Beneath the relentlessly harsh Taree sun, Taffy’s Buffet & Pizza bakes both inside and out. Across the spacious grounds, the scruffy, receding grass is beginning to brown as another long, hot summer approaches.
As the prominent ‘For Sale’ sign says, the ground covered by Taffy’s is huge – too huge for just a pizza buffet. At the same time, the building seems a little…ornate for such a place, doesn’t it?
As I approached, I was sure the place was abandoned, long since closed. Despite all the signs to the contrary, the wide open spaces and peculiar, yet familiar architectural style weren’t immediately inviting to potential all-you-can-eaters.
But I wasn’t hungry.
The gates weren’t closed, so I strolled right on in. The garden was enormous, and contained a number of exotic features that seemed to have beamed in from another dimension. From this stagnant fountain…
…to this baked path leading down to…
…this sterile Flower Power gazebo, there was an air of pretension about the setup. Did Taffy expect enamoured couples to wind up their evenings strolling through her garden after a buffet pizza dinner, culminating in a romantic rendezvous in the gazebo? And then years later reminisce about that unforgettable evening in Taffy’s gazebo?
And I don’t even know what this is meant to represent. If there’s an opposite to the Pearly Gates, it would look like this.
But it was from that…whatever it is that the true nature of Taffy’s became evident; the dark secret Taffy was trying so hard to divert our attention from with her strange assortment of ornaments. Yes, this was looking very familiar indeed…
From 1954 to the early 2000s, this site served as Taree City Bowling Club, providing the Manning’s elderly with a place to form rinks and chuck balls around. Whatever keeps them off the streets, I guess.
We can laugh now, but once upon a time lawn bowls were considered an important sport, with opinions ranging from “whatever keeps them off the streets” to this hyperbolic article from 1952. Methinks Mr. Dent was trying just a bit too hard to justify his title.
And excuse me for sounding cynical, but does anyone really believe that lawn bowls is a game free from “sullen anger and distrust”? When I hear those words, white-suited old folks targeting jacks is the first image that comes to mind.
For having gone to such lengths to sculpt the front garden into something atmospheric, it was surprising that no such care had been extended to the former bowls greens. A 1990 heritage study of the then-active club recommended that future tenants “maintain greens, lawns and gardens”. Whoops.
Overgrown and neglected, only the bare bones remain of what would once have been a vibrant, active sporting field.
Think of all the whistles that would have been wet by this over the years.
Back at Taffy’s, all the bowls club hallmarks started to become apparent. The handrails for frail skippers was evidence enough, but I know my readers – always demanding more.
The placement of this tasteless statue seemed a bit too…deliberate. Let’s go in for the closer look I know you’re gagging to get!
“THIS CLUB WAS OFFICIALLY OPENED BY NORMAN NOSS, PRESIDENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES BOWLING ASSOCIATION ON 3RD JULY 1954”
I’ve gotta congratulate Norman Noss; he’d gone from vice-president in 1948 to president in just six years. Big deal, I hear you say, but cut the man some slack – that competition would be cutthroat, full of sullen anger and distrust. And if you think being president of NSW Bowling Association was a cushy job, all smokos and club openings, think again:
If I were police, I’d be looking closely at Tom Shakespeare and Bill Kay’s movements leading up to that car trip. Wouldn’t it have been convenient had both the president and senior vice-president not survived that crash?
Before we leave Taffy’s, I’d just like to take a moment to direct the limelight away from the bigwigs of the bowls world and highlight someone to whom the Taree City Bowling Club meant everything. It’s only short, so have a read of the story of Bert Kroon, avid bowler and Tareean (Tareek? Tareealist?), and then stop and think about the Bert Kroons out there right now who rely on this rapidly dwindling sport.
Certainly the most freakish element of my visit was the discovery I made out the back. Where the club backs onto the uh…scenic and aptly named Browns Creek, someone had decided to position this Westpac rescue helicopter.
Why? How did this happen? Who insisted upon it? Was it Taffy, or did Taffy just slap her own name on the tail when she took over? Who went to the effort of sticking the dummy behind the controls? Why is it so small?
Once again, a Past/Lives entry has left us with more questions than answers…
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…
Let’s cut to the chase: the Beverly Hills Cinemas are looking a little…porky these days. It’s hard not to notice the expanding waistline anymore, even for the sake of politeness. What I’m saying is, if the Beverly Hills Cinemas were a person, they’d need to take the Michelle Bridges challenge a few times to squeeze back into those trackpants.
But it wasn’t always this way. Back before the cinema was built, the suburb was known as Dumbleton, after a nearby farm. The opening of the Dumbleton train station in 1931 had opened up the suburb to the rest of Sydney in a way the previous public transport option – a coach service from Hurstville station – had not. Dumbleton’s first shop had only opened in 1908 (on the site of the present day Beverly Hills Hotel), so there wasn’t exactly a major reason to go there. Dumbleton residents hoped to change this in 1910, when a post office was opened within the existing store. It was like the proto-Westfield.
The Second World War brought military personnel to Dumbleton, further increasing its population and forcing it to come up with more shops to keep people entertained, but it’s kinda hard to make anything entertaining when your suburb’s name is Dumbleton.
In late 1938, plans began for a picture theatre along King Georges Road with a projected completion date of 1940. I suppose the Dumbletonians were hoping to emulate the success of the Savoy theatre in nearby Hurstville, but they still had the nagging problem of that name. An American cultural influence had been building in the outskirts of Sydney with the advent of cinema, so with an impending theatre and the belief that the USA would soon be joining the war effort, a move was made in 1940 to change the suburb’s name to the much more glamourous sounding Beverly Hills – Hollywood on the East Hills line. The Californian equivalent was home to famous movie stars, and with the completion of the St. James Theatre later that year, so would Dumbleton. The strip of palm trees down the centre of King Georges Road was added to complement the Hollywood theme in a move no one in the 1940s could have predicted would become so tacky by the present day.
The St. James Theatre entertained the residents of the growing suburb (even those older residents who had loudly complained about the name change) for decades until the 1970s, when the voracious Hoyts incorporated it into its suburban chain. By 1978, it had fallen into disrepair like many of its suburban cousins that had survived the mass demolition of such cinemas during the progressive 60s, and was showing only adult films. St. James indeed. I wasn’t able to locate a picture of the St. James back in the day, so if you’re able to help, let me know.
It was that year when developer Jim Tsagias bought the St. James, with plans to transform it into a function centre. Something changed his mind (perhaps the palm trees) and he decided to restore it as a cinema. In 1982 it was reopened as the one-screen Beverly Hills Cinema, and in 1988 it was converted to a twin.
And couldn’t you tell. For years, the bigger Cinema No. 1 would play host to the big budget blockbusters, while smaller, more intimate pictures or films late in their run were relegated to the tiny Cinema No. 2, which had been shoehorned in above the first. It was an awkward setup, but one that built a reputation as the cheapest cinema in Sydney (based on ticket prices, of course), and became one of the most popular family venues in the south west, especially when coupled with the nearby Beverly Hills Pizza Hut. Movies then all-you-can-eat pizza: it doesn’t get much more 90s than that.
The cinema was looking a bit dated by the early 2000s, but not as bad as the bank next door (I believe it was a Westpac?). Sandwiched between the cinema and the Pizza Hut was one of so many suburban bank branches closed during that time, and it sat dormant for many years just like the Hut. Perhaps realising it wasn’t a good look, and that there was an opportunity to expand, the Tsagias family bought the bank in 2004 and moved in, creating a video arcade in the new space which greatly relieved pressure from the cramped waiting area. But this wasn’t enough. In 2008, a complete redevelopment saw the Beverly Hills upgraded to a six-screen cinema. The derelict Pizza Hut was cut in half to make room for more screens and a mini-power station, and the entire facade facing King Georges Road was given the facelift (in true Beverly Hills fashion) that it sports today.
Not quite the case around the back, though.
From the alley behind the cinema, it’s easy to see the layout of the original St James and the bank next door. The structure on the extreme left is new, and sits on the Pizza Hut’s territory. The Pizza Hut recently vanished from existence, perhaps to make way for more parking for the cinema, or a new restaurant (just what BH needs). Whenever you see extensive renovations going on, it’s usually a safe bet that it’s being done to prepare the property for sale. Sure enough, the Tsagias family placed the Beverly Hills Cinema on the market late last year. It seems as if Event Cinemas has taken control, at least of the screening coordination, but it remains to be seen if the Beverly Hills will remain a cinema under a new owner.
If it doesn’t, they may have to change the suburb’s name again.
This building features an interesting double-shot of 19th century enterprise.
First we have the Bank of New South Wales, established in 1817, making it Australia’s oldest operating company. “But wait,” I hear you saying. “It’s not around today. How could it possibly be Australia’s oldest company?” I’m glad you asked. Between 1850 and 1910, the bank established branches around the country, and also in Fiji and Papua New Guinea (despite Bank of NSW meaning jack to people over there). From 1927 the bank went on a mad spree of acquisitions, buying out the Western Australian Bank and the Australian Bank of Commerce and culminating in a merger with the Commercial Bank of Australia in 1982 giving rise to Westpac. And thus…evil is born.
On the other side, we have Allans Music, which I was surprised to learn was established in Melbourne in 1850. Allans by the turn of the 20th century was the biggest music retailer in the southern hemisphere (but where was the competition?). In the 70s, Brashs decided it wanted a piece of the Allans action and acquired the company. When Brashs went under in the late 90s, Allans emerged unscathed and under new ownership. It merged with Billy Hyde Music in 2010 to become a kind of super music conglomerate, the sort that’ll be feeding us through tubes and stealing our vitality 200 years from now. Incidentally, the building to the right of Allans was the Greater Union Pitt Centre, and beside that lived a Brashs for many years. Even the Greater Union became a cut-price CD shop for a time after its closure, and the Galeries Victoria’s JB Hifi sits across the street. This section of Pitt Street has never managed to shake its musical heritage.
As everyone knows, there’s nothing more tragic than the closure of a bank branch. Get your tissues ready.
Here, Hurstville’s obnoxiously named ‘The Spot’ proves that at some point, the heat became too much for Westpac to stand, and even after they got out of the kitchen the temperature continued to rise until the 85°C Bakery Cafe burst into existence. What The Spot was before the heatwave began remains a hot topic.
Here’s an old picture of The Spot in 1937, when it was the Coo-ee Clothing store. Pretty exciting, I know, but given how many views this particular entry gets (LOTS), someone’s been hanging out for it.