When Gatwick Hotel in St Kilda was subjected to Channel 9 block for example, and 66 people with very low incomes have been moved to make room for luxury renovated heritage apartments, starting at $ 2 million, that place was dead for me.
How do we keep our sense of place in a rapidly changing city? How do we allow constancy, the familiar way, the feeling of belonging?
So many of our important places, the Melbourne institutions, if you want – Vic Market, Abla's Restaurant, Waiters Club, Florentino, Tolarno, Esplanade Hotel, The Tote, The Corner, MCG, Victoria Park list) – are fragile. They can or may not be protected by the patrimony, but their use defines them and uses the change.
The trick is to manage change, although the role is also important. Because one place dies, another is born or is born. Hotel Esplanade, at the corner of Gatwick, opens its doors again on Friday. It is 30 years since Espy was first rescued from the destroyers and nearly 20 years since the second batch was removed. Some people laughed at the time, saying that you can not keep the old pub in aspic; can not stop the change.
We did not want to stop any change, of course, just the wrong way. We strongly hope that Espy will evolve; that it will continue to give young musicians opportunities to appear at new audiences, as it did for the past century. I did not insist that Phil Para play forever (though he's close) or Ruby Carter always makes jazz on Tuesdays.
We wanted to protect the use of the hotel as a meeting place of the community, a public loungeroom in St Kilda, when so many of the surrounding flats were so small as to keep it accessible to anyone who wanted to come in.
Beyond the listing of the patrimony of the building, an essential planning intervention was to protect the places of loading in the scene areas. This meant Espy could always function as a live music scene with the chance to evolve, and if the music died, then it would be an economic decision in response to the market, not because it was impossible from the point of view structurally.
Lost developers said that these actions were a kiss of death; that in the management of hotel evolution, no use could generate enough income to maintain the entire building. They had one point: we are all worried about the two top floors that were closed even in the 1980s.
I was hoping for a white knight. Vince and Paul, who took over the pub in 2003, did a good job of keeping it together, but they could not climb upstairs. They closed the doors quite abruptly in 2015.
Then Sand Hill Road appeared. After being imprisoned for another 18 months and working on an obvious renovation, everyone was worried. But what they did was magnificent. The old Espy is beautiful. The layers have been peeled, added and bite around them with attention-paying attention to historical details.
The front bar is almost unrecognizable; the Gershwin camera only had the easiest touch. The loading bay is now a reincarnation of the old Espy kitchen, while musicians connect directly to a high-tech sound system.
The forged iron ladder remains. There are three stages, small bars and food areas all over, and the place goes farther and farther back and forth. All four levels were resuscitated.
The refurbished Espy extension has a different feeling; that's what the economy did. It is more a destination now than a local pub, and old chronics may not like it too much. Indeed, most of the old have already left St Kilda, and those who stay drunk at the corner of the Prince or Balaclava on Carlisle Street. If they decide to try it, there is a relatively inexpensive beer and a feeling that diversity is encouraged, that no one will be returned because it looks wrong.
In the opening night, the Teskey brothers play – a local band of souls and blues, who only hit the big moments. It's an inspired choice: their music takes over elements of Espy's sensation for over 60 years, written and played definitively for today's participants. The supporting act, Emilee Sud, is a local indie rock performer on her way up.
I live on the other side of the river now, but knowing that Espy is there, that it has evolved with love and care for so many decades, it gives me a sense of constancy and, indeed, a little happiness in my heart.
Dr. Kate Shaw lived in St Kilda in the 1980s and 1990s.