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Losing Adelaide's heritage


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A slow but steady stream of important architectural buildings are still being demolished or severely compromised in Adelaide, despite planning protections and heritage listing.

Generally, this is due to pressure from developers, and rising land values in the city and inner suburban areas.

Add to this the State Government’s new Urban Corridor Zones in the inner local council areas, where height restrictions have been raised, and yet more heritage properties are in danger due to the sudden increase in value of the land in these areas.

In 1983, the book Lost Adelaide was published with a relatively comprehensive photographic record of buildings that have been demolished over time in the city of Adelaide.

The book shows some remarkable buildings have been lost.

But it has to be remembered that up until the 1970s, there were no planning controls as we understand them today, and until the mid-1980s there was no heritage listing of properties.

The Grand Central Hotel was replaced with a carpark on the corner of Rundle and Pulteney Streets.

The Grand Central Hotel was replaced with a carpark on the corner of Rundle and Pulteney Streets.

Some of the more remarkable buildings that were lost and replaced with less impressive structures are the Jubilee Exhibition Building of 1887 – demolished in 1962 to be replaced with the Napier Building and forecourt in the University of Adelaide.

The Grand Central Hotel of 1910 (replacing the earlier York Hotel) was demolished in 1975, to be replaced by the Rundle Street Carpark, now also adorned with the Rundle Lantern.

The most famous lost building would be the Aurora Hotel of 1859. It was demolished in 1983 and replaced by a heavy-set, low-rise office building.

It was the fight to prevent the demolition of this building that spurred on the newly formed heritage fraternity to push for heritage surveys and heritage listings of important buildings in the city and the rest of the state.

The Aurora Hotel c.1859 was replaced with an office building.

The Aurora Hotel c.1859 was replaced with an office building.

There still is an incremental loss of our built heritage today.

Some of it is overt, some more subtle and disguised by clever marketing and other forms of justification.

The Adelaide Oval redevelopment is a case in point. The greater future good seemed to justify the demolition of most of three State Heritage-Listed grandstands. Curiously, they remain on the State Register to this day.  Is that some form of denial?

Another more subtle whittling away at our heritage is the loss of many of the “Contributory Items” in our older suburbs with Historic Conservation Zones.

With the three main levels of heritage listing in South Australia – State Heritage, Local Heritage and Contributory Items – it is this last category that has the least protection.

Many of the early heritage surveys carried out in the 1990s in our older suburbs proposed Historic Conservation Zones, generally with a few Local Heritage Places, but significantly more Contributory Items.

For example, St Peters (from First to Sixth Avenue) has approximately 22 Local Heritage Places and around 600 Contributory Items.

These Contributory Items often needed only be old and to contribute to the streetscape to make the grade.

However, in my experience, many of these Contributory Items should have been more closely examined and probably should have been Local Heritage Places.

There is an alarming trend in the demolition of Contributory Items, as their level of protection is virtually non-existent in some council areas.

I am not of the opinion that just because it is old, we should keep it. Many of the buildings lost over the years since Adelaide began have been replaced by much better buildings, both technologically and visually. That replacement still continues today, with many low-quality unlisted buildings being replaced all the time.

The crucial issue has to be who decides what can go, and what should stay when it is an important building?

Clearly, at this stage in Adelaide’s development, it appears to be our government and the developers that have the major say in what is deemed important to our heritage.

It is probably time for a volume two of Lost Adelaide. The losses have been great.

For a list of ‘at risk’ sites in Adelaide, click here.

– David Brown is the director of BB Architects, a specialist conservation and heritage practice in Adelaide.  He is also the heritage advisor to the City of Norwood Payneham and St Peters.

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