Yes, the kitschy neon sign is what Sharpie’s Golf House is best known for, but there’s a bit more to it than that. For starters, the sign has been gone for years, having been taken down by the City of Sydney in 2007 for ‘refurbishment’. How long does it take to replace a few tubes?
The origins of Sharpie’s Golf House lie in the shop next door. It’s currently the empty shell of the former Gold Sun Supermarket, but in 1918, when Russian immigrant Harry Landis bought it, it was the Railway Loan Office, named for its proximity to Central Station. Landis moved into the current Sharpie’s address in 1923, and proceeded to divide the pawn shop into two sections: musical instruments and sporting goods, with an emphasis on golf.
After the Second World War, the sporting side was renamed The Golf House, and in 1964 the animated neon sign featuring the world’s best golfer (he always gets a hole-in-one) was erected after six years of construction. Until its removal, it was Australia’s second oldest neon sign (Melbourne features the oldest. You gonna take that lying down, Sydney?). The music business moved to Park Street in 1977, and the Golf House became Sydney’s premier golf store. This prestige attracted pro golfer Lindsay Sharp, who bought the shop in 1985 and renamed it after himself, forcing a change to the neon sign. That’s why the red ‘Sharpie’s’ part looks so out of place.
Sharp himself sold the ever-declining business in 1999, and in 2004 it became Korean-owned Harmex Golf, which limped on for a few years before closing its doors for good in 2007. Looking around the area it’s not a surprise – what was once a thriving business zone has become a wasteland with a bad reputation, filled with backpacker hostels and husks of businesses long gone. I’m not complaining; it’s great for what I’m doing. But it’s a sad look for the city, especially so close to the train line. Besides, it’s not like there are any golf courses in the immediate vicinity, so it’s not hard to imagine the golfing community getting fed up with making the trek out here every time they wanted a decent 5-iron. At least they made for good weapons when they stepped back out into the street.
The building today is a mess. Sharpie’s has been dulled. It’s dirty, covered in posters and falling apart. Even by Elizabeth Street standards it’s an eyesore. The part I’m having a hard time getting over is the indoor driving range. It had an indoor driving range! For how long? How did it work? I’ve played those virtual golf simulators indoors before, but surely this was set up long before those were around. It’s not even that long a building, how did Sharpie have room to get his drive on?
It’s alleged that the sign sits inside, heritage listed, waiting for a spit and polish that’ll likely never come. There have been a few proposals submitted to the Sydney City Council to demolish the current site and reincorporate the sign into whatever is built in its place, but all have been declined. It’s not like they’re going to build another Golf House, so why not just leave it in the past? Why not take the opportunity to breathe some life back into this part of town, and create tomorrow’s heritage listed signs? For all the talk of preservation, Sharpie was quick to flush a 20-year-old sign down the toilet to remake it in his image. It’ll likely go the way of the Regent Theatre on George Street, and we’ll be able to live in Sharpie Tower in 20 years time. There’s something to look forward to.
These days, this building on the corner of Mountain Street and Broadway, Ultimo, houses a convenience store, apartments, and our old friend Breadtop, but the inconspicuous facade hides a colourful and tempestuous history.
Built in 1911, the building started life as the Broadway Theatre, a cinema. With the advent of TV, this was one of many suburban cinemas that had fallen by the wayside by 1960, when it closed. In 1968, it was acquired by nightclub owner John Spooner and converted into Jonathan’s Disco, where it became well known as one of Sydney’s prime live music venues. Sherbet and Fraternity both got their big break at Jonathan’s, playing residencies involving six hour days for months on end. Imagine the poor disco staff having to listen to six hours of Sherbet a day for months. Perks of the job…
In May 1972, Jonathan’s Disco was gutted by fire. I can’t help but think it was one of those beleaguered staff members. “HowZAT?” they’d’ve quipped as they flicked their cigarette into the freshly-poured puddle of gasoline. The damage was extensive, and required a complete internal refit before it was opened again in 1976 as a ballroom dancing studio.
The Sydney City Council granted the Maltese community use of the premises as a licensed venue in 1980, when it became the Phoenician Club. Once more, the site became one of Sydney’s most popular live music venues with local bands such as Powderfinger and Ratcat playing gigs there throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Nirvana played their first Sydney show there in 1992 – a far cry from Sherbet. Around this time, the rave scene exploded in Sydney; a development that would lead to the end of the Phoenician Club.
Anna Wood, a 15yo schoolgirl from Belrose, attended an ‘Apache’ dance party at the Phoenician in October 1995, where she took ecstasy. Her resulting death shocked Sydney and enraged then-NSW Premier Bob Carr, who declared war on the Club. A series of fines and restrictions imposed on live venues in the wake of Wood’s death led to the closure of the Club in 1998 and the decline of Sydney’s live music scene which continues today. Good thing Wood wasn’t killed by a pokie machine.
From 1998 the site sat derelict, just in time for the Olympics. Nothing international visitors like seeing more than abandoned, graffiti-tagged buildings. In 2001 it was completely redeveloped internally, and today satisfies Carr’s idea of a venue put to good use.