Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parra-matured

Westfield Parramatta Main Stage (c. 2000)

The Sydney suburb of Parramatta has been many things in my eyes: a playground where dollars are earned, a playground where consumerism is practiced, an actual playground and a playground where the better part of a holiday can be spent. My lifetime has seen it referred to as the second business district in Sydney (second to the city) and, for the last thirty-five years, it has been the home of, what is currently, the third largest shopping centre in this country and formerly the largest in the southern hemisphere, Westfield Shoppingtown. My parents started taking me to Westfield Parramatta when I was very young. My furthest memory of it is from around 1994, just after their second and largest redevelopment. With the aid of an infantile mind, I was always pretty naïve to the existence of anything but Westfield in Parramatta; in fact, when I’d bring up one name, it was never without the other. Since then, Westfield, along with the city that it’s foundations were laid on, has matured much like I have: chances have it that just about anywhere that I regularly visited as a child has since been remodelled, redeveloped or overhauled in some way, shape or form; stores that were once there have probably been closed and reopened more than once; their tenants and residents now deceased or moved on, all paving the way for a new generation of people simply unaware of what has preceded them. So, in a world where change is of the norm, I’ve always been the type of person that has the habit of attaching memory to location, and as a natural repercussion of that, whenever I walk any inch of a place that I have visited in my past, such as Westfield Parramatta – a place that was prominent in my infancy and has now become routine in the infancy of my adult life– a landslide of those memories come tumbling behind my eyes. I admit, new stores are certainly a pleasure, but at the same time, I also see an element of melancholy in it. The memories that are glued to those places that no longer exist get lost in the natural progression of time, we never mean it to, but our eyes quickly adjust to the present and what once seemed so peculiar becomes a part of scenery; it's a real shame.

Unfortunately, if to make matters worse, companies have a tendency not to note down history, which, in my opinion, turns residents into tourists in their own hometowns, limiting their vision to the now. People may see it as a non-issue when I speak about it now, but the moment somebody puts up some sixty year old sepia photograph of some nearby suburban main street, those very people that were once blasé about such history start to exhibit some interest. There was one of those photographs framed on the waiting room wall of my old dental surgery and I found myself saying 'Hey, that's where that pizza place is now' – I think that there are so many missed opportunities to inspire that same type of curiosity in others. Ignorantly, Westfield failed to keep any history on their Parramatta centre, a centre that is well over a quarter of a century old and has been through three major transformations to date, the most recent of which was completed four years ago. The same can be said for Stockland with their Merrylands centre, another mall that I regularly visited as a child, currently going through its own redevelopment. The final day that Stockland Merrylands had every store open before the phasing in of new sections, just over two years ago, I managed to get quite a few photographs of the rest of the mall (except Hoyts Cinema) so that I wouldn’t let happen what Westfield had only years earlier. Evidently, nobody had done this with Westfield before the last redevelopment – in the end, the only photographs I managed to get my hands on were taken of celebrity appearances or for architectural and heritage purposes. The sentimentality that I hold must have been absent the day Westfield began to tear down the walls of what was a symbol of my childhood. So here is me doing what I can to paint a word picture, copied and pasted from my memory, of what I see mentally whenever I walk any inch of Parramatta and some other locations around Sydney. Rewriting what has been overwritten - here we go:

Intencity Advertisement Intencity & Hide & Seek – Westfield Parramatta 
Closure: c. 2000

Intencity is my fondest and most favoured memory of Westfield Parramatta. Intencity is an Australian game arcade chain and was one of the things that made the shopping centre, in my young eyes, more of a theme park attraction than a place to shop. Intencity once accounted for the entire furthest wall of the level five food court, the wall being split up into two open levels.  Also, on the second level of Intencity resided a playground called Hide & Seek. The word 'playground' really doesn’t sell it though, think tubes and ball-pools everywhere – on the walls, the ceiling, everywhere. I loved Hide & Seek over…well, anything at that age; it was amazing. Since it did business from within the Intencity space, when it closed, so did Hide & Seek, sadly.

I don’t know why it closed, money most probably, but it really mellowed the excitement I felt when visiting Westfield. Afterwards, there was this strange period where there was just sort of a black hole on that wall of the food court, the only thing that was there were two dormant escalators leading up from one of the five eating platforms. When Westfield began to overhaul the place over five years ago, anything that marked that Intencity was once there gradually disappeared; first it was the first floor where they placed a Galaxy Quest, a Pizza Hut (strangely Hide & Seek Advertisement enough), another shop that I don’t remember and that mini-merry-go-round with the carnie; then sometime later, they boxed off that entire section in order to remove those still relatively new stores in order to make better use of that wall, including the still vacant second floor, taking the escalators and that one eating platform with it (the other four platforms still remain) – in other words, the last remanence of Intencity was no more. Some of the food places along the side disappeared too - Subway and Red Rooster, to name a couple - they then would go to open a Goodlife Health Clubs gym on the upstairs (with windows looking down on fast food places, funnily enough) and a JB Hi-Fi (and a few new food places) on the bottom floor – that brings us to date.

Level 3 McDonaldsWestfield Parramatta 
Renovation: c. 2005

I often forget how different level 3 McDonalds was before the redevelopment. The image I have printed on my memory is quite a fragmented one in the way that some parts are clearer than others, you could say that the McDonald’s part of it is in high definition, but the part that surrounded Church & Argyle St intersection (c. 2005)the fast food outlet looks as though it was taken on a camera phone from that time. What I do remember is that the McCafé had been an added section, so it was just a small booth facing the McDonalds entrance, with the exclusion of that, the layout almost remains the same: the entrance and kitchen are all in the same place, the outer eating area is almost the same too,  and there were still panes of glass dividing the inside eating area from the rest of the centre. The most discernable difference, aside from the décor which was common among all McDonalds outlets at that time, was that there was the outside eating veranda for those shoppers that wanted to fatten up while watching the trains pass. I’m not too savvy on the details, so bare with me: I’m pretty sure it was where Freedom Home is now (pictured here), looking down onto Argyle Street. What I do remember about that veranda is that somewhere between five and ten years prior to the overhaul, there was some sort of incident involving a young child. Now, I don’t think the kid jumped, but I think he almost did, all I know is, ever since that day, they wrapped a chain around the two doors that opened onto the area, padlocked it and they never opened those doors again - that is, of course, until they threw a new shop on top of it.

Now for the surrounding area, and this is where the details ascend to a whole new level of uncertainty: I can say for sure that there weren’t any that went up to Borders before, because, one, I’m pretty sure that’s where the McCafé stood, two, there was no Borders store (duh!) and, three, that’s where the cinemas were as they took up a large bulk of level four (and I assume level five). The part that confuses me most is the lighting and the other escalators. Prior to the overhaul, I remember being able to look over the railing from McDonalds and have an unobstructed view of the level one food court, aided by a substantial spill of light from outside, my only obstruction being the escalators connecting levels one and two. Currently, things are a lot more cluttered looking down from that same railing; there is no longer the same amount of natural light and I am pretty sure an extra flight of escalators joining level two to three were added in the overhaul, however, that only raises the question of where that flight of escalators was before. What it is exactly that now obstructs the light and my clear view of the first floor is an enigma. It’s one of those things that I will never know - like I said, if only Westfield or somebody else had taken some still photos.

Village 8 Cinemas Westfield Parramatta
Closure: 28/4/05

Village Cinema Closure Report

Village 8 Cinemas in its last years was probably the worst cinema I’d ever visited, in both hygiene and interior design. Its obvious issues always made Hoyts in Merrylands the preferred choice when going out to see a movie. Village 8 once sat in the entire area starting from Swarovski to Borders book store. There were two ways you could get into Village 8: the first being the entry from within the centre with Swarovski on the corner (Swarovski still exists in that same position today) and those three televisions atop the double-doors that were never quite as clear as they could’ve been, showing trailers and such (I sort of remember them just being static in the later years, though). Through the doors followed a long, L-shaped corridor, which eventually lead you to the ticketing booths, a small candy bar and, quite amazingly, two office elevators that still exist today (Level four, in the corridor leading to the restroomVillage 8 Movie Listings closest to Borders -pictured here). This entrance was always a bit of a design flaw as it was awkwardly narrow and you had to pass the actual cinemas to get to the ticketing booths, which I don’t remember being such an issue...at first (cue suspenseful music). Then there was the second entrance, from outside on Church Street, where Café Dela France is now (across from where Coffee Emporium is today). It was a steep flight of stairs, pretty wide in comparison to the rest of the place. This unfortunately suffered the same fate as the McDonalds veranda, as it was closed  forever; not too sure why. This meant that the other entry was, now, the only means of getting  in, which only augmented its design flaws. After closing that street-entry, I could liken trying to enter Village 8 to being in the mosh-pit at a concert - it was unnecessarily dark, pushy, cramped and quite dangerous. Not only did it exenterate entry issues, but I'm pretty sure that it also raised the frequency of ticket evasion as there was no real effective way to discern who was trying to get a ticket and who was just trying to see a free movie, nor did they have the space to check your ticket stubs, especially in peak times. This only meant that those last years, the checking of tickets mid-movie got quite anal which is where (like I mentioned a while back in this post) my mother was removed from a viewing because she couldn’t find hers. Because of these obvious issues, the change of location in the Westfield complex and its operator was way past-due. According to what I remember, it was about a year after closure until Greater Union opened, thus completing the final phase of the Westfield Parramatta redevelopment in 2006.

Warner Bros. Store & Disney Store Westfield Parramatta
Closure: N/A

The Warner Bros. Store and the Disney Store only complimented my childhood joys of a Westfield visit. The Warner Bros. Store was located on level two, near the main stage, where City Beach currently is. Not only was the store quite large in comparison to its neighbours and that there was a massive multi-monitor display on the back wall made up of several CRT televisions showing various Warner Bros. flicks, but what drew me to this store the most were these tunnels that they had. They were located to the back of the store, in what is now the DJs platform in City Beach. Crawling into these two joined tunnels would reveal little screens also showing cartoons and some sundry WB stuff. For some reason, these particularly small tunnels were like Christmas morning every time for me. Like Hide & Seek, losing this was quite upsetting, however, when the store closed isn’t real clear to me, nor are my memories of the Disney Store (some say that it was around where Glue is today, but I don't remember).

Hoyts Cinema & Video Ezy - Merrylands
Hoyts Demolition: c. 2008
Video Ezy First Move: pre-2000

Like I said, it was always either Village 8 in Parramatta or Hoyts in Merrylands. Hoyts Cinemas once sat on the corner of Treves Street and McFarlane Street in Merrylands, protruding into the Stockland car park. Many movies were seen there, many memories had, and that all goes without saying. My furthest memory was when Hoyts was not there and Video Ezy was. It’s difficult fathoming the image of a large building not towering over that corner, but in my memory’s lifetime, a time when the DVD wasn’t yet mainstream and hiring movies was still a serious concept, it was once a quaint little standalone Video Ezy outlet before it moved to its newly-built and larger store just up the road on the corner of Burford Street and Merrylands Road. Since the market for physically renting movies up and hopped into its deathbed, roughly the same time that everybody realised that renting easily-scratchable compact discs is like playing Russian-roulette with the entertainment aspect of your night, Video Ezy once again relocated virtually across the road a couple of years ago into a cosier store that Blockbuster had only just vacated (who, funnily enough, have recently filed for bankruptcy), only to live out, what I suspect, is the Merrylands’ store’s final years.

Utopia Records - George Street, Sydney
Relocation (to Broadway): c. 2006

Utopia Records is currently located at its new home near Town Hall in the Sydney CBD after living in Broadway for a few years. Before the move to Broadway, it was located underneath Greater Union Cinemas (now named Event Cinemas) on George Street, where Sportsco Direct (a sports gear outlet) is now. Like all of the places I have mentioned, my sentiment doesn’t typically lie with the business, but more the place where that business used to be. In this particular case, my sentiment exists partly because Utopia was just more of a common meeting place and somewhere to shoot-the-shit when I was fourteen. You see, I always remembered Utopia as being horribly overpriced, which never made it worth buying from when it was on George Street and definitely not worth the leg when it moved to Broadway. Now, I couldn’t care less about sports gear - I’m no athlete - but despite that fact, I still occasionally find myself in that Sportsco, only that I never buy anything…you know, like a nut. The same way that I sometimes sit in Borders, Parramatta reminiscing about how less than ten years ago I would’ve been in the same spot visiting some piece of shit cinema, I often walk around that sports store trying to place where everything used to be - the stage where garage bands would perform; the CD racks that I would awkwardly lean on during; the place they used to keep all of the Marilyn Manson albums, his autobiography sitting just above them; admiring the pieces of wood that are where the in-floor display cases used to be; the people that I saw in there that have since passed on; and, probably most importantly, some drifted friendships. So, no matter how expensive, I do miss Utopia being there.

Aside from the pre-2000 style sign outside the level three restrooms and the design on the back of the main elevator shaft in Westfield, which both somehow managed to survive whatever makeover The Westfield Group had thrown at them these last sixteen years, other note-worthy relics of my home city include: The Roxy in Parramatta, which was once a historic single-screened movie theatre before being downgraded into a...[takes a deep breath]...a nightclub. JB Hi-Fi on Church St, Parramatta, once the only entertainment retail store worth visiting in the area, despite it's inconvenient placement, they then remedied this by opening another, more convenient store in Westfield (where Intencity once was), then soon after that, the now smaller JB Hi-Fi outlet by comparison moved around the corner into a bigger store on George Street, matching the décor of the others. The old Parramatta Station (partially pictured here) which didn’t have the big awning that it does now, nor did it have the underground concourse from Westfield’s level one food court, the ticket gate section or the bus interchange that the concourse leads to (however, the other, less popular, set of ticket gates did exist); those things of which are thanks to the most recent Westfield overhaul. The Church Street thoroughfare, between Marsden and George Street, which had that run-down playground and that circular water play-thing that would randomly change what section would release water which, to my amusement, would be the cause of many wet children. The Family Fun Centre on Church Street in Parramatta, which was actually more of an arcade fun centre for Parramatta's scum than somewhere you would take your family; recently just opened up as a vitamin store. The Asian Bakery that once sat at the Sussex and Goulburn Street intersection in the city which my dad used to take me to as a child, far superior to the Barbys that is there now. Also worth a mention is the AMF Bowling alley in Parramatta, which I visited as a child and miss seeing on the way into Parramatta train station from the east.

Westfield Extension gets green lightGreater Union Construction (c. 2005)New Westfield Advertisement

So, there…I finally finished it. After a year of nostalgically pondering the subject matter, a few months of cerebral bulimia, a lengthy visit to the heritage centre and two frighteningly messy word-processing documents later, it is done. There’s no doubt that Westfield Parramatta has matured over the years, especially in the last decade, replacing shops that virtually played cartoons and had tunnels for you to play in with stores that simply sell clothing, and closing down a mega-sized game arcade and opening up a colossal-sized book store; with the exception of one or two stores, it really has grown into an all-shop and no play sort of centre, a lot different to what it was when I was growing up. So now, assuming that the internet doesn’t die out on us one day, and same can be said for this blog, these little snippets of local history that had been otherwise lost due to the narrow-mindedness of others have a home and are, in a manner of speaking, safe from extinction.

4 comments:

  1. I didn't spend much time in any of these places you mentioned. I didn't start spending time in parra until I was in year 10 and that really only lasted a year.

    The Disney store however was the HIGHLIGHT of westfields for me. It was the most magical place I have ever been too =] Fond memories...and the only memories of parra that I have from my childhood. I never spent much time there.

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  2. Thankyou for that! I remember so many of these places, and it's nice to know I'm not the only one who misses them. :)

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  3. Amazing. Your first paragraph has summed up my nostalgic feelings Ive had these last few months and I am actually longing for the lost history of these changing suburbs. Parramatta and Merrylands were part of my childhood memories too. It's been a good read and very accurate too. It has got me thinking to do a similar write up for Blacktown Westpoint and Seven Hills Seven Swallows Centers which I also frequented. I haven't been to Stockland Merrylands in years but I remember there being a small food court upstairs which looked onto the ground floor entrance. For some reason I remember there was a CopperArt shop opposite this food court on level one and downstairs on the wall between the center and KMart there was a back entrance to KMart which led directly into the toy section. Down the opposite end from Kmart there was a grocery store, I think it was Franklins. I also remember in Parramatta, opposite the Church Street entrance to the cinemas was the main bus stands for the shopping center. Next to the stand was a card and comic book store which I would window shop at when waiting for the bus with my Aunty. In the later years, opposite the trainstation I remember there being a pool hall / games arcade.

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    1. Yeah, I remember most of that.

      Thanks for reading the article. Glad I could summon some similar emotions to the ones I have. Shame the pictures are broken, I dug deep for those. I'll fix them up eventually.

      Will post back when I do.

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