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Inner urban conservation and development - An independent panel report on a proposal for Smith Street, Collingwood, under Melbourne 2030. Edited by Miles Lewis, August 2004. Order your copy

A heritage view of the proposed development on Smith Street

22 Jul 2004

A quick overview of the Planning Application PL03/1407 by Malvernway PL and Davgab PL (for the developers Banco of Lygon Court) for 132-172 Smith Street, Collingwood, shows that this development appears to have been deliberately designed to present the most hostile possible face to its neighbours.

On Little Oxford Street, and on surrounding neighbourhood streets between Peel and Stanley Streets as far away as Wellington and Derby Streets, there would be increases in the level of traffic out of all proportion to those mentioned in the specialist studies submitted by the applicant. Expect more traffic congestion, noise, glare, with headlights in residential windows. From the development itself, air pollution, light pollution, and operations noise and fumes exhausted on to Little Oxford Street will permanently harm the residential environment there.

On Smith Street the impact is even more severe. The loss of public amenity, destruction of old building stock, and excessive heights with minimal setback will contribute to erosion of neighbourhood character and environmental degradation in the form of road and footpath congestion, microclimatic wind and temperature shifts, severe and unwarranted overshadowing of both sides of Smith Street, and the destruction of the integrity of the Smith Street Heritage Overlay adopted by Council and the community in 1998.

The so-called �frankly contemporary,� supersized architectural treatment of what is essentially an anonymous podium-plus-residential-tower scheme bears no relationship to the specific architecture, neighbourhood character, and spirit of the place. This proposal is not good enough for Smith Street!

The principle of conservation planning is not to fudge the rules and effect compromises in a succession of decisions until, over the years, the unique place that is Smith Street is destroyed. Instead, any proposed development for Smith Street should protect and enhance what is already there.

On the development site at 132-172 Smith Street exist heritage buildings, concealed by their owners for years, which potentially are of precinct significance to the Smith Street Heritage Overlay established to protect examples of the sort of 19th and early 20th century shopping architecture that made Smith Street famous in past times and continues to lend the present-day neighbourhood its unique feel and character. Among the heritage buildings to be wiped out by this proposal are:

132 Smith Street: The first Foy & Gibson retail store built ca 1888 and the only surviving Foy & Gibson retail store surviving on the East Side of Smith Street between the huge Gibsonia Factory Complex of Collingwood and the Foy & Gibson Stores on the west side of Smith Street in Fitzroy. Enough of its original italianate classical fa�ade, concealed behind an aluminum siding cover, probably survives to permit its reconstruction and restoration. This building was known for innovations such as the first department store lift in Australia and the first underground retail arcade, namely�

The Smith Street Subway: This revolutionary shopping feature, built in 1911, had tiled walls, pressed metal ceilings, and grand stairs and special skylights let into the footpath at either end. It connected the Foy & Gibson stores at 132 Smith Street with 145-163 Smith Street and still survives under the road today. It may be of state and national significance, and predated similar models all over the world in places such as Toronto and New York.

168 Smith Street: The former Mac�s Hotel, almost as old as the Grace Darling Hotel and one of the first substantial buildings on Smith Street.

170-172 Smith Street: Coles Number 1 Store which was rebuilt in 1936 in the fabulous Art Deco Style by noted Melbourne architect Harry A Norris. That Coles survives today as an Australian retailing institution is in part due to the success of Coles Number 1 and other stores like it all over Melbourne which brought new ideas of merchandising to the shopping public. This store is one of the surviving earliest and most intact inside and out: look for the remains of the COLES sign painted on the centerpiece of its fa�ade and the beautiful geometric cornices on the shop interiors.

These buildings would all contribute to the Smith Street Heritage Overlay, even though they were not listed as such in 1998 because they had been hidden from view for years and forgotten.

But the Law, as expressed in Section 1.5 of the Yarra City Heritage Report, says that the existing list of contributing structures for this heritage area is not comprehensive and may be added to at any time! Now is that time!

On the other hand, the developer�s heritage consultant says these heritage buildings are of no value and calls for them to be cleared away, which is against the public interest if not against the law. Instead of the authentic architectural diversity of these surviving monuments to Melbourne shopping history, the proposal�s architect proposes a phony mishmash of materials and period styles including a fake steel verandah it says revives a historic design�even though it is the wrong size, shape and place on the street!

The National Trust and the Art Deco Society have both written to the Council to prevent demolition of these structures and to support their inclusion in any future development of the Smith Street site!

Why not, as part of this development, conserve these valuable features of Smith Street�s history and architecture, and adapt them to present-day purposes? Demand that Council and the developer look after the Community and its interests, instead of making things easy for themselves!

Posted by Author Editor


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