October 20, 2016

Horse 2178 - The Last Of A Dying Breed

One of the things about living in a city which is constantly changing is that the furniture which makes up the civil infrastructure, also changes. Not even a city like Rome which has literally thousand years under the pavement, can claim to remain static for terribly long. Great cities of change like London, Paris and New York do retain airs and graces of the past but they too, change almost imperceptibly. London had a major sweep clean after the Great Fire in 1666 tore through the old city but 450 years later, little if anything remains from that time. New York as a thing has been almost entirely replaced since about 1880 and even Paris' most famous icon, the tower which Eiffel designed for the exposition of 1889, was only supposed to be up for a few years until it was decided that disposing of it was too difficult.

Sydney is a relatively young city and really the only thing which remains from the founding of the city are a few lines on a map which describe where the streets run. Nothing remains of Bennelong's House, nor of the first governor's house and the grandest and oldest of buildings didn't even come about until after there was a gold rush and money started flowing into the colony after it had achieved self government in 1855. So it is with the railway stations as well. The old Sydney Railway Station stands on Regent Street as a kind of forgotten museum piece, the old Rookwood Mortuary Station has been repurposed as a church in Canberra and a lot of the initial railway stations have been torn down and rebuilt. I return to Wynyard Station because of three things which remain from an older time.

Perhaps the most obvious and striking thing left from the original fitout of Wynyard Station are the wooden slat Otis escalators. Apart from two escalators which have not been yet replaced at Town Hall Station (and are slated for destruction in the near future), these are the last deep cut wooden slat escalators left in the world.

Before the refit in the Myer Building on George and Market Streets, there were some cousins in the central escalator chamber in the middle of the building. It used to be fun to clank your way up to the eighth floor and step out into a virtually empty space. The toy department used to sit on the seventh floor but nothing much was up on the eighth except when there was a major store display of something. When those escalators were removed and replaced, it certainly opened up the building and gave it far airier sort of feel but it destroyed the impression that you were in an older style department store which was as permanent a fixture in the social landscape as a bank.

 Myer got rid of its wooden slat escalators, Town Hall Station wants to be rid of its and thus Wynyard Station will be the very last in a world which is moving too quickly to care about where it has been.
There are two more things of note here. The first is the cream and two shades of brown tile work that Wynyard received in the 1960s. As far as I can make out,  Wynyard got this colour scheme after the Cahill Government decided to poke out the eyes of Sydneysiders in an act of willful shortsightedness when the tram lines were pulled out and Wynyard lost platforms numbers 1 and 2 to a car park.
I imagine that Central"s white, green and yellow scheme which it was given, was part of the set with Town Hall and Wynyard.

Eagle eyed observers and people prepared to walk that little bit further (about ten steps) will notice that behind a set of fire doors, are the older set of tiles that Wynyard would have worn when it was opened in 1932.
I'd seen Wynyard's older roundels in black and white photographs only; never in person and never in colour. Since I was a kid, Wynyard has worn black and white roundels, the 1980s multicoloured line signs, and set of corporate boringness in both blue and now orange. The roundels in the style which all stations in the City Circle used to wear proudly and which only Museum and St James wear now (Town Hall had them for a brief period of time before they were ripped away again), were different colours for each of the  various stations around the line. Now I know that Wynyard's roundels were blue and not black.

The surprising thing was that as I was busily snapping away and taking photographs on my phone, I had a member of station staff approach me. I fully expected him to be unhappy but he waxed lyrically about the station and wanted to know if I was from a preservation society or something. It seems that my nerdiness for the built environment is shared by at least some of the general public and he wanted to know if I could get the roundels put back in the station.
He also expressed a lament that the old wooden escalators would be taken away 'soon' but he didn't know when that was going to happen but as he'd already worked out that I was a passenger and not anyone with any power, his lament was more of a good old fashioned whinge.
I'm not some sort of Luddite and automatically think that just because something is old that it must be better (I'm tapping away on an Android device on the train in writing this) but I do think that it is good to keep some old things around because they are aesthetically pleasing. Absolutely I accept the argument that a newer set of escalators would be safer because the combs at either end are smaller and ladies won't get their heels caught in the slats. It is impossible to argue that modern escalators with automatic cut out in case something gets caught in between the slats and the combs is a bad thing. It still doesn't change the fact that these older style escalators, due to their being the last of their kind, are worth preserving and if they continue to do their job, then why not keep them in use? I don't think that the benefits outweigh the expense of replacement when what's currently working, is currently working.

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