Over the decades, Maitland's High Street has been influenced by many decisions affecting buildings that have been there for many years.
Demolitions have occurred, and history has been made to disappear as a result. Only afterwards do the people of Maitland become aware of what has been lost.
If you own a home, you believe that home is your property to do with as you like provided you do so with council approval. If a business on High Street owns the premises that their business occupies then they too feel they have the right to make changes with council approval, of course.
One of the buildings which most people considered a fine structure and an asset to the town was erected for the Bank of New South Wales in 1854 a few doors below the Maitland Post Office.
Eventually the Bank of New South Wales became known as Westpac, banking became more and more digitised and large impressive bank buildings became redundant.
'Progress' some might call it, 'modernisation' saw some large, heritage-rich buildings around NSW destroyed.
The solid bank building of 1854 was one that was demolished. The land was cleared and Westpac had a nondescript building erected on it. The outcome left people with an eye for history and heritage stunned, even saddened.
Whilst the loss of the bank building is mourned by many older folk, another famous Maitland building has suffered a transformation that is a pity to behold.
John Rourke was a saddler who learned his trade from his father. Henry Rourke had established his business just east on High Street in 1836.
By the time that John Rourke took over the family business it had grown and prospered and he put his own name on the building which he had erected to the west of his father's old shop in 1894.
The new two-storey building had three individual shops with historical architectural interest as the only remaining arcaded upper floor remaining in High Street. The attractive facade was constructed in red face bricks with cemented arches and trimmings.
Enter Best & Less, a clothing store whose owners had decided Maitland needed one of their stores. The Union Bank building had stood on the corner of High and Bulwer Streets since 1893 but ceased trading around 1950 when the Union merged with the Bank of Australasia and all business was transferred to that branch.
In other news:
The Union Bank building became the RSL and served that club well until more space was needed, leading to the sale of the building to Best & Less.
Many Maitland people are unaware that the removal of the RSL building is only part of the story surrounding Best & Less.
The building they planned for the site required more frontage to High Street and this was achieved by the purchase and removal of a section of the John Rourke building. Some will say that the Rourke building still stands, so what?
However the unique architectural feature has been compromised causing a loss of symmetry in design. It is a pity to behold.
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