Showing posts with label The Depot on Beaumont Hamilton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Depot on Beaumont Hamilton. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 November 2013

From Freemasons to Katie Noonan

The queue surged with a life of its own along Beaumont Street. An excited buzz rose from the young crowd, dressed to dazzle in their up-to-the-minute gear.

I was on an evening walk with my husband, not long after we had moved to Hamilton, when we encountered what we thought was a nightclub with a line of people waiting to enter. A little surprised that our new suburb apparently had a nightclub, we crossed the street. Looking back, we saw that the building creating so much anticipation was the Masonic Hall, alias The Depot.  

A year later, as I sat in The Depot chatting to business co-owner Chad Taylor with Lynn MangovskiI discovered that Australian singer-songwriter Katie Noonan had been the drawcard that balmy October night in 2012.

“Yes, that was a big one,” Chad said.

The Depot has music a couple of nights a week in a soaring space perfect for acoustic sound.

Photograph courtesy of The Depot/Brad Parsons Photography

But that is not the only change that has transformed this fine building, designed in 1907 by prolific Newcastle architect Frederick Menkens into a twenty first century building that embraces its past with confidence and style.

Who were the Freemasons, and what did they do in Hamilton?

The Hamilton Lodge, ‘Star of the East’, was formed in 1886. Its first meeting place was the Northern Star Hotel, and then the Mechanics' Institute until 1906. The Masonic Hall, a fine single story building, was opened in 1907. A second storey was added in 1918.

Masonic Hall in Beaumont Street, Hamilton (1967)
Photograph by Ronald John Morrison, courtesy of Newcastle Museum

 At its peak, the Freemasons was one of the largest men’s organisations in the world. Many Novocastrians will remember having a father or an uncle who was a Mason.

Mason’s square and mallet
Newcastle Museum Exhibition on Beaumont Street, Hamilton
The square was one of the Stonemason’s most common tools. The phrase “being on the square” comes directly from Freemasonry

Before universal health care and government funded welfare programs, organisations like the Freemasons had a vital role in helping Masons – and later, anyone in the community – who had fallen on hard times.

In the dangerous work of the early Hamilton coal mines, as I’ve learned already, the sudden loss of a breadwinner can leave a large family destitute (read more here). With its strong networking capacity, the Freemasons cemented the community in a way we can only imagine today, with our more fragmented society.

In Britain, the Masons are still one of the largest single philanthropic bodies in operation.

Masonic Youth Welfare Fund Leaflet
Courtesy of Newcastle Museum

Hamilton resident Brian Agland, whose father was a Mason, remembers the children’s Christmas parties held in the Masonic Hall in the 1950s. He tells me:

“I always looked forward to it for two reasons. First, Santa always brought great gifts (much better than the ones we received from Dad’s BHP work party). The second reason was the Scotchies, as we called them. Men in kilts escorted Santa in and I always found bagpipe music quite special and exciting as a child.”

If you’ve ever marvelled at the immense cathedrals or castles of Europe, on television or in reality, and thought about the labour involved in cutting and carving the massive blocks of stone, then you are touching on the history of the Masons.

The Giralda (Clock Tower) of Seville Cathedral,
the largest Gothic cathedral in the world

In medieval times, Stonemasons formed guilds or lodges, and young men joined to be apprenticed and learn from others in the guild. As many could not read or write, secrets of the trade had to be guarded, and certain handshakes identified them as being able to work at certain levels in a work structure.

That is how what became known as the secrets of Freemasonry probably began. Over time, as their relevance declined in the modern era, outsiders made fun of the Freemasons. The aprons worn by office bearers, their collar sashes, pendants, and secret handshakes were puzzling and anachronistic.

Masonic Apron (1880)
United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of England
Courtesy of Newcastle Museum

I was surprised to learn about the extensive role that Freemasonry has had in American politics. American President Bill Clinton grew up in a Freemason youth organisation, and learned his early leadership skills there.

Garry Sayed, a Lebanese Muslim and an example of the new face of Freemasonry in Australia, spoke recently on an ABC Compass program:

“Freemasonry taught me about honesty, about truth, and how to conduct my daily life.”

Men like Garry are now being heard as Freemasons seek to arrest declining membership, and reinvigorate the organisation with members from diverse backgrounds.

Such initiatives came too late to save the Hamilton Lodge, 'Star of the East.' In 1981, the Lodge Trustees put the iconic building up for sale, along with 54 James Street, the car park.

Could this historic building be saved for future generations?

Every day between 1966 and 1971 on her way to work, Suzanne Evans walked past the Masonic Hall to and from the Hamilton Railway Station. As she took in its fading elegance, did she imagine that one day, she would be a co-owner?

As it happened, the Masonic Hall (the site 104-110 Beaumont Street, with 54 James Street) was purchased in 1981 by a Unit Trust set up by Suzanne’s solicitor husband, Peter Evans. He told me:

“Sue and I were attracted by the heritage value of this wonderful building.”

I wondered whether Peter and Suzanne had a particular connection with Hamilton.

They did.

Peter had moved to Hamilton South with his parents in 1958, and in 1964 was articled to the late Ian McKenzie, of Harris Wheeler Williams and McKenzie in Hamilton.

Suzanne came to work in the law firm in 1966; she and Peter married at St Peter’s Anglican Church, Hamilton in 1971. In that same year, Peter became partner in the firm, and Suzanne left to have a baby, the first in their family of five children. They lived in Hamilton for five years. Later, Peter set up his own practice in the city.

The Trustees of the Lodge cleared everything from the building except some trestle tables.

“Three or four of these are still used for fund raising activities at the Evans farm,” Peter explains.

What happened to the Masonic Hall next?

One of the then owners of units in the Unit Trust considered developing an arcade on the site, with retail and commercial uses. This idea was dropped when the NSW Department of Family and Community Services sought the space. A mezzanine floor was built to meet the Department’s needs.

The 1989 earthquake devastated Beaumont Street, as described in earlier posts about  The Greater Building Society, and Wesley on Beaumont.

Beaumont Street, Hamilton - 1989 earthquake
Courtesy Newcastle Region Library

As for the historic home Fettercairn in Lindsay Street, Hamilton, an engineering assessment of the Masonic Hall was obtained. The advice was to demolish the building, which was covered by insurance.

The Evans’ had bought out the other Unit owners in 1985, and were not going to lose their piece of Hamilton’s history. They embarked on the extensive works required to provide structural integrity to the building, and ensure safety.

BHP Computer Centre was their next tenant, eventually followed by Hogs Breath Cafe Saloon and Grill.

Hogs Breath Cafe, Hamilton (2010)
Courtesy of Google Maps

In 2011, the Hogs Breath Cafe closed and moved to new premises on Honeysuckle Drive in the city.

Then with great good fortune, Peter and Suzanne found the collaborators they needed to realize their dream of transforming the Menkens building into something spectacular.

The result flowed from a partnership involving new tenants Chad Taylor, Adam Baker and Shane Brunt.

Chad had opened his first restaurant at the age of 21, and had been Operations Manager at Hunter Valley Restaurant Management Services. There he learned what he would need to know in the future about catering for hundreds of diners at big functions.

Adam was a fitter and turner by trade. His entrepreneurial instincts had found an outlet as the owner of the successful Port Container Services, in Newcastle. He would bring his practical understanding of the operations of Newcastle’s portside to the redesign of the old Masonic Hall.

Shane Brunt would be Executive Chef, a daunting role. While he began his career at Scratchleys in Newcastle, he had ventured far beyond Newcastle as well as overseas, to hone his skills.

The Masonic Hall would become the venue for a bold new contemporary function centre, right in the centre of Hamilton - The Depot.

Despite the post-earthquake investment in the building, it needed to be reconceptualised and restored to fit its new use. An extensive fit out would be required. Weddings, parties and other large functions would be core business, as well as casual drinks and dining.

The building was massive in scale; intimate spaces needed to be created. At the same time, the business owners wanted the building to reflect the gritty industrial architectural heritage of Newcastle.

White ants had invaded the building. The walls needed to be re-braced, the building rewired. Initial cost estimates proved hopelessly inadequate.

Designers were engaged to work with the business owners, ensuring that the restoration would be not only authentic, but also futuristic in its use of the vast space.

The Depot, ground floor and mezzanine
Photograph courtesy of The Depot/Brad Parsons Photography

Gleaming with glass and stainless steel, the interior plays with the concepts of massive industrial, intimacy, and modernity.

The Depot, ground floor and bar
Photograph courtesy of The Depot/Brad Parsons Photography

The ground floor bar is solidly underpinned by smart wood and stainlesss steel shipping containers.

The Depot, showing the bar supported by shipping containers
Photograph courtesy of The Depot/Brad Parsons Photography

Chunky wood benches and tables are everywhere - 250 guests can be accommodated.

The Depot, ground floor and mezzanine
Photograph courtesy of The Depot/Brad Parsons Photography

Aloft, the visiting musician can perch above the diners, and be heard on every level.

Musician and tower
Photograph courtesy of The Depot/Brad Parsons Photography

Huge acoustic blocks line the warehouse-high walls and help to absorb noise.

While heritage colours have been used, there are some surprises, like dusky yellow walls upstairs.

A VIP lounge at the top has recently been completed.

At last count, the business owners expected the restoration and fit out bill to come in around $500,000. That is a real investment in Hamilton and its future.

The Depot - Masonic Hall, Hamilton (2014)

Photograph by Matthew Ward

The core values of Freemasonry are caring for others, helping those in need, and acting with honesty and integrity.

In rescuing the old Masonic Hall, the owners of The Depot function centre and the owners of this unique Hamilton landmark have reinvoked something of the spirit of the Freemasons.

In her song “Sweet One”, Katie Noonan sings:

I was down on my luck and you picked me up
I was only a breath from despair...[1]

The sentiment expressed here is surely a human one, but it could just as easily be the ghostly voice of the old Hamilton Masonic Hall....

Newcastle Mason  members crowd (1887)
Courtesy of Newcastle Region Library


Thank you to Peter Evans, Chad Taylor, and Lynn Mangovski for the story; also to Brad Parsons Photography for permission to use images.

[1] K. Noonan/S. Furler/L Mendez: “Sweet One”.