For the best part of a century, the Bondi beachfront has been watched over by the Bondi Pavilion.
Theatre, pottery, cabaret, ballrooms, officer’s club, changing rooms – the Pav, as locals call it, has done it all. Now it’s undergoing a major restoration to keep it at the heart of the Bondi community for many more years to come.
The birth of the Pavilion
After decades of restrictions on sea bathing, in the early 20th century, beach swimming and surfing exploded in popularity, so in 1923 an improvement scheme was announced for Bondi Beach. Architectural firm Robertson and Marks won the tender for the new surf pavilion to replace the existing ‘Castle Pavilion’, aka the Bondi Surf Sheds, 1,000 changing sheds with fairytale-style turrets built in 1911. Work on the new Pavilion commenced with Waverley Mayor Alderman David Hunter laying the foundation stone (which can still be seen facing the beachfront today) on 26 May 1928. The new Pavilion, including Turkish baths, changing areas, shops, lockers, a gym, a ballroom, and a restaurant-cabaret called The Esplanade, opened in 1929. Designed to accommodate 12,000 visitors and built in a mix of two architectural styles popular at the time – Interwar Mediterranean and Georgian Revival – it was considered most exotic.
The war years
The Pavilion suffered damage during the Second World War when Waverley Council used explosives to blow up the concrete entrances to the underground passages leading from the beach to the changing sheds at the back of the Pavilion. Council was acting on advice from military authorities who believed that Bondi Beach was vulnerable to invasion, but they overestimated the number of explosives required. Almost all the windows in the Pavilion were broken and the roof badly damaged. Even several buildings on Campbell Parade were affected.
In January 1944, the Esplanade cabaret on the first floor of the Pavilion was taken over by US military officers and the American Red Cross and used as an officers’ club until the war’s end. The public also continued to use the Pavilion in a limited fashion throughout the war, with the upstairs auditorium hosting cabarets.
The Pavilion was granted a liquor licence in 1948, and the concerts and dances it had hosted throughout the war carried on. By the mid-1950s, however, the Pavilion had fallen out of favour as an entertainment venue. The need for changing sheds had also abated with the advent of quick-drying synthetic swimwear fabrics. Although Bondi Beach was as popular as ever, the Council was losing money on the Pavilion, and by 1959 it was unlicensed and falling into disrepair. By the 1960s, the auditorium was rarely used and a third of the men’s changing facilities had been closed.
New lease on life
In 1973, the Pavilion was given a new lease of life when the Bondi Theatre Group received a grant to convert the ballroom into a theatre. It was the beginning of the Pavilion’s revival as a cultural and community centre. The new theatre was opened in 1974 by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and in 1978, NSW Premier Neville Wran opened the Bondi Community Arts Centre in the Pavilion. Just in time for its 50th birthday, the Pavilion had become a centre of cultural programs in Bondi. Today, Bondi Pavilion is heritage listed at national, state and local levels.
The Pavilion’s revamp
A four-year upgrade took place at the Pavilion in 1996, involving the building of an all-purpose hall, recording studio and rehearsal rooms, but now a major project is underway to return it to its former glory.
Work commenced in August 2020 on an extensive restoration designed by renowned architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer. The project promises to better connect Bondi Beach to the parklands and Campbell Parade via the Pavilion, integrate the Pavilion’s indoor and outdoor spaces, and celebrate the Pavilion’s rich history. Works are due for completion in spring 2022.
What will the transformed Pavilion be like?
The restoration works are extensive and include everything from replacing the roof with terracotta tiles in the original Spanish-style cordova pattern to installing new toilets, showers and accessible changing spaces and welcoming some exciting new dining venues. These include an all-day café, bakery and bistro called Bondi Promenade from the team behind Circular Quay’s Hinchcliff House, as well as Surfish Café and Glory Days Bondi. The restored Pavilion will include a Between the Flags clothing shop too.
The Pavilion’s role as a local arts and culture hub will be honoured with a spacious new art gallery, a larger pottery studio with a second kiln, flexible cultural spaces housed within the new Bondi Story Room and a community radio station. The Pavilion’s existing rooms are undergoing extensive refurbishments and upgrades, while the internal courtyard spaces are being landscaped. A new grand entrance to the north, additional east-west pathways through the Pavilion and a better connection from Campbell Parade to the beachfront will help bring the building to life in the Bondi Beach landscape.
How are the works progressing?
With the spring reopening date fast approaching, plenty of progress has been made on the Pavilion. The theatre and bar, Bondi Story Room and box office are complete, and Bondi locals and visitors will have noticed the new roof and umbrellas recently installed on the Pavilion’s beachfront side. Work continues on the broadcasting and music studios, the south pavilion amenities and the Pavilion’s front balcony.
Bondi locals are asked to contribute to the restored Pavilion too. Waverley Council is calling for stories for inclusion in the Bondi Story Room, a new interactive digital exhibition showcasing Bondi’s colourful history. Local artists are encouraged to express their interest in presenting their artwork to celebrate the Pavilion’s reopening, and those interested in hiring the Pavilion’s Community and Cultural Centre can now apply to do so too.
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