Goodbye Craig-y-Mor, the Prof Wilkinson Point Piper home

Goodbye Craig-y-Mor, the Prof Wilkinson Point Piper home
Goodbye Craig-y-Mor, the Prof Wilkinson Point Piper home

As another significant Point Piper mansion bites the dust, our property contrarians Jonathan Chancellor and Margie Blok appear to be the only ones mourning the loss of Craig-y-mor, the Wolseley Road residence with a pedigree as long as its venerated waterfront street, famous as one of Australia’s most expensive addresses.

Demolition has begun on the mansion now owned by the son of a former vice-president of China.

Craig-y-Mor, the Point Piper non-waterfront residence owned by Zeng Wei and his wife, Jiang Mei, no longer sits proudly on the hill overlooking Sydney Harbour with picture postcard-perfect views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

The grand 1910s house (pictured while being demolished this week) came with renovations by Professor Leslie Wilkinson. It cost $32.4 million in 2008 through estate agent Rick Nolasco making it Sydney's most expensive subsequent residential demolition. It will be replaced by a $5 million Gergely & Pinter designed house.

The 2008 purchase, which ranked as the third highest priced sale in Sydney at the time, remains the priciest non-waterfront holder.

The wrecking ball moved in earlier this week to bowl over the 100 year old home that's certainly had in recent times some high profile owners. 

Who could forget the internal scenes of Craig-y-mor featured in Bastard Boys, the ABC television drama documenting stevedoring company boss Chris Corrigan and the waterside workers union dispute? Although filmed on a set, various scenes depicted the Corrigan family living in comfortable splendour at their Point Piper home while wharvies were threatening the besieged family.

The late Rene Rivkin and his wife, Gayle owned it for a while.

Then it was the home of Ben and Tiffany Tilley.

There was also the one time Broken Hill lawyer, the late mining magnate, Roy Hudson, who was regarded as the Lang Hancock of the east coast.

The story of the house, as revealed by our columnists, also actually reflects signs of the emergence of Asian super-powers, Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, and China almost 100 years apart.

Goodbye Craig-y-Mor, the Prof Wilkinson Point Piper homeHE SAID:

I wrote shortly after the 1990 demolition of Paradis sur Mer that Sydney's property scene lost "some of its soul." 

And every time I sail past, I think what a tragedy when reminiscing about that wonderfully imposing white home situated on such a vast landscaped block with tennis court. And now it's the same for further up on the Point Piper hill.

I recall heritage authorities gave informal consideration to the listing of Paradis sur Mer, after the prospect was raised, but without strong supportive argument, heritage authorities declined to proceed. Ditto Craig-y-Mor.

Paradis sur Mer, then Sydney's most famous home, was dramatically knocked down with the neighbours on Wolseley Crescent awoken at 6.30am on a Saturday morning in March 1990 to the sounds of a 28-tonne excavator gouging through the top floor of the three-storey mansion set on the picturesque 2,900 square metre property.

It was known as the 1930s Radford house, little known but highly regarded.

Of course Paradis sur Mer - or Toison d'Or as the chatelaine Lady (Susan) Renouf preferred it known - became Sydney's best known residential landmark during Lady Renouf's occupancy while married to businessmen Robert Sangster until 1984 and then Sir Frank Renouf between 1985 and 1988. It had sold for $19.2 million in 1989 to Geza Seidl who the 2,900-square-metre site in 1990 for $13 million to the demolishers, Gerald and Monika Symonds. 

Some wags sent condolences suggesting the demolition had done me, the Paradis sur Mer correspondent, out of a job.

Not quite so!

Following demolition of the landmark 1930s residence and lengthy Land and Environment Court proceedings, two costly contemporary, architect-designed residences were built.

Paradis sur Mer I, located on the footprint of the original residence, sold for $6.87 million to the Poon family.

Paradis sur Mer II, located on the former tennis court and rose garden, sold to the Tang family for $7.25 million. 

Poon Tang Point, the wags suggested.

Ofcourse the last piece of the then subdivided Paradis sur Mer estate was sold by the speculative property developers Gerald and Monica Symonds for $1.44 million in 1994 when bought by the neighbours who owned the hi-tech Bang & Olufsen house, anxious that no further building take place on the site.

The 260-square-metre parcel of land - the smallest vacant block among Sydney Harbour's 2,400 waterfront sites - is about eight metres wide and about 34 metres deep.

A house was built on the slither, which I notice is currently up for sale through Sotheby's International agent James McCowan. 

 

Goodbye Craig-y-Mor, the Prof Wilkinson Point Piper homeSHE SAID:

 

I think it’s a crying shame Point Piper has lost another of its most significant homes – and with a Wilkinson renovation to boot.

Where is Geraldine O’Brien (the highly respected heritage journalist who reported for many years in The Sydney Morning Herald) when we need her?  In days gone by, O’Brien would have ensured Sydneysiders were kept informed about Craig-y-mor’s possible demolition, as well as igniting debate about the heritage merits of the Point Piper mansion.

It’s a little known fact that Craig-y-mor served as the Japanese consular residence for decades. The first Japanese Consul-General to live at Craig-y-mor was Iyemasa Togugawa, the son of Prince Tokugawa. In 1925, Iyemasa Togugawa moved to live at the Wolseley Road residence known for its high ceilings, bay windows, arches and a colonaded central courtyard.

Born in 1884, Iyemasa Togugawa studied at the Political College of the Tokyo Imperial University, and then entered the Foreign Office of Japan in 1909. He served as Attache to the Japanese Embassy in London and as First Secretary to the Japanese Legation in China. After receiving the Fourth Order of the British Empire from King George V in 1918, he returned to a diplomatic position in London, before being appointed Consul-General to Australia in 1925.

Considered a statesman of front rank in world affairs, Togugawa was reputed to be the most brilliant English speaking Japanese person in the world. Published in The Sunday Times on July 31, 1927, is a report describing his home at Craig-y-mor, “from the bend of Point Piper it commands one of the most glorious views of Sydney and the harbour that any vantage point of the shore can command”.

The report continues, “You will not find Japanese books on the shelf of the library at Craig-y-mor. Rows of English treatises on international law, volume upon volume of educational works, the problems of industry, sociology and economics – all evidence the style and inclination of this future prince.”

Another Japanese Consul-General who lived at Craig-y-mor was Mr M. Akiyama. He was in residence there in early 1941 - only months before Japanese bombers struck at Hawaii in December of that year, and Prime Minister John Curtin declared Australia was at war with the Japanese Empire.

A report from The Sydney Morning Herald, in April 1941, describes a reception at the Point Piper property. “The Japanese and Australian flags formed an arc over the entrance to Craig-y-mor at Point Piper, yesterday, when the Consul General for Japan gave a late afternoon reception in honor of his Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, Mr Tatsuo Kawai.” 

“The Japanese drink, saki was served to guests and flowers in the Japanese colours, red and white, decorated the reception rooms. Even the marquee on the lawn adhered to the colour scheme by being striped in red and white.”

Attending the reception were a long list of VIPs including “the acting Prime Minister, Mr McFadden, and Mrs McFadden, the Minister for the Army, Mr Spender, and Mrs Spender, the Minister for Education, Mr Drummond, and Mrs Drummond, the Attorney General, Sir Henry Manning, and Lady Manning, Lady Jordan, Lieutenant-General and Mrs C.G.N. Miles, Air Commodate W.H. Anderson, Commodore and Mrs G.C. Muirhead Gould, the Acting Consul-General for the United States, Mr Albert M Doyle and Mrs Doyle”.

In his book, Australia’s Greatest Peril 1942, author Bob Wurth, says a Japanese spy lived at Craig-y-Mor when Mr M. Akiyama was the Consul-General.  “Japan was not able to establishes naval and army attaches in Australia when its legation was established in early 1941, but by mid-year the Ambassador in Melbourne, Tatsuo Kawai, had been given substantial funds from Tokyo for intelligence purposes.” 

“He retained a naval spy, Mitsume Yanasi, who resided at the Japanese consulate in Sydney. The residence, Craig-y-Mor, was located at Point Piper, and had spectacular views of the harbour. Before Japan entered the war, Australian captains and admirals partied as guests on Craig-y-mor’s sweeping lawns. Yanase was able to look out his window and send detailed troopship and warship movements to a grateful German regime.”

The Japanese were of course shown the door as war raged.

Before the Japanese Consuls-General took up residence at Craig-y-mor, it has been the home of Arthur H. Davies and his wife Muriel. Davies, who was chairman of Australian Guarantee Corporation, after he built the house in 1908. 

The couple’s only child was born at Craig-y-mor in 1910. Known as Cherry (although christened Muriel Nora), she lived there with her parents until the family sailed to England in 1920.

Cherry returned to Australia in the 1940s with her English husband, Morris Jackaman, selling Craig-y-mor in 1960 to Roy Hudson. It was the year she had joined the NSW National Trust, and went on to become the first female president of the National Trust of Australia (1977-1981). 

A tireless conservationist with a lifelong dedication to the heritage cause, Cherry Jackaman led numerous advocacy campaigns to save many historic places threatened with demolition. It is indeed sadly ironic her childhood home was demolished without fanfare this week.

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