ON THE TILES

A HIS­TORIC ART DECO PUB WITH A SLEAZY PAST IS THE LAT­EST SYD­NEY IN­STI­TU­TION TO BE RES­CUED FROM OBLIV­ION AND RE­VIVED – MUCH LIKE THE CITY’S LIVE MU­SIC SCENE, WHICH THE LANS­DOWNE FOS­TERED FOR SO LONG AND WILL AGAIN.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT PHOTOGRAPHY NICK CUBBIN

You prob­a­bly haven’t heard of Sid­ney War­den. But if you live in NSW, you have al­most cer­tainly walked past one of his build­ings – and even drunk in a few – as this ar­chi­tect de­signed al­most 400 of the pubs in the state. His art deco ho­tels were so strik­ing for the 1930s that they made it into the pages of pres­ti­gious ar­chi­tec­tural mag­a­zines. This wasn’t an ac­ci­dent: War­den was part of a con­certed cam­paign by the state’s big­gest beer brewer – Tooth & Co – to fight ef­forts by the Tem­per­ance move­ment to shut down their pubs by mak­ing them “fancier”.

So it is fit­ting that one of War­den’s most iconic pubs, the Lans­downe, is now be­ing re­stored to help save Syd­ney’s nightlife and live mu­sic scene dented by noise re­stric­tions, the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of in­ner-city suburbs and the con­tro­ver­sial lock­out laws. The once-grand Chip­pen­dale es­tab­lish­ment, just as fa­mous for its crim­i­nal an­tics in the 1980s as it was for its live mu­sic in the 1990s, is be­ing saved by pair of blokes bet­ter known for in­tro­duc­ing good burg­ers to Syd­ney.

Jake Smyth and Kenny Gra­ham turned a for­mer ma­sonic hall in New­town into Syd­ney’s most fa­mous burger joint when they opened Mary’s in 2013. The Lans­downe re­vival project is the fourth for the duo.

“What we are most ex­cited about is the fact that we have this op­por­tu­nity to re­ally bring back an el­e­ment of Syd­ney that has just been thrown to the side,” Smyth tells WISH. “It is a mo­ment in time,” adds Gra­ham. “It is not just Jake and Kenny of Mary’s tak­ing over a pub in Glebe, it is much big­ger than that. It has come at a time when peo­ple are over be­ing told what to do.”

The pair were ap­proached by their land­lords at The Uni­corn Ho­tel in Padding­ton (their third venue) in De­cem­ber last year about whether they were in­ter­ested in run­ning the Lans­downe if the prop­erty group bought it. The pub had been boarded up since it closed in 2015, with plans to turn it into a mu­sic school hav­ing never even­tu­ated. Smyth and Gra­ham jumped at the chance. By Jan­uary, the ren­o­va­tions were in full swing: the place had been gutted and re­stored to its for­mer art deco glory, with two floors ded­i­cated to live mu­sic.

One sus­pects that War­den would be chuffed to know his work was be­ing re­stored to its for­mer glory and the Lans­downe was hav­ing an­other chance at life. “It’s re­ally pleas­ing to see,” says Charles Pick­ett, who cu­rated an ex­hi­bi­tion of War­den’s ar­chi­tec­tural work at the Pow­er­house Mu­seum in Pyr­mont. “In most coun­tries, pubs are just shopfronts. Aus­tralia took over the English li­cens­ing laws, which ba­si­cally meant you had to have ac­com­mo­da­tion as well as a bar. So pubs ended up be­ing sub­stan­tial build­ings. But the ones built in the 1920s and 1930s are to­tally dif­fer­ent to what they had in Eng­land, so peo­ple don’t re­alise just how unique Aus­tralian art deco pubs are.”

The Lans­downe, on the cor­ner of busy Broad­way and City Rd, is a par­tic­u­larly prom­i­nent ex­am­ple. “As Syd­ney boys, we had driven past it for years and al­ways thought it was a beau­ti­ful build­ing,” says Gra­ham, who is orig­i­nally from Scot­land. “The pub makes a state­ment,” says Smyth. “There are tur­rets on the roof. There are these tiles un­der­neath the awning that have been painted black. I don’t know how long ago it hap­pened, I didn’t even no­tice it when I drank there in the mid-2000s. But when you peel it back, there are these beau­ti­ful cream and green tiles that were in­stalled in the 1930s. We are restor­ing all of that and it’s go­ing to be amaz­ing. The one thing we have al­ways be­lieved in, from a de­sign per­spec­tive, is that you have to let a build­ing and a room tell its own story.”

And the Lans­downe cer­tainly has a story to tell. Built in the 1920s by Tooth & Co and de­signed by War­den, who also did the nearby Old Clare (which has also been re­stored and turned into a bou­tique ho­tel and restau­rant precinct), the pub made a state­ment. “At the time, Syd­ney was a low-rise city so these sort of ho­tels re­ally stood out, which was the whole idea,” Pick­ett says. “The brew­eries were un­der siege from the Tem­per­ance move­ment, which wanted to close a lot of the old­fash­ioned Vic­to­rian ho­tels down [as they did in most states]. So Tooth & Co de­cided to spend huge amounts of money re­build­ing their ho­tels and that just hap­pened to be most of the ho­tels in NSW.”

They hired a num­ber of ar­chi­tects to make this hap­pen and War­den was among them. He ended up de­sign­ing 392 ho­tels for Tooth & Co, from the Hen­son in Mar­rickville in the in­ner west, to the Light Bri­gade on Ox­ford Street in the in­ner east. War­den did most from scratch while oth­ers were ren­o­vated and re­mod­elled. It be­came his ca­reer. “They were very much build­ings of their time. Tooth & Co wanted to look re­ally con­tem­po­rary and re­ally smart,” Pick­ett tells WISH. “The old Vic­to­rian ho­tels they re­placed were small, pokey places; these ho­tels were quite dif­fer­ent. They used this sort of ar­chi­tec­ture – the Stream­line ar­chi­tec­ture that was pop­u­lar in the 1930s – be­cause they were try­ing to give them a fancier im­age that they did not have.”

This fancy im­age could only do so much to counter the no­to­ri­ous six o’clock swill, in which pun­ters would

drink as fast as pos­si­ble to beat the 6pm clos­ing time (thanks again to the Tem­per­ance move­ment). The Lans­downe was also re­port­edly a place for the il­le­gal al­co­hol trade in the 1940s and was de­scribed as a “rather sleazy pub” by a wit­ness at a royal com­mis­sion into drug traf­fick­ing in the early 1980s, thanks to its crim­i­nal pa­tron­age. But by the end of the 1990s, it hit its stride as a mu­sic venue with dozens of lo­cal bands such as You Am I and The Liv­ing End play­ing in its rooms on their way to hit­ting the big time. “It al­ways has been such a great un­der­ground in­sti­tu­tion: ev­ery form of mu­sic has gone through there,” says book­ing agent Matt Rule, who with his brother, Dan, ran the nearby An­nan­dale Ho­tel (an­other nurs­ery for Aus­tralian bands) for years. They were forced to close the An­nan­dale af­ter lengthy bat­tles with coun­cils and lo­cal res­i­dents over noise and trad­ing hours.

Rule says mid-size spa­ces like the An­nan­dale and the Lans­downe where bands can play to 200-250 peo­ple are vi­tally im­por­tant to the lo­cal mu­sic scene and the de­vel­op­ment of new tal­ent. And it is what Syd­ney has been miss­ing. Smyth agrees, say­ing pubs end up be­ing the “lit­mus test” of whether bands can take the next step. “You fin­ished play­ing at the front bar of the lo­cal pub with all your mates and you need to prove to that po­ten­tial man­ager or po­ten­tial la­bel that you can make money, be­cause that it what it comes down to – can this band make money?” he says. “Hav­ing 250 peo­ple pay $10 a head isn’t a huge com­mit­ment for the punter, but it is a huge mo­ment for that band.”

It did not take long for the Rule broth­ers to come on board and agree to book bands for the re­stored Lans­downe, which is due to open af­ter the Queen’s birth­day week­end. The pub will have two lev­els for mu­sic and a num­ber of dif­fer­ent rooms for acts of var­i­ous sizes. The old stair­case and other art deco fea­tures have been re­tained and an open kitchen in­stalled down­stairs will serve the fa­mous Mary’s burg­ers as well as Smyth and Gra­ham’s dis­tinct take on pizza. “It orig­i­nated in Detroit – a square style of pizza, it is su­per cheesy. It will be the cor­ner­stone of the menu,” says Smyth.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have also re­alised the im­por­tance of the re­stored iconic pub, not only to live mu­sic but to nightlife in a city af­fected by the lock­out laws (the Lans­downe is out­side the af­fected zone and will stay open un­til 3am ex­cept on Sun­days). “It feels like a real turn­ing point for live mu­sic in Syd­ney,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore says. “I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to work­ing with them when­ever we can.” And the coun­cil has al­ready come through with the goods, with Gra­ham and Smyth say­ing they have “been blown away” with sup­port. How times have changed. “For the first time ever we had a per­son from the coun­cil con­tact us and see what they can do to help,” says Smyth.

Rule thinks the newly opened Lans­downe is truly the start of a new pe­riod for Syd­ney. “For so long the dif­fi­cul­ties of do­ing live mu­sic – any­thing cre­ative, re­ally – in this city has been well doc­u­mented due to the re­stric­tions placed on all venues,” he tells WISH. “The Lans­downe is buck­ing that trend. There re­ally is a re­vival on its way.”

“It al­ways has been such a great un­der­ground in­sti­tu­tion: ev­ery form of mu­sic has gone through there.”

Sid­ney War­den, right, who de­signed 392 grand art deco pubs for Tooth & Co.; be­low, the Lans­downe in 1926

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