When news broke last month that a development application had been lodged over the site of the longstanding Crown & Anchor, public outcry was swift. A Change.org petition, launched to preserve the pub in its current guise, already has over 12,000 signatures; a vocal Facebook group, Save the Cranker, has amassed over 6000 members, and a Facebook event, “Cranker No Die” has been created for people to show their love and support for the “holy site”.

The application by Singapore-based developer Wee Hur Holdings Ltd proposes “partial demolition and adaptive reuse” of 188 and 196 Grenfell Street, which, alongside the historic pub and live music venue, also houses restaurant Midnight Spaghetti upstairs, and outdoor bar Roxie’s and event space Chateau Apollo next door.

The proposed development would see multi-storey student accommodation built on the site, preserving only the pub’s facade, in accordance with its heritage listing. The move has sparked a discussion over heritage protection and planning laws, which only preserve the building itself, rather than a venue’s cultural significance – its heart and soul.

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“The Crown & Anchor Hotel, the Cranker, is more than just a building,” the petition reads. “It’s a symbol of our community, our history, and our love for live music … It is a church to many. A safe haven, a discussion, a party, a listening ear, a teacher, a delightful ale.”

The Crown & Anchor was licensed in 1853, rebuilt in the 1880s and extended in the 1920s. It’s been a cornerstone of the live music scene for decades, even through several changes of ownership. The pub was sold to local developer Karidis Corporation in 2016 – igniting concerns over the future of the site as a live music venue then – and leased to operator Tom Skipper, who remains the venue’s custodian.

“I’d love to see common sense prevail,” Skipper tells Broadsheet. “We are a Unesco City of Music and if we want to actually advertise ourselves as one, I think we need to look at grassroots music and venues that help foster that. And the Crown & Anchor is a pivotal one in that story.

“Certainly in the East End there’s no other pub [hosting live music] on the scale we are,” he adds, acknowledging the closures of nearby venues like the Tivoli and Producers Bar and the demise of live music at the Austral after an apartment complex was built behind it. “We’re hosting 25 to 30 bands a week … It’s a very significant pub in the framework of the live music industry.”

The beloved venue has been a regular pit stop for touring artists, a nurturing home base that’s helped launch the careers of local bands and musicians, and an increasingly rare refuge for music fans of all stripes. But as its patrons, supporters and operators say, its cultural legacy goes beyond live gigs.

“It’s not like you can shut the hotel down and find a cultural home for our patrons,” says Skipper. “They’re a very unique, eclectic group of people and there’s no one-size-fits-all in terms of relocating them to another venue.

“The Crown & Anchor has been a safe haven for all walks of life – what’s wonderful is you can have the uni students next to professional legals that come in for after-work drinks. It’s a very diverse group of people, and the one thing that unites them is music. It’s got a cultural pulse. That’s the difference between the Cranker and so many other venues.”

Skipper says he’s been “incredibly humbled” by the response from the community. “It’s wonderful to see it means so much for so many other people. Obviously I’ve got vested interest and I will fight till death’s door to ensure its preservation, but to see others out of their own volition take it upon themselves and lobby against it … it’s just amazing.”

“It’s worth noting I’m not anti-development,” he continues. “I’m all for development – I think the city needs development, but I would suggest that this is a cultural heritage site that should be left for years to come for others to enjoy. There are certainly alternative venues around the city that, one could argue, would be better sites [for housing].”

Beyond signing the petition, anyone looking to support the Cranker is encouraged to voice their concerns when the state planning commission opens the proposal up to public consultation. In the meantime, go buy a pint and see a gig.

savethecranker.com.au