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Heritage Politics in Adelaide reconsider its decision to demolish the 92-year-old facade. Shadow Planning and Environment Minister Jennifer Cashmore also called on the Premier to intervene to prevent a statutory body from demolishing the facade of a historic Adelaide building, adding ‘it begs the question: What is the point of having heritage listing of buildings if council and governments can ignore them at whim?’34 SGIC did not proceed with the project before its development approval lapsed in June 1990. It submitted a similar carpark proposal in September but ACC’s PEC responded unfavourably to the application. SGIC then proposed to refurbish the creche and construct a four-level building of law chambers and basement car parking, which the PEC considered favourably. Before proceeding with the development, SGIC decided to sell the site because of poor economic conditions. Its CEO Denis Gerschwitz denied reports that the state government had pressured SGIC not to proceed with the project and reiterated an allegation of many developers that one of the problems in South Australia is that minority groups tend to hold up good, honest development. In fact, SGIC bought the site with the encumbrance of a heritagelisted building and had an obligation to preserve it under the SA Heritage Act (1978).
The Gouger St site remained derelict until the Kambitsis Group of developers purchased it in 1994. The ACC and State Heritage Branch removed the creche from their heritage registers on the condition the bricks were numbered and stored. The developer dismantled and stored the remains of the building in 1996. Kambitsis promised to memorialise the creche through public art and an historic record when ACC approved a $30 million seven-storey office, retail and residential complex on the site in 2004. The complex has been completed, after height limits for the precinct were increased.
Conclusion The story of these major projects in Adelaide illustrates that the planning system failed to protect Adelaide’s historic precincts during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Planning legislation was loosely constructed and allowed elected members of ACC and the CAPC too much discretion. Governments were willing to waive height and density limits contained in the City of Adelaide Plan and restrictions on altering or demolishing heritage buildings for the sake of economic growth. Many in government expressed the view that planning and heritage legislation was not intended to apply to large projects: ‘It was the multiplier effect that everybody was looking at from all Advertiser, 26 August 1987, p.10.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Major Projects this new investment, the jobs, the employment, and of course the Premier said local government and council were holding back development in the City’.35 At the time the REMM-Myer project was proposed, the editor of The News expressed the view that the ‘heritage debate in Adelaide too often gets dangerously out of hand … As the Premier said, legislation and regulation should ensure that a sensible degree of architectural heritage is retained. The emphasis should be on the sensible’.36 Over two decades, heritage or historic buildings that were lost one by one added up to a sizeable number. All of the sites discussed in this chapter involved heritage-listed buildings. The sites were purchased (or granted, in the case of the ASER project) with the encumbrance of heritage buildings, and yet the developers succeeded in circumventing the heritage restrictions. Plaques or art objects that celebrate a demolished heritage building do not provide the same experience as a streetscape with a three-dimensional building.
During the building boom, with credit freely available, developers often submitted ambit claims in the hope of gaining approval for buildings above the allowable plot ratios. Often they succeeded. Once one developer gained concessions, they all expected and often got them, partly on the ground of the large capital investment involved. Yet developers Theo Maras and Patrick Farugia proved they could profit from developments within planning guidelines.
Unfortunately, not all developers were able to complete their projects. With high interest rates and a glut of office space by 1990, developers abandoned some projects they had commenced. Among these were the Australis building in Grenfell St, the Le Cornu site in North Adelaide and the Working Women’s Creche site in Gouger St. In two of those cases, unsightly vacant lots were exposed in their streetscapes for more than a decade. One such case was the Le Cornu site, which the Makris Group bought in 2001. A major donor to both political parties in South Australia, Con Makris succeeded in having a massive residential/retail/entertainment complex approved by the Rann government over objections by local residents and despite its exceeding development limits for the site. The development had not proceeded by the end of 2010.
Robert A Angove, personal interview, 16 November 2001.
News, 4 September 1987, p.12.
While major projects wrought the most dramatic changes to Adelaide’s built character during the Bannon decade, smaller residential and commercial developments occasionally attracted considerable public protests that sometimes brought about changes to heritage policy. The first major protest of the period was the lengthy campaign to save the Aurora Hotel in November – December 1983, which raised public consciousness of the built heritage and resulted in the formation of the AHA
lobby group. Other controversial small projects of the period were:
• multiple dwellings to replace the heritage-listed Kingsmead and Belmont House in North Adelaide in 1983 • office developments at the St Paul’s Church and Somerset Hotel sites, Pulteney and Flinders Sts, in 1989 • office development at the House of Chow site, Wakefield and Hutt Sts, in 1991 • redevelopment of Gawler Chambers in North Terrace as a 10-storey hotel in 1991.
Some of these buildings were saved from demolition and I consider them here because of the issues they generated and because they prompted changes in government policies. The Adelaide community showed through direct action that the loss of these Peter Spearritt, Sydney’s Century (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2000), p.257.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Small Projects buildings mattered deeply, and as a result the concept of heritage was broadened from past buildings of architectural quality and/or historical significance to buildings that were local landmarks or parts of streetscapes that were the backdrop to community life.
Aurora Hotel The Aurora Hotel was located at the eastern side of Hindmarsh Square and Pirie St, Adelaide. By 1982, ACC had purchased the entire block facing the square between Grenfell and Pirie Sts, except the Aurora Hotel, for promoting a low-rise office development with underground parking, to be known as CitiCom. ACC intended the project to compete with new office developments driven to suburbs that fringed the city along Greenhill and Fullarton Rds because of ACC’s zone X parking policy (see chapter 3). Except for the Aurora Hotel site, ACC designed the buildings in detail and then encouraged developers to tender for separate parcels of the integrated design, helping them to make money out of buildings that were under the allowable plot ratio, to show they could profit as much from such office development in the city as they could elsewhere. Thus, ACC had a strong stake in the site, and its right to approve the development is open to question.
The 1982 City of Adelaide Heritage Study had included the Aurora Hotel in its items of heritage significance recommended to the Lord Mayor’s Heritage Advisory Committee (LOMHAC), but the committee twice refused to place the building on its proposed heritage register. As noted above, LOMHAC and the SAHC tended to refuse to list heritage buildings if they were the subjects of imminent development.
The desired future character statement for Hindmarsh Square contained in the 1981–86 City of Adelaide Plan included the following: ‘the Square should incorporate restaurants, exhibition areas, and spaces for both formal and informal outdoor theatrical and musical performances, within a park setting’. Office buildings did not conform to that statement. Nevertheless, ACC approved a plan by Vensa Pty Ltd to demolish the Aurora Hotel and replace it with a six-storey office building on 27 June
1983. Although the hotel was not part of ACC’s development scheme, ‘important sections of the city council and administration believed that saving the Aurora would endanger every other part of the interlocking jigsaw of development’.2 Within the area targeted for demolition were the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) Aurora Heritage Action, Inc., Time Gentlemen, Please!! (Adelaide, 1984), p.19.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Small Projects buildings, located in an old church with even greater heritage value than the Aurora Hotel. If the hotel was listed, the ABC buildings were also likely to be listed, thus spoiling a cohesive development proposal.
An author of AHA’s publication pointed out that ‘the developer [Roger Cook] who sat on the Lord Mayor’s Heritage Advisory Committee worked for a company (Collier’s International) interested in marketing the remaining section of the zone.
There were, therefore, three representatives of the council and one developer [on LOMHAC] who were going to be very hard to convince about listing the Aurora’.3 In October, a notice of the auction of the Aurora’s furniture and equipment inflamed Andrew Cawthorne, a teacher who had lobbied against demolition of the hotel and had enlisted the support of many sympathizers in the community.
With the Adelaide Residents’ Society, he organised a lunchtime gathering in front of the Aurora, intended to be a brief public protest. On a rumour of its imminent demolition on October 27, the protesters organised a spontaneous round-the-clock vigil at the hotel, where passersby signed petitions to ACC and state parliament. Just four days after the campaign began, ACC received a petition with 1,049 signatures asking it to postpone demolition of the hotel pending a review of ACC’s decision regarding its heritage significance.
The Building Construction Workers Federation honoured the vigil as a residents’ picket, with a green ban imposed on the site in the style of their NSW ibid., p 17.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide BLF colleagues of the 1970s. The Aurora picketers naively believed that a public campaign highlighting the hotel’s historical importance might persuade councillors to rescind their commitment to include the Aurora Hotel site in the CitiCom office project. They felt ACC and the public did not fully understand its heritage value and the strength of community feeling about its retention.
The core of the hotel originated as the Black Eagle in 1859, making it one of the earliest Adelaide hotels extant. Historian Norman Etherington emphasised the historic importance of the building, arguing that LOMHAC should consider listing Adelaide’s old pubs as a complete collection on the heritage register. The Aurora campaigners also publicised the hotel’s long association with German migrants, many of whom had lived nearby and attended meetings at the German Club and formed part of the congregation of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Artist Hans Heysen was a regular, and his paintings had hung on the pub’s walls.
The campaigners underestimated the determination of ACC to proceed with the office project, as no amount of information about the historic value of the Aurora Hotel would dissuade the council. Protesters did not realise that once ACC approved a large project such as CitiCom, they would not rescind their decision without pressure from the City of Adelaide Planning Commission or the state government. As Jack Mundey noted in his biography, ‘in my experience in countless environmental organisations, I have found a certain middle class attitude to prevail, which is marked by a naivety about where real power resides’.4 During the 35-day Aurora campaign, the public response was heartening for the protesters, and prominent Adelaide media personalities were convinced of the historic value of the hotel. Several signed a notice published in The Advertiser during the campaign affirming their opposition to demolition of the hotel, and cartoonist Michael Atchison wrote a short article supporting its retention. The Advertiser gave the protest almost daily coverage, and letters to its editor on both sides of the debate abounded during the campaign. Regular architecture columnist John Chappel led the debate in favour of demolition of the hotel, arguing for owners’ rights and architects’ assessments of built heritage. The pro-business tabloid The News rarely mentioned the Aurora campaign except in interviews with developer John Roche, chairman of Vensa Pty Ltd. The News editor Tony Baker wrote, ‘rare, indeed, is the Jack Mundey, Green Bans and Beyond (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1981), p.148. Wilfrid Prest concluded in his Forward to Aurora Heritage Action, Inc., Time Gentlemen, Please!! that ‘conservationists have some chance of success against private developers, or local government, but face very heavy odds when developers and city councils combine in unholy alliance’ (p.1).
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Small Projects building worth preserving no matter what’ and concluded that the Aurora Hotel was not one of those rare buildings.5 The Advertiser editor claimed that because the Aurora Hotel did not ‘appear on the State Heritage List, indicating that it is not an outstanding building, architecturally or historically …the Aurora campaign was doomed to failure’.6 The editor appeared not to understand the politics of heritage registers. In an Advertiser interview, John Roche said ‘the heritage business is not an exact science. It comes back to a few people’s opinions’.7 Roche did understand the politics of heritage, and he understood that prominent people and institutions could influence heritage committees.
The state government had no official involvement in the CitiCom project, except through its representation on the CAPC. Local Government Minister Terry Hemmings spoke at the first public meeting of the campaign to save the hotel but Premier Bannon later criticised him for apparently encouraging the building union to impose a work ban on the site. The Premier had earlier declared the SA government was not in a position to save the Aurora Hotel because the developer had complied with all planning conditions and because the Aurora Hotel was not heritage listed. The campaigners tried to enlist the help of the SA Housing Trust, but the Trust could not purchase the property.
While it was true that the hotel was not heritage listed, it had been recommended for listing on the Register of City of Adelaide Heritage Items by heritage consultants and might have been listed if ACC had not owned the site and had included the register in the 1981–86 City of Adelaide Plan as resolved in 1976. The Prince Albert Hotel in Wright St was one of 29 hotels listed on the first city register gazetted with the 1986–91 Plan. The entry in the glossy guide to its heritage-listed buildings commissioned by the city describes the Prince Albert, built in the 1850s in a corner design, as ‘similar to the development of the now demolished Aurora Hotel … [and] like the Aurora Hotel, the Prince Albert Hotel had German associations’.8 The differences between the two hotels in 1983 were that ACC did not own the site and that no one had applied to develop the Prince Albert site. The latter remains on the heritage register.
In the choice between the community’s right to preservation of the built heritage and the owner’s right to maximise profits from a site, the community usually lost.
News, 2 November 1983, p.6 Advertiser, 1 November 1983, p.7.
Advertiser, 7 November 1983, p.2.
Peter Donovan, Susan Marsden and Paul Stark, City of Adelaide Heritage Study (Adelaide: City of Adelaide Department of City Planning, 1982), p.198.