The Imperial Hotel Murwillumbah
The Imperial Hotel Murwillumbah Scott Powick

Heritage worth fighting for

UNDERNEATH her old, worn face, Murwillumbah is a vibrant, stylish town with high Art Deco and heritage values.

As last drinks are called at the Imperial Hotel, and more new businesses move in, renewal of the town's CBD has never felt more imminent.

Former Business Chamber president Toni Zuschke said architectural values had long been earmarked for marketing the town but only now, after what she perceives as the start of Murwillumbah's "metamorphosis" does that truly seem possible.

"Because we have so many diverse styles of architecture and an amazing quaint atmosphere that our buildings showcase, we have a point of differentiation," Ms Zuschke said.

"What's happening now is newbies - entrepreneurs in their 30s and 40s - are taking up rents and embracing those heritage styles," she said.

"Keith Coffee and Barber (at 132 Murwillumbah St), with its Art Deco furniture, retro art and exposed brick work is a perfect example. He's capitalised his business on its surroundings."

Art Deco culminated in Paris in 1925 at the great International Exhibition of the Decorative Arts.

Murwillumbah Historical Society researcher and architect Nick Gouliaev has researched the town's buildings and said the deco style was "timeless" and marked by terrazzo floors, pressed metal ceilings, moulding at the top of the buildings, and external cornices over the windows or at the periphery of the eaves of the roof.

"It's pleasant to the human eye because it appeals to the instinct of what's warm to your heart," Mr Gouliaev said.

"It has curves, mouldings and beautiful simplicity," he said.


Mr Gouliaev said there were at least 10 Art Deco buildings in town, as well as other classic and many more styles from other eras.

"A lot of the Deco buildings were built in the 1930s, during the time Murwillumbah was very prosperous - booming from sectors like dairy," he said.

"People had enough money to engage good architects and because of that we have outstanding examples of Art Deco.

"One of the really beautiful examples is the Austral Building, completed in 1935, on the corner of Commercial and Wollumbin Sts.

"The owner had enough historical outlook to upkeep Austral's maintenance."

Mr Gouliaev said The Regent Cinema possessed old Hollywood glamour from the Deco era, and the Southern Cross Credit Union building was "English Georgian style, pleasantly fused with palladian".

"Those are just some of many. They should be restored and brought back to their original beauty," he said.

Expert in architectural restoration, Paul Rappoport, of Heritage 21 Rappoport in Sydney, has worked on the most exclusive private and government buildings in Australia.

Mr Rappoport said "there was no magical number" of Art Deco or heritage buildings required for a town to sell itself on that basis.

"You get as many as you can, because ultimately these buildings are in private ownership and you have to win the hearts and minds of their owners to get them involved. You have to have vision," he said.

"Even if some of the buildings are earlier or older, they can be restored."

He said building owners could expect to spend from $3500 per square metre to $5000 per square metre on restoration.

"Because you're doing conservation, it's premium but there's a lot of research that these projects are financially successful," he said.

"There's not only a requirement for heavy financial support from local and state government, but the whole town itself."

Mr Rappoport said the key to a faithful restoration was using specialists in traditional glazing, leadlights, carpentry, joinery, plaster and Wunderlich ceilings.

Many buildings in Murwillumbah feature Wunderlich designs, with the iconic company also creating elements such as the terracotta facade of the Commonwealth Bank at Martin Place.

For a self-guided tour of the town's Wunderlich, Tweed Shire Council has established the Look Up! project which, with Tweed Regional Museum and Historical Society, has curated examples of the company's pressed metal ceilings, showing impressive examples from the 1908 to 1938 catalogues.


Judy Kean at the Tweed Museum
Judy Kean at the Tweed Museum Melissa Belanic

Museum director Judy Kean said the kitchen ceiling at the museum was linked to French artist Lucien Henry, designer of panels at Sydney Town Hall.

"But it would be short- sighted to sell Murwillum- bah purely on Art Deco because there are many other heritage buildings," Ms Kean said.

The Look Up! project has also funded the revamp of awnings, signage and painting at The Citadel, Austral Cafe, Centrepoint Arcade and Mullum House.

"If we're fair dinkum going to market Murwillumbah on its eclectic architectural style, we have to start making decisions to reflect that," Mrs Zuschke said.

The Town Centre Heritage Walk and Wonderful Wunderlich Guided heritage tours of Murwillumbah are held each month with the Murwillumbah Historical Society are the first Saturday of every month. Book: 02 6670 2273.


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