I began to lose control…
By 1988, the decade-old Westfield Shoppingtown at Hurstville was outgrowing its baby clothes. The centre had been crafted as the perfect milkshake to bring the boys to Hurstville’s yard, but it had worked too well. The public’s insatiable hunger for more shops, more variety, more ways to waste their money had grown, while the centre itself had remained essentially the same.
What had met the “international standard” just ten years earlier no longer cut the mustard in the decade of decadence. Of course, this standard was set by Westfield itself, which had opened six centres in the USA since 1980 in its quest to become an international presence. Oh but don’t worry all you xenophobes, they’re still as dinky-di true-blue fair-dinkum mate as a dead dingo’s donger:
Despite suffering heavy losses in the 1987 stock market crash – bad enough to force the sale of star asset Network Ten (!) in 1989 – the Westfield Group was keen to apply what it had learned in the international market to its legacy outlets.
And let’s face facts: they don’t get much more legacy than Hurstville.
Dated 1987, Westfield’s plan for aggressive expansion looks very bold on paper. The centre’s extension was to take up an entire block neighbouring the existing site, a proposal that no doubt delighted Hurstville Council. I know what you’re saying, “It’s lucky they had a spare block of land bereft of residents on hand in order to allow Westfield to expand!”
Well, about that…
Just left of the complex in that picture are houses, trees, all that good stuff. But as the caption says, FULL STEAM AHEAD.
Back in their original 1975 proposal, Westfield had been very careful to minimise the impact the centre would have on the community, all in the service of buttering up the Hurstville Council. The pinnacle of this effort was the Snowy Hill Park atop the centre, a nature reserve where people could come and relax away from the hustle and bustle of the retail juggernaut below. In 1988, it was the first to go, razed to make way for a carpark. It says a lot about how the balance of power in the suburb had changed in ten years that this was able to happen. As it stands, this blog entry is now the most public memorial to Snowy. Ouch.
All this talk of growth was all well and good, but what exactly was growing? Sure, Westfield’s profits were hulking out, and Hurstville Council’s take-home wouldn’t have been anything to sneeze at, but was Hurstville itself doing much growing? Let’s see…
1990. It was time. The grand opening everyone had been foaming at the mouth for, that people had sacrificed their homes for – that Snowy Hill had been swept under the rug for – was at hand. Did Westfield spare any expense bringing out the big guns for such an occasion?
Well, okay. Uh…
Hm. So, no.
The biggest jewel in Westfield’s new crown was the addition of Sydney department store mainstay Grace Bros. With Waltons, Westfield had backed the wrong horse, and were determined to make sure that didn’t happen again. The new Grace Bros. also served to steal even more of the floundering Roselands’ thunder, as GB had been that centre’s pride and joy for years at this point. Also new to Hurstville were K-Mart, 125 new specialty shops, as well as some of the biggest and most resilient names in retail:
Take a moment to catch your breath and let’s take a look at the whole lineup:
My award for the best business name ever goes to the hairdresser known as BOSS HAIR TEAM. Untouchable.
Armed with all these new shops and bearing the International Standard ™, Westfield was primed to take the new decade by storm, and for a time it worked. High profile acquisitions and additions peppered the 1990s, but none as exciting as when dying god Venture made way for American toy giant Toys R Us in 1993.
As my contemporaries would concur, the concept of a two storey toy shop was mind-blowing at the time. Compare this to the mere one storey of Bankstown’s World 4 Kids (itself a countermeasure against Toys R Us) and there’s just no competition. Never mind that the bottom level was mainly baby stuff and outdoor junk, that’s not the point. TWO STOREYS.
On the entertainment front, Westfield had topped off its retail sundae with the cherry that was Greater Union. An eight-screen cinema (considered huge at the time, believe me), GU blew away local competition like the Hurstville Savoy, the Kogarah Mecca and the Beverly Hills Cinema. How could those small fry hope to compete with eight screens?
For me though, the high point of Westfield’s desire to innovate during the 1990s was Intencity. Pre-empted by a cool, mysterious ad campaign (below), it seemed as if Intencity was the natural evolution of video game arcades of the past such as Spacetacular and Fun & Games….but that’s another story.
By 1995, the future looked very bright indeed:
But all the glitz and dazzle was blinding Hurstvillians from what was really going on in the area. For every Toys R Us, there was a story like this. For every K-Mart, there was one of these. And for every Grace Bros., there was a Barter’s.
Remember Barter’s (see part one if you don’t)? Living proof that bigger isn’t always better, the three-storey Barter’s had begun its slow decline with the advent of the Westfield itself back in the late ’70s. In January 1985, Barter’s held its last ever sale, and everything had to go:
Scabs from all over Hurstville picked the place clean. What had once been the example of retail elegance in Hurstville was now…well:
The oft-ignored side effect of the Westfield was the damage it caused to the Forest Road shopping strip. Although it had originally been intended to complement those shops, Westfield had done everything so much bigger and better that the little guys outside didn’t stand a chance. Throughout the ’90s and ’00s, stories like this were common:
Not helping matters for local retailers was the debacle that was Forest Road Mall. Proposed in 1988 by council and intended to celebrate Hurstville becoming a city that year, the plan would have seen the two-way Forest Road closed off to private traffic and transformed into a pedestrian mall, ‘Hurstville Boulevard’. It was believed that this mall would combat Westfield’s dominance of the area, although how council thought they could do this and not appear two-faced is beyond me. Needless to say, it wasn’t very popular with retailers:
It may shock you to learn that Hurstville Council went ahead with this plan in 1991, going so far as to hold an opening celebration…
…that featured perhaps one of the least appropriate double-billings in entertainment history:
The madness ended in late 1991, as the recession, coupled with increasingly fierce opposition, caused council to rethink their plans. As so much of the construction work to turn Forest Road into the car-free Hurstville Boulevard had been completed, a compromise was met: Forest Road became a one-way street.
You can imagine the big cheeses at Westfield sitting around laughing at this mayhem, which only served to strengthen their position in Hurstville.
But by 1998, Westfield’s gloss was starting to wear off. Another ten years had passed, and in that time international standards had increased again, Westfield Miranda had expanded to become even bigger again, Westfield Burwood was slated for demolition to be replaced by a more modern centre, and many of the heavy hitters of the mid ’90s were winding down. The ever-shifting plates of retail had unsettled giants like Brashs, Toys R Us and *sniff* Intencity, which was replaced by Target in 1997.
Even the cinema was starting to lose its sheen, seen by locals as a hangout for thugs and hoodlums, as was the neighbouring food court. Suddenly, it didn’t feel so good to shop at Hurstville.
The social climate of Hurstville was something that neither council nor Westfield stopped to consider at any time, especially when they were bulldozing houses to expand the shopping centre. That Hurstville was becoming increasingly multicultural didn’t seem to occur to either entity also, only becoming apparent when it was too late to repackage and restructure the complex to suit the suburb’s new needs. I wonder if Westfield ever stopped to wonder why it was suddenly filled with cheap $2 junk shops and mobile phone accessory outlets?
Today, it’s a far cry from the glory days. This year marks Westfield Hurstville’s 35th anniversary, and you can’t half tell. Let’s take a quick tour.
‘Shoppingtown’ no more. Yeah, that was the most dated part of the whole thing, Westfield.
Here are the steps that once took those of us craving fresh air and nature up to Snowy Hill Park. Now it’s a place to smoke while you’re waiting for your kid to emerge from the daycare centre. See those bushes to the left? That’s all you’re getting.
I don’t understand how only some of the floor tiles are stained. How does that happen?
Jolley’s Arcade lives on today with this dated entrance to a dungeon filled with a pretty dire selection of shops, with the fashionably incongruous Fevercast a notable exception. I wonder if they still pay less rent?
When even Westfield became too depressing, the threatening youth moved outside to hang around. Not quite the pedestrian mall council envisioned, I’m guessing.
What was once a dedicated McDonalds restaurant was cut in half with the 1990 extension, and today it’s Sul Ponte cafe. McDonalds’ original seating arrangements remain inside, but the burgers themselves have moved up to the food court outside K-Mart.
Park Road was built over in 1990 to create this shopping overpass. On the left is the original Westfield, although the carpark on top was added in 1990.
This is all that remains of Rose Street today. That music lessons shop looks ancient enough to remember when it was a full street.
In the scheme of things, Westfield seems to have moved on and forgotten about Hurstville. They don’t even bother to charge for parking. The corporation has realised that the true profits are to be had in places like Bondi Junction and Pitt Street Mall, and it’s safe to say that ‘Hurstfield’ will not be receiving further extensions.
What was once hailed as Hurstville’s saviour undoubtedly proved its greatest nemesis and ultimately, its assassin. The damage is done, the parasite has sucked the city dry, and the glory days are long behind it. Visiting today is a depressing, colourless experience heightened by the assorted mental patients who frequent the centre. It hasn’t just become a part of the Hurstville experience, it has become Hurstville. Without the centre, the suburb would become nothing.
And given the state of the centre, I’m not so sure that hasn’t already come to pass.
I’d like to wrap this saga up by sharing a letter that I feel is wonderfully succinct, poignant and devastating all at once. This was published in the Leader, November 1 1990, and shows astounding foresight/cynicism. The writer must be dead by now, so RIP Frank, and RIP Hurstville.
…and my heart was beating fast.
Frank Lowy and John Saunders had arrived in Australia in the early 1950s, both Jewish immigrants who had been scarred by the horrors of fascism in Europe. Australia offered them opportunities, hope, a new start. In 1953, Saunders owned and operated a Blacktown delicatessen he’d bought after years of working as a packer, while Lowy was running a smallgoods delivery business. Saunders was impressed by Lowy’s punctuality and work ethic, and the two hit it off.
The pair went into business together, with Saunders shrewdly choosing to focus on the growing suburbs on Sydney, out west in particular, rather than the inner city. Soon their delicatessen was joined by a continental coffee lounge as the area’s efficient railway network delivered a steady influx of customers.
But Saunders had been keeping an eye on American developments in the small business arena. The newest trend there was a strip mall with a roof. In Australia, shops were strictly on the streets, never indoors. The duo saw an opportunity.
1975. Hurstville’s legacy as the place to shop in St George was in tatters. Long gone were the suburb’s retail pillars Diments and Jolley’s, and dying a slow death was Barter’s. Coles Variety and Woolworths Arcade came off as second best, imitators rather than the innovators their predecessors had been. It was a sorry state of affairs, but at least they had plenty of parking.
There was also the ill-conceived Super Centre, which strangled the train line, but the Hurstville Council’s hope that it would become another shopping success had long gone. For the first time since its inception, Hurstville lacked an identity.
Starting with Hornsby in 1961, Westfield had opened shopping centres all over Sydney. Burwood opened in 1966, and Miranda Fair was swallowed up by the Westfield Group in 1969. Roselands had remained beyond their grasp, however, and the group was looking to fill the shopping void in the southwest.
In November 1975, Westfield put forward a proposal to Hurstville Council: a shopping complex that would contain a department store, a large supermarket and various small shops, spread out over three floors. A town park, office space and extensive car parking only helped to sweeten the deal, with the park especially taking steps towards complying with Hurstville Council’s plan for the area. If you’re shocked to learn that Hurstville Council had a plan for the area at this point in time, join the club.
Westfield’s choice of words were kind to say the least in its description of Hurstville’s current state. The new centre would ‘reinforce’ Hurstville’s ‘existing trading character’. Well, that’s one way of putting it.
Considering it was to be placed between the current commercial area and residential housing, the centre’s design was very careful to adhere to Hurstville Council’s then-provisos that the visual bulk of the building be minimised.
A unique aspect of the building’s layout was its system of ramps. It was possible to traverse the entire centre without ever encountering a set of stairs, presumably so one could take their time browsing and purchasing, or to make it harder to escape.
What’s particularly interesting about this initial plan is the town park. This breezy artist’s conception makes it look like a kind of leafy paradise, but it’s harder to imagine in practice. How long until all the trees would have names carved into them, until all the benches were covered in gum and graffiti? Would Westfield even go ahead with the park, which by their own veiled admission was a wheel greaser? More importantly, had the wheel been greased enough? Would Council submit to this corporate shaming at the cost of their pride? The Super Centre wound was still fresh, but if it scabbed over in time it could still be a viable shopping outlet…couldn’t it?
Of course, we know how this story ends.
In order for this beast to be constructed, something had to go, and since the new centre would provide parking unlimited for St Georgians, the then-new yet deeply unpopular council car park got the axe.
Construction began in May 1977, and they didn’t waste any time. Half of Rose Street was obliterated:
…while the new-old car park was levelled:
The existing retailers looked on with trepidation, worried for their future and rightfully so.
Finally, on October 9, 1978, it was ready. Premier Neville Wran was on hand to usher in the birth of a new age for Hurstville.
As you can probably tell by the plans above, the centre was much smaller when it opened than it is now. 1978 was a simpler time when people didn’t need as much junk. But what junk did they need, exactly? What did this behemoth of retail extravagance boast that Forest Road’s usual suspects couldn’t? Let’s take a look at 1978’s centre directory to get a better understanding of just what Westfield had brought to Hurstville’s threadbare table.
Waltons! Backing winners as always, guys. We can laugh now, but Waltons was one of the biggest drawcards of the new centre, a department store that would hark back to the glory days of Jolley’s (or would it?). The rest of the shops on display are (mostly) before my time, so take your time and reminisce.
Of special note is the much-ballyhooed town park. True to their word, they actually went ahead and built it, even going the extra mile of suck-uppery by naming it after former Hurstville mayor and enthusiastic supporter of the Super Centre, Gordon “Snowy” Hill, who had died in 1978. From one Hill 2 anotha…
The entrance to Snowy Hill Park was located at the junction of Cross and Crofts Streets, or just opposite where you’d emerge from Jolley’s Arcade.
Or just behind that car.
The stairs led up to the park which included tennis courts, amenities, an area for exhibitions and this statue:
The statue is holding a cornucopia, supposedly a symbol of the “plenty” available to all in the Westfield. There’s something oddly creepy about that. Or creepily odd, your choice.
By the way, if you’ve gotten this far and are not happy with those image watermarks, take it up with Hurstville Council, who see fit to charge $20 per photo for a decent quality digital copy. Yeah, right, let me reach into my wallet for you, HC, since I am a millionaire. Has anyone ever paid that fee? Do the Hurstville Councillors believe they’re sitting on a goldmine of photographs once people start craving digital copies of old photos of a shopping centre? Then again, I’ve just written two articles about said shopping centre, and you’ve read them, so the joke’s on us I guess.
It goes without saying that the Westfield opening was a huge success, and galvanised shopping in the St George area. Suddenly, Roselands was looking a little long in the tooth, and Miranda was just too far away, whereas Hurstville, with its new cache of ‘plenty’, was once again the convenient option. Profits soared, retailers and customers alike flocked to the suburb, and any sourpusses in the old commercial area of Forest Road had their complaints to council fall on deaf ears.
Five years later, that momentum hadn’t slowed. Let’s take a look at a few choice pages from the December 1983 catalogue, shall we?
I’ll put more up on the Past/Lives Facebook page. If you haven’t liked it yet, go and do it! Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Best of all, the catalogue contained 1983’s centre directory. What’s changed?
Not much. Brash’s is there now, so yet another success story to look forward to.
It seemed as if Westfield could do no wrong in the 1980s – the greed decade. Hurstville in particular was outgrowing its allotment by 1986, just over ten years since the initial application. In an even more powerful position this time, Westfield approached council with plans to expand. Do you think council was going to say no?
This building features an interesting double-shot of 19th century enterprise.
First we have the Bank of New South Wales, established in 1817, making it Australia’s oldest operating company. “But wait,” I hear you saying. “It’s not around today. How could it possibly be Australia’s oldest company?” I’m glad you asked. Between 1850 and 1910, the bank established branches around the country, and also in Fiji and Papua New Guinea (despite Bank of NSW meaning jack to people over there). From 1927 the bank went on a mad spree of acquisitions, buying out the Western Australian Bank and the Australian Bank of Commerce and culminating in a merger with the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1982 giving rise to Westpac. And thus…evil is born.
On the other side, we have Allans Music, which I was surprised to learn was established in Melbourne in 1850. Allans by the turn of the 20th century was the biggest music retailer in the southern hemisphere (but where was the competition?). In the 70s, Brashs decided it wanted a piece of the Allans action and acquired the company. When Brashs went under in the late 90s, Allans emerged unscathed and under new ownership. It merged with Billy Hyde Music in 2010 to become a kind of super music conglomerate, the sort that’ll be feeding us through tubes and stealing our vitality 200 years from now. Incidentally, the building to the right of Allans was the Greater Union Pitt Centre, and beside that lived a Brashs for many years. Even the Greater Union became a cut-price CD shop for a time after its closure, and the Galeries Victoria’s JB Hifi sits across the street. This section of Pitt Street has never managed to shake its musical heritage.
Sydney’s Plaza Theatre was once one of many elegant cinemas and theatres lining George Street’s entertainment strip. Like many cinemas, its business was damaged by the advent of television, and today it has the distinction of being arguably the world’s fanciest McDonald’s.
Built for Hoyts in 1930, the Plaza sat alongside venues such as the Century Theatre (which became an indoor BMX track in what could only have been the 80s) and the Crystal Palace Arcade.
Despite many of its contemporaries being bulldozed around it, the Plaza stood firm until 1977, when it was closed as a cinema and reopened as Maxy’s, a disco skating rink. The changing face of entertainment.
Surprisingly, the idea of a disco roller rink wasn’t fashionable for long, and the Plaza played host to Mickey D’s and video arcades for most of the 1980s.
The Plaza’s northern end was once again immersed in the world of cinema in 1995 when the Stallone-Schwarzenegger-Willis-Moore joint Planet Hollywood came to Sydney, establishing itself in the former arcade. According to this photo taken in 1996, PH shared its space with Brashs, another 90s success story. By 1999, both ventures would be out of business.
Today, some lazy entrepreneur has taken the already-tacky Planet Hollywood aesthetic and adapted it into the Star Bar, another of modern George Street’s entertainment offerings. Not sure how many stars you’d see here these days. The Plaza in its present state is yet another example of Sydney trying to disguise the brazen pimping of itself to the lowest bidder by hiding behind facades of the past. If it looks vintage, it seems that much more respectable. What isn’t considered is that drunken eyes can’t appreciate all the lovingly preserved heritage fronts, and as George Street continues to slide into the gutter, the death grip it has on these buildings only serves to drag their illustrious reputations and history down with it.
STAR STUDDED UPDATE: Reader Cameron says: “Star Bar was originally created by Planet Hollywood to replace Brashs when it failed which had the same owner, Star Bar was created so Planet Hollywood could profit from gambling without tarnishing its family image. The two coexisted for a while. A bizarre fact, this restaurant was a real cash cow and extremely profitable when it closed, a case of embezzlement I believe. The real crime there was the removal of the original cinemas Spanish themed ceiling for the extra headroom and replaced with a high blue ceiling. The Star Bar is now run by the same group that has the even tackier Shark Bar! now with no sharks……”
Sounds like the sharks haven’t left at all, actually. It’s almost inconceivable that shady types would be running places like this (especially the Shark Bar), but there you go. Thanks, Cameron!