Mechanics Institute Heritage Report (Page two)
mechanics institute lawson

PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

Description of the Building

The building consists of an elevated gable roofed hall structure and ancillary areas divided into several distinct areas reflecting the historic growth of the institution and the functional differentiation of the internal planning.

The earlier portion of the complex has a simple early twentieth century hall form divided into 6 structural bays and an impressive Edwardian style front facade incorporating a stylish later porch and steps. This part of the building was extended in 1909 with the addition of the present stage area and side wings and toilets. The roof is steeply pitched and the ridge is punctuated with ventilators. An original chimney and fireplace on the western side has been removed. The walls are rendered brickwork with engaged buttresses and the surface is lined out in imitation of stonework. The floor of narrow hardwood timber is located about a metre below the stage level and that of the rear addition. '

Interior of the Mechanics Institute hall showing the later timber framed proscenium to the stage and the metal ceiling lining on the underside of the timber roof trusses. Metal tie rods are located above external buttresses.

The later Inter War timber framed structure to the rear of the original hall contains a variety of spaces including kitchen, 2 large meeting rooms and an office area with ancillary facilities and reflects its later construction and uses. It is accessed from the west and south. The area has walls that are partially timber lined and has a level ceiling of battened fibro. The roof pitch is shallow and a pair of fireplaces on the southern end are expressed with a single chimney.

Building Condition

The building is in fair to good condition. A detailed building condition report exists confirming this condition but indicating substantial requirements for upgrading to meet BCA and other statutory requirements for continued public use.

Archaeological Potential

The existing buildings are the first to have been erected on the site and there is low archaeological potential associated with the site. Bricks used in the construction of the original hall were recovered from the demolition of the original Blue Mountain Railway Station and the potential to recover these bricks is to be expected.


Site Configuration

The site is rectangular with its short ends fronting the Great Western Highway and Yileena Avenue. It was the original Lot 17 of the Lawson Town Plan and was granted by the Crown in 1899 for the specific purpose of establishing a Mechanics Institute under the provisions of the School of Arts establishment Act. Up until 1958 the site was administered by the Trustees of the Mechanics Institute.

The site was granted by the Crown to the Council of the City of Blue Mountains as the continued site for a Mechanics Institute on 10th December 1958. (Ref Appendix 1)

The conditions of that Grant of the land in favour of the Crown provided for the land to be used on Trust for the purpose of a Mechanics' Institute and for no other use or purpose or be forfeited. They also provided for the future resumption of land for road widening which has subsequently occurred

The site has been affected by road widening since the front 10 metres was purchased by the RT A in 1989.

HERITAGE ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

The following heritage assessment is based on the NSW Heritage Office criterion.

Criterion (a) Historic Evolution

An item is important in the course or pattern of the cultural history of the local area.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute, has a central position in the 20th century evolution of the village of Lawson. Together with the railway station, the hotel and the major churches, the Mechanics Institute was an important and focal institution in the social fabric of the town. This is clearly shown by the many references in local press articles about functions and occasions of local significance that occurred there throughout the early decades of the 20th century. The building itself provided facilities for library, meeting hall and recreation that was supported and sustained by local community activity. The building is evidence of an education movement in NSW that saw the establishment of Schools of art and Mechanics institutes throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. The highest levels of activity associated with the place occurred in the mid century when tourism to the area was at its peak and before the social and cultural changes brought about by social mobility, widespread car ownership and the introduction of television. The evolutionary character is now evidenced by the use of the facilities as a local youth facility.

An enclosed verandah addition to the eastern side of the original hall was built in the 1930s. It has a reinforced concrete floor and a skillion roof form. Concrete steps lead up to a double door entry from the north.

The eastern verandah addition to the main hall showing the lower skillion roof form and the concrete entry steps.

External Finishes

>Roof - colourbond corrugated metal roofing.

Walls - rendered and lined out in imitation of stone and painted masonry walls to the original hall and painted weatherboard walls to the later additions. Windows & Doors timber construction

Stairs - reinforced concrete

Internal finishes

Floors, Timber and concrete floors. The hall has narrow board hardwood flooring while the rear additions have wide board pine flooring.

Walls, Rendered masonry, fibrous plaster and asbestos sheet walling with timber battens.

Ceilings, Asbestos sheet, Fibrous plaster and ripple iron.

Interior of the rear meeting room showing the corner fireplace, the timber lined dado panel and the battened fibro ceilings.

The building is located close to the front boundary of the site giving it visual prominence when viewed from the east on the Great Western Highway. Its garden setting has been degraded by removal of the original trees and shrubs and by the lack of a fence.

The original building consisted ofJour bays defined by brick buttresses that supported timber roof trusses and a simple gabled roof. Originally a fireplace and chimney was located on the western side but has been demolished. The front facade of rendered brickwork, was parapeted with decorative pinnacles to either side and a central flattened feature. Pairs of double hung windows were set together in a recessed semi circular headed panel and had projecting sills aligning with a narrow string course and recessed panels below. The panelled timber central front doors had a semi circular fanlight and were flanked by shallow pilasters that rose to a small pediment feature. The words 'Mechanics Institute' were painted on the front wall.

The building was accessed directly from the street by a steep flight of steps flanked by rendered brick balustrades. The building had a timber framed fence and gate.

The later flat roofed projecting porch was added in the Inter War period to cover the original stairs. It features a wide arch to the street frontage and its side walls are tapered. The addition gives the building a stronger visual character than it originally had.

To the eastern side a less considered lean to addition was added in the 1930s and is approached by a steep flight of steps to a pair of timber doors. This is currently used as a chair store is visually prominent and detracts from the aesthetic significance of the original building. It is approached by a large flight of concrete steps.

The rear section of the building, built in inter war period sits on a face brick base and is timber framed with weatherboard linings and double hung windows. The gabled roof has a lower pitch than the original hall. These structures are thought to have replaced earlier additions to the original hall.

The interior of the hall is simple in form and detail with a timber framed wall creating a proscenium for the raised stage area. Side wings and toilets to either side of the stage were added in 1909.

At the rear of the hall, a bio box constructed' in the Inter War period was used to project pictures and is accessed by a ladder stair.

The ceiling is lined under the truss chord with ripple Iron and still retains the vents which were required for the acetylene lamps. Steel rod ties extend across the hall.

The windows in the hall are shuttered with later timber framed boxes.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute has local cultural heritage significance for this criterion as evidence of the physical and cultural evolution of the town.

Criterion (b) Historic Associations

An item is important for the strong or special associations with historical events or the life and works of individuals or groups of importance to the local area.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute is evidence of associations with a number of persons and groups that were influential in the development of the local area. Because of its strong community base the influence of local community members as trustees and office bearers of the institution is evident. The place has also been the location of many significant local events, particularly in the period before the Second World War. These are documented in numerous newspaper articles and have some level of local significance in the overall history of the village. The associations are not physically represented on the site but are documented in other sources. The hall building is also associated with the reconstruction of the Lawson Railway station with the bricks from the former station platform being incorporated into the existing building fabric.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute has local cultural heritage significance for this criterion as evidence of the association with many prominent members of the local community and with many local activities and events that were significant to the local community.


Criterion (c) Aesthetic  Technical achievement

An item is significant in demonstrating aesthetic characteristics and or a high degree of creative or technical achievement.

The design and construction of the Lawson Mechanics institute is relatively unremarkable on a comparative assessment with other similar buildings throughout the country. The design of the main northern fac;ade and the later porch addition is somewhat 'old fashioned' for the period in which it was erected and demonstrates only a superficial understanding of architectural design principles. Nevertheless the presentation to the Great Western highway has considerable visual presence and acts to identify a gateway to the village proper. This effect is increased by the projecting form of the later porch.

While the place does not reflect a high degree of creative or technical achievement, being representative rather than outstanding as an example of its type, it makes a considerable positive contribution to the immediate context and is locally significant for this landmark value.

Criterion (d) Social Values

An item has strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in the local area for social or cultural reasons.


The Lawson Mechanics Institute has been intimately related to local community use and interest since it was first constructed. The place is generally recognized as an important element of the physical and social fabric of the town by many residents. Active concern for the welfare and future of the place has also been expressed over a number of decades by a smaller number of active residents concerned for the continued presence of the building on the site and the continued use of the site and its facilities for community purposes. The building is obviously an important element in the local community's sense of place and is established by at least some of the community and by special interest groups within the community for its cultural heritage values as much as for its utility.

Despite no empirical evidence as to the strength of community concern, it appears that the place has significance under this value for the community as a whole and for the special interest groups in particular.

Criterion (e) Research Potential

An item has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of the area's cultural history.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute building has little potential to provide information that is not available elsewhere and is not significant for this value.


Criterion  Rarity Values

An item possesses uncommon or rare aspects of the area's cultural history.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute building is not rare being one of several similar halls used for community purposes in the Mid Mountains area. The building provides no specific evidence of the specific 'Mechanics Institute' or 'Literary Institute' uses that gave rise to its erection and early use in the 20th century.

Criterion (g) Representativeness

An item is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places.

The Lawson Mechanics Institute is representative and typical of local community use buildings and the Inter War way of life associated with its previous use patterns. The building was one of several on the Blue Mountains that were erected about the same time to serve the different communities.

STATEMENT OF HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

The Lawson School of Arts has considerable local cultural heritage significance for its historical role in the education, entertainment and social life of Lawson village, particularly in the first half of the 20th century, for its social role in the continuing community life of Lawson and as a representative example of a Mechanic's Institute building that demonstrates a way of life prevalent throughout NSW in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The early section of the building including the later porch, also has some local significance for its prominent contribution to the streetscape of the Lawson Village Core.

The building has Cultural Heritage Significance for:

(Historic Evolution, Historic Associations, Aesthetic and Social values at a Representative level locally.)

References:

Compendium of references from local newspapers by Mrs Heather Mollenhauer

Chistmas Swamp - A History of Lawson by S.J. Bently

Blue Mountains Heritage Inventory

Blue Mountains Council Files

NSW Land Titles Office Records