Sydney sketching : sketching Sydney – postcode 2044: Dynamo Auto Electrical

June 21, 2011

This is the first of a series of sketches devoted to Sydney suburbia, urban sketching with an eye to distinctive architecture.  

316 Princes Hwy, St Peters  NSW  2044

This Spanish Mission-style auto electrician’s shop sits at the corner of a very busy intersection in St Peters NSW 2044, Canal Road and Princes Highway. Dynamo Auto Electrical perches somewhat precariously on the edge of the long disused Austral Brickworks quarry which last fired bricks in 1988. The deep quarry next door has lain dormant for three decades behind a colourbond fence. The business is one of many small business enterprises devoted to cars which have long dominated the stretch of the Princes Highway from St Peters to Tempe on to Wolli Creek and Arncliffe with its car yards.

Open seven days a week and perpetually busy, the nature of its business requires that it have a large car-parking area in front. The entire premises is quite small, with one wing off a main open vehicle servicing area. Its appearance has remain unchanged for the last twenty years or so. It is visually interesting because it faces the street corner on the diagonal. I suspect originally it had a main building with two wings off to the side at right angles. The north aspect of the building seems to have its wing chopped off, with just a sheet metal fence; the east wing has a modern extension added to it providing additional internal space but otherwise shielding the original ‘wing’. Original windows and doors seem to have been replaced; the current ones look like add-ons.

Spanish Mission style service stations

The Spanish Mission style was used by similar car businesses in nearby Newtown and Tempe. The style dates from 1925-1939 and I have to assume they were built in response to the interwar growth in automobile culture, with petrol stations and related car businesses set up on Sydney’s main arterial roads just out of town. I assume they were initially petrol outlets and were transformed into specialist businesses later on, presumably when the big self-serve petrol service station chains entered the market.  I understand council regulations required this style of building to be built in brick and that walls were also in white or cream with a stucco finish. Dynamo Auto has relatively plain untextured walls and if there were Spanish terracotta-style roof tiles originally, they appear now to date from the 1950s or 1960s.

Interestingly, there are two very similar buildings, one further up the Princes Highway at King Street (South) Newtown and the other down the Princes Highway at Tempe (a shop selling maps called Map World, with a similarly-named outlet in Granville, till demolition sometime after February 2008 and the property consolidated into the Tempe Tyre & Wheel Centre selling hubcaps in the main. The Newtown premises has changed from selling petrol to currently being an auto electrical premises and most recently a distributor of mopeds with the return to fashion of the Vespa and similar cheap transport options. The Tempe building had a porte-cochere setup (with stark and sturdy columns) parallel to the road, but the Newtown property (like the St Peters one) exploits the logistics of being on a corner block by being built on the diagonal, assisting with accessibility for vehicular traffic. It originates from a time when the Princes Highway was narrower (widened for the installation of tram tracks between Newtown and Tempe) and when of course it was the main road south from Sydney to Wollongong.

The future

Business premises dedicated to car transport are unlikely to be ever considered of possessing any heritage value. But certainly as time goes by, such buildings –  dating back to the 1930s, look more and more out of place, notwithstanding its bright and cheerful facade of red and white paint which makes Dynamo Auto Electrical stand out from its surroundings. With the current building of the IKEA retail complex a little to the south and the massive residential tower developments at Sydney Park and along the Princes Highway, it seems to me only a matter of time before the bulk of the neighbouring quarry is filled in and built over with high-rise residential towers. Obviously in recent years, much of the surrounding area has firmed up in terms of shipping container storage, given the proximity to Port Botany and the freight rail line which runs from Botany through to Sydenham and beyond. 

Small- to medium-sized industrial businesses stretch from behind Dynamo Auto Electrical along Canal Road towards the airport; similar business premises on the Princes Highway at Arncliffe have become depleted of tenants in the last decade or so, being either unsuitable for renovation as apartments, or too expensive to operate as businesses and unable to effectively compete with the high-rise developments at Wolli Creek with their water views. Much of the former heavy and light industrial land to Sydney’s south – Green Square via Alexandria to Mascot and Botany and similar to Marrickville – is being taken over as prime residential development. 

In the last two decades, the run from St Peters to Arncliffe Railway Stations appears to be slowly disintegrating over time as a mainstay of small automotive businesses and a curious blend of other enterprises and developments is taking over: high-rise apartments at the St Peters end, fast-food outlets and a Formule 1 motel opposite St Peters Church, service stations becoming car wash businesses and relying heavily on income from their convenience stores, smarter industrial units being built, the huge IKEA complex removing residences of former historic signifiance (and two without any) and replacing the former contents storage site.

With regard to 316 Princes Highway, I notice the recent deletion by Marrickville Council of any historical significance which might attach to the Dynamo Auto Electrical premises. Specifically, the building as Heritage Item 276 has been recently removed from Schedule 4 of dMLEP 2010 and, subject to the findings of the peer review process, will be added to the Marrickvile Local Environment Plan (MLEP) as part of a future amendment. Council describes this “single storey building  with modest site coverage and floor space ratio compared with neighbouring sites and the general context” as “imposing disproportionate constraints on the development potential of the site.” The recommendation to Council reinforces the notion that its heritage qualites “are markedly incompatible with the future land use and planning context”, which, by any interpretation, means it is inconvenient and disposable. (Marrickville Council, Supplementary Business Paper, Extraordinary Council Meeting, Tuesday 24 May 2011).

It’s amazing that this building is still chugging along more or less serving its original purpose. Along with other buildings dating from the 1930s in the St Peters and Tempe locales, it provides great visual variety in the built environment roundabout.

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