OPINION: Dean Street must retain its historic buildings for us all

MAIN streets are important.

They show the commercial vitality of a place. They suggest something of its character.

Think Dubbo, Tamworth, Goulburn, Wagga and you get a mental image of several main streets. Each distinctive.

Albury is blessed with a short, compact main street, which gives concise expression of its commercial life — and says something of how the place has developed.

We expect main streets to change. But the council has gone to some expense and inconvenience to retain something of the old Lands Office and the old Town Hall in its new Art Gallery.

So, too, the architects redesigning the Mates store have respected that building as a heritage item by working some of its principal design features into the proposed new extended structure.

There is no similar respect shown in the Commercial Club proposal to demolish the former Rural Bank at 642 Dean Street.

Albury’s main street buildings indicate the post-depression growth spurt the town enjoyed in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when city investors saw advantage in developing, among other things, four new banks, two insurance company buildings and half-a-dozen pubs in the CBD.

The banks clustered in a financial quarter of Dean Street, west of Kiewa Street.

Each used columns and facades in the latest fashion to reassure prospective customers they could have confidence in its institution.

The former Rural Bank was one of those new developments in 1938. It had a specific duty to provide services for the primary producers in the hinterland of what was plainly a prosperous country town.

The building is part of a story about Albury’s development that is worth remembering.

Three-quarters of a century on, 642 Dean Street remains a fine building: usable, visually attractive, well presented and interesting.

It is one of those Art Deco pieces the city made much of in its Art Deco exhibition and festival in 2011.

The developers propose to demolish it and replace it with a bland facade of ‘contemporary appearance’.

That is a development which does not recognise the building as one of a cluster of landmarks at the Townsend Street junction with Dean Street.

The building has been listed as a heritage item since 1991, and the Commercial Club was well aware of that listing when it acquired the building in 2013.

It should not, therefore, be able to argue that any attempts to retain something of the building’s heritage values are onerous. The developers have known full well that redevelopment involving a heritage item was going to cost.

It would not require much imagination for the club to decide how it might rearrange, or even split, its administration to make use of the former Rural Bank building.

Alternatively, the architects might suggest how the facade alone can be retained. That would cause as little interruption to the new sweep of facade as the entry currently does.

And it would retain an element in the rich diversity of main street architecture, which helps tell the story of Albury.

Dr Bruce Pennay is an adjunct associate professor at Charles Sturt University.