Sunday, March 25, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: Heritage Items: Taylor Square Underground Mens' Conveniences

Hanging about in a men's public toilet is not how I would normally spend a day like yesterday, when the autumn sun was shining and the sky a brilliant Sydney blue.
But I jumped out of bed, rushed through my Saturday morning house cleaning and fled out the door before 11am, for the chance to explore the underground men's conveniences at Taylor Square.  

The 1907 toilets closed to the public in 1988 but opened briefly yesterday for a public art project, A Leaf From the Book of Cities, by Makeshift, a creative collaboration between Tessa Zettel and Karl Khoe. 
The installation has been open the past three Saturdays, between 8am and 1pm, with the final opportunity to experience the work this Saturday, March 31. 
A Leaf From the Book of Cities is made up of a handful of installations in the old toilet stalls and urinal areas, which are designed to make you think about the "possibilities of a quality-based economy". 
If that sounds a bits arts wank, it essentially means alternative ways of obtaining everyday items: food, clothes, books, real estate et al.
But even if you aren't interested in such ideas, it is worth a visit just to see this heritage-listed underground toilet.

The Taylor Square toilets were one of ten underground conveniences for men built by the Municipal Council of Sydney between 1901-1911, due to sanitation concerns following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Sydney in 1900. 
Previously on the site there was an 1880s public urinal with a steel roof holding tanks of saltwater, which was used for street cleaning. 
Following the health concerns, the toilets were built underground because it was considered unhygienic for men to be relieving themselves on street level.
Placing the toilets underground was also more aesthetically pleasing and their construction coincided with the City Beautiful movement, which drove the push for the remodelling of Oxford Street and the establishment of Taylor Square.

The opening of the toilets also came four years after the neighbouring electricity substation (known as number six) was switched on.
The substation, also heritage-listed, was built following the introduction of the Electric Lighting Bill in 1896, which required the council to provide power for street lights and residents' homes.
It was an important and exciting time in Sydney's history, with the massive technological advance - that we take for granted today - changing the way people lived and worked forever.
The substation, which was used right up to 1993, also provided power for the new electric trams that cruised down Oxford Street.

1930s Taylor Square, source: City of Sydney Archives

Taylor Square was an important tram junction in those days, and the underground men's conveniences were used by hundreds of commuters, which is why there is about ten urinals and five stalls.
Designed by city surveyor and architect Robert Hargreave, the "Edwardian Civic" style toilets feature a wrought iron fence and gates with art nouveau detailing above ground, which lead to two interlocking curved staircases that take you underground to the white-tiled toilets.

While the urinals remain, the toilet bowls and sinks have been removed. 
In the washroom area yesterday there was a small table holding a large pot, jam jars and books, and seemed to suggest that we should all start buying produce in season and making our own jams and preserved fruits for the off-months.

The first stall had some of those tartan laundry bags, colourful lights, tools and dressmakers' blocks to perhaps encourage people to start making their own clothes and building their own furniture. 

The "6 Jars" stall was an interesting concept. It's an idea that encourages people to think about what they eat, befriend their neighbours, and buy less packaged food. 
To put that into practice it asked people who live locally to sign up and they would be introduced to five like-minded locals who they could share food with. 
So you cook up "a batch of goodness" put it into six jars and share them with your new friends; they in turn do the same and you only need to cook dinner once a week. I quite like the idea.

I'm not certain what the Librarium stall was about, but assume it's to encourage people to share their libraries, which I often do anyway.  

At the end of the five stalls is another urinal area, which yesterday was home to typesetters' tools and an old fashioned printing press. 

The Makeshift art duo plan to print a little mini-mag or zine featuring sustainability ideas that arise out of a workshop that runs parallel with the installation in the neighbouring above-ground women's conveniences, which are housed inside the substation and were built in 1938, following much lobbying by women.
I wasn't allowed to sneak a peek in the women's because apparently its where stuff is stored for the Saturday markets and the market folk didn't want any old riff-raff snooping about in there.
But I was more than happy to have seen the men's conveniences, which closed in 1989, because of safety concerns.
The toilets are special because they are the last remaining of the ten men's underground toilets. 
The others were gradually demolished over the years, including as recently as 2003, when the City of Sydney council, under Lord Mayors Frank Sartor and Lucy Turnbull, demolished the lavatories at Hyde Park, Macquarie Place and Wynyard Park - despite protests by the National Trust and others.
Now that the Taylor Square men's conveniences have been heritage-listed, the question is, what to do with them?


Monday, March 19, 2012

Across the Border: Woolloomooloo: Food: Lanzafame

Every now and then I have a craving for pizza. 
Not the thick, oily crust type of pizza, covered in glue-like cheese. 
When I crave, I want real Italian pizza with minimal toppings but strong flavours. 
And my absolute favourite pizza treat in the neighbourhood is Lanzafame. 

Lanzafame was where I invited my friends to celebrate my birthday last year, and where I often go with my friend, Ruby, for pre-show or early dinners, because it costs just $15 for a pizza and a glass of wine during lunch and between 6-7pm. That must be the most inexpensive meal in Sydney.

Lanzafame is hidden away down the hill on Crown Street on the northern side of William Street.
It's rather obscure location with its lack of foot traffic, means that I never have a problem procuring a table as the restaurant is often quite empty.

I don't mind that at all, because it means Ruby and I can relax, drink our wine and enjoy the peace and quiet.

There's a large area inside, as well as an "outdoor area" which we booked for a fairly large group for Ruby's birthday last weekend. We ate early so everyone paid just $15, plus any other drinks they had. Bargain! Lanzafame also does gluten-free pizza bases, so people with coeliac disease can enjoy the normally forbidden food.
Ruby had wanted to host the party at her house but because her apartment is fairly small, there was no way we would all fit inside comfortably.
Lanzafame was perfect because we had the entire area outside, with one long table and a few lounges on the end, where a couple of the smokers in the party could go and have a fag. It was so relaxed, Ruby didn't have to wash up, and the waiter really looked after us.

The restaurant is owned by John Lanzafame, who was the chap that made Hugo's Lounge, on Bayswater Road in Kings Cross, famous for its pizza. 
John Lanzafame also won an international pizza cook-off in the United States, so can lay claim to the title of "World's Best Pizza Champion".

John Lanzafame comes from an Italian background, so apart from pizza, there are a range of pastas, risottos and lovely Italian entrees and desserts. The tiramisu is a delight, but I've never tried anything else on the menu, because I can't even finish an entire pizza, and would never be able to squeeze any more food in.

My absolute favourite pizza is the mushroom one (above). It has nothing but mushrooms, cheese and a dash of chili. I'm also partial to Lanzafame's ham and pineapple pizza (pineapple being a great Australian addition) and I adore the rocket and parmesan salad:

John Lanzafame has also two published cookbooks: one is devoted entirely to pizza, Pizza Modo Mio, while the other is a collection of Italian recipes, Family Italian, which includes these yummy looking asparagus fritters:

On Saturday night, our friend Lucas was keen to try the Italian doughnuts on the menu, but after devouring his pizza had no more appetite, so I very naughtily copied down the recipe from Family Italian.
I don't think John Lanzafame will mind too much if I share it with you here:

John Lanzafame's doughuts (sfingi)
7gm dried active yeast
3 teaspoons caster (superfine) sugar, plus extra for dusting
500gm self-raising flour, sifted
150gm sultanas
canola oil, for deep frying
Combine the yeast, a pinch of the sugar and 250m warm water in a small bowl and stand for 10 minutes or until foaming.
Meanwhile, place the flour, sultanas, remaining sugar and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and combine well. Make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast mixture, 150ml water and stir until a wet dough forms. Allow the dough to stand for 40 minutes of until nearly doubled in size.
Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan or deep-fryer to 160 degrees Celsius, or until a cube of bread dropped in the oil browns in 30 seconds. Carefully drop 2 tablespoons of the mixture into the hot oil, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for 4-6 minutes or until golden all over and cooked in the centre. They should have the texture of a thick sponge. Remove using tongs and drain on absorbent paper. While still hot, dust with sugar and serve immediately.

And now I am craving hot Italian doughnuts.

88 Crown Street
Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
02 9331 8881

Friday, March 16, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: Retailers: Rococo Flowers

Does anyone not like flowers? 
I couldn't live without them and spend a neat sum on cut blooms each week, and also can't help wanting to add to my collection of potted flowers.
I love flowers' names, their textures, their leaf and petal patterns; and I also love dissecting them with my fingers to see how they are made.
I look at their petal patterns and colours, and their symmetry, and wonder how on earth they came to be. 
At the moment, I am considering rearranging the furniture in my apartment so that I can set up an entire table purely devoted to cut flowers in vases, and living pots of colour. 
There's just not enough space though, unfortunately.
But this is kind of what I'd like my apartment to look like:

Just imagine the sweet fragrance.

Rococo Flowers florist has been on the corner of Liverpool and Bourke Street for as long as I can remember (about 10 years), but I had never been inside to buy anything, because I just assumed that it would be expensive. Assumptions are the worst kind of thing.

While walking past Rococo with Ruby last week, we spotted these lovely purple flowered bushes (above) lined up on the street and we stopped to look and learnt they were just $9 each. Not bad at all. Suburban prices. So we went inside to check out the cut blooms.

There were all kinds of roses, tulips and lilies.

 Specimen like hyacinth.

To-die-for dahlias.

And these lovely white-lined gloxinia, from the same Gesneriaceae family as African violets.

Rococo Flowers also stocks a small collection of gifts, such as scented candles and soaps, as well as these rather cute snow globes:

Rococo Flowers
2/303a Liverpool Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9357 6688

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Darlinghurst Blog: Retailers: Carroll's Hardware

One of my earliest childhood memories is of visiting a hardware shop with my father.
I must have been about four or five and I remember wandering off on my own and exploring the aisles with a sense of wonder. 
There was the smell, first of all, a kind of pungent metalicky scent. 
And then there were all the little plastic compartments filled with the most curious screws and nails and round metal bits, which you could purchase individually for about 10 cents each. 
I vividly remember picking out some screw - perhaps a nut with a bolt - and asking my father to buy it for me.
I was always wanting things. And he often said no. 

This time he probably said no, too, but even if I wasn't allowed to take home that nut and bolt, my fascination with hardware shops, and all that they contained, remained.

So when I had to buy some spack-filler this week (mishap with screw while trying to hang a lighting fixture), I became mildly interested by the task. 
And the closest hardware shop to home is Carroll's Hardware on William Street; a place I had never been but was looking forward to visiting. 

The shop is jam-packed with stuff: masking tapes, rulers, staple-guns, paint, hammers, screw-drivers, weird hooky things, weird plastic things, buckets, shower curtains, hoses; everything you could imagine and more: a pink manicure kit. 
I wished to roam the aisles undisturbed but was immediately accosted by the friendly shopkeeper (Mr Carroll?) who quickly led me to the spack section. 
After I selected my spack, I left him and moved on around the shop, looking for interesting things.

There were aisles to explore and even a mysterious upstairs section stocking wood and building supplies.


There were reels of chains and ropes in various colours, and an entire aisle devoted to gardening products (I searched in vain for the clay balls I need to create a humidity tray for my new "orchid farm".)

But the best bit was when I went to the counter and started chatting with Mr Carroll (?). 
Can you find him in this picture:

The Carroll family have been operating a hardware shop on William Street since 1923.
Their first shop was on the northern side of William Street, backing on to Judge Lane, between Dowling and Forbes streets; today consumed by No Birds car rental.
They remained at that location for 49 years.

This picture from the City of Sydney Archives (above) was taken in 1954, when trams scuttled along William Street on their way to the city centre. How lovely and colourful and quiet do they appear when compared to the buses that now storm down this path. 
That chap, crossing the street in the brown trench coat, may have just visited Carroll's Hardware and it's highly possible he has a nut and bolt, or a screw-driver, in his pocket.

By 1972, there were no more trams on William Street, and that year Carroll's Hardware moved to a building on the corner of William and Bourke streets, on the left in the photograph above, just where the van is pulling out.
They stayed there for 25 years - until 1997 - before moving to their present location at 163-165 William Street.
But now, as they are about to celebrate their 90th years in business, they are scheduled to move into larger premises, just down the road in the former Scooterino site at 121-129 William Street.

Mr Carroll (?) said he hoped to be open there by April, but as you can see from my photographs, there is a hell of a lot of stock to move, and then there is all the shop fittings. 
It's not a job I covet.
 But I hope, when he moves in to the new place, they have a big opening party - with some politician or someone to cut the ribbon - and a sausage sizzle in Barnett Lane to celebrate a near century on William Street.

Carroll's Hardware
163-165 William Street
soon to be: 121-129 William Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
02 9331 5555