Picture this: a suburban street full of small terrace houses…and then suddenly, this behemoth.
In the 1950s, it was home to British General Electric, manufacturer of consumer electronics that spent the war years making radios and lamps for the war effort. Through a series of mergers, British Electric found itself far removed from the consumer electronic market that it had built its reputation on, and it fell out of favour in the Australian market (along with all things British) in the early 1960s. At that time, Encore Sewing took the stage.
I can’t begin to explain the world of sewing and the fascination it held for so many throughout the 60s and 70s, but through another series of mergers, Encore was eventually engulfed by the Singer empire. As everyone knows, if you leave a heritage former industrial building unattended in Sydney’s Inner West, it’s gonna get occupied FAST. These days it’s residential, or ‘a creative space’ in the carefully chosen words of the building’s real estate agent. The biggest mystery is what the sign below Encore Sewing said. I look at these kinds of things all the time and even I’m stumped. If you know more, feel free to share.
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.
A pawnbroker adds a a kind of uncertainty to an area. If you’re walking through a small shopping arcade and one of those shops is a second hand goods seller, it’s unsettling. You make the connotations in your mind – plenty of stolen goods in there, all sold by junkies, this neighbourhood mustn’t be safe, look at all the Playstations etc etc. Without casting aspersions, Rockdale has always had a pawnbroker on the main strip of the Princes Highway in one form or another; Cash Converters, colloquially known as ‘Crime Converters’ or perhaps more favourably to the company, ‘Cashies’, isn’t the first. In fact, it wasn’t even the first business at this location. Tear your eyes away for just a moment from the framed ‘signed’ pictures of pop singers and their CDs and have a look at what was once the welcome mat:
Gadzooks! This was once the front entrance to Rockdale Furnishers Pty Ltd, which has been around for the last 80 years. When this location become unfeasible for the sale of furnishings (and these things can happen) they moved down the road to West Botany Street, where they exist today, and the building itself became cash converted. Despite that, Rockdale Furnishers managed to leave their mark for all time in a most unusual way. Before we go, I’ve gotta share this old Cash Converters commercial. It’s from a more innocent time; Cash Converters had only been around for a decade, and were attempting to present themselves as a friendly, budget-minded alternative to the retailers of the day. Note the lack of Kappa pants and hoodies among the patrons. Also note the jingle, which has been stuck in my head while I wrote this article. Thank me later:
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…
IKEA has caused quite a stir in the suburb of Tempe over the last couple of years. Bordered by the Princes Highway and the appealingly named Swamp Road, Australia’s largest IKEA has replaced an itself-enormous Kennards (formerly Millers) Self Storage site, Tempe tip, and a manufacturing facility run by Ateco Automotive. Can I just say, who even knew Millers Storage had been taken over? I’m sorry if this is common knowledge, but I openly admit to not being up on the goings-on within the self storage industry: apparently Kennards acquired Millers’ distinctive orange storage empire in 2004. Wow. Anyway, part of the site IKEA sits upon today was owned by a widow between 1926 and 1940, when it was acquired by the Perpetual Trustee Company. In 1947, the PTC offloaded the site onto now-defunct British tobacco manufacturer W.D. & H.O. Wills.
With 2014’s “Grangegate” claiming the NSW premiership of Barry O’Farrell, what better time to take a closer look at the history of Penfolds Wine Cellars at Tempe?
Penfolds bought the site from Wills in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1959 (a good year, apparently) that the steadily growing company opened its new centre, planned as the most modern of its kind. Forward thinking wasn’t exactly in vogue that year, as in 1970 the site received a major update.
The large wine barrel out the front of this art-deco building was a familiar sight to passers-by during Penfolds’ time at Tempe, which came to a close in 1994.
Ateco Automotive moved in in 1995 and had the good taste to leave the art-deco facade alone, but for a few years prior to 2009 the building sat derelict and abandoned.
Meanwhile, on another part of IKEA’s huge site, a landfill site known as Tempe Tip was doing its part to pollute the area. Much of the tip’s runoff ended up in Alexandra Canal. The tip was closed as a landfill in 1975 and in 1988, it caught fire. Remediation attempts were made in 2005 to turn Tempe Tip into ‘Tempe Lands’ – a wetland paradise adjacent to an existing golf driving range and duck-filled ponds. But the former tip site was found to be too unstable, and the project was put into the ‘too hard’ basket until IKEA came along – then it was their problem.
And what a problem it was; in 2010, construction of the furniture megastore screeched to a halt when tonnes of asbestos from the tip were discovered on the site. Hundreds of workers were exposed and had to be quarantined. In a surprising move, the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change investigation found no supporting evidence of related claims that run-off from the site was laced with asbestos, since the existence of such evidence would mean IKEA would pack up and go home, taking their money with them.
Magically, the asbestos problems went away, and IKEA was able to open in 2011, much to the detriment of traffic along the Princes Highway. Especially on weekends, it’s a madhouse (appropriately enough, too, given the history of the neighbouring site…but that’s another story). Above all the chaos stands the art-deco clock tower, which for years bore the Ateco name. IKEA has appropriated the building, returning the clock to working order and affixing the IKEA name beneath it.
It’s a fitting image, really: in IKEA’s world of 9pm weekday closing times, rushed construction efforts and frenzied seizure of unsuitable land, time is money.