History of Burwood Road

As we delve into the history of the streets around MLC School, we are reminded that the shops and services on Burwood Road are also part of our regular routine. What has Burwood Road looked like for the girls and staff at MLC School over the years?

Early Burwood Road

Until 1833 there were no streets between Parramatta and Liverpool Roads though a few tracks seem to have been used by general agreement between the landowners. Maps from 1835 show the first street linking Liverpool and Parramatta Roads which was known first as Comer’s Lane, and then for many years as Neich’s Lane, before becoming Burwood Road in 1886. (Comer and Neich were described in the last post: James Comer was an early landowner and builder, and his son-in-law was Emanuel Neich to whom Comer gifted The Bath Arms Inn.)

Burwood Road, at first merely a grassy track, gradually became a key road and began to attract shops and services for the growing Burwood community.

In its ‘village’ days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Burwood Road was an unmade street with wide verandahs that had convenient posts for customers to hitch their horses, carts and sulkies. These verandah posts were seen as a nuisance once motor cars took over as they hindered the opening of the passenger-side doors. So in the early 1920s, Burwood Council ordered that the posts be replaced by cantilever supports on the upper side of the verandahs. This dramatically altered the face of Burwood Road’s shopping area.

Until the late 1960s, the shops and service along Burwood Road extended for about a kilometre and mainly expand south of the railway line. The coming of Westfield reversed this trend entirely. The development of half a hectare of land at the northern end of the shopping strip transformed the Burwood Road shopping and business centre hub from the southern to the northern side of the railway line.

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Businesses Around Burwood Park

Before Westfield influenced the focus of shops and services on Burwood Road, the area around Burwood Park did contain a few businesses. The photo featuring a parade down Burwood Road was taken sometime before 1920. Burwood Ice Works stands at the corner of Burwood Road and Wilga Street at what is now the northwest corner of Westfield.

It is hard to tell from the photo, and also not available in its description, but the parade may have been for local men leaving for, or returning from, WWI. The MLC School Archives contain three photos taken by an unknown student in 1916 showing a parade along Burwood Road of local men leaving for WWI.

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The Astor Theatre

Towards the end of the WWI, beautifully adorned cinemas started appearing in the suburbs. In 1921, The Astor Theatre opened on Burwood Road at the corner of Wilga Street, across from Burwood Park.

Although not as opulent as other local cinemas such as the Burwood Palatial Theatre in Station Street or the Melba Theatre on Mosely Street, the Astor Theatre had a clean Art Deco style. Unlike the Palatial, the Astor did not have a Wurlitzer organ, but it did boast air conditioning and the innovative lighting designs of Arnold
Zimmerman. Zimmerman (1897-1985) was a Swiss-born artist (a 1943 Archibald Prize entrant) and designer, who was responsible for, or contributed to, the interior design of the Hydro Majestic at Medlow Bath, the Anzac Memorial in Sydney, the Paragon Cafe at Katoomba, Sydney’s Luna Park, and many other Art Deco buildings in Australia and New Zealand.

From its opening, the Astor was very popular. It changed its programs twice a week and showed a special children’s matinee on Saturday afternoons: “The Saturday matinee always included two movies; and young boys carried lolly trays at intermission to sell to the audience. The National Anthem (at first ‘God save the King’ until George VI’s death in 1952, and then after ‘God save the Queen’) was always played prior to each movie’s screening.”

The original Astor Theatre was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Westfield development and was rebuilt as the Hoyts Burwood Theatre, encased within the Westfield structure.

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Westfield Shoppingtown Burwood

The first Westfield development was named ‘Westfield Place’ and opened in July 1959 in Blacktown. The name Westfield was derived from ‘west’ relating to the west Sydney location and ‘field’ due the development’s location on subdivided farmland.

The sixth Westfield development to open, in October 1966, was the Westfield Shoppingtown Burwood. When it opened it was praised as being one of the most beautiful indoor shopping centres in the world. The Burwood development was the first shopping centre with major department stores (Coles, Winns, Mark Foys and Farmers, which became Grace Bros and then Myer), and, importantly, it was the first centre to be branded with the Westfield logo.

Burwood was also the first Westfield shopping centre to be branded as a ‘Shoppingtown’. The idea of a Shoppingtown was that the centre would contain shops as well as other services like cinemas, petrol stations, doctors and dentists. It was also the first shopping centre in NSW to have shops sloped on an incline making it possible for shoppers to access the two levels inside the centre without having to use stairs

Although Burwood Westfield was renovated twice, in 1972 and 1976, none of the original centre remains. In 1999, the entire centre was demolished and was reopened to the public in 2000. Burwood was the first Westfield shopping centre to be totally demolished and rebuilt.

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