It would be hard, in heritage terms, to characterise the last 12 months as anything other than a year of destruction across Sydney. The extent of this wholesale negation of our city’s heritage and history in terms of buildings and mature trees is too vast to catalogue here.
One bright spot, in our own backyard, is the restoration, repurposing and reopening of the Tramsheds at Harold Park, formerly known as the Rozelle Tramway Depot.
Now 112 years after the Tramsheds first opened, this massive space has been given a new life. The site, famously neglected (except perhaps by graffitists) for nearly 60 years, is now a hive of activity.
There is an interesting connection between the utilitarian Tramsheds and the Romanesque grandeur of the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), both having been designed by City Architect George McRae. The article noted that ‘the fact that both buildings survived to be reinvented is surely partly due to the strength, purposefulness, appropriateness and adaptability of the original design by George McRae’.
The heritage listing for the Tramsheds notes, inter alia, its aesthetic significance as an ‘austere and functional application of the Federation Free Style, with impressive industrial-scale size and massing (both exterior and interior).’ The brick stepped parapet structure conceals the saw-tooth roof. The vast interior eventually accommodated 200 electric tramcars.
The Tramsheds also provide evidence of the early 20th century development of electric trams and their associated infrastructure. (Other visual reminders in Glebe are the remnant tram tracks in Glebe Point Rd (between Bridge Rd and Marlborough St) and the tram-stop shelter outside 431 Glebe Point Rd.)
The building is regarded as rare, given that it was the second largest tram depot in NSW during its operational phase and is now the largest remaining intact depot building.
By the 1950s, however, trams in Sydney were deemed to have had their day. The Fort Macquarie tram depot (1902, designed by Walter Liberty Vernon) closed in 1955 and was demolished in 1958, to make way for the Sydney Opera House. Our tram depot closed in that same year (1958). The entire Sydney tram system was progressively wound down; the last tram ran to La Perouse in 1961.
Our building outlives local memory but its heritage, historic and familial connections resonate strongly with the community. Significant and sustained effort has gone into ensuring that the Tramsheds escaped the wrecker’s ball and remains a visible part of Glebe’s history and its future.