Friday, September 13, 2013

Built Heritage - Ku-ring-gai Court

Reprint of an article from the April 2013 Newsletter

 Ku-ring-gai Court and the Mysterious Mr Miller

Anyone who drives along Boundary Street, Roseville will know that it is to be widened and the
Boundary and Hill Streets Roseville (
sooner the better, we all hope. A new railway overbridge, to span 6 lanes of traffic, was erected in April 2012. There was talk of closing Hill Street where it enters Boundary Street but community resistance has scotched that idea. Roads and Maritime Services are still seeking community feedback on the Boundary Street upgrade.

I wonder what will happen to Ku-ring-gai Court on the corner of Boundary and Hill streets? It will certainly lose much of its front garden. Listed on Council’s LEP for its historic, social and municipal significance, it is noted as ‘substantially intact’. Completed in July 1929, it was advertised as ‘exclusive modern flats’, each with entrance hall, living room 19 x 13, main bedroom 17 x 13, a second bedroom, sun porch, large kitchen with built-in cupboards, refrigerator, electric hot water service to kitchen and bathroom, each ‘tiled and equipped with every modern convenience’. Rooms were ‘tastefully papered, well lit, airy …with superb views’.

At the time, title to the Court was in the name of Roseville builder Robert Wallace Miller, whose purchase of the site had been finalised on 3 April 1929 and who, in December 1927, had applied to Council to build a block of flats costing £10,000. Approval was not given until May 1928, delayed,
no doubt, by much heated debate. The contentious issues surrounding the building of flats are not new. In the 1920s it was associated with an expected influx of undesirables, a decline in living standards and property values. Miller must have been confident of approval, for in late 1927 four separate notices were published advising that he was to build a block of ten flats in Roseville designed by architect C L Rounding. A fifth notice, however, published in January 1928, advised that Rounding had let the contract to Robert Park of Roseville.

Rounding ran his practice during the 1920s from Chatswood, removing to the Central Coast during the early 1930s (probably riding out the Depression), after which he returned to Sydney, working from offices in Pitt Street before relocating once again to Chatswood. Between 1914 and 1940 he had a formidable number and variety of projects throughout Sydney – bungalows, five-storey flats, factories and shops. The most intriguing project was in January 1929: ‘plans being prepared in relays for 21 bungalows at Pymble’. Their location is not otherwise specified. Frustrating!

Contracts awarded by Rounding to Miller include a bungalow in Ku-ring-gai Chase Road, Wahroonga and two in Fern Street, Pymble (1925), one in Killara Avenue, Killara (1927) and a large bungalow in Warrawee (1928).

Rounding projects built by various members of the Park family of builders include the large picture theatre at Ryde (1925), three blocks of flats in the eastern suburbs (1927,1929), seven shops and dwellings in Gladesville (1928) and a bungalow in Killara (1935).

Robert Wallace Park was a son of James Wallace Park (1850–1931), ‘The Boss’, a Scottish stonemason who settled in Gladesville in the early 1880s and who built there the Presbyterian Church of St Andrew. Four other sons of The Boss became builders: James, Gavin, David and
John. My article on one of James Park’s developments, Nos 2 to 10 Nelson Street, Gordon,
appeared in The Historian of 2007, and another on one of R W Park’s developments, Bloomsbury Avenue, Pymble, in The Historian of 2008. One of John’s projects was the development of the Maclaurin, Pockley and Larkin Streets precinct behind Roseville RSL, in which, at its start, R W
Park also had an interest.

As for Robert Wallace Miller, despite searches in vital records, electoral rolls and such, his origin and demise remain a mystery. He pops up in September 1920, advertising for sale a four-bedroom bungalow in Killara ‘just completed, Gloria-st, off Springdale-rd … £1850.’ Between then and
the end of 1927 most of his projects were in Roseville, but there were others throughout Ku-ring-gai. The only architect associated with these was Rounding. The last reference to Miller that I’ve found (to date) is in November 1935, when, ‘formerly of 67 Stanhope Road, Killara’, he and his business partner Lionel Wingrove were taken to court by their mortgagee wanting to exercise her power of sale of a house in Chatswood.

I thought it remarkable that Miller and Park had identical forenames, and were somehow involved in the same project. On the hunt, I found tender notices for numerous projects, generated separately by Miller and Park, but which gave the same address for each man: Massey Road Gladesville (1920–21), Dalton Road Chatswood (1922–24) and Bancroft Road Roseville (1926–27). Then, when I came across a 1930 ad for the sale of ‘new bungalows’ in Pymble, the vendor being ‘R W Park (trading as R W Miller)’ it seemed obvious that Park was using Miller’s name to disguise the extent of his developments.

Robert Wallace Park, however, does not appear on the title of Ku-ring-gai Court. Can property be registered under a fictitious name? In August 1935 an ad appeared: ‘Roseville. Kuring-gai Court. Unfurnished Flats, appointment and value best on line. RW Park, Proprietor, JX 2962’ which
infers Park was the owner. Not as per the documentation! Title to the flats was in Miller’s name until 1936, when he sold to auctioneer Henry Little. The only member of the Park family mentioned in the title was Park’s brother David, who for five years held a mortgage.

Whoever built the Court – Miller or Park – it certainly deserves its listing. Over 80 years old, within a year or so it will be surrounded by new developments, book-ended stylistically and historically, enhancing its landmark significance. It definitely has architectural, social and municipal significance – designed by a Chatswood architect and erected by a Roseville builder, we have an early purpose built block of flats representing a radical shift in thinking that recognised the need for a different type of accommodation in our area.

Kathie Rieth with advice from Allan Rost

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