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Not surprisingly, the owner of the hotel, the Church of England Collegiate School Department of City Planning, City of Adelaide Heritage Study, DMS Summary Volume 2 – listing requests, August 1984, pp.107–09.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide of St Peter’s, opposed its heritage listing. The college stood to gain considerably from a leasing arrangement involving a large office building. In response to ACC’s motion, the college’s secretary, Michael Evans, said the Somerset was just another old corner pub: ‘They are preserving things on sentiment now rather than on architectural merit’. Mr Evans’ dismissive remark acknowledged the direction of heritage politics by the 1990s.
After planning approval for the ATO building lapsed in November 1990, the developer lodged another application for a five-storey office building. Minister for Environment and Planning Lenehan then rejected the pleas of ACC and heritage groups to interim list the building, leaving the hotel vulnerable to demolition.
ACC’s planning and environment committee (PEC) recommended to council that it refuse the proposal, but on 19 November 1990 ACC voted by a narrow margin to approve the development. Nearly a year later the plans were stalled again, this time because the commonwealth government decided to freeze taxation office development during the State Planning Review. Also in September 1991, an ACC committee moved to ask the Premier to request the federal government to relocate the planned ATO building, possibly to a vacant office building, to prevent erosion of the city’s heritage. Office vacancies were then reportedly 13.5 per cent but the percentage was far higher (see chapter 3). This move also failed.
Although there was wide-ranging support for retaining the hotel, even if only incorporated in the new office building, and concerned parties employed a variety of political tactics to try to save it, the Minister for Environment and Planning again refused to interim list the Somerset. She pointed out that ACC had twice given the building demolition approval: ‘Having done that, they then call upon the minister responsible for heritage to come in on some sort of white charger and save the building, not withstanding that … the [ACC’s] heritage committee had not recommended these buildings be placed on the [city] heritage register’.13 The Minister’s indignation in the matter was understandable, particularly if the SHB had advised her that the building did not meet the criteria for state heritage listing. The hotel was demolished in October 1991. The ATO building gave a modernist face to the corner of Pulteney and Flinders St and reduced further the nightlife of the area. To show its appreciation of the Somerset, ACC required that the developer erect a plaque inside the entrance of the ATO building, which
bore the legend:
The Somerset was a typical corner hotel in the City dated from 1851 when nine hotels graced Pulteney St. At the time it was rebuilt in 1879, over 120 pubs existed in the City of Adelaide. The Somerset was a distinctive corner pub with a substantial balcony added in 1925. The architect, Thomas English, was a former Mayor of Adelaide who also designed many of the corner hotels rebuilt during the boom period in the 1870s.
The ATO vacated the building in 2003.
The ‘House of Chow’ Building At the time that St Paul’s Church was being rescued and the Somerset hotel was facing its demise, a two-storey bluestone building at an eastern gateway to Adelaide became the site of the longest residents’ heritage picket the city has known. The House of Chow building, named for the Chinese restaurant that occupied the former residence at Hutt and Wakefield Sts, was scheduled to be razed in 1991. Developers Antbros Properties Pty Ltd had endured two refusals of their proposed three-storey office development in 1987–88 by the ACC and CAPC because of the building’s streetscape value, before they won an appeal in the CAPAT at the end of 1989 that allowed them to erect a building to house a Commonwealth Bank branch and other offices with undercroft parking.
In March 1991, ACC tried to save the unlisted House of Chow building by asking the Minister for Environment and Planning to issue a conservation order to prevent its demolition. Minister Lenehan sought from ACC ‘indemnification against any legal action by the building’s owners which might arise from the issuing of an urgent conservation order in respect of a building for which a lawful planning approval to demolish had already been issued’.14 She added that ‘if the House of Chow had gone on the register for its character, about 20,000 other buildings would also fit the bill and have to go on’, and urged ACC instead to ‘step up’ its streetscape [townscape] scheme.15 ACC did not accede to her request, but resolved to negotiate with the owners for a project that would incorporate the House of Chow building into the plan. The developer’s response was to attempt a quick and stealthy demolition before 7am on Sunday, 19 May 1991. The city engineer halted this without serious damage to the original part of the two-storey building.
An angry public protest erupted at the site that morning over the potential loss of the House of Chow. A combination of interest groups and local residents gained the cooperation of building unions not to carry out any further demolition as long as a residents’ vigil continued in front of the property. The dawn-todusk vigil continued for more than two months, during which the protesters collected 4000 signatures to a petition calling upon ACC to retain the building.
Mark Parnell and John Hodgson, ‘Issues of Planning Law’ (Working Paper No. 7, Planning Education Foundation of SA, University of South Australia, December 1998), p 30; letter from Susan Lenehan, Minister, to City Manager, n.d. 1991, D0352-10, vol. 2.
City Messenger, 26 June 1991, p.3. Eighty-nine buildings and monuments had just been added to the State Heritage Register, well short of the 20,000 comparable to the House of Chow that the Minister mentioned.
Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Small Projects House of Chow building, Hutt St, 1991. AHA collection Bocelli Café and offices that replaced House of Chow. Courtesy Sharon Mosler
ACC offered several times to fund an architectural feasibility study to determine whether the House of Chow could be retained within the development, but each time the developer refused to cooperate or to negotiate with ACC. With expiry of the planning approval looming, the developer made a second attempt to raze the bluestone building on 23 July 1991, using non-union workers, damaging it beyond repair and ending the residents’ vigil before a clash between union and non-union labour again brought proceedings to a halt.
Antbros then served injunctions on three councillors, AHA and two of its members and five local residents alleging loss of income during the vigil. Some of the people named in the injunction had taken no part in the protest. Among those was Councillor Jane Rann, who was overseas for much of the time. The injunctions obliged Councillors Rann, Alan Rye and Michael Gibbs to leave the chamber whenever council discussed the House of Chow site, altering the vote in favour of the developer. This led to fears that other developers would use the ploy of seeking injunctive relief in order to assure a favourable vote, but these fears proved groundless as the business sector regained control of ACC in 1993. All of the defendants were deprived of their freedom to discuss the development publicly during the period of the injunction until the civil action was settled out of court in 1992.
Jack and Bill Antonas, directors of Antbros Properties Pty Ltd, were caught up in heritage history. In 1982, when they purchased the building, there was no City of Adelaide heritage register and business interests controlled ACC. During the building boom of the 1980s, AHA, the National Trust and other groups garnered public support for greater protection of Adelaide’s built environment than had been afforded by the city and state heritage registers. By 1991, when Antbros moved to demolish their unlisted building, the residential and pro-heritage members held a majority in ACC and the townscape initiative was underway.
Given that the House of Chow building was unlisted and the developer had been granted planning approval, ACC could only try to negotiate with an unusually intractable developer. All attempts failed. Antbros was able to silence protesters temporarily, but it lost millions of dollars in court and holding costs because of the years that elapsed before redevelopment of the site commenced, and Jack Antonas’s health was seriously affected. The Hutt St property remained a ruin while the CMEU maintained the black ban on it until 1993, when the union agreed to clear the site. A retail/office project was built on the corner site by the end of the millennium.
Conservationists asserted that the destruction of the House of Chow illustrated the need for greater protection of Adelaide’s character. City Planner John Hodgson Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Small Projects commented that ‘largely under the impetus created by the “House of Chow” controversy, ACC resolved to proceed with a townscape proposal for the entire city’ on 16 September 1991, and heritage architect Paul Stark agreed.16 The elected members were divided on the impact of the protest: some believed it influenced the Minister to proceed with local heritage protection, while the Lord Mayor and other councillors said the protest had little effect. The townscape initiative was already underway at the time of the protest, but the controversy spurred ACC into expediting the process of identifying the groups of buildings that formed Adelaide’s character at a time when the political climate was right for such a move.
Gawler Chambers As noted above, in response to applications to demolish St Paul’s Church and the Somerset Hotel, in 1990 ACC established the advisory committee COAHAC to review more than 800 buildings in the 1982 Character Schedule to determine whether any or all of them should be listed in the Register of City of Adelaide Heritage Items. About 100 buildings on the schedule had been demolished in the eight years following the study. Gawler Chambers in North Terrace was among the first group of buildings COAHAC reconsidered in March 1991, along with St Paul’s Church. The five-storey red brick building was part of a distinctive group that formed the streetscape in southern North Terrace from Gawler Place to King William St. Built in 1913, it differed from its Victorian neighbours as one of only a few Edwardian buildings in the Adelaide CBD. Nevertheless, in height, scale and materials it blended with the streetscape. Its façade had been altered and a floor added in 1935, so its streetscape and historic significance, not its architectural merit, were deemed most important in recommendations for heritage listing by DMS in 1982, the State Heritage Branch in 1985, the City’s Planning Department and the State Heritage Committee in 1991.
Before the COAHAC meeting, the owner, former Lord Mayor John Roche’s Adelaide Development Company, had an opportunity to respond to the recommendation for its heritage listing. He had lodged an application to demolish the building and erect a 10-storey hotel on the site on 24 December 1990, but ACC had not considered the application when COAHAC met three months later. Mr Roche also hired a bevy of architects, engineers, planners, solicitors and an historian to prepare a case against the heritage listing.
Parnell and Hodgson, p. 35; Paul Stark, personal interview, 20 September 2001.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide
Gawler Chambers, North Terrace. Courtesy John Emerson
At the March 1991 COAHAC meeting, the developer’s consultants claimed it was not a heritage building. Gawler Chambers had been the headquarters of the South Australian Company Pty Ltd, which provided the economic infrastructure of the colony of South Australia from its foundation in 1836 and established its first bank. The consultants argued that the 1913 building, constructed on the site of the original SA Company headquarters, was built at a time when the company had a diminished role in the development of South Australia. Therefore, they argued, it lacked historic significance because it was not the building that housed the original company. The consultants ignored a letter signed by 13 medical specialists that pointed out the building’s long association with the provision of health care in Adelaide. COAHAC, on the other hand, emphasised its streetscape as well as its historic significance and recommended that the building be included on the Register of City of Adelaide Heritage Items. The Minister for Environment and Planning then placed an urgent conservation order on the building at the request of ACC to protect it until procedures were finalised to list the building on the city’s heritage register.
Minister Lenehan showed she was willing to give interim protection to buildings when ACC demonstrated it was prepared to protect them. In the Somerset Hotel Case Studies in Heritage Politics: Small Projects and House of Chow cases, the Minister would not issue conservation orders because ACC would not act to list the buildings on its heritage register.
In May 1991, ACC deferred the developer’s application to demolish Gawler Chambers and construct a 10-storey hotel on the site. The developer had also appealed against the conservation order, which the Supreme Court revoked in October 1991 on procedural grounds. ACC still refused the developer’s application to demolish the building, and the Minister responded by placing the building on the Interim Register of State Heritage Items on 4 November 1991. The developer had again lodged an appeal, this time with the CAPAT, but a decision two days later by the State Cabinet to list the building permanently on the State Heritage Register made the appeal redundant. The building was finally protected under the SA Heritage Act and could not be demolished legally without its removal from the Register.
Conclusion The small projects described in this chapter demonstrate the changing heritage values in Adelaide during the 1980s. The protests they engendered precipitated changes in heritage policies. ACC originally formed its first heritage register in 1982 with 419 items in the City of Adelaide (gazetted with the 1986–91 Plan). At the time, architect John Chappel and others said ACC had ‘gone overboard on heritage’.
He added that, ‘Some people, including experts deeply involved in conservation, are concerned that this scale of preservation is grossly excessive’.17 He included JVS Bowen in that category, contending that the former Lord Mayor had tried to reduce the first list to 50 buildings. Kingsmead and Belmont were among the buildings listed on the first register, but LOMHAC rejected St Paul’s Church and Gawler Chambers as buildings not worthy of heritage protection. By 1991 ACC approved both of the latter buildings for heritage listing, along with 87 others contained in the Character Schedule. These were immediately placed on the state interim register at the request of ACC, a practice that became more frequent after the St Paul’s Church controversy in 1990, and the remaining buildings in the schedule formed the core of the initial townscape list.
The attempt by the owner of Gawler Chambers to prevent interim heritage listing exposed the lack of clarity in the SA Heritage Act (1978) regarding the Minister’s powers to impose urgent conservation orders on threatened buildings. It led to a review of the Act, initiated by the SHB rather than the State Planning Review, which Advertiser, 21 June 1991, p.13.
Heritage Politics in Adelaide culminated in the SA Heritage Act (1993), creating a State Heritage Authority with greater powers than those of the SAHC (see chapter 8).