Tag Archives: squatters
A common complaint when it comes to this line of work (It’s not work unless you’re getting paid – Ed) is that although we can admire these old buildings and speculate about their history, we’re forced to do so from afar. We’ve all been there: you’re standing in front of an old, seemingly derelict icon from another era, possibly from your own past. You’ve been past it thousands of times, and hell, back in the glory days you might even have gone in. Oh, to have one more look around inside…no one’s around, who would mind? It would be so easy to sneak in and spend a few hours in the past…
And then common sense kicks in, and you keep walking, only now you’re carrying the added burden of regret.
But thankfully, Past/Lives reader “Cylonicus” took full advantage of a temporary absence of common sense and managed to get inside the forbidding Homebush Theatre/Niterider/Midnight Star et al. In an even less sensical move (but one I’m eternally grateful for), he was kind enough to send Past/Lives the photos. Of course, Past/Lives does not condone this kind of thing, nor trespassing in general…but if you just can’t help yourself, be sure to send me the pics. I have a feeling this won’t be the first time…
I’ve written about this place twice before, so if you’re in the dark you might want to bone up on its history before you step inside:
And now, without further commentary from me, behold the fractured beauty of the Homebush Theatre one last time (before it becomes apartments). A massive THANK YOU once again to reader “Cylonicus”!
It was only a matter of time before we found ourselves back in front of this beast. As we already know, the Homebush Theatre has experienced a long afterlife as an ice rink, a theatre restaurant, a reception centre and a squat before it was finally allowed to rot alongside the other corpses on Parramatta Road. For more on its years as a squatters paradise, check out this fascinating account and accompanying video.
Shortly after I wrote my original article last year, it came to light that the Midnight Star was to be redeveloped into two towers of high-density living space in the hope of rejuvenating its necropolyptic surroundings. This plan was rightfully met with community outrage, and has since been dropped by the developers without explanation, granting the Niterider another stay of execution.
While attempting to spruce up the area is a good idea, this was not the right way to go about it. Sure, put in your two towers full of people, but consider the lack of amenities or decent infrastructure in the area before you start getting the dollar signs in your eyes, greedy developers! You know, if the M4 was finished, you could transform the stretch of Parramatta Road between Homebush and the city, and smart developers could really clean up… Oh wait, this is Sydney we’re talking about. Carry on.
And so the Midnight Star returns to its seemingly-eternal slumber, waiting for a new set of idealistic developers to take another crack. The Strathfield Council has welcomed attempts to get something happening here, but only if the community at large receives some benefit. Personally, I think the community would benefit from a return of the theatre restaurant format. Come on, who doesn’t like to be entertained while eating, especially by dodgy panto? Get Dirty Dick on the phone! Homebush would learn to laugh again, instead of sinking further into bleak, oppressive hopelessness. It’s not a good look.
UPDATE: Someone has awakened the beast. Come for a tour of the Homebush Theatre before it’s gone forever (or even after it’s gone, these blogs last a long time).
In 1873, English grocer James Griffiths migrated to Melbourne with his wife and cousin (one and the same) in order to start a tea business. By 1875 Griffiths Brothers Teas had become a sensation, providing tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate to caffeine junkies all over Australia. The Sydney outlet of the Melbourne-based company, built in 1915 as a Budden and Greenwell joint, banked heavily on thirsty train travellers staggering out of nearby Central Station looking for a cuppa.
In a memorable ad campaign, a series of these signs were situated at varying intervals along the train trip into Central, designed to gee up incoming arrivals by counting down the miles until they could drink up. It’s hard to imagine anyone being so excited about tea in this day and age, although I wonder if any of the signs are still out there, amping people up for phantom tea?
But we’re not here to talk about the glory days, are we? In 1925, James Griffiths was killed by a train (apparently the train driver missed the ‘1 mile to Griffiths’ signs), and the tea company was sold to Robur Tea, which itself lasted until 1974. Griffiths’ death meant downsizing within the company (maybe today isn’t so different after all), and the Sydney building was transferred to the Sydney City Council, who then leased it back to Griffiths Teas. Talk about keeping up appearances!
I’d have to imagine that whoever was selling Makita and Metabo power tools out of this place weren’t using the entire building. These signs have been here as long as I can remember, and probably even longer still. Bear in mind that while these power tools were being sold, there were still signs up for Avenue Furniture and Griffiths Teas; that’s confusing and sloppy. I mean, that’d be like if…or, maybe if…no, I mean like…hm. Never mind.
It’s no surprise to find that Citilease, owned by Sydney’s own Howard Hughes, Isaac Wakil, is the villain of this piece, completely responsible for the disgusting state of this site. As previously mentioned, Isaac and Susan Wakil own millions of dollars worth of property around Sydney that they insist on leaving vacant. As a result, viable real estate close to public transport and universities is being left to rot. Wakil’s Citilease outfit (here disguised as ‘City Leasing’) has owned the building for at least 25 years, and don’t be fooled by the ‘for lease’ sign – there’s no 9 in front of the number.
Late last year, some Sydney anarchists decided to conduct an inspection of the property on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps they had intentions of leasing? Of course, they made a few alterations while they were there and had to be forcibly evicted, but don’t worry Citilease, I think they’ll be back.
It’s worth pointing out that the Melbourne Griffiths Teas building, which you’ll remember was the headquarters for the whole operation, has been well preserved and turned into an upmarket hotel with vintage trappings, the Lindrum. Now, why didn’t we think of that?
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.
Homebush Cinema/Niterider Theatre Restaurant/Midnight Star Reception Centre/Derelict – Homebush, NSW
This site, on Parramatta Road at Homebush, is notable for several reasons, but today we’ll be looking at this structure – the Midnight Star Reception Centre. The history is long and colourful: it was built as the Homebush Cinema in 1925, and the initials HT are still prominent above the awning.
In 1930, the Homebush Cinema Ltd. company was liquidated, and the building was bought by Western Suburbs Cinemas Ltd., a company that also managed cinemas at Burwood, Parramatta, Granville, Auburn and Strathfield. In 1939 the theatre was extensively refitted and relaunched as the Vogue Cinema. Acquisition by Hoyts in 1944 saw it renamed again as the Hoyts Vogue.
The building ceased operating as a cinema in 1959, and subsequently became an ice rink. In 1986 it was refitted again, and turned into the Niterider Theatre Restaurant.
Perhaps realising that the concept of theatre restaurant was in 1986 already past its use-by date, it was converted (badly) into the Midnight Star Reception Centre. Looking at the building now, you’d be hard pressed to decide whether it wanted to be the Niterider or the Midnight Star, such was the amount of signage left up. The refitters must have been the mob Pizza Hut used, given how sloppily it was done. The Midnight Star operated until 1996(!). This is where things really get interesting…
The building sat derelict for many years, not an unusual sight along Parramatta Road. It’s sad to say that Sydney’s most important arterial road is peppered with derelict buildings like this. Karma works in mysterious ways, however, as in 2002 the Midnight Star got another lease on life…just without a lease.
In February of that year, squatters occupied the vacant building and renamed it the Midnight Star Social Centre. For eight months, and apparently with the begrudging consent of both the owner and the police, it was used as a hub for raves, gigs, pirate cinema screenings, an internet workspace and various activist meetings. The media eventually identified the Midnight Star as a “nerve centre” for anarchists and violent and politically motivated dissent, especially in the context of a WTO meeting held in Sydney that year. The police evicted the occupants in December 2002, and the building has remained derelict ever since. It’s heritage listed on Strathfield Council’s local environment plan, but it’s yet another example of a dead cinema in Sydney no one wants to use.
DEVELOPMENTAL UPDATE: This week’s Inner West Courier reports that the Niterider Theatre has been chosen to undergo a radical restoration and redevelopment.
Given how Parramatta Road is a total carpark twice a day already during peak hour, the idea of adding 460 apartments (‘I live in Unit 458’) worth of people to the mix is stupid. I think this should be taken as a sign that the M4 will never be completed. What’s also stupid is how this would look. Two towers sticking up from behind the ancient facade of the Homebush Theatre? It’ll look like a young person wearing an ancient pair of shorts got buried upside down up to their waist.