This is the 10th in a series of essays by journalist Bradley Perrett on long-term planning ideas to provide for a better future for the people of Greater Newcastle and the Hunter Region.
Future generations will never forgive us for demolishing The Store facade. After all the damage that the city suffered in the 1989 earthquake, it's inexplicable that the state government allowed removal of a structure that embodiedimportant history and contributed so much to the look of the West End.
I still don't understand how Novocastrians allowed what many must have seen as an act of vandalism.
Let the shocking loss be a lesson to us. As Newcastle changes, we must step up our protection of buildings that will link the future to the past and, importantly, guard against the city looking like any number of characterless new development zones.
The theme in this series of articles has been thinking about what later Novocastrians will want from us - whether it's road reservations, land ready for high buildings, or the bones of a good mass-transit system.
Similarly, in deciding what buildings to keep, we need to imagine what people of decades or even centuries from now will value from what will be their distant past. That will include our relatively recent and seemingly uninteresting past.
It isn't good enough for us to rely on our own standards of what's worth saving.
This is a difficult issue to nail down, because there's no cut-and-dried way to judge what buildings are worth keeping; there are always augments about this.
Personal taste makes the problem more complicated. And there's a powerful contrary argument: new buildings meet new needs, which is why we construct them.
Probably the first step is to say that we should simply lower the bar for preserving buildings or, usually, facades. If this somewhat impedes urban progress, because it imposes the cost of adapting new structures to fit old ones, then so be it.
Today we'll look at what this means for Newcastle's city centre; later, we'll consider protecting buildings and streetscapes elsewhere.
The easiest way to show that we should be more careful before allowing demolition is to remember buildings that we should have kept. One was the lovely art deco Strand Theatre, demolished around 1980 so the council could build the ultimately unsuccessful Market Square shopping centre in the Hunter Street Mall. Which one would you choose now?
Another, beyond the memory of most of us, was the monumental Criterion Hotel on the corner of Bolton and Hunter streets, torn down in the 1950s to make way for an office block. The city must have prized the replacement as a symbol of modernity, and it was updated and enlarged about 40 years ago, but we'd trade it any day to have the old pub back.
A little to the east, on the corner of Watt Street, the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) replaced a beautiful neoclassical building in the 1970s with a structure that couldn't have been thought attractive even when brand new.
Despite these losses, we still had an abundance of good old buildings before the earthquake. Just after the disaster, when almost everything was still standing, a visiting journalist reported a surprising discovery to Australians elsewhere: Newcastle was virtually a museum of old architecture.
A year later that museum of old architecture was short of many exhibits. To remind yourself of our earthquake losses, take a stroll down old Hunter Street on the invaluable Sound World website of Spero Davias. Or try one of the historical photographic books by Greg and Sylvia Ray.
Earthquake damage should have made Newcastle determined to keep what was left, but over the past three decades we've lost more valuable buildings, some to dilapidation.
Earthquake damage should have made Newcastle determined to keep what was left, but over the past three decades we've lost more valuable buildings, some to dilapidation. The Palais Royale is gone, along with the Empire Hotel and, here and there, small commercial buildings from the early 20th century.
At Civic, the state government chose not to work the dignified facade of the 1925 Frederick Ash warehouse into the new court building. And, of course, the grand facade of The Store wasn't worth keeping, we were told: it had no architectural merit.
If every building in Newcastle has to show architectural merit to justify preservation, we'll pretty soon end up with very little of our past. What should really decide the issue is that, without being individually special, most of the buildings in town contribute to an interesting street and at the same time connect us to our history.
Moreover, we must stop to think that our successors will value even more of our buildings than we do.
Right now, a 1950s building might be protected, but a 1960s one would have little hope and anything from after 1970 just about none. Indeed, most people no longer like '60s and '70s buildings - but they may look pretty special to Novocastrians in the second half of the century. We should think before letting them go.
In the late 1980s, architects commissioned by Newcastle City Council conducted a valuable survey of inner-city buildings to identify those with heritage significance. It's time for another such survey, and its threshold for regarding something as significant should not be high; the researchers should consider not just contemporary views but also what people a century from now might think.
More preservation does not have to be a major constraint on development. As we've seen elsewhere along Hunter and Scott streets, constructing larger buildings a few metres behind old facades can be done quite successfully.
Newcastle architect Barney Collins, a specialist in heritage work, points out that any design for a new tall building usually needs to set it back from the street above a low podium. How convenient, then, that the facades along Hunter Street, generally two storeys high, are just right for podiums.
The Store facade was, too - and still could be. Maybe no architect will agree with me, but I believe that rebuilding that facade should be required for completing redevelopment of the site, for which two 30-storey residential towers have been planned.
I'm not talking about an architect's creative reinterpretation of the old facade but, rather, an exact, centimetre-by-centimetre reconstruction of it. We should not have lost it and we should demand to have it back.
The idea isn't as radical as it seems. Precise reconstruction was done in Europe after World War II. It's all the more justified in this case because The Store building represented an important part of our history: it was the face of its owner, the Newcastle and Suburban Co-operative Society.
To compensate The Store redeveloper Doma for this unexpected expense, the council could allow an increase in the size of the planned towers. That wouldn't be a bad bargain for the city.
Fascinatingly, another old department-store facade survives about 300 metres east of The Store site. It's the original front of what most people will remember as the former Spotlight building; before that it was Waltons and, originally, Marcus Clark & Co.
Like other surviving old facades in town, this one is behind metal cladding that can be removed to again reveal an adornment of Hunter Street. Novocastrians of today would be delighted to see it again; those of the 22nd century would regard it as simply precious.
The facade's decorative corner turret has been removed, but, again, precise reconstruction could be made a condition of redevelopment. And it should be.
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