Monday 14 April 2014

Australian Art Deco - Glenelg and Port Adelaide

Adelaide City Centre has a number of fine art deco buildings, which will be the subject of another post, but the city's many suburbs are also home to some wonderful examples of this style. I first visited Glenelg and Port Adelaide five years ago and went back last week to have another look.

Glenelg is a thriving seaside town, a short drive from Adelaide. The main thoroughfare - Jetty Road - has many bars and cafes, some good book stores and some independent shops. It also has one of Glenelg's best and most intact examples of art deco. The florist shop at number 97 was built some time between 1935 and 1940, originally as a dentist's consulting room with residential space above. It is hard to miss this lovely building as it occupies a corner space on the junction of Jetty Road and Gordon Street. Architect Alexander Henry Smerdon's clever design interacts with both streets, an advantage for the current retail use of the premises. Especially striking are the blue and white contrast details above the cantilevered awning with the "fan" showing a key deco motif to approaching pedestrians. Fantastic!

97 Jetty Road, Glenelg, built circa 1935. Architect - Alexander Henry Smerdon.
Detail, 97 Jetty Road.
I have not been able to find out much about Mr. Smerdon, except that according to the Court reports in the December 19th 1940 edition of the Advertiser newspaper, that he was successful in a claim for 60 pounds for work completed on two maisonettes for cafe owners Tom Chaouis and Con Gotjaminis. I wonder what interesting story lay behind this dispute?

Rather more scandalous than the unpaid architect's bill is the fact that since I was last here, just a few years ago, another landmark art deco building, the Ozone Cinema, which formerly stood at 119 Jetty Road has been demolished to make way for a modern shopping centre. The cinema was designed by F. Kenneth Milne and was opened by the then mayor in 1937. It had 2000 seats and its opening feature was the Janet Gaynor and Frederic March version of A Star Is Born. Facilities included a special smoking lounge for ladies, a crying room from which up to 25 mothers and babies could enjoy the film, a telephone box and an open fire! Although many of the interior features had been lost over the years I understand that the cinema had a local heritage listing but this does not seem to have been enough to protect it. The owner of one of the Jetty Road shops told me that local people had opposed the demolition. 

Former fire station, Glenelg, 1930. Architect unknown.

Detail, former fire station, Glenelg.
On a more positive note, the former fire station at 26 Gordon Road, just off Jetty Road, is still standing and is now operating as a gallery. Built in 1930, it is an attractive white painted structure with various deco features including references to the "rule of three". glass bricks, and a double recess on the building's facade. No details of the architect seem to be available as is the situation for the wonderful "Shoreham" apartment block on South Esplanade, facing directly on to the beach. The external areas of the block have been neglected and several of the beautiful balconies are crumbling. This is a building that would be at home in Tel Aviv or even Miami with its receding balconies, glazed curves and classic blue stripe against the white facade. Let's hope that restoration work takes place before this building deteriorates further.

Shoreham, Glenelg. Details unknown.
Detail, Shoreham.
Port Adelaide also boasts some art deco treasures. Whilst it is less affluent than Glenelg it has a number of attractions including national aviation and railway museums, a number of cafes and restaurants, an Aboriginal arts organisation and the riverfront area.

Port Adelaide Council Chamber and Town Hall on Vincent Street was built from 1939 to 1940. It was designed by architect Chris Smith, a prolific exponent of the deco style. Partially hidden from view by some attractive mature trees, it has several classic deco features including a beautiful curved balcony, fluted parapet, curved side windows, glass bricks and geometric patterns on the original glass doors. The town hall complex includes the former Savings Bank of South Australia which was built in 1935. The architect is not known. A more recent addition to the rear of the building has been designed sympathetically to complement the original.

Smith was an interesting character. Despite having no formal architectural training, five of his buildings are listed in the Royal Australian Institute of Architecture's list of significant twentieth century architecture in South Australia. As well as designing a number of cinemas, he was also a film fan and  at one point ran a film  distribution business with his brother. On the day I visited Glenelg, I also visited the small seaside suburb of Brighton  which is home to another Smith building - the Municipal Offices and Council Chamber, completed in 1937 amidst controversy and ratepayer protests at the expenditure  of funds. Miserable lot they must have been.

Council Chamber and Town Hall, Port Adelaide, 1939-40. Architect - Chris Smith.
Detail - Council Chamber and Town Hall, Port Adelaide.
Municipal Offices and Council Chamber, Brighton, 1937. Architect - Chris Smith.
Back to Port Adelaide and the delightful former South Australian Harbors Board building. The original building was demolished in the 1930's and the current structure was completed in 1934. It is currently vacant having recently been used by Oxfam and before that it was a Coca-Cola Museum (!) and the offices of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. I like the dramatic entrance with the brightly coloured layered archway that leads to a stepped summit, topped by a flagpole. This spot would be great for a good cafe…any takers?

Former Harbors Board Building, Port Adelaide, built 1934. Architect unknown. 
The Freemasons movement underwent rapid development in South Australia in the 1920's and 1930's and this is evidenced by the large number of masonic lodges dating from this period. Port Adelaide has a particularly large Masonic Centre on Commercial Road. Designed by architect (and mason) Charles Walter Rutt, it was completed in 1928 and is striking for its "Egyptian revival" style that includes lotus bud columns, tapered windows and various decorative Egyptian motifs. It has two facades, both with faux towers at either end and a number of masonic symbols on the Commercial Road side and over the entrance in Dale Road. It appears to be in excellent physical condition. There are a number of shops beneath the lodge, including the Better World Arts, Aboriginal arts project. Rutt also designed the Adelaide Oval cricket ground and is described on the University of South Australia's architects database as a "lover of fine cars".

Dale Road entrance, Port Adelaide Masonic Centre, 1928. Architect - Walter Rutt.

Detail - Port Adelaide Masonic Centre.

Port Adelaide Masonic Centre.
There are many more examples of art deco in and around Adelaide and I hope to be able to visit these before my trip ends. More posts to come.

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