You’ll have to forgive the low-hanging fruit in this case, but when it’s been a while you need a rolling start to get back up to speed.
There’s a certain ballsiness that comes with stepping into Pizza Hut’s red shingled shoes. By inhabiting such a familiar space, you’re inviting comparisons you’re (usually) unable to support. It doesn’t matter whether you’re burying people or educating them – if you’re doing it in an old Pizza Hut, prepare for scrutiny.
When Kiddiwinks, a Northern Beaches childcare centre, accepted the Used To Be A Pizza Hut challenge, it came armed with bold colours and fencing designed to dispel all notions of what had come before.
But what had come before? The Warriewood entertainment precinct had once included all the ingredients for a great (if not fatty) night out: Pizza Hut for dinner, a cinema for a show, a McDonald’s for the car park afterwards and a sewage treatment plant to mask the odour.
That was then. Pizza Hut was the first casualty, going the way of all Huts in the late 90s. By 2008, a dark time at the farthest ebb of all-you-can-eat nostalgia, Warriewood Pizza Hut sat empty and graffiti’d.
This was exactly the kind of visage that screamed potential to the folks at the Hog’s Breath Cafe, who proved a slightly uncomfortable fit into the ‘east coast lite’ feel of Pittwater Road.
Out of breath by 2013, but with an eye-catching green mohawk, the site waited for its next denizen. It was a very long wait indeed; Kiddiwinks wouldn’t sign on the dotted line until 2019 – the furthest east the business has yet ventured.
Another first Kiddiwinks can add to the walls of its “Hampton-style interiors” is that it’s likely the first ever tenant to ever have a menu “approved by NSW Health to meet the recommended daily intake for children”. What a shame then that the kiddis are constantly staring at a burger joint all day long.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s prospered in the absence of competition. So confident is Ronald in this location’s viability that the bare minimum was done to pull the exterior into line with the boxy new Mickey D aesthetic. Going through the drive-thru (or so I’m told) is a journey past the green, angular and dare I say even Hut-like McDonald’s of old.
And perhaps that’s how it should be at a place like this. There needn’t be anything modern about a big block sitting on the curb of a busy arterial road promising flicks and a feed on a Friday night, and steady processing of post-ablutions the rest of the time. On some level even Kiddiwinks knows so, appropriating as it has the old Pizza Hut sign.
Strange bedfellows in every sense.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
First off, let’s get the past out of the way. Or one of them, anyway.
Believe it or not, people used to visit the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield by choice, mainly because there were things to do there. In 1908, Fairfield consisted of a train station, a sawmill and, of course, a pub – the Railway Hotel.
As has happened so often throughout Australian history, those milkshakes brought all the boys to the yard…but those in charge knew that if there wasn’t any entertainment for them when they got there, Fairfield would fall prey to anarchy, social upheaval, communism and all those other agents of chaos that happen when we’re not given the option to spend money.
The Carter family of Smithfield identified that risk, and in 1910 did the community a solid: they built a timber and corrugated iron hall.
Do you know how much fun a timber and corrugated iron hall can provide?
…it was a different time. Moving on…
After the hall caught fire (see? fun!) it was rebuilt as the Fairfield Picture Palace in 1914, wherein each Saturday up to 2000 punters could pay their bits and turn their brains off for an hour or so.
Not to be outdone, local transport and carrying baron John James Woods decided he could screen dodgy 16fps slapstick comedies for drunks better than the FPP, and in 1916, on Fairfield’s own Crescent, the imaginatively named Crescent Cinema was born. Or built. Or…you know what I’m talking about.
But Woods’ heart just wasn’t in it, and it changed hands a bunch of times before it was condemned as unsafe. Usually that’s where I’d come in, but this occurred in 1928. Maybe Fairfield just wasn’t meant to have fun?
The Crescent (the cinema, not the crescent) was rebuilt, renamed (as the Plaza), and opened to huge success. The new owners, a flamboyant (is there any other kind in olde-time theatre ownership?) couple called the Christensens, used some unorthodox promotional techniques to advertise their theatre. Beside the usual train station and back of the bus adverts, Eric and Cecilia Christensen would dress up as movie characters and swan about Fairfield handing out flyers. C’mon Event Cinemas, bring that back! I want to see Captain America and the Ghostbusters staggering around Cabramatta trying to convince people they’re not insane and that they should spend time in a dark room with them. In this social media age, it feels like a lost opportunity.
By 1934, the Depression had taken its toll on the Christensens, so in came visionary A. J. Beszant. Just look at that article. Fairfield was crying out for a modern theatre, one that wasn’t promoted by dodgy Laurel and Hardy impersonators, and Beszant replied “I’ll give them one”. “Criptic” indeed.
Beszant’s mad plan for world domination seemed to involve building a theatre in each of Sydney’s western suburbs, a plan that almost worked. It was just a bit beyond Beszant’s scope, and by 1944 he’d merged his company with our old friend Hoyts. With that in mind, you can guess what happened next.
Today, the Crescent (the crescent, not the cinema) isn’t a very pleasant place to be. Fairfield’s population has boomed since Hoyts, the KAOS to Beszant’s CONTROL, closed the cinema in 1967, and the focus of the suburb is no longer the train station. The theatre itself now sits in that lonely part of town, decaying and defiled.
I wonder if any amount of cosplay could get people to come by here these days.
Why do I get the feeling this is probably the part least used as a toilet?
Regents Park, Bankstown…Shanghai?
Although it existed as a split amusement parlour/roller rink in the 1970s, the Crescent Cinema has gone the route of all buildings this size – discount furniture warehouse. The glory days are long behind it, and it’s only a matter of time before the developers show up with a bulldozer. In this case, however, nature might beat them to it.
Perversely, the underground billiards club was named Savoy, a name traditionally associated with cinema and entertainment. Do you really think any entertainment went on here?
Especially when the door leads to nowhere?
Inside, it’s a far cry from the 2000 seat era. Dare to compare?
Remember, you’re looking at the exact same space.
Around the back, the stormfront of progress encroaches upon a wasteland. Marvel’s comic book characters are on-hand as ever to witness the death of cinema.
Beszant died in 1950 (and buried in the Northern Suburbs cemetery, of all places!), the Christensens and Woods long before that, and with them died the dream of entertaining the west. All we seem to want to do these days is house people, but there’s no thought about what they’ll want to do once they’re settled. With pubs closing earlier than ever and options like this no longer viable, perhaps now is the time to start thinking of alternatives? Not everyone’s a gambling fan, Mike.
The picture says it all: it’s pretty much a textbook example of a Used To Be A Pizza Hut. But it’s actually not that much of a stretch. Pizza Hut dine-ins were fully licensed back in the day (!), so all that Liquorland have done is do away with the doughy, yeasty stuff to make room for more booze.
In Port Macquarie, that’s actually kind of an affront. Back in 2003, the town set a national record for the most amount of pizzas eaten in a day. According to the Port Macquarie News (and really, who’d be better qualified to know), 4890 pizzas were consumed on Saturday, December 13, 2003. Whether the record still stands is unclear, but since those figures came from Domino’s, you can bet a similar record for most amount of toilets clogged in a day was set on December 14.
It’s not all bad news for Port Macquarians jonesing for a fix of crusts thick, thin or stuffed, however: they’re still makin’ it great at this downgraded Hut down the road. For those who knew the dine-in Pizza Hut experience biblically, the above picture is a sad sight, and for everyone else, it’s a shocking reminder that there’s a Video Ezy still in operation.
Traffic moves quite slowly in South Head Cemetery, both vehicular and otherwise. Nobody’s in that much of a hurry; even the post-hip, ridiculously overpriced motivational sportswear-clad joggers slow down to take in the breathtaking vistas the graveyard offers.
Only most of the time, there’s no breath to take.
The Victorian era saw a boom in ‘the art of death’ – society as a whole had an endless fascination with death, and paid particular attention to the manner in which deceased were committed to the void. This carried over into the early 20th century, and the ornate tombstones and mausoleums of this era are a far cry from today’s dour marble efficiency.
Look at this. It’s kind of like the headstone equivalent of one of those racing car beds, isn’t it?
Immediately eye-catching, the final resting place of Reginald “Phil” Garlick ensures its fair share of stares. A prodigious racer, Garlick’s love of motorsport is forever tied to him in the afterlife. At the time of writing, it’s getting nigh on close to 90 years since his death aged just 39 years at…Maroubra Speedway?! What the…?
This…this couldn’t be! Where would such a racetrack even be? Superfast hoony driving and Maroubra…it just doesn’t make any sense!
Actually it makes perfect sense, and this one’s pretty common knowledge. The Olympia Speedway drew an estimated 70,000 petrolheads to its grand opening in 1925, blowing the attendance of that year’s VFL Grand Final away.
The Olympia became notorious for the dangerously steep incline of its concrete saucer, reaching 48 degrees in one stretch. Suddenly, helmets like Phil’s up there don’t really sound like they’ll cut the mustard, do they?
And how’s that bloodthirsty crowd! 70,000 ghouls who couldn’t get their violent thrills at the VFL filled the Olympia’s seats hoping to see one of those poor bastards lose control and wipe out. Talk about a fascination with death…
In time, the Olympia gave its audience what it wanted:
And I thought Maroubra was a tough suburb these days!
The Olympia was actually shut down twice: 1927 saw the end of its days as a professionally promoted speedway due to a combination of anemic finances and negative attention surrounding the mounting death toll, and then again in the late 1930s after a series of fitful re-openings throughout that decade. By the time the light went red for good, the track was in serious disrepair. Yeah, a real HEALTH HAZARD. Could be DANGEROUS. LIVES AT RISK.
Another factor in play was the advent of public housing. The Housing Commission was snapping up as much ‘wasted’ land as it could and filling it with bland, efficient brick housing for war vets and refugees. By 1948, Maroubra was unrecognisable, a sea of brown roofs and 50km speed limits, strictly adhered to by residents at all times.
Coral Sea Park doesn’t look like much now, but this is pretty much our ground zero today. This was the centre of the speedway track back in the day, and the edges of the park are almost as steep as they were back when Phil and the boys were tearing it up.
It’s almost lazy, the way no effort was made to do anything but grass things over and slap a speed limit on the roads. But it does give us a great insight into just how dangerous it was to race around the Olympia. Look at the angles!
It’s said that the tablet laid on the speedway’s opening day is still buried beneath Coral Sea Park somewhere, and that any efforts made to find it have stopped short of the finish line. In 1925, this infield area was a swampy wasteland, known and feared for an abundance of snakes. But they’re gone now, so c’mon, find the damn tablet.
It’s also said that between its lives as the track’s infield and Coral Sea Park, this portion of land was a tip, and it closed in the 1960s after a boy was found dead inside a fridge. Will the killing never end, Maroubra?! I couldn’t find any hard evidence of this, but if you know more, or you were that boy, get in touch.
Just before we go, there’s one last interesting remnant of what was once Australia’s “killer track”: on the western side of Anzac Parade, there sits Heffron Park and the neighbouring Des Renford Leisure Centre (folks of my generation probably remember man of leisure Des Renford best from that Martin/Molloy skit. IN MY DAY…). This park too sees a sharp incline as you head east toward where the speedway would have been.
An upside to building a racetrack in the middle of a bunch of sandhills was that it was easy to get a saucer in place for the kind of angles necessary for DA THRILLZ. A downside is that tightass locals could sit their tight asses down on said sandhills – like this one – with a perfect view of the action without paying for the privilege, and that’s just what they did. And the Olympia went into voluntary liquidation, you say?
Thanks to my pal Viv for her help with the modern day photos. Gorge!