was constructed in 1911 replacing the original ‘Queen’s Hall’ attached to the Hotel Douglas.

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To refresh your memories or to provide the basis for discussion, here is a reprint of our blog dated Sept 27th 2017.

The Palace Theatre Melbourne – perhaps you remember it as the Metro Nightclub. Demolition of this well known Melbourne icon was approved in 2016 at VCAT. The interior was illegally demolished without permits in 2014. It is now owned by the Jinshan Investment Group. The group planned to build a 30 storey W Hotel on the site but are now restricted to a 7 storey site after the intervention of the City of Melbourne. Located at 20-30 Bourke St, the venue has a long history in the Entertainment Industry. As it stands, it is slated for demolition at any time.

The Palace Theatre is somewhat of an enigma. Its scenario is not that dissimilar to the Corkman Hotel of Carlton illegally destroyed by developers recently. The building is in fact a large, high roofed theatre. What was significant about it were its internal fittings. In 2014 a contracted demolition company removed the ornate plaster features, facades and balcony decorations, rendering the interior somewhat featureless and undermining any claims of heritage value. One could consider it a ‘tactic’ to enable a party to proceed with a demolition that might otherwise be opposed.

It this case, the venue represents a very valid principle in both planning and preservation. In the view of many – including the City of Melbourne’s representatives, it should be incumbent on the properties owners – Jinshan Investment Group – to restore the interior to its previous state.

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Originally the site was occupied from the late 1850s by the Excelsior Hotel. Hotels at the time were close relations to the Theatre and Theatre companies of the time. The Excelsior had a ‘hall’ attached known as ‘Queen’s Hall’. Vaudeville, boxing and wrestling events were staged there regularly. Name changes occurred in 1875 (Stutt’s Hotel) and 1900 (Hotel Douglas). The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1911 and the land was sold for 32,000 pounds.

In 1911, a new theatre was commissioned by the new owners, to occupy the site. Queensland Architects Eaton and Bates in association with Melbourne Architect Naham Barnet were tasked with designing the new theatre. It featured seating on 3 levels with a large proscenium and very grand ‘curtains of gold’. The theatre incorporated a hotel, the Pastorial, with bedrooms on the first floor.

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The theatre was modified in 1916 with a complete refitting of the lobby and auditorium under the instruction of Architect Henry E White. This involved the addition of ornate plaster mouldings decorating the theatre in a style recognised as ‘Louis Seize’.

Further additions to the decorative style occurred in 1923 when the theatre auditorium was extensively remodelled , retaining the Louis Seize style yet overlaying it with a further Adamesque decoration. Upon completion it reopened as the ‘New Palace’.

In 1934 a further new renovation occurred and the theatre became known as the Apollo. It was renamed again in 1940 – The St James Theatre. 1951 saw it renamed ‘The St James Theatre and Metro’. Now an MGM theatre it became a cinema and showed films exclusively from that studio.

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The street frontage and facade was remodelled in an Art Deco style – designed by a H Vivian Taylor, and to this day the design remains. The Proscenium and side boxes were removed to allow for the installation of a ‘CinemaScope’ screen.

In 1971 it reverted to live theatre with the production ‘Hair’ running for 39 weeks. By 1974 it had reverted to its original name and was a working Cinema – again. 1980-1987 saw it as a Christian Revival Centre run by the Pentecostal Church.

A major refurbishment was undertaken in 1987 by Melbourne Architects ‘Biltmoderne’. From then on it was known as the Metro Nightclub. The Nightclub was sold in 2007. The new owners were the former owners of the Palace live music venue in St Kilda.

They renamed the venue ‘The Palace’. Holding 1850 people, the venue hosted many well known touring groups and musicians over the next 7 years. It was sold to the Chinese Development Group Jinshan in late 2012.

In 2016 opponents to the demolition of the venue finally lost the fight and VCAT ruled that the Demolition should proceed and the redevelopment works go ahead.

Excerpts from Wikipedia

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This is a rather interesting case study. From an architectural viewpoint, much of the original charm of the foyer and auditorium were removed over the years but the very ornate plasterwork remained up until 2014. Additions made in 1987 including stainless steel staircases and galleries could easily have been reverted.

Its claim for heritage value was not on architectural grounds but on cultural grounds. The Bourke St Precinct has strict heritage overlays yet the Developer was prepared to challenge these, even in view of the Windsor result and the location of the Victorian Parliament, with a 30 storey tower – until challenged by Council as to its height.

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According to Professor Graeme Davidson, the Heritage listing (not ratified) for cultural importance was and is well justified.

“This is likely the last surviving expressly built Vaudeville Theatre (Variety Show) in Melbourne.”

The destruction is breathtaking when considering the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots. In our view this is a glaring example of manipulation of regulations by third parties to gain an outcome that provides little recognition of heritage values. Under the Bourke Hill precinct overlay, the theatre’s internal fitout was protected as was the building’s facade. When the theatre was gutted and the interior demolished – no authority intervened.

Heritage is often more than just the value of the individual aspects of a building. It is the sum total of the history, the usage, the architecture and the decorations of a building. And as with the Corkman in Carlton and the Greyhound Hotel in St Kilda, this time VCAT, you got it wrong.

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What’s your opinion? Should the developers be forced to restore unauthorised demolitions? As it stands we have precious little left to preserve.

Its time Council started to respond and intervene when required. Our city has great character and we must do whatever it takes to retain what is quintessentially Melbourne.

Source: Balance Architecture

So in this instance the application for Heritage Listing was based entirely on the Cultural Heritage of the venue, but as can be seen, the history of the venue is much older and far more impressive that just the cultural heritage. It would appear that under Heritage Victoria’s direction Art Deco is not valued, unless it is specifically mentioned in the Heritage application. Surely the umpire should have stepped in here!

Take a look at the architectural mouldings, the plasterwork, the murals – simply irreplaceable!

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Melbourne’s old vaudeville theatres have all but disappeared. The Tivoli, the Theatre Royal, Sol De Val, the Gaiety and St George’s Hall to name but a few. Bourke St East was the heart of theatre and vaudeville in old Melbourne town. Sadly it’s now lost.

From The Age…

‘Morally outrageous’: After 108 years, demolition of The Metro begins

Demolition of one of Melbourne’s best-loved music venues, The Palace Theatre on Bourke Street, began this week, ending a seven-year public battle to save the venue.

The 108-year old theatre, venue of The Metro nightclub for over 20 years from 1987 as well as a live music hall, played host to artists including James Brown, The Prodigy, Slash, Jane’s Addiction, Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age until its doors shut in 2014.

 

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Demolition of the Palace Theatre in Melbourne commenced this week.

 

With the site to be converted into a Marriott hotel after years of conjecture, councillors and music industry figures have lamented the demolition as an indictment on Victoria’s heritage laws, which they say fail to properly recognise the cultural value of the state’s venues.The Palace was sold in 2012 to Chinese developer Jinshan Investment Group for $11.2 million.

Melbourne City Council approved plans to build a hotel in 2013, which objectors unsuccessfully opposed in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in 2016, however the site was dormant until the roof was removed in the past fortnight.

Known for its marble staircase and sweeping viewing balconies, photos emerged this week of excavator trucks in the venue, the stage area in rubble and a hole in the roof where a chandelier once hung.

 

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The Metro Nightclub at midnight in January 1992

 

Melbourne City councillor Rohan Leppert, who leads the council’s heritage division, said the 3000-capacity Palace was not previously granted heritage status because renovations had created a “mish-mash of architectural eras”.

“Even though the demolition that’s happening inside the theatre is perfectly legal, it’s still morally outrageous,” Cr Leppert said.

“Our heritage regime still rewards architectural purity above everything else, but the thing that makes The Palace special is the social history of the place, which is so extraordinary. I hope we are never in a situation like this again.”

 

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The Metro nightclub in its heyday

 

Music Victoria chief executive Patrick Donovan said The Palace closure left a “massive gap” in Melbourne for a medium-sized venue with a late-night licence.

“It was an absolutely pivotal venue in the Melbourne music scene,” he said.

“It was a popular weekly alternative music nightclub called Goo for university students, then they had live music shows up to five days a week. I really do believe our heritage laws need a good look at.”

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Heavy heart: You Am I’s Tim Rogers performs at The Metro in 1996

 

The Palace was also used as a cinema, Pentecostal church venue and theatre in its 108-year history. It’s understood the developers will be required to retain its historic facade.

 

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The Palace Theatre is being demolished

 

Mr Donovan said cities such as Vancouver and Toronto in Canada recognised cultural value more than Victoria and said The Palace should be used as a cautionary tale to protect venues such as St Kilda’s The Esplanade and Festival Hall, which survived an initial push for demolition in 2018.

“We don’t need any more apartments in this city, but we do need venues like the Espy and the Palace.”

Rebecca Leslie, spokeswoman for the Save the Palace campaign that has fought the development since 2013, said the demolition’s timing had taken the group by surprise.

“The experience of attending a live band there was incredible. No matter where you stood, you got the most incredible view, with this beautiful 100-year-old building, with all the pictures and fittings around it still intact.”

Source: theage.com.au

It is accepted that many of these buildings (the theatres) would not have lasted until today in terms of Construction, however The Metro had done so until 2012 and put simply the venue was unique.

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As we said before, now we have a 7 storey hotel with 143 rooms, a gym, a swimming pool and a restaurant.

C’est la vie.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

The Repurposing of Heritage Buildings – Skill or Stealth?

In Tasmania, arguably some of Australia’s oldest historic and heritage protected buildings have long enjoyed quite rightful protection from ‘Developers’ and repurposing.

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This would appear to be not the case anymore. The Tasmanian Government is currently undertaking an ‘Expressions of Interest’ on the historic Treasury Buildings complex. The complex was earmarked ‘for sale’ in the 2018 State Budget.

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The Treasury Buildings were constructed over a period of 130 years, with the original buildings being erected in 1824. Every component building of the complex has since been clad in local Sandstone.

For a better understanding of what the Treasury Buildings complex consists of, please consider this decision by Heritage Tasmania. Currently the buildings are publicly owned.

Treasury Complex’s Heritage Values Recognised

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The Tasmanian Heritage Council has initiated a process to better define the historic cultural heritage values of Hobart’s iconic Treasury complex.

‘The Heritage Council is pleased to announce the provisional replacement entry of the Treasury Complex and Public Buildings in the Tasmanian Heritage Register and seek input on this entry after an extensive assessment process’ said Ms Brett Torossi, Chair of the Tasmanian Heritage Council.

‘In making the decision to provisionally enter the Treasury Complex in the Heritage Register, the Heritage Council was conscious of recognising the critical role it has played in shaping the Tasmania over the 19th and 20th Centuries. It was also keen to respond to the Tasmanian Government’s announcement of its plans to release the complex for an alternate use and give interested members of the Tasmanian community the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed entry’.

The Treasury Complex and Public Buildings occupies a prominent block within the city centre of Hobart. It includes a group of eight adjoining and interconnected buildings, principally constructed across the approximately 130 years from 1824 to 1957, as well as the former HEC Substation on the corner of Murray and Davey Streets. The complementary styles and scales of the complex’s buildings, most of which are clad in locally quarried sandstone, give them a strong degree of unity.

Across the 19th and 20th centuries, the complex conveyed an impression of state power and authority. During the early colonial period housed the centralised administration of core government functions within the convict society of Van Diemen’s Land. The Treasury Complex and Public Buildings has been at the centre of Tasmania’s judicial, political and administrative life from the 1820s until the present day, and is of exceptional historic cultural heritage significance.

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At the time the Tasmanian Government announced The Treasury Divestment Project in 2018, the Treasury Complex was recognised as being of historic cultural heritage significance to Tasmania by two entries in the Tasmanian Heritage Register. These entries were for the Public Buildings adjacent to Franklin Square (THR #2468) and the Franklin Square Office Complex (THR# 2516).

In order to better define the heritage values of the Treasury Complex and ensure they are recognised and effectively managed into the future, the Heritage Council decided to create a single, comprehensive, consolidated replacement entry for the Treasury Complex, inclusive of its buildings, sub-surface values and curtilage. As a result of this effort, a new entry for the Treasury Complex and Public Buildings (THR#11734) was provisionally entered in the Heritage Register on 10 December 2019, under provisions contained in Part 4 of the Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995.

This provisional replacement entry is now open for public consultation. Members of the public have 60-days in which to lodge submissions or objections to the entry of this place on the Heritage Register. This is part of the statutory process required under Part 4 of the Heritage Act.

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This process is a two-stage process that entails: the provisional entry of a place in the Heritage Register, written advice to the property owner/s and the local planning authority, a 60-day public consultation period at least 21 days later; and a final decision on the permanent entry of the place by the Heritage Council, with an appeal process available to anyone that lodges a submission.

This public consultation process commences on 8 January 2020 and closes on 8 March 2020. A decision on the permanent entry is expected to be made before the end of April 2020. The Heritage Council’s decision will take into consideration any submissions or objections received.

‘I encourage anyone with an interest in the Treasury Complex and Public Buildings to review the new provisional replacement entry on our website and provide us with their feedback.’ For a copy of the provisional replacement entry click here.

Source: heritage.tas.gov.au

It can be deduced that sections of the Tasmanian Government simply view the historical buildings as an excellent piece of CBD real estate that a profit can be turned on. Equally there are many people Australia-wide who believe these buildings should remain a public asset and be carefully protected.

Heritage Tasmania is calling for submissions and/or objections to its new provisional Heritage Entry on the buildings in question.

Here is the link to that provisional entry for your due consideration and comment.

This type of approach as being adopted by the Tasmanian Government will become far more commonplace as elected representatives look to sell off Government Assets to provide significant financial windfalls.

From the Advocate Newspaper…

Investors sought for historic Tasmanian Treasury building

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Investors are being sought to outline their vision for Hobart’s historic Treasury building.

Finance Minister Michael Ferguson said it was important prospective investors were able to undertake due diligence on the site before presenting a concept plan that aligned with the project objectives agreed with the community.

He said investors had until April 2 to outline the social economic and environmental contribution their proposals would make.

“Proponents will be expected to highlight their experience and capacity to deliver a project of this scale and heritage significance, consistent with the new Treasury Complex and Public Buildings Conservation Management Plan,” Mr Ferguson said.

“The CMP, which has been finalised in close consultation with Heritage Tasmania and the City of Hobart, and a survey, are available on the website.

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“The survey seeks feedback on whether this comprehensive CMP addresses the issues the community would want the document to cover, and future uses that may be proposed.”

Heritage Tasmania is also undertaking separate public consultations until March 8, 2020, on a single consolidated heritage entry that covers the Treasury buildings, sub-surface values and curtilage, to better define their heritage value.

The historic Treasury building was earmarked for sale by the Tasmanian Government in the 2018 budget.

Source: theadvocate.com.au

A similar article appeared in the Launceston Examiner.

The Tasmanian Treasury building complex is not just a Tasmanian treasure, it is a National Heritage treasure.

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“Re-imagining” seems like a metaphor for “redevelop” to us. It has already been determined the buildings are not suitable for a Hotel.

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Perhaps the Tasmanian Government could look to Victoria for inspiration. The old Customs House in Flinders St has been converted into the Immigration Museum, providing an excellent educational resource for thousands of visitors, schoolchildren and the many, many migrants who have made Australia home. It remains a public building.

And so should the old Hobart Treasury Buildings, an integral part of Australia’s colonial history, a genuine component of this Nation’s heritage and beginnings. Re-imagine that.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.