A Snapshot of ‘Manar’ next1


A WALTZ THROUGH HISTORY AND A SNAPSHOT OF ‘MANAR’ IN 2007

 

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© Warren Fahey

Wartime always leaves a lasting impression on the social, political and physical landscape of countries involved. Australia was no different.

Kingsclaire, built by the Albert family in 1912 (opened in 1913), and Manar were amongst the most popular residences in the area. Macleay Regis, built in 1939, followed and was the best example of a large building where the apartments were built to allow maximum light for every apartment. The Macleay street strip, leading into the then fashionable Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, boasted active shops, restaurants, cafes, continental delicatessens, and an electric trolley bus service that terminated at St Neot’s Avenue. Macleay Street at the time of WW2 was a dead-end and was only extended post-war at Wylde Street, reflecting Garden Island’s expansion to include Cowper Street, then known by locals as ‘The Burma Road’.

It was also during WW2 that Manar became the operational centre for the local National Emergency Service (NES). At least one Warden lived in the apartment now occupied by Mrs O’Gorman and in his memoirs tells of how the rear flat, recently purchased by Harry M Miller, was the local command headquarters which was “furnished with a telephone, stretchers, blankets, coils of heavy rope and hurricane lamps.” Manar resident, great friend of William Dobell, and founder of the highly influential ‘Art in Australia’ and ‘Home’ magazines, Sydney Ure Smith (1887 – 1949), was also a Warden at this time. Louise Home and writer, Murray Bail, now reside in the same apartment. Incidentally, Sydney Ure Smith’s apartment was featured in ‘Home’ magazine in 1931 and described as ‘modern’.

I am told Building One was a ‘private hotel’ for some years, presumably during or immediately after WW2. Resident, Bob Hamilton, recalled hearing that the charge was ‘thirty shillings a week with full board.’ I have been unable to ascertain if this also involved Buildings Two and Three. Whatever the case it also appears that there were not many ‘hotel residents’ as the majority of apartments were still retained as pieds à terre or permanent residents.

Manar is regarded as being designed in a dignified ‘free classical’ idiom.  Many of the apartments, (or should one use the older term ‘flats’?), retain original features, especially in the small side windows, woodwork and ceilings. All the apartments, in all three buildings, had ‘maid’s quarters’, some more generous than others, and it is puzzling to imagine how one could live in the tiny ‘maid’s quarters’ of Building Three. Hopefully they were tiny maids who sprang to service at the sound of the ‘bells’ featured in the dining room. The custom of live-in maids disappeared with the introduction of household labour-saving appliances, especially electric washing machines and vacuum cleaners, and was finally sealed in the dark days of WW2.

By the 1940’s ‘The Cross’’, and that had become the generic name for the entire Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point, Darlinghurst Road and surrounding area, had become a an extremely high-density population area. Crick Avenue, off Macleay Street, for instance, is distinguished by characteristically small-scale apartment buildings with Art Deco overtones. Although brick was not generally favoured for other large building types, it had connotations of domestic warmth and so was thought appropriate for flat and apartment blocks. Crick Avenue suggests something of the variety that was achieved by the use of the ubiquitous brick during the interwar period.

Elizabeth Bay House was always the significant building in the area but it had also been very neglected, reflecting the high cost of maintaining such old buildings. By 1930 it had been (badly) converted into flats and by the time of WW2 it had been turned into a reception place for weddings and ‘mannequin parades’. For quite some years, especially in the 1950s, like many large historic inner city, privately owned buildings, it became a bohemian squat accommodation with some well-known artistic people as residents. Extraordinary as it sounds, there was actually a tunnel running from near Rockwell down past Manar, to the rear of the grand house and was used by locals to get down to the harbour foreshore. (There are references to this trunnel simply described as ‘The Tunnel’) Is it possible the heavy bracken on the Manar cliff face conceals this tunnel? It has also been suggested that the reference refers to the walkway opposite Challis Avenue that goes down to Billyard Avenue but that access was purpose built. It should be noted that there were several tunnel networks built in Potts Point during the early days of WW2.

In the 1950s Manar resident, Mrs Simpson, was caretaker of Elizabeth Bay House.

Elizabeth Bay House was eventually taken over by the State Planning Department of New South Wales in 1964 (after almost two decades of public campaigning), and renovation commenced. Restoration of this beautiful building was complete in 1978. The building is now maintained and controlled by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. Manar’s cliff face provides a backdrop to the rear of the building.

As with any major historic residential property it is the people who decide the fate of continuing design, maintenance and, in many ways, the culture. The roll call of people who have lived at Manar, or been closely associated with it, is a fascinating study. Putting names to the years proved extremely difficult, especially the pre-1916 period. As I prepared this study the current caretaker, Stuart Milburn, surprised me by handing over two very important sets of Manar minutes commencing in 1950 and ending in 1974. These bound documents allowed me to paint a picture of life in Potts Point and Manar covering two important decades. I also interviewed some of the older residents of Manar, Rowan Nicks, Mona and Ken Baker, and Bob and Kathleen Hamilton who provided personal reminiscences and colour. Lacking facts in some areas I have offered a healthy dish of supposition to complete the jigsaw.

To set the scene: a little story from the memory of Alyth Ramsey whose father lived in Apartment Two. Alyth recalls, another resident “worked as Manager of the export/import company Burns Philip in Hunter street in the city and every day he would catch a Hansom Cab from the city to Potts Point, at one shilling, to enjoy lunch at home.’ The Hendy-Pooley family also lived at Manar. Grace Hendy-Pooley was a senior civil servant and, according to Alyth, retained a butler who, on certain occasions, was ‘sent down to the big hotel in Woolloomooloo to fetch the male members of the family who should have been at home.’

Manar was incorporated as a Company in 1951 (registration certificate 350923) comprising the three buildings and holding a value of Australian Pounds 110,000. L.J. Hooker was the first Managing Agents with fees of 3/6d a year for flats 3, 12 and 13, and 5/- all others.

To provide a comparison for maintenance work I noted that painting all three building interiors (all apartments, walls, stairways and woodwork) in 1951 was 86 pounds 14 shillings. In 1952 all three building exteriors were painted at a cost of 2979 pounds 14 shillings. In 2004 the Body Corporate paid over 200,000 to paint all exteriors.

In 1953 the company decided to erect a line of garages in the rear garden and ruled that ‘cars shall be allowed to enter the property from Macleay Street.’ However, according to the Minutes, ‘The sounding of motor horns prohibited and, unless a grave emergency, cars were not to leave the property after 1 am.’ The proposal to erect the garages stated: ’To be erected at the rear of the property adjoining the land owned by the Great Synagogue and the balance of eleven in a position near the cliff top edge frontage to Onslow Place.’ They were finally erected in 1954 at a cost of 1000 pounds to each owner.

 

In 1954 it was resolved that: ‘The Garden Committee be re-organised

– Mesdames Simpson, Dawes-Smith, Cross’ be appointed.’ In reading subsequent reports it is clear that this trio were a force to be reckoned with – in all matters concerning Manar. One of their first tasks was to arrange the building of a high fence between Manar and the neighbouring de Vere Hotel (constructed 1954) at a cost of 106 pounds. In June of that year it was resolved: ‘The Hills Hoist in the yard be reduced in size and removed to a more suitable position.’ Around this time a barbed-wire fence was erected between Manar and Onslow Place at the rear of the property.

I note in several references to Onslow Place that it is noted as ‘frontage’ and I can only think, especially in the above-mentioned note about allowing vehicles to ‘enter via Macleay Street’, that the main entrance to the property was actually Onslow Place, possibly a driveway through where the Philippines Consulate house now stands.

Macleay Street was indeed a busy thoroughfare and all the Building three street frontage flats were open to the street. The first apartment to install windows (with much heated debate) was number 25.

In August, 1957, it was resolved to insert a new clause in the company’s constitution: ‘The members shall not permit or suffer any person of unsound mind or a drunkard or a person of immoral life to reside in or upon the said flat.’ Ouch! What shenanigans had been going on to inflame this move? In the same month Mrs Cross, obviously true to her name, moved: ‘The Secretary to write to unit 2 pointing out they could not conduct a Bridge Club on the premises.’

The Caretakers of Manar no doubt deserve a history of their own and one can only take pity on yesterday’s caretakers whose duties (in 1957) included: ‘Attendance to garbage removal each morning, attendance to gardens and lawns as required, stoking the three boilers three times daily, cleaning all porches, passageways, doors, floors, brass, glass and stairways as required and mopping all floors twice weekly. They were also required to attend the delivery of coke deliveries and regularly clean the grease traps and drains.’

Coke was the main fuel for Sydney and it had to be delivered regularly and stank to high heaven. Working class suburbs like Paddington, Woolloomooloo and Newtown, with poor ventilation and terraced housing, could not control the smell. The minute books points out that in 1964 the price of coke had increased to pounds 15 for 26 bags so in 1965 a decision was made to convert to oil fuel for the boilers.

Whilst the boilers were sweating it seems the white ants were gnawing. In 1953 the minutes drew attention to the fact that the company had to bring in the pest eradicators ‘again’. The cost of treatment for apartment 4 totalled 50 pounds. Storms also created continual havoc with numerous claims made upon the company’s insurance brokers.

In 1958 the Valuer General’s Department notified Manar of a dramatic increase in the property asset. The unimproved value increased from 55,000 pounds to 68,000 pounds and the improved from 145,000 to 160,000 and the average value from 7250 to 11,000. The company resolved to challenge the new valuations and lodge an appeal.

By all accounts Manar’s company, noticeably led by Mesdames Cross and Simpson, ‘interviewed’ every single applicant purchasing or renting. I noted August 1960 ‘Permission to purchase unit 18 by Mr & Mrs Hamilton was approved. Interviews and references very satisfactory.’ The usual procedure was to give incoming tenants a six-month trial period. In 1971 a similar report stated that ‘Mr E Prigent, Consul du France, his wife and two daughters’ had been approved for tenancy in apartment one with special stipulation ‘not to be used often for social functions’. A meeting 13th Feb 1974 reported, ‘Miss Judy Mirams, Miss Patricia Rabb, Mr David Gool and Mr Robert Nicholls were interviewed and found suitable for Unit 1, for a period of six months subject to the usual conditions.’ David Gool, a friend of the writer, emailed me in March 2007 to say, ‘We stayed for years in Apartment One which, at the time, was owned by an ex-Lord Mayor of Sydney, John Armstrong. He was a tough landlord! The people who interviewed us were very posh and travelled on the French Cruise Line all the time – where I worked.’

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