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|August 1st, 2005, 12:20 AM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2002
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Wreck, ruin and glory
Wreck, ruin and glory
By Carolyn Webb
1 August 2005
(LEFT) Historian and author Robyn Annear in front of the four-metre-tall Charity Being Kind to the Poor that once graced the Equitable Life Assurance Society building; and The ELAS building's main entrance. The building, on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets in the city. was demolished by Whelan the Wrecker in 1959.
Photo: Nicole Emanuel, A City Lost and
When historian Robyn Annear walks through Melbourne, she doesn't see what most people see. "I see the ghosts of the old buildings," she says.
"I look up a lot, and I see the buildings and streetscapes that were there, as well as the ones that replaced them."
Ms Annear today releases her biography of Melbourne company Whelan the Wrecker.
But the book became more a story of Melbourne than of the demolition business that used to hang a sign on doomed edifices claiming "Whelan the Wrecker is here".
Ms Annear says Whelan, a four-generation family business that folded in 1992 after 100 years, "enabled people's imaginings" of their city, be they good or bad.
When it was erected in 1896, the Equitable Life Assurance Society building, on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth streets, reflected the Victorian yen for prosperity and permanence. It had seven storeys and marble walls and floors. Its roof blocks weighed up to 15 tonnes.
The building's four-metre-tall sculpture Charity Being Kind to the Poor towered four storeys above Collins Street. It shows a giant woman sheltering a bedraggled mother and her two children.
But by 1959, grand gestures were out. Post-Olympics, big companies preferred the maximum floor space design of box skyscrapers, and the Equitable, now the Colonial Mutual Life building, had to come down.
The sculpture now stands on a Melbourne University lawn.
The CML job was Whelan's biggest and ushered in a boom demolition era. Between 1962 and 1971, it felled three grand old hotels — the Federal, Scott's and Menzies'.
In 1960, Whelan razed the 113-year-old Eastern Market, at the corner of Exhibition and Bourke streets, to replace it with the 16-storey Southern Cross Hotel. Ms Annear calls that building "the first hotel of the jet age", with its underground car park, groovy cocktail bars and 65 shops.
The Eastern Market's heyday was the early 1880s. It was run by E. W. Cole, who went on to found Cole's Book Arcade. The arcade eventually spanned the area from Bourke to Collins streets, starting where David Jones' men's store is now.
Cole sold books, ornaments and confectionery and had a tea salon, picture gallery, fernery and aviary. He also printed his own books, including Cole's Funny Picture Book, which sold 400,000 copies. Whelan's tore down the arcade in 1932 to make way for the G. J Coles (no relation to Cole) shop.
Ms Annear describes post-Olympics Melbourne as "the progress-hungry Sputnik years", when whole blocks were "mowed down". She says the more recent drive to protect old buildings was a response to the sheer scale of destruction.
Myles Whelan at work with Whelan the Wrecker.
"It got to a point where, I think, people began to not be able to recognise the place as the city," she says. "They started to realise there were places that were too important in public memory and feeling, and they just said 'no more', and so the National Trust sprang up, and other sorts of government heritage protection." She said her book was a form of excavation, "so people can re-find the old city and its secrets, its secret places, like I've done".
A City Lost and Found: Whelan the Wrecker's Melbourne, by Robyn Annear, published by Black Inc, retail price $29.95.