Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Kings Cross Library

I'm not a bad person. I don't get into fist-fights, or throw rubbish out the window of my car, or say too many nasty things about people. I move around the world with the best intentions. But sometimes life and other circumstances overcome me and things happen, which I don't necessarily want to happen. And I don't know how it reached this point, or this level of badness, but I have a library book that is 4.5 years overdue:

It would probably be more blog-appropriate if this book was about the writer's time in Darlinghurst during the early part of the 20th century. But this seriously researched, niche, non-fiction work, by Joseph Davis, is about D.H. Lawrence's time in Thirroul, near Wollongong on the NSW south coast, during the winter of 1922. It was in that season when Lawrence and his dear wife, Frieda, stayed at a little holiday cottage called, Wyewurk.
During their short stay at the bungalow overlooking the sea, Lawrence wrote Kangaroo, his only book about Australia, which contains evocative, painterly descriptions of the Illawarra escarpment and coastline (please read this paragraph aloud, the writing demands it):

''He loved to wander in the bush at evening, when night fell so delicately yet with such soft mystery. Then the sky behind the trees was all soft, rose pink, and the great gum trees ran up their white limbs into the air like quicksilver, plumed at the tips with dark tufts. Like rivulets the white boughs ran up from the white trunk; or like great nerves, with nerve like articulations, branching into the dusk. . . . And so the great tree-covered swoop upwards of the tor, to the red fume of clouds, red like the flame-flowers, of sunset.''

That last line, so good, is even engraved on a little plaque attached to a rock at a reserve a few doors up from Wyewurk, which still stands at 3 Craig Street, Thirroul, thanks to the D. H. Lawrence Society of Australia
But please, let me try to explain how a book, from Kings Cross Library, remained in my possession long past its return date and then, perhaps, you can forgive me:

It appears I checked the book out at 12.59pm on the 18th of March, 2006, which I believe was a Saturday: 

And the book was due to be returned just two weeks later on April 8. 

But a year later I left Sydney for a period of two-and-a-half years and D.H. Lawrence at Thirroul became lost in the mess that is my bookcase. There's really no excuse for my tardiness. I knew the book was there and needed to be returned and this task hung over my head like an un-submitted tax return. As the days and years passed I worried about how I would return the book. I know you must be thinking, ''Just slip it in the returns slot, you idiot!''
But that would mean I would have an overdue fine hanging-over my head, which at this late stage, at 25c for each day overdue, would amount to somewhere in the vicinity of $385.
And because I couldn't afford such a grand sum, I would never be able to show my face in the Kings Cross Library again, and all of their many wonderful books would be off limits:

Even so, that was already the case. But that was fine, because I was laying low, living in another city, far, far away, where local library staff had no idea about my shameful past, and unknowingly issued me with a library card so I could borrow all the books I liked.
But I still felt terrible guilt as I imagined the following scenario: A young borrower, curious about D.H. Lawrence and his time in Thirroul, skips up to Kings Cross Library one sunny day in search of a book that will sate their interest. They pop on to the computer and run a catalogue search - ''D.H. Lawrence" and "Thirroul" - and bang, instantly a book appears with just such a title. The good borrower beams, jots down the catalogue number and with a bounce in their step heads over to the appropriate bookcase to find the book . . . missing. The good borrower goes to the counter to seek help from library staff, who in turn jab their keyboard for a bit and then, with a shake of their head, say, ''Sorry mate, that one's long overdue. Some idiot took it out years ago and hasn't returned it.'' 
The good borrower's dream of a Lawrentian life in Thirroul evaporates.

So why didn't I just stick the damn book in the returns slot? Because I always knew that one day I would move back to the neighbourhood and figured I would deal with the issue then. And the more I thought about returning the book, the harder it became.
I even dreamt up a plan of a book amnesty, whereby I would bravely walk to the borrowing counter and admit my terrible deed, profess my deep shame and give my heartfelt apologies to the the Kings Cross librarians. 
They in turn would take pity on me, agree to the amnesty and ask me to hand over the book.
It was the best idea I could come up with, so with such intent and purpose I set off today to the library on Darlinghurst Road.
The Kings Cross library first opened to book-lovers in 1958 in a custom-designed building, known as the Florence Bartley Library, with an entry-way on Fitzroy Gardens. The building, designed by then Sydney City Council architects, was so wonderful that the very same year it won the Sir John Sulman Medal for Architecture. Other winners of the medal include Joern Utzon, for the Sydney Opera House (a commemorative award in 1992), the glassy Patrick Bingham-Hall designed NIDA building in Kensington, in Sydney's south-east (2002) and the striking Renzo Piano building on Phillip Street in the Sydney CBD (2004).
Sir Sulman, an art-loving architect who died in 1934 also left a bequest for painters, The Sir John Sulman Prize for best mural/subject/genre painting, which is announced and celebrated each year alongside the famous Archibald Portrait Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW.
But Sulman's post-death imprimatur, and protests by the South Sydney Heritage Society, were not enough to save the Florence Bartley building, which was demolished in 1997 to make way for developers.
I don't know who Florence Bartley was, nor can I recall what the building looked like - history often vanishes without a trace. Perhaps there's a book at Kings Cross Library that could enlighten me? But sadly, at this present time, that source is unavailable.
From 1997 to 2003 the library was temporarily housed in the Rex Hotel building, at 50-55 Macleay Street. The Rex Hotel, which overlooks Fitzroy Gardens, was once one of the swellest drinking places in the Cross, serving cocktails since the 1950s. The Rex remained a hotel until 2001, when new owners employed architectural firm, Burley, Katon, Halliday to convert the building into apartments. By 2003 when this work was complete, the library was booted out and was homeless for a few months until moving into a shopfront at 61 Darlinghurst Road, sandwiched between a sex-shop and a strip joint.
I think this was a fine home for a library and in such a spot could have attracted a diverse new range of members.
But the City of Sydney council was busy beavering away developing the library a new home, across the strip, at 50-52 Darlinghurst Road, a building they already co-owned with supermarket chain Woolworths and which they bought out wholly in 2001 for $9.75 million.
The four-storey building, dating to 1939, is listed on the council's heritage register and is described on the Heritage Branch website as a being built in the inter-war Functionalist style and has a great recorded history.
A year prior, in 1938, the site's sale made the real estate pages in the Sydney Morning Herald when supermarket chain, Woolworths, purchased the land for 640 pounds per foot - ''a record for this area".
The paper said the site was home to the Santa Barbara Cafe, three shops and an old three-storey terrace. Woolworths paid agent L.J. Hooker 38,000 pounds cash for the lot.
''The company does not propose to build immediately,'' the Herald said.
''But has bought the property with a view to future development.''
The Herald was wrong. The same year, Woolworths employed architects Crawford H Mackellar and Bruce F Partridge to design the building that stands today, with its green-grey tile facade.

From the National Library of Australia Archives

Kings Cross Woolworths officially opened, right before Christmas, on December 7, 1939. Crowds ''thronged'' the store and the air tinkled furiously with the sound of cash-registers.
According to the valuable Heritage Branch website, newspapers reported at the time:

"The store level is described as 'beautifully lighted' with a combination of natural light through spacious windows and a unique neon installation. There was 183m of counter space, finished in blonde Queensland Oak, which accommodated 24 departments. 
"The basement was organised as a store-room, linked with the store level by means of a goods-lift for transferring stock. Incoming goods were unloaded at Kellett Street down a broad chute. 
"The first floor contained a modern restaurant and coffee lounge known as, The Balcony, with serving tables and public accommodation based on the latest American style."

The Balcony Restaurant - National Library of Australia

"There was a store-room/pantry running the full length of the northern wall, which provided heating and cooling chambers for food. No cooking was done on this floor. Cooked food came down in a lift from the third floor and was transferred to the heating or cooling chambers. All the latest hot and cold drink and ice cream machines were installed.
"The second floor was set apart for staff, with toilets, wash-basins, lockers, luncheon rooms and rest seats.
"The third floor contained a modern bake-house. This kitchen and bakery was equipped to supply edible goods to both the Kings Cross store and restaurant as well as the metropolitan Woolworths stores."

During World War 2 the first floor restaurant was used as a canteen for the Australian Combined Services and after the war was over, Woolworths leased the floor to the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) for use as a rehearsal space for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The restaurant was ripped out and the space was redesigned by architect and acoustic consultant H. Vivian Taylor to create a large orchestral studio, conductors' rooms and a musicians' lounge, which opened on to the balcony overlooking Darlinghurst Road. 

In 1949 the ABC's news and music departments moved into the building's second and third floors respectively. 

Seven years later then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies visited the building to officially open the ABC's television services.

The ABC moved out of the building in 1985, and over the next dozen years or so the space was leased out to various film companies.
Following extensive renovations to the building's interior, the King Cross Library officially opened its doors in December 2004. 
The ground floor is occupied by a City of Sydney council shopfront where residents can organise parking permits and what-not, while the library is spread out over the first floor and a small mezzanine area. The library's flooring is the original parquetry from the Woolworths restaurant and the little balcony is still there, but the council's fixtures are pretty revolting. The check-out desk is like a prop from a Wiggles show, and looks like a giant jellybean. 
Nevertheless that is where I stood today, anxiously waiting for a librarian to come and take my confession. A brown-haired librarian approached. I gave them my best smile and pushed the book forward on the counter.
''I'm so sorry,'' I said.
''But this book is four-and-a-half years overdue.''
The librarian kind of shrugged and said, ''Well, the maximum overdue fee is $10''.
Oh, really?
''Am I allowed to still borrow books or am I banned?'' And then I added, ''I'm really sorry about the overdue book.''
The librarian just shrugged again, as if they didn't take my misdemeanour personally.
''Do you want to pay the fine now?'' they said.
''Do you still have your old card? If not, I can just issue you with a new one.''
So that was that then. A rather anti-climactic end to 4.5 years of worry.
I paid the $10 and walked off with my new library card.

Kings Cross Library
Level 1, 50-52 Darlinghurst Road
Kings Cross NSW 2011
02 9246 4530


Anonymous said...

Well done for womaning up and facing the music: and as always it was easy peasy, anti-climactic and only ten bucks!
I must confess, I also have some books. From the Sydney Libraray, circa 1975. But they are never going back (evil laughter)

Nicko said...

My problem was the complete opposite, and ended my love affair with libraries. I loaned three books from the Art School library - and returned them. However they then harrassed me for the next ten years about these books, regardless of my protests. Obviously i could not prove that I'd returned them, as there was no card system used. I eventually rang them and told them that it was being handled by my lawyers, thankfully they went away after that.

Violet Tingle said...

Oh, Nicko, that is sad. And kind of funny too.

The Editor said...

Re the Sulman award-winning Florence Bartley Library, I captured a frame showing it from the fabulous The Glittering Mile doco (1964). You can see it third pic down on the heritage page of the Save Fitzroy Gardens site.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing the history of Kings Cross Library. Blogs like yours will keep the history and memories alive.

Violet Tingle said...

Thanks for your comment. Lots of other history posts here: http://mydarlingdarlinghurst.blogspot.com/search/label/Heritage%20Items

mwillis17 said...

Dear Ms Tingle,
Can I sugggest that the sad story of the demise of the Florence Bartley Library (DESPITE its Sulman Award) would make an excellent subject for your blog (in a 'Lost Glories' category).

For this casual observer it appears that under the period of South Sydney City Council control of this area (c.1996) commercial imperatives (i.e. desire of the Rex Hotel development to have frontage to Fitzroy Gardens) won out over the needs & desires of Kings Cross residents.

Despite a concerted campaign to prevent the demolition, residents & library users were fobbed off with a 'replacement library' within the Rex Hotel redevelopment.

Your blog shows how long that arrangement lasted...

mwillis17 said...

PS: some 1959 B&W images of the Florence Bartley Library may be found here on Trove: