Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Darlinghurst: Heritage Items: Iona

- Register of the National Estate, NSW Heritage Act
From St Johns Church I ducked down Tewkesbury Avenue to the imposing gates of Iona, a 30-room mansion, whose actual address is listed as 2 Darley Street.
The 1888 Victorian Italianate pile was bought by filmmakers Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin - of Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge and Australia fame - for a neat $10 million in February, 2006.
I once knew someone who lived in The Hopes apartment building, at 251 Darlinghurst Road, which backs on to Iona. One evening while I was visiting, a very fluffy grey cat arrived at the person's door and was grandly introduced as Baz Luhrmann's Cat. I think the Hopes resident spent about one year befriending the cat just so he could make such introductions to impress his guests.
Back before the cat, in the mid-nineteenth century, the site was home to Iona Cottage, which was first occupied by Elizabeth Grose and later, Robert Carter, who in 1879, extended and improved the small dwelling to become worthy of the title ''gentleman's residence''.
In 1888, the year of Australia's centenary, wealthy businessman and farmer Edward Chisholm purchased the property and was responsible for building the two-storey mansion with verandas, still known today as Iona. He lived with his family at the grand palace until his death ten years later.
Another decade on, in 1908, Iona was purchased by Adela Taylor, wife of former Sydney Mayor Allen Taylor (of Taylor Square fame), and renamed, for reasons unknown to me, Wootten.
Over the next 70-odd years the building changed hands three times and was used throughout as a private hospital with the respective names, Wootten PH, Winchester PH and Hughlings PH.
During this period the building and site also underwent minor alterations and additions, including the construction - in 1935 - of a seven-room nurses' residence, which was demolished in 1984.
In the 1970s and 80s the site fell into the hands of developers who variously wanted to raze the grounds and build three, 60-storey apartment blocks (can you imagine!), or convert the residence into 13 apartments.
The projects failed for a number of reasons, mostly financial, but it was during this time that the National Trust successfully campaigned for Iona to be included on the Register of the National Estate.
Iona is now listed on the State Heritage Register (with a permanent conservation order), the Local Environment Plan and the National Trust register, so no one can mess with it.
Yet most people don't have a chance to see it either.
It would be good if Luhrmann and Martin opened the grounds to the public for one day each year.

1 comment:

Julie Morris said...

I lived in Iona in 1985-1986 as a live in nanny. I worked for a couple Gay and John who had purchased the house for about a million dollars and was a live in nanny to their two children. This has bought back so many memories.