Gone in a puff

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THE 90-year-old Michelides tobacco factory is likely to be demolished, with a divided Perth city council planning committee giving owner Graham Hardie the thumbs up to knock it down.

It’s still to go before full council but committee members Rob Butler and Judy McEvoy say they support the demolition because the building is decrepit and they want the long-dormant site on the corner of Roe and Lake streets being used again.

Local heritage buffs had pounded councillors’ emails and Facebook pages in the lead-up to the vote, urging them to save the building. 

Archeologist Stuart Rapley said; “it would be a blight on this council if this building is demolished just as the area adjacent (the sunken railway) opens up. This restored building would shine as a connection between the new and the old”.

If demolition is granted, it’ll be outside the usual rules requiring an owner to have a new development approved before the wreckers move in. 

But Mr Hardie says there are safety concerns and squatters, so city staffers said they were happy to turn a blind eye.

The interior has “the biggest termite mounds we’ve seen in an urban setting” according to council planner Margaret Smith.

“We do hope a new application for redevelopment will come in soon,” she told the committee.

New councillor Reece Harley argued for part of the factory to be retained, saying the front could be kept while the developer ‘adaptively-reused’ the rest of the site.

He said it was a worthy example of the art deco style and would make a great entryway to Northbridge once the city railway link was finished.

Cr Harley said it was “poor form” for the owner to let the rear building further deteriorate. 

He tried to show the committee images of how the building looked in its full splendour shortly after the factory opened in the 1920s. 

But Cr Butler who was chairing the meeting sternly brought proceedings to a screeching halt, asking for the images to be put away.  “They don’t reflect the current state of the building,” he said.

Cr Butler said his computer went into meltdown as 140-odd people lobbied him to keep the building, but he said they’d been deceived by old photos of the place being circulated on the internet. He says these days it’s simply decrepit.

Heritage fan Dallas Robertson, who started the online history group Museum of Perth, said the old photos were an example of how good the building could look if it was restored, and only minor changes had been made over the years.
He said he didn’t oppose the development, but the front should be kept. Mr Robertson said Brookfield Place had kept the frontages of the old buildings and it had been a huge commercial success.

But Cr McEvoy sided with Cr Butler, saying the site had been dormant too long and it was time to get the area activated.

Last year the WA heritage council pushed for the factory to be heritage listed and PCC staffers initially agreed, but Cr Butler led the charge to knock that back and the heritage minister Albert Jacob agreed, leaving the building with no protection.

 MICHELIDES LTD was Australia’s only tobacco company to grow and manufacture its own tobacco. It was set up by Greek migrants Peter and Michael Michelides, who’d spent the previous 20 years hand-rolling and selling cigarettes. The first Roe Street buildings went up in the 1920s, with more added in the ‘40s as the company expanded. By the 1940s it was the country’s third largest tobacco company, with 250 workers in the Northbridge factory. By the mid-’50s Michelides was producing a million cigarettes a day, but soon after profits slumped and the company was sold in 1960. The building went on to become a Peters ice cream factory and then a Tony Barlow suit hire store before falling into disuse around five years ago.

 by DAVID BELL

 

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