Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Juanita Nielsen's home on the market

Amid calls for City of Sydney Council to purchase the home of Juanita Nielsen (see SMH story below), the best hope seems to be Council approving 'adaptive re-use' subject to a 'comprehensive heritage assessment of the property.'

The starry-eyed idealists among us would like it to be made available for use by artists, who are finding Sydney too expensive for such luxuries as studio space. There have also long been moves locally to establish a Kings Cross Museum. The three bald-faced terraces for sale (including Juanita's place, 202 Victoria Street, just near the station) would be perfect for it. The basis of the museum would be histories of the various significant buildings around the Cross, presented electronically. Clover Moore was well aware of these moves but they seem to have become lost in the mix.

Council under Frank Sartor bought a 5-storey Art Deco building in the main street to house its one-stop-shop and the library, intending to rent out the upper floors and thereby help turn Kings Cross into just another middle-class suburb. The upper floors are STILL vacant, and Council is apparently now dreaming up ways to use the space perhaps by expanding the library with conference rooms etc and -- maybe -- a museum.

So buying yet more real estate in The Cross might be a difficult ask for Council. As for artists colonies? Forget it. Council staff would rather chop off their own big toes than do something so folksy and 1970s. They are impressed only by slick neo-modernist ventures with a techno and corporate feel.

It's exactly what the Cross needs, though. Write letters to Councillors, newspapers etc. 2011 Residents Association is on the case, but wider support will be necessary to achieve a result. The Historic Houses Trust is another possible player.

Even if the houses simply continued to be rented out at a reasonable rate it would assist the fast-disappearing low-cost housing mix in the area.


Sad irony as developers eye Nielsen's home

Robert Wainwright
Sydney Morning Herald, June 2, 2007

THERE is a loose brick in the wall of Juanita Nielsen's old bedroom. Someone has chiselled away the mortar between the bricks to create a nook big enough to have stored a clue to one of Sydney's most enduring murder mysteries.

Sadly there is nothing but dust, and neighbours fear even that might disappear if the workers' cottage once owned by the murdered newspaper owner and heiress is sold.

Expressions of interest have been called in the two-bedroom house at 202 Victoria Street and two adjoining properties.

It is a joint lot, and the sale is being marketed not for renovation but as "ripe for development".

It would be a sad irony if the building from which one of the city's most famous activists wrote her fortnightly paper Now, which waged war against the destruction of heritage by developers, is itself pulled down by a new owner.

At an open day on Thursday there was plenty of interest in the rickety building. None of the potential buyers stopped to notice the brass plaque embedded in the footpath commemorating its famous owner, nor that the council had misspelled her name, as "Nielson".

Inside, it is probably little different from the garish mishmash Nielsen left behind when she disappeared on July 4, 1975. The tile doorstep leads into a room of worn pine floorboards and exposed hand-fired bricks from the 1840s in which Nielsen wrote her fortnightly paper from an old Cutler desk.

The labyrinth of rooms leads to a rear patio of viper green tiles, while the bedrooms upstairs are lined with pine. The only 1970s colour missing is burnt orange.

Resident action groups are calling for the house to be placed on the state heritage register under a permanent conservation order, fearing the council protection that now shelters the building will not stop the bulldozers.

Andrew Woodhouse and Sue Hanley are leading the charge. Neither knew Nielsen, but believe it was her fight that preserved the street.

That is why most believe she was abducted and killed. "She saved this neighbourhood in life, so we owe her one in death," said Mr Woodhouse, who is president of the Potts Point & Kings Cross Heritage Conservation Society.

"Heritage doesn't have to be pretty to be important. This site contains her spirit and deserves to be saved. Her efforts are reflected in the high quality and amenity of this street that we all now enjoy."

Ms Hanley, president of the 2011 Residents Association, wrote to the Herald this week asking why governments had ignored the area. "Sydney needs King Cross to be restored as an edgy conversation precinct, not a brain-dead entertainment precinct," she wrote.

"This means taking the future of this area out of the hands of the liquor industry and big developers. It requires urgent action to adopt policies and plans that ensure the area is not an either/or - either very wealthy or desperately poor.

"Juanita, we need you now more than ever. The preservation of her home should be a catalyst for a vision of Kings Cross which is for cultural diversity, dissent and difference."

A City of Sydney council spokesman confirmed that the property was under a heritage order which accepted "adaptive reuse" but not demolition.

"The city would be likely to support listing the building on the State Heritage Register subject to a comprehensive heritage assessment of the property."

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