Does this building tell us much about social history?

Preserving the built fabric of old buildings conveys little about their social and cultural history; it should be mandatory that protection comes with interpretation

Does this building tell us much about social history?

5 Comments on “Does this building tell us much about social history?”

  1. melbheritageaction says:

    Interested in your note that “the facade suffered “total abuse” from extensive changes in the 1940s” – where does that information come from ? Clearly the ground floor openings have been altered (like most pubs) but the piers remain, and the first floor looks completely untouched except for the corner addition to the cornice. If you go round the back you can see the original rear wall and rear wings are intact too.

    As for capturing the social history of a place like a pub with mandatory interpretation, not sure its necessary in every case, even pubs that have been turned to another use. If it still looks like a pub, eg the Clifton Hill McDonalds, its original use and therefore an understanding that it has a social history is pretty obvious. For most ‘everyday’ heritage places, pubs, houses, shops, even the highly architecturally significant ones, it might be virtually impossible to know exactly what happened there, since it might never have made the newspapers.

  2. Alan Davies says:

    Information is per the link to Heritage Victoria’s site in the last section of the article. Full text reads:

    Architectural importance: subsequent to the extensive alterations in the 1940s, the hotel now possesses little of its former classical order. The upper floor retains the expression of the shop and hotel, separately expressed via the fenestration but the lower floor retains no such remnants from its previous era. The pilasters now appear out of place and the recently imposed dado presents a foreign horizontal element half way up the ground floor storey height. The superposition of the corner motif, on the parapet, is a ludicrous gesture and, though it is easily removed, its existence accentuates the total abuse already suffered by the rest of the facade. The building is of little architectural or, for that matter historical importance.

    Looking like a pub might indicate it has a social history but it doesn’t tell us anything about that history or why it’s important beyond the fact it was once a pub. If we’re going to bear the cost of protecting a building in whole or in part on the basis of its historical importance, then we need to know the what and why.

  3. melbheritageaction says:

    Its our experience that the community is happy the ‘bear the cost’ of retaining historic buildings, especially the obviously old and attractive ones, like a Carlton terrace house or an impressive old bank, without knowing any more about its history (which may or may not be significant in itself). Most old pubs self evidently have a social history, just like an old house, though we rarely know much about the specific history of the average old pub or house.

    Being particularly old is usually enough for a place to have ‘historical’ significance, again without knowing specifics; the case of the illegally demolished Carlton Inn is particularly notable in this regard, it was a gold rush era pub, that was altered and extended in the 1880s, but just being 1850s was enough ‘heritage’ for most people. Even now not much of its history before the Law students started using it in the 90s is known.

    Every heritage place has some historic significance, but if we were to say put a plaque on every listed place then every Carlton terrace house, old pub and old bank would end up with one, probably in most cases simply stating when it was built. A plaque or similar for a place where the significance is not obvious (ie. that doesnt look old, or visually remarkable) is worth considering, though even those places are reasonably rare – the best candidates would be the interwar factories scattered through the inner and middle suburbs, but even they are obviously old factories, and so their significance is pretty much self evident.

    • Alan Davies says:

      Everyone and everything has “a history”; there’re 8 billion unique biographies in the world! What makes a building or precinct worth protecting on heritage grounds is the significance of its historical architectural or social/cultural contribution; refer to the heritage legislation in each state.

      Being “old” isn’t enough by itself in the same way being young shouldn’t of itself rule out the possibility of protection. Keeping buildings because they look “attractive” is about urban design, not heritage (there might be a case for the former, but it’s a different argument).

      As pointed out in the article, not necessary to have tens of thousands of mini museums e.g. a suburb like Fitzroy could be treated as a precinct with an associated interpretation centre or media suite (many possibilities). But a mere “plaque” entirely misses the point; that’s rubbish.

      Like people, buildings earn respect for what they are and what they’ve “done”; it’s not something that should automatically come with age (c.f. Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan).

      • Russell says:

        Does a building have to have value for everyone – for everyone to know its story? Why can’t it just be of value to the people who know it, live near it?

        A building doesn’t have to earn respect. My grandfather, and father, went to Perth Boys school – now PICA in Northbridge. In the 1970s it was part of Perth Tech and I went there, as an adult, to do a course. Due to typical neglect the building hadn’t changed much at all and I was very happy to sit in a classroom that my father and grandfather had probably sat in before me. To some people these associations have no value, to other people they do.

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