Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Changing face of West End II - Belvedere

Writer David Malouf is perhaps better known than the old mansion, the Belvedere, though the Belvedere (originally named Bandarra) had been in existence for almost 100 years before Malouf wrote his personal account of West End in his 1985 memoir "12 Edmondstone Street".

In his memoir he described his life as the son of Lebanese parents living in Edmondstone Street in the 1940s and 50s. His family home near the corner of Melbourne Street no longer exists. It has been a small business site since the 60s and is about to be redeveloped as an apartment block.                       

He described Edmonstone Street as "the most fashionable area south of the river". He was talking about the 1880s before the global financial downturn of the 1890s and the great flood of 1893 when the Brisbane River peaked three times in one month.

Built in 1888, the Belvedere was a product of this time of prosperity. It survived the flood which inundated Musgrave Park opposite; it also survived conversion to flats in the 1930s which was the fate of many old mansions of that era.

It fell into neglect in the latter part of the 20th Century and, while other buildings were lovingly restored as West End again became an attractive area for investors and cashed up families, the Belvedere continued to sit idle and empty save for a moving population of squatters. The surrounding workers cottages of West End continued to house Greek families, artists and salaried families. 

My Greek barber tells me that the Greek Club purchased the Belvedere about thirty years ago so they hold some responsibility for its slow decay. Their vision for the site was in response to their need for space for expansion and parking. Their application to demolish the decaying mansion led to a protracted battle with the Brisbane City Council which the BCC won insisting on the retention of the Belvedere as a heritage listed building. This was finally resolved in recent months and the Creek Club agreed to restore the home to its former glory.

From reports of those who had been inside, the interior was largely intact. Rare Queensland timbers which had never been painted were evident in the staircases, fireplaces, walls and floring. From the outside it was a heap of junk but inside it still retained the diamond at its core.

On Tuesday 12 November at 6am a fire broke out on its upper level and within an hour only a shell remained. By sunset there was only a pile of rubble.

Police are investigating.

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