A landmark of Hobart’s Elizabeth Street Mall could be transformed if the city’s council approves a plan to turn the Kodak House building into apartments, but there is concern about the loss of the building’s existing signage.
- The Hobart City Council will vote on a development application to turn Kodak House into apartments
- The development will mean the removal of the heritage building’s 1929 masonry sign, which is one of two left in Australia
- A former heritage officer says it’s difficult to balance development needs while maintaining building heritage
Last week the Council’s City Planning Committee voted in favour of the application that would allow the removal of Kodak brand signs from the 100-year-old building — against the recommendation of council officers and an independent assessment by a heritage architect.
The application to go before the full council on Monday night is to transform the building, completed in 1920 and listed as a heritage place on the Hobart Interim Planning Scheme, into a shared retail and apartment space, with commercial tenants remaining on the ground floor and five apartments on the levels above.
The plans for the building, lodged by local developers Giameos Constructions and Developments, include the removal of the Kodak House masonry sign at the top of the building, to be replaced with replica comprised of steel letters to allow more light in.
Deputy Lord Mayor and planning committee chairwoman Helen Burnet said the removal of the masonry sign from the former photography lab and shop had caused the most concern.
She described the sign, added in 1929, as “iconic”.
She said the sign also helped set Hobart’s Kodak building apart from most other remaining Kodak buildings in Australia.
“In its entirety, I think this is one of two which are still significant and very much as they were in the 1920s,” Cr Burnet said.
The masonry sign is not the only Kodak sign that would be removed from the building if the application is approved.
“New side openings” mean the painted Kodak signs and illuminated Kodak light boxes would also be removed.
A number of conditions for the application’s approval will be heard by the council on Monday night, including a requirement that the painted Kodak signage “must be repainted to the east of the existing sign” and “must match the existing sign in font, dimensions and depth”.
The council will also require the frame of the masonry sign must remain intact to help preserve its historical value.
“Planning schemes aren’t black and white, there is that shade of grey where the majority of the committee has suggested that this will not be too detrimental in relation to the heritage aspects,” Cr Burnet said.
She said the building had been an integral part of the city’s recent history.
“It’s been with so many Tasmanians over so many years, and it tells a story in itself the way that it is, in relation to the development of our city.”
Empty buildings ‘become a danger’
Brendan Lennard, who spent 25 years as a cultural heritage officer with the Hobart City Council before retiring earlier this year, said it could be difficult to balance new developments with maintaining heritage.
“The worst thing that can happen to a building is to be left empty,” Mr Lennard said.
“If they’re left empty for too long, it becomes a danger, they’re not looked after. It’s a bit like if you’ve got a car that no one’s driven for years and years, it becomes very difficult to make it work again,” he said.
“So [I have] no problem with a building being given a new lease of life … but the hard thing about heritage, if you’re making changes to heritage buildings, is not to lose the inherent qualities that actually make a building important.
“It’s all about exploring solutions, working with the building, working with the heritage experts and coming up with solutions.”
Mr Lennard said the preservation of heritage places was part of Tasmania’s appeal.
“Tasmania, and Hobart particularly, has an advantage in that it has a rich heritage of buildings [and] places,” he said.
“It has a rich collection of streetscapes … and when people come to Tasmania, they come with a knowledge of the expectation that Hobart has to offer an authentic experience with a number of fine old buildings and streets.
“The beauty of our built places is part of the thing that attracts people to Tasmania — not only as visitors, but actually attracting people to live here as well.”