16 April 2011

19 Centennial Avenue, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

A renovator's dream!
This charming little hellhole has been on our list of potential properties for some time now, but for some reason or another, we hadn't quite got around to writing about it until today. I don't know why, because this place just exemplifies the abandoned buildings side of his blog. The first time we went past it, I very nearly drove off the road in shock, because up until that point all the surrounding houses had been quite nice. This just hurts my eyes. Usually when you see something in this state of disrepair, it's surrounded by a wire fence with demolition orders up. But no, this one is just chillin', clearly without having seen any love or attention since it was first built. It clearly hasn't been painted since then - the original coat has just flaked off over time to expose the bare boards underneath. It seems that the plaster rendering on the upper section of the house has just fallen off, exposing a tasteful sort of wood skeleton underneath. In fact, those sections remind me forcibly of the huts I used to build in my back garden, which were made of bit of old trellis fence. The roof tiles are falling like autumn leaves, and I think the house has shifted a little on its foundations, because those windows certainly don't fit as snugly in their frames as they once might have. The garden is messy with a crumbling fence, and there is a lot of accumulated rubbish shoved down between the house and the fence.
I'm sure it was nice 100 years ago.

Now, let me draw your attention to the pictures taken through the windows. We examined these after our first visit here, and were surprised to see that there was actually some stuff inside. A fan is clearly visible, as well as some other random clutter. We assumed that the residents had just left, leaving all their old furniture to fester. I mean, seriously, out of all the houses we've collected for this blog, we were quite sure that this place was totally, absolutely abandoned. We assumed it must have been sitting there for years with just that horrible, fetid old caravan for company.

That poor, poor fan!
Here's why we should never assume anything ever again. Recently, we drove past this place at night. We had been keeping our eyes peeled, since we thought it might be quite hard to find in the dark. Well, this wasn't the case at all. You want to know why? Because there was a light on. A proper fluorescent light, not the torchlight of vandals or squatters. The place is actually in use. I couldn't fucking believe it. This is probably the closest we've come to finding something worthy of a Dot Dot Curve rating, and it turns out that people actually USE IT, perhaps even live in it. Out of all the places we've found for this blog so far, this was one of the few cases where we didn't even have a flicker of doubt about the "abandoned" status we gave it. Even if this is just someone's workshop rather than their residence, you'd think they'd at least fix the roof. I would be genuinely worried about this place staying up in a high wind, so I certainly wouldn't leave anything I'm working on in there unattended. In addition to that, it looks so easy to break in to. All you'd need to do is tap on the wall and you'd probably make a gap big enough to crawl through. I'm not even going to think about someone actually living here, but after seeing that light on, it's a troublingly plausible thought. I hope that they move out before that wonky chimney falls through their bedroom roof!

You win the "worst house on this blog" award. Well done.
To be honest, I would rather live in that caravan for a year than spend a week in that house. You might not quite understand how momentous that is, but I am massively ill-disposed towards caravans. They creep me out and they're dirty and horrible and get in the way while you're driving. Caravans are the crows of the mechanical world. I hope that helps you understand how bad these place actually is. I hope for the sake of everyone living on that street that the termites and the elements get rid of this place sooner rather than later. Perhaps then the mystery residents can move somewhere nicer - I think even this would be luxurious compared with their current wreck.

Rating: Cellar floor.

12 April 2011

A real estate translation guide

Besides critiquing whatever properties - for good or bad - catch our eye, one of our favourite past-times here at MYL is to flick through real estate magazines and have a right old laugh at some of the shonky claims and horrendous writing. In the spirit of this, here is my guide to what the blurbs really mean, because if we know one thing about real estate agents, it's that they are full of shit and often are paid to hock off houses that they think are a total load of shit.

What they say: "Under instructions from state trustees."
What they actually mean: Somebody died here. The curtains, wallpaper, and carpet date from about the same year as Cliff Richard and are even more undesirable. James May probably has a shirt that looks like this house's interior, but unlike James May, the house can't quite get away with it any more.

Bet when 39 Barry St comes up for sale, it'll be a "renovator's delight"!
What they say: "Exciting options to renovate", "renovator's delight", "so much potential", or any variation upon this theme.
What they actually mean: It's shit. It's so shit that the agent can't even think of an admirable quality to highlight.

What they say: "Continuously owned by the same family since [any decade prior to the Cold War]."
What they actually mean: We're sorry about the hideous carpet and all the wares and keepsakes and generic knick-knacks that will undoubtedly catch your eye during the open home.

What they say: "In a league of its own", "something different", and "a rare opportunity".
What they actually mean: Just like everywhere else. We're pretending it's unique so that you'll be interested.

What they say: "Feature wall."
What they actually mean: We're trying to re-cast the most architecturally abhorrent aspect of this place as something somehow desirable and exclusive.

10 April 2011

176 Barkly Street, St Kilda, VIC, Australia

Back in the day when I was a poor undergrad student, I looked at quite a few properties in the desperate quest to find somewhere cheap, inexpensive, and in a vaguely decent location (emphasis on "vaguely"). I looked at some pretty horrendous properties in that time. It's amazing what real estate agents and landlords get away with asking for properties just because they happen to be a couple of blocks from a mediocre beach or across the road from a railway station or happen to fall within the formal boundaries of a poncy suburb. But 176 Barkly St takes the cake for being the single worst - and single most memorable - property I had the displeasure of setting foot in on this entire quest.

Oh-so-inviting entryway, where you can be bashed in seclusion.
I wish I could show you inside.  If the pictures of the exterior make you think it looks reasonably dank and dingy, you're on the right track. It's just so dark on the inside. Some rooms looked like a ray of sunshine had never once passed through the window; it was a bright spring day outside, but I felt like I was in England on a stereotypically drizzly winter's day. I remember the rooms at least seemed to have fairly high ceilings, a quality i quite like, but otherwise ... sweet jesus, the floorboards and the aged walls were dark enough to emphasise the drab, soulless feel, and the fittings in the kitchen and bathroom looked barely hygienic and barely functional. The sort of fittings that, in general, had disappeared before the Soviet Union did.

One of the windows has recently gained a tag. Charming.
On the outside, well, the design betrays a lack of imagination. The graffiti scrawled on the window actually somehow adds to the building, that's how meaningless and drab it is. There was graffiti by the entryway that stayed there for years - although gone now, it lasted a good couple of years at least. The landlord clearly had little concept of maintenance. The fact the building was so clearly vandalised was just a reminder that in such a miserable and dark corner of St Kilda, you too were likely to be vandalised on your doorstep. Especially on a Friday night. This building is literally just around the corner from the happenin' block of Acland St, and that is why the real estate agent was asking ...

... wait for it ...

I can understand why it's hidden behind trees! Bonus ugly building at left.
One hundred and eighty dollars a week for this stinking sack of shit. There's a pub a few houses down, a supermarket right across the road, you're about two minutes from one tram line and two minutes from another, strolling to the Palais Theatre or Luna Park is effortless, and it's just another minute on to one of the most crowded beaches in Melbourne come a sunny weekend. Yet even if that sort of location sounds awesome to you (I find St Kilda a bit crowded and commodified myself), you'd spend every day living there overcome by a feeling of being utterly ripped off. It's highway robbery to demand $180 for somewhere unfit to house a dog. Actually, I don't like dogs and would quite happily house a heap of them there, but I'm a twat.

Google Streetview, prior to demolition.
The good news, as the pictures show, is that the place seems to have been gutted and is in the process of demolition, or at least a much needed rejuvenation. I hope it's the former, because even if you completely rebuilt this thing inside, I'm pretty sure there is a forcefield across the windows that prohibits sunshine from entering.

Rating: Condemnable and can't be torn down soon enough.

06 April 2011

243 Mansfield Street, Thornbury, VIC, Australia

When I first came across this place, my immediate reaction was to rip into it for being another ridiculous example of the modern architecture I hate so much. However, that was a little while ago, and I've had time to think about it and realise that for once, I might not be writing a hate-filled rant about something modern.

Yes, it's a funny shape. It's painted in colours more suited to a Teletubbies set. It doesn't have a roof. It has racy angles all over the place. It shouldn't work! But it a weird way, it's actually kind of endearing. I mean, I would be pretty happy to live here. With the right maintenance, those bright colours will stay bright and attractive (now I sound like a washing powder advert), and let's face it, no-one would ever get lost looking for your house. The only trace of mushroom-coloured paint lies around the front door, on a surface which looks troublingly like corrugated concrete from a distance. Still, that is a much better effort than pretty much all the other new places around here have made - generally, the only deviation in their "mushroom" paint scheme is a nice stripe of black or brown. I'm very impressed.

To be honest, I think the biggest flaws with this place are not with the house, but with the garden. Firstly, that fence has to go. Sure, it's not quite as bad as those fences around here that look like level crossing barriers, but it's pretty bland all the same. It looks more like a barrier at the side of the road to stop unruly children dashing out into the traffic than a tasteful residential fence. And the garden needs some serious work. It's bright enough as it is, but some nice flowerbeds would ensure that this thing could be seen from space! The trees on the left need a serious trim - surely if you're going to paint your house that bright, you're going to want people to see it. Still, unlike the flaws you find in most modern places, these things are all very easily fixed. Perhaps when this place gets leased, the new tenant will fix it up a little.

For the first time in the history of Mow Your Lawn, I am quietly optimistic about a modern place. A truly momentous occasion.

Rating: Kind of quirky but not too offensive, really. Probably equates to a lick o' paint.

30 March 2011

Waiotira railway station, Waiotira, Northland, New Zealand

All photos (apart from one obvious exception) taken by me, April 2010.

Now, as much as I love slagging off hideous architecture, I don't want Mow Your Lawn! to get too bogged down in rants like the sort I just published about the Elizabeth Tower Hotel. So I thought I would fairly quickly follow it by showcasing the other side of the blog: the fascinating world of derelict and decaying man-made structures. Today's subject is the very decrepit Waiotira railway station in the middle of nowhere, lost somewhere in the rolling hills of the Northland region of New Zealand, a couple of hours out of Auckland.

The old back platform is in the foreground. If you can tell.
Waiotira station is located on the last section of the railway between Auckland and Whangarei to be opened. A rough-and-ready kind of freight service operated from 1923, but it wasn't until late 1925 that passenger trains began passing through here. But soon Waiotira was a railway junction, with a branch line leaving this station for Dargaville to the west. Between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s, this was a busy station where trains from Auckland to Opua or Okaihau via Whangarei met local services that ran between Waiotira and Dargaville. It had two platforms, one for the main line and one for the Dargaville trains, a station building, and a busy goods yard. But that's all history.

Waiotira, June 1985. Credit: jeffpylenz; source.
Go to Waiotira today and try to imagine what it was like around 1950. Both railway lines are still open - just. They are on the brink of closure. As for the station itself? It's pretty eerie here in Waiotira really. It's hard to even get a sense of how this was once a busy junction, with passengers changing trains and goods being trans-shipped. Just look at that lonely platform; it's fading back into the landscape, covered by grass in an even more substantial way than Dargaville station. The only reason a train would stop here is so that locomotives on freight trains between Dargaville and Whangarei can swap ends. Passengers have not boarded regularly scheduled trains here since 1976, and the platform is now so overgrown and inaccessible that even a special excursion could not use it. It's hard to believe that even in June 1985, there was a decent-sized, well-painted, and not unattractive building sitting on that platform (see photo above right). If you told me nobody had set foot on it since that last regular service in 1976, I would have believed you.

The old goods yard, with Waiotira township behind.
The yard is basically a thing of the past. The main line and a short loop are still useable; a third track is in place but looked to me like it could no longer be used. The rest is gone. There are no facilities; the back platform has long since been taken up; there are certainly no wagons being dropped off or collected by passing trains. You have to use your imagination to recall a time when wagons were shunted busily, local produce was loaded, and much-needed supplies were dropped off. Waiotira was more than just a couple of hours away from Auckland in those days, and this station was a lifeline. Now, it's nothing. The only life is a signal protecting the branch to Dargaville. Even those tracks are losing their glimmer.

Well there's SOME platform surface left!
Like many country New Zealand towns, Waiotira nowadays is barely more than a dot on a map. There are just a few houses, and it's little wonder that the railway station building has not been preserved or that the station precinct has become so derelict and forgotten. It is, in a way, symbolic of how rural communities are fading away in many places. It shows how in this part of Northland, like so many other regions, being away from the State Highway and being stripped of your railway facilities one-by-one (first the expresses, then the slow passenger trains, then the freight) can be ... perhaps not a kiss of death, but a key part of the slow decline of rural areas.

Rating: Vacant, which I think translates to about Unpleasant on our oh-so-formal rating system.

Update: 786-798 Elizabeth Street (Elizabeth Tower Hotel), Carlton, VIC, Australia

Well, well. Early this month, Charlotte wrote about the Elizabeth Tower Hotel and its decrepitude. She noted that it was subject to an application by the University of Melbourne to demolish it and construct the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity. Today's good news is that Melbourne Uni has succeeded in this application, as reported today in The Age.
Soon to cease being a blight upon the skyline.
What is worth noting is that for some reason, almost inexplicable to me, this building is heritage listed. Some people, judging by comments on that article, seem to think it has some sort of aesthetic merit worth preserving for future generations. I personally would go even further than Charlotte in condemning this monstrosity of a building. For full disclosure, I am a historian, my work has occasionally led me to dabble my toe in architectural history, and I am usually the first person to come out and bat for heritage protection. I am continually saddened by the way many cities have demolished their history, and I am infuriated by how many new buildings have been erected with the facades of their predecessor as some sort of tokenistic concession to history. However, this building is truly and utterly discardable, and the only argument I can possibly fathom in favour of its retention is as a warning to future generations not to replicate the failings of some 20th century architects.

The spiral staircase is cool, I will readily concede that. However, a single staircase is not enough to save a hideous building. If you take away the staircase, you are left with just another 1950s highrise lacking any charm or personality whatsoever. It is an exceedingly plain, bricky building with rows of generic windows littered with unbecoming, mouldy old air conditioning units. I never ventured inside myself, but by all accounts the cleaning staff had long since lost the battle with half a century's worth of accumulated grime - and, perhaps, had lost the will to live too.

I don't know where Paul Roser, National Trust conservation manager, gets the following ridiculous notion, as quoted in The Age, that the decision to demolish this building is "another part of the steady attrition of significant buildings in the city".  No, Roser. Besides a staircase of middling importance and effectively no historical notability (wow a tall spiral staircase, nobody's ever seen that before!), there is absolutely nothing significant about this building. It is not a landmark. No tourist is going to come and see this. Locals walk past it without a second thought. The only few people who could possibly give a shit are the same bizarre people who continue to encourage wretched architectural fads that are making Melbourne and other cities uglier. The National Trust has much better things to worry about than some meaningless and charmless inner city hotel that, the moment it's knocked down, won't be missed by anybody.

Time for the Elizabeth Tower Hotel to check out of Melbourne.
Of course, I have utterly no confidence that the University of Melbourne will build a quality building in its place. The uni's latest major project, the new Economics and Commerce Building, is a monument to blithering stupidity, as I'm sure I made abundantly clear in this particular rant. However, regardless of what goes up in place of the Elizabeth Tower Hotel, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has made the right decision to bowl it over before it festers any longer. Councillor Peter Clarke, again quoted in the aforementioned Age article, claims that this decision illustrates how VCAT is "out of step with the broader views of the community". I think the only person out of step is you and your malfunctioning eyes, Clarke. The skyline will be much better upon the removal of this damning legacy to 1950s architectural follies.

Rating: This decision does not impact Charlotte's original rating of Condemnable, which I endorse.

29 March 2011

234 - 240 Barkly Street, Footscray, VIC, Australia

I haven't done a blog entry for a while, and I apologise. I've been stuck doing some crappy assignments which took even longer to submit than they did to write, so I'm a little bit on the angry side too. However, that "little bit on the angry side" changed immediately to ABSOLUTE FULL BLOWN RAGE when I remembered this place. It's very lucky that I didn't have a fatal accident when I spotted this, since for a moment I was so repulsed that I forgot how to drive. Then I just wanted to drive as fast as possible in order to get away from it.

That's your HOUSE? Sorry, I thought it was the carpark.
This monstrosity is not a gigantic multi-storey carpark, though you may be forgiven for thinking this is the case. No no, people actually live here. Cirque Apartments, if you believe the blurb of the estate agent, are a "defining focal point of Footscray’s vibrant re-vitalisation". Oh! I'm sorry, I thought a gigantic Lego man had just taken a shit on the footpath. Focal point, that's what they're calling it these days! Now, I know these photos were taken on a very gloomy day. Perhaps it might look better on a sunny day? Well, here is the artist's impression of the place.

Nice job on removing the dingy shops surrounding it, too.
Ugh. Sorry, even with optimistically blue sky and a nice yellow car out the front, it still looks like it's made of plastic. In addition to that, see how lovely and clean it looks in the artist's impression? Well, when we drove by, the place was not actually finished. In the short period of time that this place has been standing, it has already gathered that awful, stained look that concrete buildings are so susceptible to. I sincerely hope that they cover the bare concrete - I know it would just be a case of polishing a turd, but at least they'd look as though they'd tried. However, I'm not optimistic about the chances of this. 

Looks more like a factory from the front.
This is not a "showpiece of inner-city living", as the estate agent (who, incidentally, needs to learn to use his space bar) may claim. Showpieces are nice things that you should be proud to show off. If I lived in Footscray, I'd want to stuff this into a cupboard like an unwanted gift every time a visitor came through. As far as houses made out of building blocks go, any five-year-old could design something more attractive than this. Apparently this place will "accommodate a variety of lifestyle needs". Oh yeah, my lifestyle needs totally require me to live in a cold, grey concrete box and hate my life every moment of the day. I'm sure that's what they were going for. That's a stupid statement anyway - what lifestyle needs could this place possibly accommodate than any other house couldn't? They must really be stretching.

This needs to go. Word of advice to the estate agent - if a multi-storey carpark is your "grand vision", you really need to aim higher. At least build a proper roof - that staircase effect just doesn't cut it.

Rating: Condemnable, though this could change when the place is complete, for better or for worse.

27 March 2011

69 Albion Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

Sorry for the lack of posts over the last few days - it's a busy time, so we may not quite be able to maintain daily posts. However, today I bring to you a place that just baffled me.

Initially, it just seems like a run-of-the-mill example of a house suffering from a lack of maintenace. It's the bread and butter of Mow Your Lawn!, the sort of thing that I casually swore at on the day I coined this blog's name. The paint is peeling, flaking, and just generally decaying; this is so extreme on the side that you would be hard-pressed to tell what the wall's original colour even was. The crappy front fence is an aesthetic displeasure that belongs in front of an underfunded school rather than a house; it has been knocked over at right, and appears to have been left knocked over for so long that the foliage has adapted and grown around it.

"There ain't no awning here and there never was!"
Worst of all, the awnings that used to be over both of the front windows at the front ... are no more. There are just a couple of bits of tatty old splintery wood poking out from the walls above the windows, indicating where awnings used to be. Weeds have even started to make a home on the walls, not in the majestic way of ivy but in the ragtag way of, well, weeds. This place isn't quite coming apart at the seams like dear old 39 Barry Street, but it looks like that is what's in its future.

... then you notice the front lawn. Go back to that first photo. Yeah, that's right, the lawn is neatly mown. The flowers seem to have been given some care. The shrubs are in order. The letterbox is clean. The tree at right may be shrouding one side of the house and there may be growth settling on the wall and the remnants of an awning, but the garden itself is perfectly orderly. The house may be a disgrace, far away from its glory days, but the people here have actually mown their lawn! The fence may be kicked over and the plants growing around it, but the plants themselves are being helped to thrive!

Well the shrub doesn't seem unhappy about having a fence foisted upon it.
We can't make heads nor tails of this. While the garden is neat, it's not a showpiece; it's hardly the garden of somebody so obsessive about their plants that they've put all their love and affection into it at the expense of their home's structural integrity. The best explanation I have is that they really couldn't give a shit about maintaining their house or their fence, but they have an outright fear of snakes and spiders and don't want an overgrown front lawn that would host such things. Otherwise, what? This house seems to me a bit beyond the "oh we'll fix it up when we've got the time/money/inclination".

Rating: That neat front lawn means this place just falls on the Damnable side of the Damnable/Condemnable divide.

23 March 2011

305 Albion Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

Update, 28/11/2014: We have received concerns that some comments on this entry are defamatory of individual Walshe & Whitelock agents. Comments with defamatory content have been deleted. This blog is no longer actively monitored, so we have chosen to close comments to avoid the possibility of further defamatory comments. We apologise for this; if you have an opinion you wish to share on Walshe & Whitelock's business practices, please post it on your own blog or Google Reviews or elsewhere - and make sure you don't defame anybody!

If you're a regular reader of this blog (and if you're not, why not?) you will almost certainly be familiar with the concept of "Walshe and Whitelock" by now. For those who may not be, it is the name of an estate agent that always seems to be hocking off the most miserable properties, which are usually massive, made of bricks in that awful 1960s brutalist style and have about as much character as a dog turd on the pavement. They usually provoke a similar reaction to a dog turd on the pavement, in fact. Anyway, I thought I'd seen my fair share of Walshe and Whitelocks around here. I almost thought I was becoming desensitised to them. Then we stumbled across this quintessential example of hideousness on Albion Street.
The picture possibly makes it look better than it really is.

This thing embodies the Walshe and Whitelock stereotype to the most ridiculous extent. Everything that could be potentially wrong with it IS in fact wrong with it. First off, the design (or lack thereof). Enough red bricks to last a lifetime? Check. Complete lack of a roof to cap off the "shoebox" design model? Check.  Crappy attempt at adding variation with the white bricks around the windows? Present and correct. Something this soulless shouldn't be allowed to exist, especially in an area which is otherwise most aesthetically pleasing. With regards to the right hand side of the house, I would usually say something like "chop down your trees!" But in this case, the massively overgrown vegetation is more of a blessing than a curse. At least I only have to look at half of it this way. I feel sorry for the residents on that side though - we all know Walshe and Whitelock properties are known for their dinginess, and this shrubbery over their windows would exacerbate this tenfold.

Security entrance! Central courtyard!
Now, you see that open door there in the middle? That's another one of Walshe and Whitelock's famous "security entrances", as seen previously in this entry. It is always open, even in the depths of winter and in the middle of the night. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure there is a door there to close in the first place. It would make sense given Walshe and Whitelock's general stinginess. It would be very easy to get in here, and judging by the abundance of mailboxes, there would be a great variety of places to rob. That's if any burglar can bring themselves to set foot in this place, though. Even burglars have standards.

The middle of the complex seems to open out onto a courtyard of some sort. Judging by what we can see in these pictures, that certainly doesn't look like somewhere I'd like to spend my afternoons. The balcony that faces it looks mouldy and possibly structurally unsound,  too. I bet it was some optimistic attempt at a garden or some other feature, which lasted about a day and then degenerated into weeds and muck. In fact, I'm probably being optimistic. It's probably just where they keep their rubbish bins.

What's behind the trees? You don't want to know.
There shouldn't be any excuse for this. Seeing places like this just depresses me, so I can't even imagine what it must be like to actually live in one. Are people really this desperate? I guess so, given the exorbitant amounts that Walshe and Whitelock get away with charging for the rent. They know that they can offer a tiny, boxy, dark apartment that hasn't seen a paintbrush or even a duster this side of 1970, and some poor student will still settle for it at $300 a week. In addition to that, it breaks my heart to think what lovely Victorian home stood here before the developers massacred it in the 1960s. The only redeeming feature I can pick about this place is that at least it's used. Can you imagine how many thousands of times worse these places would look if they were abandoned? I'm dreading the day that I come across one. They wouldn't even be interesting to explore given the total lack of thought given to the architecture.

Still, at least it has windows (unlike some modern places) so that you can look out and see what you're missing.

Rating: Condemnable; should be illegal.

21 March 2011

89 Wilson Street, Moonee Ponds, VIC, Australia

It's just a little ugly but nothing too bad, right? Right ...?
This place simply confuses me. From the side, it just looks like somebody has taken an old shop/light industry and done it up into a residence. There's nothing wrong with it, though it's not really to my tastes - besides being a bit bricky and blocky, it commits the sin of glass bricks, and corrugated iron really shouldn't be used for much beyond garden sheds. Though I suppose it does stick with the building's industrial heritage. It's honestly a welcome bit of urban renewal, and we need more of this sort of thing. If this particular renovation is to your tastes, then more power to you.

Well as long as you don't walk around the front ...
But then go around the front. It looks like an absolutely dingy abandoned shop! The brick wall across the front is totally uninviting, splotchy, graffitied, and in urgent need of a lick o' paint and some repairs. To add to all that, although its structural integrity seems fine, the windows are perplexingly at a slight angle to the wall.  I don't know about you, but I would be completely embarrassed if this were the front of my house. What is this, a residence or an abandoned hardware shop? Make up your mind!

A closer view, just in case you had any doubts about its dinginess.
Perhaps the front is heritage listed? Well, no amount of Googling indicated anything of the sort, and even heritage protection wouldn't prohibit some cosmetic repairs. However, Google did turn up a couple of interesting results. Firstly, a Government Gazette of 3 March 1948 (pdf) reveals some of this building's heritage; it wasn't a hardware shop but the home to "Dynamic Engineering", who had applied to the Transport Regulation Board to register a commercial goods vehicle in conjunction with their work as building and civil engineering contractors. Secondly, well, this is just a bit weird. It's some new age-y sort of group's newsletter, and it gives this address for the "New Environmental Technologies Annual Conference Administration Centre", complete with an appeal for more office staff to help out with the organisation. Zuh? The building doesn't much look it to me. Then again, I suppose they are the sort of people who are likely to engage in the renovation of an old building. And that newsletter is from February 1998. Not sure what the deal is here; if it is or was some group's offices, there is no indication these days of that function.

Whatever the case, I think the key point here is: if you're going to engage in a bit of urban renewal, at least go all the way and spruce up the whole damn thing. This decaying and neglected front wall, along with an abandoned shop on the corner with Fanny Street, are unsightly blemishes on Wilson Street, otherwise one of the nicest streets in Moonee Ponds. Walking along it in summer is an absolute joy; it has so many beautiful old houses with well-kept, fragrant front gardens. It's one of those streets that illustrates why I love this part of the world so much. It's just a shame #89 is one of the first impressions when you come in from the east.

Rating: Damnable.

20 March 2011

Update: 377 Albion Street, Brunswick, VIC, Australia

Well, well. Remember the very first property we featured on this blog? Ah, the nostalgia. Well, we took a wander past it yesterday. Back in early February's entry, I suggested they could pick up a lawnmower cheaply from eBay or pay a local child an utter pittance of small change to make the lawn all nice and tidy. And what do you know? They actually have mown their lawn!

Here's the proof. Before (i.e. 18 January):

And after (i.e. 19 March):

No weeds, no spiders, no snakes.
Yes, it's a somewhat half-hearted attempts at lawn mowing, what with all those epic weeds still sprouting merrily, and I sure hope they didn't PAY for it, but it's a bloody good start. It's obviously not a lawn you could tackle in just one go by yourself anyway. I suppose they got sick of being unable to reach their front door; now the path is clear and nobody's going to accidentally step on a brood of vipers on their way out to the letterbox.

Now you can more readily see the front of the house and the somewhat rundown paintwork, which needs a clean at the least and possibly a nice new coat. I wonder, is somebody preparing this place to renovate or sell? Because it could be so gorgeous. Spruce up the front, get rid of all of those weeds, and plant a nice little front garden and it would look wonderful. This is proven by some nearby houses built to the same plan - they are stunning.

Rating: Revised down from Damnable to Unpleasant.

19 March 2011

105 Arthurton Road, Northcote, VIC, Australia

This house has piqued my interest for a long time, ever since we started walking over to the Northcote Social Club around mid-2010. Most of the time, we had been walking past it at night, so although I noted it as being pretty run down and dingy, I didn't realise exactly how bad it was. And then the clocks went forward, and we actually got to see it in broad daylight. And oh my god, what a sight.
It's only held together by years of accumulated grime.

Creepy graffiti and massive holes in the wall.
What an absolute mess. You can tell that this used to be a very nice house. If someone had saved this place before it actually started to fall down, they could have probably done a hell of a lot with it. It's on a massive section, and the house itself could look stunning if you gave it a nice paint job and possibly replaced the roof. Instead, it was just left to fester, and it now appears to be losing all structural integrity. The latticework is missing in places, the support poles for the verandah are on a serious lean, the place is covered in graffiti and there are numerous holes all through the walls. I would say that I would have wanted to go in and explore, but I'm sure this place is actually occupied by squatters and other ne'er-do-wells. The graffiti across the front of the house, which is currently hidden by an old couch, reads "slum village". Very promising. In fact, I imagine the old couch was a luxurious bed for many drunken squatters occupying this place - it's certainly more comfortable than a bus stop, even if it is probably full of spiders. There's another piece of graffiti next to the front window which reads "sleep well". That one creeps me the fuck out. I may be curious, but I'm not quite THAT curious.

See police tape on the lawn.
However, it looks like I was very lucky to catch this place when I did - as you can see, when I went to get the photos for this post today, the house was surrounded by temporary fencing and security tape. This is a very recent development, so it looks as though this place has finally been condemned! However, things are still not as simple as they seem. Further inspection revealed that in addition to the red security tape, which I would expect to find around a condemned building, there was something more sinister. Blue and white police tape was up around the house too! Immediately, my excitable imagination began working overtime. What the hell happened here? Was there a clash between the squatters and the neighbours who had simply had enough? A clash between the squatters who couldn't work out who was getting the top bunk? Did someone actually come and try to paint the house or mow the lawn and the squatters protested? Christ knows.

Picture used in the official listing. I wouldn't look twice at it!
I thought that I might try and find out if any crime had actually been committed here. While I found nothing in that regard, my search revealed that this place had been on the market, advertised as a "buy it and knock it down" sort of deal. Here's the thing, though - the house looks perfectly presentable in the pictures on the estate agent's website. A look at Google street view reveals the same thing. It looks like someone must have bought the house, but has just left it to rot ever since. Still, I would have thought that for this house to fall into this level of utter disrepair, it would have had to have been abandoned for YEARS. Just look at it! The weatherboards are actually falling away from the house, leaving gaping holes in the walls. Ok, that might have been vandalism, but there are plenty of other examples. The window frames are falling out and decaying, the guttering is warped beyond belief and the roof looks as though it's about to slide away. Though if I was attached to this house, I'd slide away as quickly as I possibly could too. Seriously, the house in the listing may as well be a totally different house. Check out the compete absence of rust on the roof, the straight and upstanding verandah, the nicely mown lawn, the air conditioning unit. Nothing about that picture suggests that in just a few years, the house will be transformed into a slum worthy of Otara.

Come on in, it's so inviting.
I think that in writing this entry, I've raised even more questions about this house than I already had. Nothing adds up. How did this go from being a perfectly respectable lick o' paint to this woeful disaster in the space of just a few years? Why wasn't something done sooner? What on earth is the deal with the police tape? Alas, I don't know if I'll ever find the answers. Soon enough, I imagine this place will be gone for good, the squatters will move next door (an entry for another day), and a new set of shoebox apartments will go up in its place. These will just be bland and roofless rather than madly intriguing, but at least I'll get another blog entry about them. For the safety of the community, I guess it's a good thing that this place is getting knocked down. For my sense of adventure and intrigue, it's a very bad thing indeed! I hope I can at least get a better view through the windows before it disappears forever.

Rating: Condemnable (well, already condemned).

18 March 2011

528 Albion Street, Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

I would love to know what happened to this house, located on Albion Street almost at the point where Brunswick West becomes Essendon. Despite living not too far away from it, I only started walking past it regularly in late 2008; if I'd gone by before, I'd not noticed it - possibly because it hadn't yet suffered its fateful calamity. As you can see in this capture from Google Streetview (this area was done before April 2009, but I'm not sure how far before), it was once a very plain sort of place:

Aerial view from sometime before October 2010.
And now I'm just so curious. When I first remember laying eyes on it, it was the shell of a house. Its twin next door, seemingly a mirror image, is fine, structurally at least; its windows seem permanently sealed like a prison, but that's a rant for another time. This collection of walls with vacant windows, however, was just standing around forlornly, evidently showing the effects of fire. You can see what I mean in the Google Satellite screenshot at right. Compounding the fire damage was exposure to the elements, the streaks from the flames now joined by streaks from the rain. The "elements" in this neck of the world tend to end up including graffiti too, in this case some pretty scratchy and pissweak tagging. A wire fence was along the street frontage with a builder's sign, but it didn't look like much had happened in a while.

Then suddenly, I went past one day in the second half of 2010, and as you can see in my pictures - it had the skeleton of a roof! Some work seems to have gone on inside too, and the property was in general tidied up a bit. Then the mystery deepened: nothing has happened since and the property is becoming less orderly by the day. The skeletal roof is starting to cop the elements. The house looks more forlorn than ever; rather than a phoenix rising from the ashes, it's giving the impression of the ashes just moving around a bit.

Is this a sad case of an insurance company not paying up, or an educational lesson about the perils of not being insured? Is it a buyer or builder struggling for funds? Is this just renovations being carried out on a sort of geological timespan? Why didn't they just knock over the smouldering remnants and start anew? Well, I can at least answer the last question; it appears to have some sort of heritage protection. In my search for information here, hoping to come up with a relevant newspaper example, I found something mildly creepy - somebody died in this house. But not when it burnt down! As this births and deaths page from The Argus shows, a Margaret Spicer died here on 29 December 1945, with her funeral proceeding from this address to Fawkner Cemetery two days later. However, I can't seem to find any news about how Mrs Spicer's house ended up in this state over half a century later! My Google powers have failed me.

Rating: At present, condemnable! Before the fire? Lick o' paint. If it's ever fully rebuilt? I'll let you know!

17 March 2011

6 Homer Street (Rooster Delight), Moonee Ponds, VIC, Australia

Disclaimer: I have a mild form of plague at the moment, so please forgive me if my posting isn't quite up to its usual standard. In this case, I think my subject matter might make me feel even sicker and it might even kill me. I hope it's worth it.

The concept of "charcoal chicken" takeaway places was not at all unknown to me when I came to Melbourne, but they seem to be really fucking popular here, inexplicably so. You might be thinking that's not strange at all. It might bring to mind barbecues, sunny days at the beach, and overall some delicious tasty chicken. That's kind of what I thought too ... until the day when I first walked past one of these places. More specifically, Rooster Delight in Moonee Ponds.
Not so inviting frontage.
Now, "Rooster Delight" is a bad enough name in the first place. I have frequently been put off what might otherwise be perfectly good restaurants just based on the name, and this is no exception. Anything with "Rooster" in the title is inherently damning, simply because of the potential that removing the "S" holds. Teehee, rooter. However, that seems like a perfectly decent and attractive name when you think about what this place was originally called. I believe I did see the place under the old name on my very first trip to Melbourne, but I don't remember too well. Fortunately, they've had the kindness to leave the old sign up out the back of the store!
I can smell the factory farms from here.
The Chicken Machine? Seriously? What kind of mad drugs was the owner on when he thought that would be a fun and appetising name for a takeaway place? All I think of is the "chicken" you see in the deli sometimes, you know, the kind that comes in perfectly round slices. The kind that close reading of the label reveals to be "manufactured meat, minimum 40% chicken". The other 60%? Don't even ask. Are you hungry yet? I'm not, and I was so hungry 10 minutes ago that I was about to eat Axver. I don't know about you, but the last thing I was to be thinking about when I'm eating chicken is factory farms and meat processing plants.

Still, those things will probably be the last thing on your mind as soon as the smell of this place invades your nostrils. It is inescapable. Just be glad that the Internet doesn't enable you to smell things from the other side of the world, because I would totally inflict that on you. I can hardly describe it. It smells like death and burning and plague. If I smelt it out of context, I would assume that there was a crematorium nearby. NOTHING about that smell makes me think "oh, I'd love a chicken burger!"

See large version for a better view of the dingy awning.
Going back to the core purpose of the blog, I've got to say that the building itself isn't doing anything to redeem itself either. Dingy old "Chicken Machine" sign aside, the flaws are many. At the front, you can see a sign lurking behind the fancy new "Rooster Delight" billboard which possibly even predates The Chicken Machine. The awning is falling apart - I'm quite worried about its structural integrity after looking at the right-hand corner - and is in serious need of a good clean/lick o' paint. Being situated next to a fairly dingy and unattractive alley leading to the Coles loading zone doesn't help much, either. They could at least paint the brick wall - I've seen nice murals done over ugly brick walls just like this, and it can make such a difference.

In an area with such a high standard of dining, this is simply inexcusable. I don't know who they're trying to cater for with this charcoal chicken thing. People with no sense of smell, perhaps. I don't know. Just knock it down and let people go to one of the many other fine eating establishments in Moonee Ponds. I wouldn't even be tempted to eat here out of sheer morbid curiosity, and that is really saying something.

Rating: Condemnable

15 March 2011

494A Victoria Street (St John's Anglican Church), Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

Now, normally when I rag on a church, it's because I find some aspect of their theology ridiculous or offensive (and being an atheist, this is not an uncommon occurrence). There is a Catholic Church near us that provides us with endless amusement via unintentional double entendres on its messageboard, but the church building itself is pretty imposing. Churches themselves have a habit of being attractive buildings. However, there are a couple of nearby churches that aren't exactly up to the usual standard, and today my focus is on St John's Anglican Church (or St John Chrysostom West Brunswick) on the intersection of Melville Road and one of Melbourne's ten bazillion Victoria Streets.

The front entrance on Victoria Street.
More specifically, today's sermon is about the Sin of Glass Bricks. Some of you may think there is nothing wrong with glass bricks; some of you may even own glass bricks. Well I call upon you to give up your glass bricks and come into the light of truth! No, seriously, what is the purpose of glass bricks?  It's basically like you're trying to give a false impression of openness and transparency while actually trying to stop anybody seeing in. Never mind a basic wall with windows; the front (Victoria Street) entrance to this church is three-quarters glass bricks. "Come on in, we're nice and airy and open ... except we really aren't."

Click for a larger copy and you should easily see the cross pattern.
Now, I don't know anything about this church specifically or its people, so I don't want to slur them directly, nor do I want to turn what is just a light-hearted blog made partly from curiosity and partly from casual revulsion into something overly serious and theological. But glass bricks are honestly quite fitting for many strands of the church organisation in general over history, trying to present an image of openness and light when they're actually a closed shop - especially if you're some sort of homosexual or unmarried sinner. Glass bricks are how you can present a welcoming image when you actually don't particularly want to be welcoming. Plus they can look fairly dirty even when new, an attribute exaggerated by this church. The pattern of a cross is made by some of the glass bricks, but it just looks like they've gone grubby with age and need a good scrub; I initially thought some had acquired a coating of dirt until it twigged that they were in the shape of a cross. This is all not to mention the glaringly obvious: glass bricks are seriously tacky. If the Reject Shop were a window, it would be a glass brick.

The Melville Road side.
As for the building overall, I think they tried. The main body of the church is a big brick edifice (big, I mean, in relation to the surrounding buildings) and it is exactly what you expect out of a church. It seems to follow a fairly tried-and-true traditional style - even if the top has windows that seem straight out of the mid-20th century, complete with an overly obvious cross. "Hey it's funny because the patterns in our window create a cross and we're a church so our symbol is a cross and yeah we're emphasising it REALLY REALLY HEAVILY just so you get it ... so you see it's funny ... and clever." Or not. But at least the main body, a hall I presume, is done right.

Think they ordered "prison tower" instead of "ornate tower".
And then they even decided to go for a tower. Nice big hall, capped by a tower - it should look good, shouldn't it? But this is a case of "good idea, poor execution". Here's a missed opportunity if I've ever seen one. A tower should be a grand statement, something beautiful that draws the eye. If you're going to make anything ornate, if you are going to demonstrate that you are devoted to your god by building him an imposing and gorgeous house of worship, if you are going to make your building a landmark around which the community can gather, then the tower is where you go for glory. Evidently they didn't get this memo. The tower just looks like they decided to lock somebody up the top ("shit, the pastor's gay? Well this'll fix him!"), or they wanted to give pigeons a roost to poop all over and suffocate within. Because they want the pigeons to have a chance to be close to god too ... or something. This doesn't look like a tower for a deity, but a tower for a somewhat petty local authority that thinks it's got some influence but doesn't even command the obedience that your school fete "little Hitlers" manage to acquire. Come to church and worship the mediocrity of our decent but uninspiring council!

St John's, I can see you tried. You're not a bad thing in the community. But those glass bricks? That plain tower? You can do better. Get out the paint cans, at the very least. Replace those glass bricks with something that actually shows off a vibrant faith community.

Rating: Lick o' paint.