Fairfield School of Arts’ Beginnings…
Fairfield City Council commissioned a historical study of the School of Arts in Harris Street, Fairfield. The study was carried out by Megan Martin, a historian who works with the Historic Houses Trust, and it uncovered a fascinating story of the early days of the School!
Schools of Arts, mechanic and literary institutes were once highly valued public buildings, the forerunners of today’s libraries and community halls. The Sydney Mechanics School of Arts began in 1833. The movement grew steadily from the 1850’s and by 1912 there were 433 throughout New South Wales.
In April 1903 the idea of a School in Fairfield was raised at a meeting of the Fairfield Progress Association. The “ladies” of the district gave impetus to the idea by a major fundraising bazaar in September of that year. It was a huge success and raised 90 pounds, the nucleus of a building fund.
The Progress Committee considered three sites and selected Mrs. Eliza Stimson’s site between the police station and the Methodist Church. A committee was elected headed by John Robinson Wright, an architect who was head of the art department at Sydney Technical College. The committee designed the building. Tenders were called in February 1904, and the builders Thompson and Slater of Granville won the contract and the building was completed by November. It cost 340 pounds. The original plan (the brick part of the current building) shows a triangular plan with a lecture hall, class room library and reading room.
The School got off to a slid start. Regular meetings were held every four weeks (to take advantage of the full moon). There were lectures and entertainments at least once a month. In March 1905 Mr. Tremayne spoke about “science in everyday life and in May Profeesor Harper lectured on “our human brotherhood in relation to speech”. In march 1906 the School held its first fruit, flower and vegetable show. In the same month, it also had an athletics club.
Here is a recollection from Florence Callicott, a resident of Fairfield and a member of the Stimson Family on the Fairfield School of Arts…Click on the image to read Florence’s reminiscences on the early years of the School of Arts!
Building Construction & Design
The building of the School of Arts has social and historical significance as a major centre of social activity from the late nineteenth century. It is a good examples of Late Victorian and Federation period “high styles” buildings which is fairly rare for Fairfield city.
It is a single storey brick building with corrugated iron roof, built in two sections, approximately twenty years apart.
On the Eastern section, the older section constructed around 1895, the building has close eaves, a parapet to the street, a triangular pediment over the main entrance with circular louvred opening, brick pilasters, two deep parapet cornices, double-hung windows with round arched openings, moulded heads and projecting moulded stone sills.
On the Western section, built in 1915, in the Classical Revival style with roman Ionic giant order columns. The building has a traditional architrave lettered “SCHOOL OF ARTS”, a balustered parapet, two large panelled pairs of entrance doors, double-hung windows with triangular pediments and wreaths.
A few modifications were carry out over the years. For example, the face brick walls was painted. The exterior of the western section is essentially unaltered. However, the street façade to the eastern section has been altered in several respects: the existing entrance was originally a pair of double-hung windows; the central opening now closed up was originally a doorway, and the round arched window is new, it replaces an earlier large rectangular window opening. The interior of the building was extensively altered in 1989 but Council also undertook restoration of heritage facade in 2008. To learn furthermore about the transformation and the restoration of the facade of the School of Arts, please click here.
The works undertaken in this heritage building involved the dismantling of an existing low level roof structure and replacement with a new high level roof structure and roof access system. The replacement of an existing wet areas and the provision of new mezzanine floor, office space, air conditioning system, disabled lift, gallery/foyer space and storage area fit out.
Today, the Fairfield School of Arts is the headquarter of the Powerhouse Youth Theatre, a leading professional youth theatre company in Western Sydney. The company creates new, innovative and inclusive performing arts programs as well as trains the next generation of outstanding artists from Western Sydney.
[Source: Office of Environment and Heritage & “The Fairfield School of Arts, Harry Street Fairfield: draft history” by Megan Martin]