These days, Leichhardt is home to Recollections, a country-style furniture warehouse, and one door up is Boomalli, an Aboriginal artist cooperative. In this instance, Recollections have wisely chosen to drop their full business name so as not to create a microcosm of colonial Australia right here on Flood Street.
But the earliest settler at this warehouse lives on through this tiny little detail. It’s old, it’s worn, it’s even got a bit snapped off…but it’s still just strange enough to make an observant passer-by take pause. Leichhardt’s hardly a tropical paradise. What’s the story?
The answer lies back in 1991, and this ad for Della Cane. No building that ugly could exist twice, and the interior looks like Fantastic Furniture met Jurassic Park.
The legendary Cane Bazaar at Beverly Hills. For years it’s seemed like the suburb was built around this behemoth – it’s a staple. But now there are rumblings, and it appears like the Bazaar is about to enter the next phase of its existence, about to take its first steps without a cane.
The recent alterations to the shopfront have exposed what appear to be two distinct structures beneath the Cane Bazaar facade (facaad?). Perhaps long before even its supermarket days, this was indeed two separate shops along King Georges Road. Reader Vivien has pointed out that this was in fact the site of Woolworths’ first self-service variety supermarket in 1955:
Look at that crowd! And you thought today’s self-service checkouts were mayhem. Later, it became a Jewel supermarket (remember those?) before the populace decided cane was in.
But back to this facade. Can I draw your attention for one moment to the boasts of lay-by and delivery services? First of all, it’s cane furniture, so it’s not exactly gonna break the bank. Second, it’s cane furniture, so it’s light as. They could have delivered their wares on bicycles. Also, I was unaware of this, but Bankcard has been discontinued since 2006. Pretty sure it outlived the Cane Bazaar, though.
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.
This factory was the home of Wisdom Toothbrushes for most of its life, and then Addis Toothbrushes towards the very end. For a factory so dedicated to hygiene, it’s not very clean.
If you’re thinking it’s a little too perfect that one toothbrush manufacturer followed another in occupying this factory, here’s the Finkle and Einhorn moment: Wisdom is Addis. The history is actually way more interesting than I could have fathomed the history of a toothbrush company to be: William Addis, who actually invented the toothbrush, founded the Wisdom company in 1780(!), with the first prototype toothbrush made of bone and horsehair. Whose bone? The horse’s? Maybe it’s best that we don’t know. They were still making the bone toothbrushes until 1947, when something must have happened in the world of decency to stop the practice.
Wisdom/Addis struck Australia in the 1930s, establishing a factory in Glebe. When that factory proved to be lacking in security:
Addis moved here, to a factory by the bank of the Parramatta River.
But the crime didn’t stop – it turned out that people just liked stealing Addis brand toothbrushes:
By the 1970s Wisdom was flush with cash, taking out boastful ads in magazines and adding the company’s logo and a giant toothbrush to the side of the factory, which is a practice that really needs to come back in fashion.
Market research apparently showed that by the 1990s, prospective toothbrush purchasers had lost faith in the Wisdom brand, and were instead more willing to buy from Addis. The factory complied, changing its name.
The toothbrush business moved to greener pastures (Lane Cove) around 2000, and as always happens, they left some stuff behind in the move.
Oddly, there’s a Roni’s Discounts sign plastered to the back of the factory:
Could Roni’s have once used this factory to house their inventory of cheap junk? Even if they had, I doubt we could tell the difference. For about the last 10 or so years, the factory has sat here, derelict, constantly amassing more and more graffiti and grime. The doors are wide open so anyone can get in there. It’s become something of a pilgrimage for graffiti artists and, going by the bra suspended above the front door, drunk young people looking for an edgy-yet-risk free place to have sex. OOH AN ABANDONED FACTORY! ANYONE COULD WALK IN!
In 2007, the building caught fire, which seems to have improved its condition. As industrial Meadowbank is slowly but steadily decommissioned and gentrified around it, (Sexual) Wisdom patiently awaits its certain fate with a pearly white smile on its face.
SUPER UPD8: Thanks to reader Lawrence, we now have footage of the interior of the old Wisdom Toothbrush factory! Shot on Super 8, there’s a mega-creepy ‘found footage’ element to the video. Thanks Lawrence…I think…