Double Bay residents and fans of modernist architecture are up in arms over a development application currently before Woollahra Council to dramatically change one of Sydney’s finest surviving mid-century modernist buildings.
Named after John Gaden, a Woollahra council mayor in the 1940s, Gaden House is located at 24–26 Bay Street in Double Bay and was designed by renowned Australian architect and former mayor of the Woollahra council (1996), the late Neville Gruzman. It was completed in 1968 and, despite being a symbol of post-war architecture, does not have a heritage listing. And now it’s in danger of being lost.
Sydney architect Rory Toomey has launched an online petition to save the building, which he believes is “under threat of being irrevocably changed” by commercial developer AMA Holdings. In 24 hours the petition amassed over 1200 signatures from people would like to see this rare example of 1960s modernism left alone. (At the time of publication there were 1782 signatures.)
“We believe the building to be an important surviving part of Sydney’s architectural history,” the petition reads. “The current proposal should be refused to protect Gaden House’s value as a rare example of 1960s Sydney commercial architecture.”
AMA Holdings’ proposal involves removing the existing facade, recladding the entire building and creating balconies. It also proposes adding two levels to the top of the building and removing the existing stairwell and reinstalling it at the front. Under the proposal most modernist features will be demolished.
“It’s like someone has bought an Aston Martin and doesn’t know it is an Aston Martin, then does all these modifications without understanding the true value of what it is they have,” says Toomey.
Toomey suggests the developer sit down with architects “who appreciate what’s great about Gaden House as it is” to devise a new plan that balances preservation with the developer’s commercial interests.
Radio personality, author and host of ABC’s modernist-architecture show Streets of Your Town Tim Ross has also been vocal about saving Gaden House.
“It’s a very striking, elegant building. Whenever I go past I think, ‘Wow that’s a really great piece of commercial architecture’. It’s better than most from that period,” Ross told Broadsheet. “This is one of the nicest looking buildings in the eastern suburbs, if not Sydney. Someone has just come along who doesn’t get it.
“It’s not about today, it’s not about tomorrow. We’re actually saving this building for the next 20 to 50 years.”
Gaden house has a rich history. It was home to a string of successful bars – such as The Regent, Doubles, The New Regent and Planet Bollywood – along with the commercial offices of Lucy Folk and MCM House. For over 20 years it was the site of Carla Zampatti’s first Australian boutique, and then iconic ’80s dressmakers Victoria & Albert.
In the 1980s Gruzman joined the Anti-Wall Committee, which set out to protect the Sydney Opera House from a nearby urban development. In 1997 he chaired the renamed "Save East Circular Quay Committee" to stop the desecration of the Sydney Opera House Precinct.
The National Trust and the Architectural Federation of Australia are also behind the cause to save the building. “There are some heavy hitters putting their names behind preservation and restoration,” says Toomey.
Toomey has sent the council a link to the petition, along with his personal objection letter. “When we decided to start this petition I had hoped we’d get to 300 supporters. Everyone is bowled over by the response,” says Toomey.
Brutalist icon Sirius is also facing a similar fate. “It’s the beginning. The flood gates are about to open on 20th-century heritage architecture,” says Toomey.
Broadsheet approached AMA Holdings for comment, who were unavailable for comment at the time of publication.