Thanks in part to the TV show, hoarding has recently risen in prominence in the public consciousness. That strange compulsion to keep every little thing ‘just in case’ quickly turns houses into landfills and cars into garbage trucks. It’s heartbreaking. When you’re rich, being a hoarder means you have to step things up a notch; for example, Sydney real estate moguls Isaac and Susan Wakil. The Wakils, through their essentially-defunct Citilease company, own a variety of vacant buildings around the inner city and Pyrmont, including the Terminus Hotel, the Griffiths Tea building, and Key College House. In true hoarder fashion, those wacky Wakils refuse to allow anything to be done with these buildings, even if it makes financial sense, and as a result they’ve become either a squatter’s paradise or in the case of the Key College House, a neglected monolith spreading an atmosphere of dereliction amid an already destitute area.
It’s hard to find much on the building’s history. Depending on who you listen to (Soul Pattinson or the city), the building was constructed in either 1916 or 1930 as a modern warehouse and factory for Washington H. Soul Pattinson & Co, and still features a huge, partially obscured sign for the chemist on its side. Soul Pattinson’s operations outgrew the building and moved to Kingsgrove in 1960.
Key College House features For Lease signs with six digit numbers, so they’ve been there since before 1994. Key College itself is located in Surry Hills, an initiative of Youth Off the Streets. I’m not entirely certain if there’s a connection, but even if there isn’t, think of all the youth that could be kept off the streets should Key College House be redeveloped into viable accommodation.
Many summers ago, this Kingsgrove location sold beach fashion to anyone who wanted to spend their summer catching rays and swimming in the sea. You can of course tell by the moronic tags and terrible Family Guy flavoured graffiti that that’s no longer the case.
It’s very telling and very sad that modern society has chosen the insular alternative of an air conditioner over cooling off at the beach in summertime. Which would you rather do?
This factory was the home of Wisdom Toothbrushes for most of its life, and then Addis Toothbrushes towards the very end. For a factory so dedicated to hygiene, it’s not very clean.
If you’re thinking it’s a little too perfect that one toothbrush manufacturer followed another in occupying this factory, here’s the Finkle and Einhorn moment: Wisdom is Addis. The history is actually way more interesting than I could have fathomed the history of a toothbrush company to be: William Addis, who actually invented the toothbrush, founded the Wisdom company in 1780(!), with the first prototype toothbrush made of bone and horsehair. Whose bone? The horse’s? Maybe it’s best that we don’t know. They were still making the bone toothbrushes until 1947, when something must have happened in the world of decency to stop the practice.
Wisdom/Addis struck Australia in the 1930s, establishing a factory in Glebe. When that factory proved to be lacking in security:
Addis moved here, to a factory by the bank of the Parramatta River.
But the crime didn’t stop – it turned out that people just liked stealing Addis brand toothbrushes:
By the 1970s Wisdom was flush with cash, taking out boastful ads in magazines and adding the company’s logo and a giant toothbrush to the side of the factory, which is a practice that really needs to come back in fashion.
Market research apparently showed that by the 1990s, prospective toothbrush purchasers had lost faith in the Wisdom brand, and were instead more willing to buy from Addis. The factory complied, changing its name.
The toothbrush business moved to greener pastures (Lane Cove) around 2000, and as always happens, they left some stuff behind in the move.
Oddly, there’s a Roni’s Discounts sign plastered to the back of the factory:
Could Roni’s have once used this factory to house their inventory of cheap junk? Even if they had, I doubt we could tell the difference. For about the last 10 or so years, the factory has sat here, derelict, constantly amassing more and more graffiti and grime. The doors are wide open so anyone can get in there. It’s become something of a pilgrimage for graffiti artists and, going by the bra suspended above the front door, drunk young people looking for an edgy-yet-risk free place to have sex. OOH AN ABANDONED FACTORY! ANYONE COULD WALK IN!
In 2007, the building caught fire, which seems to have improved its condition. As industrial Meadowbank is slowly but steadily decommissioned and gentrified around it, (Sexual) Wisdom patiently awaits its certain fate with a pearly white smile on its face.
SUPER UPD8: Thanks to reader Lawrence, we now have footage of the interior of the old Wisdom Toothbrush factory! Shot on Super 8, there’s a mega-creepy ‘found footage’ element to the video. Thanks Lawrence…I think…
In a time when building a house meant plenty of brick, mortar and asbestos as opposed to 100% pure cladding, a housing boom meant it was time to get digging. The State Brickworks at Homebush was established by the NSW Government in 1911 to (publicly) provide for the demand for public housing and (privately) to shatter the stranglehold private owners had on the brickmaking industry, because no one makes money without the NSW Government getting a piece of the action. This greedy plan backfired at the onset of the Great Depression, when demand plummeted and the site started operating at a major loss. Ironically, it was sold to a private firm in 1936, and closed soon after.
Of course, the history of bricks in Sydney reaches back much further than Homebush. Brickfield Hill (near Haymarket) owes its name to its brickmaking past, and the St Peters brickyards are still in plain view – I just haven’t been there yet. The Homebush site was adjacent to the State Abattoirs, presumably to maintain the ambience, but more likely because the ground was rich in necessary brick ingredients. The Homebush Brickworks had also served to replace the troublesome State-run sand lime brickmaking operation at Botany, which had in 1914 fallen victim to a labourer strike, and never recovered.
After World War II, during which the site had been used as an ammunitions depot by the Navy, the NSW Government sensed an opportunity to make money, and reopened the Brickpit just in time for the second housing boom. If the first boom was a Newcastle, this one was somewhere between a San Francisco and an Indonesia. Chances are that at some point during your life in Sydney, you’ve stayed in a house built with bricks from Homebush. The site even had its own train station for workers to use, which opened in 1939.
It should be mentioned that during the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Brickworks was known by a different name to young hoons and petrolheads looking to blow off some steam on a Friday or Saturday night. ‘Brickies’ was a hot destination for drag racers setting off from the Big Chiefs (Beefy’s) burger joint on Parramatta Road, tearing off up Underwood Road in their Monaros towards Brickies Hill. This circuit can be seen in the 1977 film FJ Holden, which will be a major part of this blog sooner than later. The onset of development put a stop to this, but a subtle, if bizarre, homage to that era has been paid through the naming of certain streets around Hill Road, once the drag strip finish line: Nuvolari Place, named for Italian racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, and Monza Drive, after the endurance race of the same name. Sydney also hosted its first V8 Supercar event at the Olympic Park in 2009, echoing the days of weekend supercar stardom in less developed decades. Residents could still nostalgically enjoy extreme noise pollution and rowdy behaviour, but at least this time it was corporately sponsored.
From an industrial standpoint, they might as well have been making gold bricks at the ‘works for the next three decades…and then the 80s happened. The boom died down, the money dried up, and the Brickworks, which had for the most part of the 20th century poisoned the surrounding land and Homebush Bay, was clumped in the same basket as the increasingly irrelevant State Abattoirs and the volatile Rhodes industrial area – it had to go, but before it did, the crew of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (or perhaps The Conqueror 2, just give it a few years) chose the toxic site as a filming location. In 1988, the Brickworks were closed for good. Like the rest of the State-owned Homebush industrial zone, it was included in plans to reshape the area into the Sydney Olympic Stadium in 1992. The Brickpit was to become the tennis centre.
And so it would have gone, had not a funny, completely unexpected thing happened. The green and golden bell frog was nearing extinction by 1992. Once abundant in Sydney, numbers had fallen so low that a special breeding program was established at Taronga Zoo in the hope that the frog could be saved. As preliminary work was being done, 300 of the small frogs were discovered living in the quarry. Several times since, colonies of the undeniably appealing frog have turned up at proposed development sites, halting work, ruining plans, and causing PR-illiterate development bigwigs to shit a…well, you know. The frogs are no longer critically endangered, but they still have a long way to go.
As the rest of industrial Homebush was transformed for the Olympics, the Brickpit itself followed suit, undergoing heavy remediation. It’s now an environmental feature of the Olympic Park, and features the wonderful Ring Walk, a walkway suspended above the former Brickworks site complete with a giant pond filled with what can only be described as Smylex. Those frogs must be mighty happy.
It’s funny…we spent the better part of last century digging this place up and sending it off all over the city for our homes, but the frogs cut out the red tape and came to the place itself, making it their home in less than a decade. We didn’t start building units here until years later. Am I saying a frog could run Mirvac or Lend Lease?
It’s sad to say, but themed businesses are really on the way out, if not already extinct. Back in the boomtime, El Rancho Pottery cared enough to maintain their Mexican theme by putting cacti in the front garden of their otherwise drab Porter Street location. Think about that – a pottery barn went the whole enchilada so to speak, and established a theme – an old west atmosphere in which to buy garden products. They cared. Hell, they even cared enough to set up on Porter Street in the off chance some dork would one day make a tenuous connection between the words Porter and pottery. Does Pure Flow care enough to draw in customers with so much as a fountain? A water feature? One of those water coolers? No.
Yet El Rancho is the past life here. It just doesn’t add up.
Then again, water does rhyme with Porter…