Hotel Cecil/Cecil Apartments – Cronulla, NSW

The Hotel Cecil, era unknown. Image courtesy Cronulla Surf Museum.

What’s in a name? The name Cronulla inspires certain imagery: beaches, beer and brawls. With its vibrant social life and strong sense of community, Bondi’s brother from another planet provides the kind of rough-around-the-edges seaside fun that’s expected of Australia, just with less backpackers.

Which is strange, because there’s never been a shortage of places to stay and get tanked. If you weren’t a local (in which case, what were you doing there?), you were spoiled for thirst-quenching options after your day in the sun, and one such option was the Hotel Cecil.

Tell me this now: what kind of names do you associate with Cronulla? Mark, Kai, Tyler…Cecil? Has anyone named Cecil ever set thonged foot into the Shire, let alone Cronulla Beach?

SMH, Aug 31, 1927

The answer is yes. In 1927, Cecil J. Munro was the president of the local shire, and owned a block of flats by the beach. Needless to say, when you’re the president your ego can run a little wild. Don’t ask why his name is spelled Monro in the pics and not in the history…as we all know, when people get rich they lose their minds.

Monro Flats, 1920. Image courtesy (in case you couldn’t tell) Historical Photographs.

Munro/Monro converted his block of flats into the Hotel Cecil. By the end of the year, the 70-bedroom bungalow-style hotel was ready for action.

Holiday-makers and locals alike enjoyed the opportunity to cecil down so close to the beach (You’re fired – Ed), but a problem soon became apparent: where were the balls?

Never one to miss an opportunity to stroke that ego, Cecil had a ballroom and cafe built beside the Hotel Cecil, right on the beach.

Cronulla Beach, mid-1940s. Image courtesy NSW Archives.

Today, cafes strive to be as tiny as possible, so as to maximise the saturation of lattes throughout the land. Take a look at this, and revel in the decadence of another era:

The Cecil Ballroom and Cafe as seen from Cronulla RSL, 1940s. Image courtesy Cronulla RSL.

For decades to come, the Hotel Cecil played host to debauched nights, hungover mornings, sandy feet padding across ratty carpets and vinyl flooring, and of course tall, cool schooners of Tooths.

That’s right – Tooths. The brewer purchased Hotel Cecil in 1936, and funded an expansion in 1940 that doubled the Cecil’s size.

Check out that second article! FAKE NEWS! SMH, Feb 13, 1940.

By then, Munro/Monro was long out of the picture, but his enterprising spirit had ensured Cronulla was branded with all of his names. Just two streets away from Hotel Cecil is Monro Park.

All it takes to solidify an identity is a dip of the toes into the pool of popular culture, and for Cronulla, that process of galvanization happened in 1979, with the release of the novel Puberty Blues.

The novel, by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, depicted the suburb’s surf culture through the eyes of two teenage girls. It instantly struck a nerve, and acted as a kind of rite-of-passage for teenagers all over Australia – such was the broad appeal of the tenets of Cronulla.

A film version followed in 1981 to great success, cementing the sights and sounds of 2230 for all time. That image has persisted in the decades since, and will likely persist until the world ends, but Cronulla seems quite happy with that.
That said, the Cronulla of Puberty Blues doesn’t quite resemble the Cronulla of today. Like many of its residents, the suburb has undergone facelift after facelift, and certain corners are almost unrecognizable.

Cecil Hotel, 1970s. Image courtesy Sutherland Shire Historical Society Inc.

Like the Hotel Cecil, for example. It was neutered in the late 1950s, when the ballroom was demolished, and at some point along the way it swapped the words of its name around to suit the wider transition from hotels to pubs.

But the hotel didn’t completely close until 1988, when licensee (and Cecil’s descendant) Shane Munro (that’s more like it) sold it to a property developer. By then, Tooths was long out of the picture…but that’s another story.

Demolition began in the early 90s, and I think you know where this story is going.

The Hotel Cecil facade,  mid-1990s. Image courtesy Cronulla Surf Museum.

I can’t help but think the final night of the original Cecil would have been a wild one. A balmy March evening when hundreds of people, each of whom had forged personal relationships with the hotel over the years, raised their Tooths (or equivalent) one last time. By the end it was, along with Joe’s Milk Bar and the Cronulla Workers Club, one of Cronulla’s landmarks.

Today, it’s that old, bland story so often told in the pages of Past/Lives…

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Yes, it’s another one of those “Let’s give it the same name was what was once there to try to capture some of the spirit and let the legend live on” situations, but you’re not fooling anybody. It’s a completely different, impersonal building, and the only drinking going on here is when rich loveless marrieds drink alone.

But what’s in a name? Around the back, in the oddly named Ozone Street, is the sweet spot: the original facade incorporated into the new Cecil.

I know this sort of thing is always meant to be a respectful tip of the tam-o-shanter to the original, but look at the imagery.

It’s overshadowed.

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A Tale of Two Doll Hospitals – Bexley, NSW

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Suspensions of disbelief get a thorough workout these days. Whether you can’t believe there are Superman movies that don’t star Christopher Reeve, or you refuse to believe it when NRL stars run afoul of the law, you’re likely having a tough time of it in this, the dawn of the information age.

For a long time, I refused to believe that one area, nay, one stretch of road could support not one but two doll hospitals. So when the Doll Repair Centre at 444 Stoney Creek Road, Kingsgrove ceased to exist a few months ago, that suspension vanished, the disbelief came crashing down, and here you are reading my attempt to process a lifetime of astonishment and uncertainty.

In simpler times, kids played with toys. ‘member toys? Action figures, Matchbox cars, those lame wooden ones that barely moved…and dolls. Back then, dolls were seen as a “girls toy”, and the levels of attachment the little girls of the past had for their dolls was in the minds of many a by-product of “maternal instincts”.

I speak from experience when I say this: when an action figure broke, it went in the bin. Too bad, so sad. “Boys toys” were expected to take damage through rough play. A broken doll, on the other hand – be it a loose seam, a torn dress, or a missing head – was a tragedy, and required immediate repair.

And so it was in 1913, when a Mr Harold Chapman of Campsie established Sydney’s first doll hospital. The demand was there, and carried the business through to the late 1930s, when Chapman’s son Harold Jr moved the Doll Hospital to Her Majesty’s Arcade in the city. If you had a shop in the city at this point in time, you’d made it.

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The Sun, Sunday, July 29, 1945

Her Majesty’s Arcade had a problem, however – it occupied a most plum piece of real estate on Pitt Street, and in 1968 plans arose that sent all tenants packing. The Doll Hospital ended up here, near the corner of Stoney Creek and Forest roads in Bexley.

The arcade was demolished, and by 1981 Sydney’s favourite 309m-tall resident stood in Her Majesty’s wake.

But back to the Doll Hospital, as it stands today.

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Unlike most hospitals, patients line the windows, exposing their medical issues to the world.

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Sorry, but dolls are creepy. Maybe that’s why this is going up on Halloween. There’s something about those glassy eyes and pre-sculpted faces that rub me the wrong way. The public’s tastes have also skewed away from traditional dolls in recent years, and toward licenced merchandise instead.

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There’s no better way to brag about your mad surgeon skills than by showing off no less than three fully intact Humpty Dumptys, the most frail of all toys.

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Handbags and umbrellas need love too, so they’re also welcome here. They don’t repair signs, I’m guessing?

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That’s a double no, then. Honestly, I was surprised to find it’s still in operation. Imagine my shock when I saw this sign:

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That’s right – if your doll’s blue in the face and unresponsive at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, you’re shit out of luck.

Or are you?

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Carmo’s got your back after hours, but I bet it ain’t cheap. Even with this safety net, don’t let your doll go for a big night in Newtown anytime soon.

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The Doll Hospital wears its heritage proudly via its suit of signage armour. It’s still in the Chapman family: Harold Jr’s son Geoff runs the joint these days, and has a full team of dolly doctors on his staff. Though not everyone is a fan. Check out this “nit-picking whinger”:

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Ignore the ominous green building and check out the sign on the western side of the doll hospital. It hides the identity of the building’s previous owner, but only just. If it ever comes down for an update (perhaps at the 180 years of service mark), we might get a look at that piece of blue and yellow history. But not today.

The building is old – “olde”, in fact – and in one place seems to literally be held together by a plank of wood. The signs boast that the Doll Hospital’s provided “Over 80 Years of Service”, but the sign above the awning says it’s “Over 100 years”. Get your story straight, guys.

The sign also makes the curious, almost defensive claim of being the “original” doll hospital. Is that to suggest there was at one time a pretender? An upstart that wished to usurp the Doll Hospital’s monopoly? A firebrand so ballsy that it would take up residence in the Chapmans’ own backyard?

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The incredible answer is yes. This may be the “the Olde Doll Shoppe” of Sydney, and you should go and check it out. But imagine just for a moment, there was a doll shoppe that looked even olde-er…

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Yep. This is where I’m gonna go when I need something repaired.

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It’s hard to read as the sign has cracked and rusted from years exposed to the elements, but once, this was the other doll hosp- uh, I mean doll repair centre.

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Until recently, that is. Now it’s anyone’s, so if you want to challenge the might of the Famous Original Olde Doll Hospital, here’s your chance. You can’t do any worse than the last one…

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From what I could discover, rash daredevils Peter and Mary threw caution to the wind a few decades back and tried to democratise doll rehabilitation.

“We repair, we care” says the card, bold in its implication. It’s not hard to imagine a time when raw, violent rivalry spanned the gap between the two surgeries, and I believe that may have bubbled over in 1992:

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The Canberra Times, Saturday, September 26, 1992

They couldn’t even bear to follow on from each other in the dot points! That the Doll Hospital placed a full three spots above the Doll Repair Centre tells you everything you need to know about the hierarchy.

Ultimately, Peter and Mary couldn’t hack the cutthroat world of doll repairing. The state of this shopfront was a sorry sight in the last few years; a battered old pram stood outside, attracting the wrong kind of attention. It was far from the lush doll dioramas of the Doll Hospital.

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A look inside gives nothing away. They had a cupboard.

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The signage above suggests this corner belonged to someone in a time before the divine feud. I can’t make out what it says, so if you know (or it was your corner), get in touch.

Ultimately, I was left unsatisfied by my as-exhaustive-as-I-was-bothered research, so, fascinated by the mysterious Doll Repair Centre, I went deeper. I found an old website, long since defunct. But thanks to our friends at the Wayback Machine, I was able to jump back in time. I had no idea what lay in wait.

What I found left me scandalised. Check out the layout of the Doll Repair Centre’s website.

Maybe it’ll seem familiar to you.

And maybe you’ll recall that old saying about staring into the abyss for too long.

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So…any web designers in the house?

Kingsgrove Pharmacy/For Lease – Kingsgrove, NSW

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I’m sick and tired of the flood of emails I get week after week from people desperate to convince me that Kingsgrove Pharmacy wasn’t always Kingsgrove Pharmacy. Today, we set the record straight.

I can’t really think of a more (over the counter) pharmaceutical suburb than Kingsgrove. You’ve got the surgery, the theatre-turned-huge Blue Cross Medical Centre, the Kingsgrove Medical Centre that relocated to Beverly Hills but didn’t change the name, the Kingsgrove Health Professional Centre…the list goes on.

What’s with that? I mean yeah, Kingsgrove makes us all sick at times, but this is ridiculous.

And on top of all that, up until recently you had Kingsgrove Pharmacy. When they left, they took their awning signage with them, giving the rest of us a glimpse into a less digital past.

Remember back when you had to get photos developed? How you couldn’t really take photos of anything risqué because your friendly local pharmacist might spot it and call the authorities? Uh, because I…er, certainly don’t.

Unless you’re a hipster, you’re not shooting on film anymore, and the pharmacies of the world that tried to branch out and give even more back to the community that took so much lost that revenue stream and were sent packing, just like Kingsgrove Pharmacy was.

Does every little bit count? Did I inadvertently and indirectly contribute to the fall of Kingsgrove Pharmacy simply by taking this article’s pictures on my phone?

Could an argument then be made that I’m running businesses out on purpose just for blog material?

I think that’s just about all we’ve got time for today, but here’s one last pill to swallow: did the Kingsgrove Pharmacist take their awning signage away to use again?

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Kingsgrove Pharmacy in more visible times. Image courtesy realestate.com.au

As you can see in this shot from our old buddies realestate.com.au, Kingsgrove Pharmacy let people know what it was from all conceivable angles. Rumour has it the roof’s sign can be seen from orbit.

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After the last prescription had been filled, they tore it all down…except for the sign above the footpath. They didn’t even do that thing where they put it back in upside down and reversed.

I think they left it up so we’d remember them. They exposed the old sign to remind us how long we’d had them in our lives, and to appeal to that sense of retro we’re unable to shake. “Take a photo of this,” they’re saying. And we do.

We live in a world where, thanks to the ubiquity of digital photography, memories are fleeting. The way I see it, Kingsgrove Pharmacy has made a statement about that in their own subtle way.

Beverly Hills Skin Care/ITP/For Lease – Beverly Hills, NSW

It’s tax time! C’mon everybody, gather up your receipts and make an appointment to see your local tax agent. People still do that, don’t they? Uh, anyway, come with me as I do just that, with dollar signs in my eyes and-

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Oh. Guess I’ll be doing my own tax, then…

It’s no exaggeration to say that ITP Beverly Hills was here since Federation, so its departure is a severe blow to the intricate bio-habitat that surrounded it. D2D Cafe and the Rhinedorf relied on these guys to tick all the boxes each July. Did you stop and think of them when you packed up and left, ITP?

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A few traces of the former tax haven office remain, this canary yellow window being one. I wonder how ITP came to decide on bright yellow as their trademark colour? There’s only so much grey one can take, I suppose.

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No messing around! These dudes left NOTHING behind – almost as if they’re accustomed to paying attention to nitty-gritty details by nature. It’s small comfort to know that wherever they are now, they’re nice and cool.

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They also took their awning sign, and in the process exposed a clue as to who the former occupants were. “AS 43 SUNTRONIC GLOBAL SYSTEM 37” may sound like total gibberish, but in the skincare world, it’s godlike.

The way I understand it, AS 43 is a form of electrocosmetology therapy that tightens skin. Apparently, it was discovered “by accident”. Try telling that to the victims of AS 01-42 Suntronic Global Systems, you monsters…

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So who were the purveyors of this skincare breakthrough miracle cure? Look up and we can see the lush typeface of Beverly Hills Skin Care, a company that according to the government still has an active ABN.

As an aside, and don’t take this as a sign I’ve run out of things to say about an ancient skincare clinic, but have you ever had a look at that ABN search site? It’s fascinating to see which old business names are still making a go of it.

Check it out! “Beverly Hills Video” is still active, while Beverly Hills Cinema appears to have replaced “Beverly Hills Twin”. I’m just disappointed nobody’s ever set up “Beverly Hills Corp”.

Weird time’s a charm

Katoomba’s Paragon Cafe is one of those irritating places that can never wind up on Past Lives because even though there’s so much to say about it, it’s still doing what it’s always done…with the exception of the oysters, anyway.

I guess Past Lives will just have to end up on the Paragon instead.

Weird Sydney Final

That’s right, it’s back.

On August 12th, you can join the incomparable super-team of Peter Doyle, Chris Mikul, Vanessa Berry and myself for an afternoon of the weirdest Sydney has to offer.

How can we possibly fit everything that’s weird about this messed-up town into one afternoon, you ask? You’ll just have to come along and find out!

Get your tickets here! Wear your best sideburns and you might even end up with your picture on the wall!

And if all that’s not momentous enough for you, this year happens to be the Paragon’s 101st anniversary. Yes, they chose to hold this event on that non-anniversary.

Don’t you find that a little…weird?