For the first time since it was discovered this week that the interior of Melbourne’s Palace Theatre was being torn apart by construction workers, while authorities were still to decide on the venue’s heritage protection, the site’s developer has spoken out defending their actions.
According to The Age, the developer Jinshan Investments said in a statement that it was “operating within its rights” and said they had been “informed” that the interior of the building “held little heritage value”.
“The developer is undertaking works to improve site safety, which had become compromised in the period following the departure of the former the former music venue tenant,” the statement said.
“Over the past 100 years it has been dramatically altered, with much of its original features and history stripped by previous owners, including the Metro Nightclub which added steel staircases and galleries that dramatically transformed the interior in the 1980s,” it continued.
On Thursday it was reported that several construction workers were found demolishing and ripping out the inside of the Palace Theatre including, according to the Melbourne Heritage Action group, the venue’s original doors from 1923, plasterwork circa 1916 and tiles from 1912 which were found “smashed to bits in a skip out the back of the Palace Theatre”.
These items are reportedly part of features that Melbourne City Council staff were proposing to list for heritage recognition. Soon after the discovery, the City of Melbourne released a statement saying they are investigating the events and are seeking an “interim heritage protection” for the site.
A decision on that front is still yet to be made, but the council say they are monitoring the site, where works seems to have temporarily stopped, and have reported that “there is no evidence of any activity taking place”.
The Palace Theatre was forced to close the business in May this year when the venue’s lease ended, with new developers announcing plans to convert the site into a luxury hotel. The site’s new developers, Jinshan Investments, initially announced plans to build a 21-storey hotel but that was reduced to a seven storey boutique hotel following numerous rejections by Planning Minister Matthew Guy.
Earlier this year Heritage Victoria decided not to acknowledge the building’s importance on a state level, but they did acknowledge the Palace Theatre’s local significance, leaving the onus for heritage protection on Melbourne City Council. That decision had not yet been made when the demolition work got underway this week.
Greens councillor Rohan Leppert has labelled the actions of the developer “sheer vandalism.” “They know the interiors have state and local significance, and they have sent in the wrecking ball before figuring out if they’re entitled to do that,” he said.
Protestors took to the Palace Theatre site on Thursday evening to rally against the actions of the developers, with events turning sour when several men showed up and started verbally abusing, harassing and in some instances physically attacking the group. In videos of the outbreak posted to YouTube, at least one of the attackers can be heard saying he was “protesting against anti-development fuckheads.”
Save The Palace action group, who organised the rally, have stated on their Facebook page that they are hoping to move beyond this incident and focus on their objecting of saving the Palace from developers.
“Three unfortunate individuals with questionable views were dealt with by those there in as peaceful and appropriate manner as possible,” they wrote. “Where they came from is your guess as good as ours.”
“We are moving on from this incident. Their message and actions are irrelevant. What is important is our fight to save the Palace Theatre, Melbourne and our cultural heritage.” They are organising another rally at the site for this Sunday, 23rd November at 2pm.
The City of Melbourne is monitoring the Palace Theatre site today. There is no evidence of any activity taking place.
— City of Melbourne (@cityofmelbourne) November 21, 2014