It’s on a main road. Hundreds, if not thousands, of cars pass it every day. They pass it. They don’t stop. Would you?
I did, because there was something about this building…something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
It wears its former tenants like bad tattoos all over its festering body. On the eastern side, the Japanese Car Centre dares car shoppers to compare their prices.
A quick glance across wild grass to the neighbouring site almost has you thinking that was possible, but the cars on the lot were peppered with P plates and those flag boxing gloves, the 21st century fluffy dice. A quick inquiry in the Toyota dealership revealed that the Japanese Car Centre had been abandoned for years, and was now used as Toyota staff parking. As I left the slightly confused receptionist to her absent Facebooking, I thought about the reality of what she’d said: staff parking. Hell of a lot of staff.
On the western side, trees had worked to cover this once-prominent advertising canvas. The lights were long dead, whatever the sign had said was lost to the ages.
Buildings like this have a way of opening up to you after awhile. In this case, it was the abundance of electronic doodads covering its face like piercings that gave it away. From this former sign…
…to the downlights above the doorway…
…to the Secur-A-Posts preventing Smash-N-Grabs, gadgets had this place covered. But who had done the covering?
The glass door didn’t reveal many secrets, except for a distinctly retail feel inside…
…a notion backed up by their generous acceptance of TeleChecks. Now, the kiddies in the audience might be wondering what the hell a cheque is, and even if I told you you’d probably doze off halfway through. Let’s just say that this TeleCheck company – which I’d certainly never heard of – claims to have been around for 50 years. This must have been an early adopter.
And then it struck me: the colour scheme. Look at the building for a moment. It’s canary yellow. What kind of madman would have it this way?
Yes, the truth is revealed at last. For years, this was a Dick Smith Electronics outlet, back when Dick Smith Electronics emphasised the electronics side of the business rather than the dicksmithing. When Dick sold out to Woolworths in 1980, they (for a time) stuck with his main street store approach. This would have been one of the last, dying out sometime in the mid 1990s.
From the look of things, a furniture factory outlet took charge of the prominent location and eye-grabbing paint job before (in a cruel parody of the corporate 80s) it was absorbed by the Japanese Car Centre. And now that’s been gone for years, so who’s here now?
The Japanese Car Centre traded up to become Five Dock-smiths (You’re fired. -Ed) while this building has been left to rot, and that’s where the story should end. But you’re my readers, and I love you, so I want you to know I tried to go the extra mile. I know that you love photos of docking bays around the back of places like this…I know that. But when I went around to the abused little alleyway that ran behind the site, I, for the second time in Past/Lives’ history, interrupted a drug deal. So I’m very sorry, docking bay lovers – I just couldn’t get that shot.
Epilogue: Don’t cry for Dick Smith. His NSW warehouse is situated just a bit further up the Hume, where Homebush Bay Drive intersects, with a small retail outlet tacked on for good measure. He ain’t hurtin’. The Japanese Car Centre’s doing just fine too, joining a thriving indie car dealership strip on Parramatta Road, and abandoning the big boys who dominate this section of Chullora. In fact, the only loser in this story is me, because I had to spend so much time across from Fairfax’ offensive billboard of “journalist” and apparent buccaneer Peter FitzSimons while I took these photos. What’s that doo-rag all about, Peter?
In Beverly Hills, these sad, wide, expressive eyes stare out at the busy King Georges Road rushing by, just like they have every day for the last 40 years. They don’t blink, even when the tears well up. They don’t close, even when all they want to do is sleep. Ever vigilant, they’re waiting for that sight that was once so familiar, so welcome – the happy family walking over the little bridge across the canal, looking forward to a special treat for dinner. Where else could we be talking about?
Back when it was still possible, it was a special treat. Home delivery was only introduced around 1985, so prior to that if you wanted Pizza Hut, you had to either pick it up yourself (effort) or eat in. Today, Pizza Hut is purely a pickup/delivery racket operating out of tiny, charmless shopfronts, but back then, Pizza Huts announced themselves with bold red roofs and hut-like restaurants. Why do you think they called it Pizza Hut?
Picture it – it’s a Friday night, your parents have just come home from work and they can’t be assed cooking. You know what you want, but you don’t want to nag them for it. And then suddenly…it happens. The TV captures everyone’s attention and says the unspoken:
The low-rent, completely not-fancy atmosphere of a Pizza Hut dining experience has yet to be replicated in this modern age. If regular restaurants are Dendy, Pizza Hut was Greater Union. For starters, the walls were all brick, and the chairs were all red. The first Pizza Hut in Australia was established in 1970, and all subsequent restaurants followed the design template laid down at Belfield. It showed; as late as 1999 you could still travel back in time to the 70s when dining at Pizza Hut. Don’t forget the restaurant-exclusive menu item, gingerbread man Pizza Pete, either. No other gingerbread man tastes like Pizza Pete.
In the 90s, with the advent of delivery and all-you-can-eat restaurants like Sizzler, Pizza Hut knew they had to step things up a notch. After all, they’d created delivery. They could destroy it. Unfortunately, by creating possibly the catchiest jingle in the history of advertising, they hadn’t made it easy for themselves:
So they introduced the Works, which was their attempt at all you can eat. Honestly, I think this is where Pizza Hut’s dine-in experience started to go wrong. Now, I know you’re thinking ‘hey, I remember all you can eat at Pizza Hut, and it was awesome’, and I’m not disagreeing. But before the advent of the Works, you’d just rock up, get a table, order a pizza and they’d bring it to your table. The Works required you to grab a plate and go up to the pizza bar, which was adorned with a variety of ‘popular toppings’. If you were a vegetarian, for instance, you had to put up with either plain cheese or thin crust vegetarian, and that’s IF someone hadn’t spilled meat on them, and IF wussy kids who couldn’t handle pineapple or other adventurous toppings had left any of the plainer varieties for you. And I won’t even get started on the obscene advertising for the Kids Works, which wouldn’t be allowed on TV these days:
Then you’d start wondering how often people coughed on these public pizzas. How often they were sneezed on. How long they’d been sitting there. They didn’t seem as hot anymore because they’d been sitting there so long. It didn’t take long for the whole experience, as well intentioned as it may have been, to become completely unpalatable. Add to that some kid having a noisy, messy birthday party in there every time you’d visit, and you were suddenly a delivery convert. Pizza Hut was Greater Union.
In 1999, Pizza Hut boasted 230 restaurants across Australia and NZ compared to just 185 delivery units. By 2002, there were less than 100 restaurants. Today, there’s the one on George Street in the city, and that’s about it. What happened? Pizza Hut claim that rising costs and diminished returns forced the closure of the restaurant arm of the company, and maybe that’s true. What happened to this particular Pizza Hut, though? Located right beside the ancient Beverly Hills Cinema, the two provided a wildly entertaining and impossibly well-matched double team for anyone wanting a night out in Beverly Hills (I’m sure those people are out there). But once the Pizza Hut closed, it was subjected to a variety of indignities, including being painted completely green, being used as a political headquarters for NSW MP Kevin Greene (groan [thanks, reader Catherine!]), and finally, being cut in half when the cinema expanded to include the former bank that sat between them.
The cinema had owned the bank for a while, filling it with arcade games and such, but when it took the opportunity to renovate and incorporate the building completely, Pizza Hut paid the price. The cinema’s power generator now occupies the southeastern corner of the restaurant, and the insides are exposed to the elements. Why not just get rid of it completely? Instead of putting the space to good use, the corpse of the Beverly Hills family dining experience is left to fester, acting as a reminder to us all of a time when $5 would get you all you could eat, and when home delivery was seen as the anti-social option. It still is.
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.