A history of Glebe in six locations
By ALEC SMART
Glebe has a fascinating development history. Among its leafy streets and along the harbour foreshore are buildings that tell stories of the past; mansions built by wealthy residents, and remnants of early industry.
Glebe is so called because it is a ‘glebe’ – a Medieval French word for an area of land tied to a church to support the priest. In Glebe’s case the land was a grant given in 1790 by Governor Arthur Philip to Reverend Richard Johnson, Chaplain of the First Fleet.
The land remained undeveloped until 1828, and was, until then, an important confluence shared between the Gomorrigal and Wangal peoples. The region was dominated by black wattle forest, used for furniture and house building, and several creeks that fed into a swampy tidal inlet – later renamed Blackwattle Bay.
In 1828 the Church of England subdivided the area into 28 allotments, retaining three for church use as the Glebe Estate, around Glebe Street, where many Victorian terrace houses have been preserved.
Bidura, 357 Glebe Point Road
In 1858 architect Edmund Blackett, best known for his designs for Sydney University and St Andrews Cathedral, built his family home, Bidura, at 357 Glebe Point Road. The cream-coloured three-storey Victorian Regency-style homestead features rectangular green window shutters and a striped two-toned corrugated iron shade over the front porch.
Between 1920-1977 it was integral to the NSW Govt’s child welfare system, as the primary holding centre for girls up to 18 years of age, and boys up to six, who moved between government institutions and foster care. This included the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who were forcibly taken from their families by government agencies and church missions to be re-homed.
Bidura Children’s Court, 357 Glebe Point Road
Built behind heritage-listed Bidura House, the large courthouse complex was inspired by neo-Brutalist architecture (think of Soviet-style square concrete blocks) and opened in 1983, replacing the Children’s Court in Surry Hills.
In 2014 NSW Govt announced the site had been sold for housing development and was facing demolition. However, the still-empty premises has become a cause-célèbre for lovers of Brutalist architecture. Campaigners want it protected, like the recently-saved Sirius Apartments in The Rocks, because both are among the few surviving examples in Sydney.
In May 2019, the City of Sydney lost its bid to save the building and developers are progressing with plans for an apartment complex.
Valhalla Cinema, 166 Glebe Point Road
Always independently-operated, the original Art Deco-designed Astor Cinema opened in 1937 with a 992 seating capacity - 722 downstairs in stalls and 270 in the upper circle tier. Closed in November 1959 due to the impact of television, and converted to theatre storage, the cinema reopened in 1968 and thereafter relaunched a few times under new management and names, whilst also doubling as a live theatre venue.
In December 1979 it began its long run as the Valhalla, known for revival and art house films. However, the opening of a 10-screen Hoyts multiplex nearby on Broadway in November 1998 contributed to its demise. Valhalla Cinema closed 31 January 1999, and although a few attempts were made to relaunch the venue, it was no longer financially viable.
On 3 August 2005 it finally closed its doors to cinema-goers. National Trust was approached to heritage-list the building but it was too late - the interior was gutted back to bare brick in 2007 and converted into private apartments.
Burley Griffin Incinerator, 53 Forsyth St, Glebe
Walter Burley Griffin, the talented American architect who won the competition to design Australia’s capital, Canberra, was also involved in multiple other architectural projects around Australia. Between 1930-38, Burley Griffin was responsible for designing 12 incinerators, of which seven still survive - two in NSW: Willoughby (now an art gallery) and the Glebe incinerator on the shore of Blackwattle Bay.
The Pyrmont incinerator, inspired by ancient Mayan architecture and modern Cubist forms, and Glebe incinerator were essential in managing the tonnes of garbage piling up in rat-infested 1930s Sydney, much of which was dumped at sea. Both closed in 1971. The Pyrmont incinerator was left to the elements and demolished in 1992.
Lyndhurst, 61 Darghan St, Glebe
Built between 1834 and 1837 for Dr James Bowman, Sydney Hospital’s principal surgeon, the Regency-styled Lyndhurst was designed by architect John Verge. It later served as St Mary's College Roman Catholic School, then Lyndhurst Private School, during which time it was altered, extended and subdivided.
However, it fell into decline over the next century, successively utilised as a broom manufacturer, soap factory, ice cream shop and joinery before reverting to private ownership. Plans to demolish it for a freeway in 1972 galvanised public support, and Lyndhurst was saved by a Builders Labourers Federation green ban and followed by restoration. In 1983 the building was transferred to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.
Rozelle Tram Sheds, Forest Lodge
Opened in 1904, Rozelle Tram Depot was a tram terminus and reparations centre that was part of the Sydney Tram Network. In 1918 the depot was expanded to accommodate 200 trams. The depot ceased operations on 22 November 1958 upon closure of the Glebe line, and was cleared of all trams the following day with the surrounding tram lines ripped up to facilitate vehicular traffic.
The sheds stored historic trams and buses, however, from 2000 the trams were repeatedly graffitied and looted. The last vandalised tram was removed in 2015. Proposals to demolish the historic tram depot for apartments were rebuffed by public opposition. On 22 September 2016 the site was reopened as Tramsheds, a European-style food hall. One of the original trams was restored and now features in the complex.
Photos by Alec Smart