It seemed like a match made in heaven: a Mickey D’s right outside upper George Street’s Metropolitan Hotel. A greasy fast food basin would have been – and for many years, was – the perfect catchment area for empty stomachs hoping to dilute the copious amounts of alcohol they were about to ingest over the course of an evening out.
So what went wrong?
As a name, the Metropolitan has stood on this spot since 1879. Before that, this part of old Sydney town wasn’t so metropolitan. Prior to 1834 this was a lumber yard: thirsty work, so that year it was released from its status as Crown land for development as a hotel, originally the Castle Tavern, and later as the preposterously named La Villa de Bordeaux.
Publican P. Wilson’s continental experiment didn’t bring the boys to the yard, and by 1867 the building, which included a dispensary, a tailors and a drapers shop, was empty. 1879’s drinkers were more amenable to the idea of a pub on this corner, and thus the Metropolitan was born.
Once the shawl of sophisticated metropolitana fell over the site in the middle of the Victorian era, it wasn’t easily lifted. As with so many Sydney pubs, a brewery took ownership – in this case, Tooth & Co. The excess real estate attached to the building was employed, in 1910, to transform the Metro into a new breed of 20th century super pub. Thus Tooth’s dispensed with the dispensary and tailors, a bottle shop was added to the ground floor, and the neighbouring terrace, built at the site’s inception in 1834, was incorporated into the metropolis of George and Bridge.
In the last century the hotel has changed owners a few times. In the 1930s it was the Bateman’s Metropolitan. In the 60s, it was part of Claude Fay’s hotel portfolio. Today, it’s back to the plain old Metropolitan. This lack of ownership qualifier perhaps distills the idea of a ‘Metropolitan hotel’ to its purest essence – it belongs to no one, to everyone.
Or perhaps we should stick to talking about the ground floor.
McDonald’s and a night on the plonk used to be synonymous, but over the years there’s been a move by imbibers away from processed junk and kebabs, and toward a traditional pub feed. Pubs have seized on the move, providing eateries and “classic” menus in newly renovated wings of what were once snooker rooms or smoking lounges.
Even the trusty kebab has been elbowed out of contention by the schnitty. Where did my country go?
So in a rare move, this McDonald’s beat a hasty retreat to less discerning pastures. You don’t often see the Golden Arches admitting defeat, let alone leaving up scads of damning evidence of their tenancy here.
Poor form too, the Eye Piece, which has opted only to invest in the ubiquitous trend of the pop-up store rather than a real shopfront. As Sydney rent prices continue to accelerate towards Uncle Scrooge-levels of ridiculous money, shop owners have fought back by negotiating shorter terms. This means there’s no need for a total shopfront fit out, which in this case has laid bare the failure of Ronald and associates.
Funny choice of location for an optometrist though, isn’t it? Specs downstairs, beer goggles upstairs.
It seems like a match made in heaven.
Oh, that’s nice.
But what’s this? Couldn’t make it through century two, then?
Actually, the Bank of NSW (later Westpac) held on here for a good 30 or so years past 1960. Let’s take a look:
As we’ve previously been over, the Bank of NSW has a long and illustrious hiszzz…huh, wha? Oh, do excuse me. The revered financial institution was established in 1817 without a safe. Yes, you read that right:
In the spirit of that ridiculousness, tomorrow I’ll be establishing an amusement park: Fast Rides of the Near Future. Anyone got any rides I can borrow? Free entry for a year if you do!
In 1860, the BoNSW started to branch out – literally. The bank’s first branch was established here on Broadway that year. But what flies in the ’60s sinks in the ’90s, and by 1894 changes had to be made. The powers that be summoned Varney Parkes (son of Sir Henry and former Bank of NSW employee) to design the current building (complete with it’s own gold smelting facility), unceremoniously treating their number one son like number two in the process. In fact (as we’ll see), that plaque at the top of the page is about as sentimental as Westpac cares to get (but remember, you’re not just a number 🙂 ).
Actually, maybe in 1955 you were. Oh, check it out: the postbox by the corner is still there!
1982 saw the Bank of NSW merge with the Commercial Bank of Australia to form Westpac, presumably to confuse customers. You can guarantee they would have netted some poor old biddy’s cash in the changeover. To aid the public through this confusing time, all branches were poorly rebranded with the Westpac name, and the Railway Square spot was no different.
Here it is in 1992, in glorious colour for the first time. In that same year, Westpac suffered a $1.6b loss, a record for any Australian corporation at the time. Staff were let go en masse, and that would had to have affected this branch. Luckily, anyone forced out the door would have seen the old Sydney City Mission logo behind them there. I wonder whatever happened to that? Someone should get on that.
Despite Westpac’s extensive refurbishment of the building in 1989-90, the bank was hit too hard by ’92’s recession. By 2000, the building that had once been the bank’s pride and joy was just another ‘For Lease’ along George Street, just in time for the Olympics.
Today, the bank’s purpose is to serve as a function centre. Why one would be needed right beside the Mercure, which presumably has its own, boggles the mind…unless. UNLESS…when the Mercure set themselves up, they put an ad in the paper advertising for the lend of a conference room…
Established in 1934, Longhurst & Andrew is a security firm specialising in locksmithing, alarm systems and surveillance. This address on George Street, just beside the Event Cinema complex, used to be its registered office. Now, it’s a pancake shop. Do we as a society care more about liqueur pancakes than we do about security? ‘Yes,’ we reply with our mouths full.
Raben Footwear may seem like it’s been at this Haymarket corner location for a thousand years, but in a time before Doc Martens and skinheads, the site belonged to Richard Beaumont Orchard, a watchmaker, jeweller and politician. Orchard’s original building had been demolished by the city in order to extend Quay Street to George Street, so to compensate he was given this building. Not sure whose idea it was to add the cheesy orchard-themed clock, though.
Orchard was a Sydney personality in the early 20th century; a sailor, an actor, founding Commissioner of the ABC and Federal Member for Nepean (Lib). By all accounts he seems like the kind of guy who’d have the ‘My Family’ stickers on the back of his car. His skills as a sloganeer left much to be desired, however; ‘Orchard’s: where the watches grow’. These days, you can find Orchard at Rookwood Cemetery, where he was buried after his watch stopped for good in 1942.
For decades, passers-by of the Arnott’s Biscuit factory at Homebush would experience delicious smells emanating from the place. From 1908 to 1997, this was where the action was for the large variety of Arnott’s products. Since the factory’s relocation to Huntingwood, the site has undergone a remarkable transformation.
The first Arnott’s Biscuits factory opened at Forest Lodge in 1894, but when demand created the need for a larger factory, Homebush was chosen as the best location because of its proximity to the rail system. Company founder William Arnott had made the decision to move the factory closer to Sydney, but died in 1901, before he could see his dream realised. Seen at the time as a mistake on Arnott’s part due to Homebush’s then-long distance from the city, the factory eventually became the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the Arnott’s factory was one of the foundations of economic prosperity in the growing residential suburb of Homebush in those days; there were few families in the suburb that didn’t work for Arnott’s.
Arnott’s may have moved on from this location, but their biscuit range is still the most popular in Australia. Scotch Fingers, Milk Arrowroots, Iced Vo-Vos, Tiny Teddies and Sao (I get the feeling that the plural of Sao should still just be Sao, like sheep) are exported all over the world, and all the while the Homebush factory still stands, albeit with a very different purpose.
The Bakehouse Quarter redevelopment started in 1998, taking the Arnott’s factory that was so familiar to locals and converting it into a shopping and leisure precinct akin to Birkenhead Point.
While you can’t spit without hitting a cafe, there’s also the obligatory business sector, which includes the corporate HQ for Arnott’s. No substitute for a good location, I guess. That’s not the extent of the Arnott’s involvement, either: plenty of heritage Arnott’s paraphernalia exists at the site, all part of the old factory. The giant neon Sao sign is the most prominent, but even Arnie (groan), the Arnott’s parrot, gets a look-in.
Cobbled roads and Edwardian-style lighting make up the section of George Street that passes through the vicinity.
A large part of the factory itself has been converted into an AMF bowling alley and laser tag site. It’s not as farfetched as it seems – back in the day, Arnott’s had a bowling green included on the grounds, presumably as a showcase for the Iced Vo-Vo.
A car park has replaced the former oven area, which is still keen to reveal itself to those on the lookout.
The site’s still growing, and there’s still a lot of work to do. Zumba classes and conversations over meals at the steakhouse are still constantly interrupted by the sound of construction workers striving to turn the more industrial parts of the factory into a heritage paradise.
My favourite element untouched from the old days was this, the toilet to nowhere.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up with a fair portion of residential area set aside within it, but whether that would be incorporated into the extant factory is anyone’s guess. Would it be cool or trendy to live in a former Tim Tam chocolate coating room? Probably.
One of the reasons the site was chosen by Arnott’s in the first place was because of its excellent rail infrastructure. You can still get a good view of the factory by train as you pass by between Strathfield and North Strathfield stations, and this bit of free advertising still passes over the busy Parramatta Road.
Huntingwood should keep a close eye on the Bakehouse Quarter, because when Tiny Teddies eventually grow up to become Standard Teddies, and Scotch Fingers grow to represent the entire hand, Arnott’s are gonna need more room, and that’s precisely when AMF and Zumba are gonna move in, ably proving that there is indeed no substitute for quality.