Ultimo Tram Depot (The Harwood Building), History and Significance – Tony Brassil
In April, 2019, Tony Brassil, Industrial Heritage Specialist for the National Trust of Australia (NSW), wrote this history and significance assessment of what is now the Powerhouse Museum’s Harwood building (in 2020 under threat of demolition in the move of the Museum to Parramatta). Within the extensive report, he writes:
‘The former Tram Depot at Ultimo is significant as the first and the oldest surviving tram depot shed in NSW. Built to service the new electric tram fleet operating in central Sydney, the former Tram Depot at Ultimo is of state historical significance for its association with the replacement of steam trams with electric traction in Sydney in 1899. Ultimo Tram Depot represents the introduction of the new, quiet and safe electric trams that were to become a major public transport facility in Sydney and a part of one of the largest electric tramway networks in the world.’
And within a number of assessments according to requested criteria, he includes:
– The former Tram Depot at Ultimo is significant as one of only for of the original twelve (thirteen, counting Hamilton in Newcastle) tram depot buildings that survive relatively intact as a whole building.
– The former Tram Depot at Ultimo is significant for its close association with the nearby Ultimo Powerhouse, a potent and visible expression of the close relationship between the Powerhouse and the trams for which it was built to supply.
– The former Tram Depot at Ultimo is significant for its adaptation and reuse as part of the Powerhouse Museum, a rare, bold investment in heritage and the historic culture of the State by a Government in NSW.’
Read full paper here: Ultimo Tram Depot Heritage Assessment report
Comments from Kylie Winkworth (email to PMA 17 August, 2020) about the current status of the Tram Depot/Harwood building include:
‘Apart from the demolition of what is the oldest and largest historic tram depot in Sydney, the loss of this building from the PHM can only mean that the status and operational functions of the Powerhouse Museum will be irretrievably compromised and downgraded. The PHM won’t even have a loading dock. It appears that the Minister is intent on demolishing the Harwood building and stripping the PHM of what is an integral part of its history and heritage, to say nothing of the design conception of the whole museum, and Harwood’s functional relationship with the operations of the Powerhouse. It is an absurdly destructive, extravagant and unnecessary development if the government was in any way serious about the commitment it made on July 4.
… As noted, the Harwood building is an integral part of the PHM. The PHM and Harwood were conceived as a single museum design and functional entity. Losing the Harwood building will create an absurd and impractical split of museum functions and facilities which the taxpayer will have to fund to replace with inferior facilities a Castle Hill. Not like-for-like. The Harwood building currently houses the museum’s main collection store, conservation labs, research library, archives, large object conservation workshop and exhibition fabrication workshop. Plus loading dock, photography studio, fumigation and offices. .. there were 53,000 object movements between the Harwood building and the PHM in 2017. Once Harwood goes the library will apparently go to Parramatta, the collection store will be at Castle Hill. The museum will have no exhibition fabrication facilities or large object conservation workshop. And the PHM at Ultimo will just be rump. It won’t even have a loading dock. Only people with no interest or experience in museum design and operations could think that this is a workable scheme.’