Looking through the website of Robertson and Marks you could assume they feel no great sense of pride at their role in designing one of the most controversial buildings in Bondi. There is plenty of aesthetically pleasing architecture, and colourful photographs on the site, but nothing suggestive of their history.

Winning a competition in 1928, the architectural firm is responsible for a building, which some 90 years on, continues to be a topic of conversation. Not all conversations are favourable, but it’s clear that the Bondi Pavilion has long been influential to the community, and Bondi landscape.

At a time when Bondi was rising to recreational beach glory, Robertson and Marks took charge of creating a facility to accommodate the increasing number of bathers to the area, and subsequent rise in male’s inappropriately undressing on the foreshore. Their design was for a complex far beyond the scope of needs, and included fine dining booths, a cabaret dinner restaurant and ballroom. But with Bondi’s requirements quickly changing, additions were soon made.

Over the forthcoming years the Pavilion assumed many roles. As host to amusement arcades, galleries, and a Turkish bath house with massage rooms, the Bondi Pavilion peaked in popularity. It wasn’t long before a downward turn though.

historic Bondi pavilion

In 1942, Bondi Beach was identified as a potential invasion zone of World War II, and as such the council ordered closure of the tunnel entrances which ran through the Pavilion, from the beach. Unfortunately the amount of explosives needed for the task was not carefully calculated and the blast created greater damage to the pavilion, and additional buildings along Campbell Parade. Although repairs were made and the Pavilion continued to operate, evidence suggests that this signalled an end to a time of grandeur for the Bondi Pavilion.

By the 1950’s there was little need for changing facilities as bathers began wearing their costumes to and from the beach, and with deteriorations to sections of the building, the complex was labelled unappealing for public use. The pavilion’s hey day in the past, the iconic building has since struggled for reinvention.

Plenty of attempts have been made to improve the Pavilions demise. A first attempt in the ’70’s followed a lengthy period of time as an unlicensed building, and a new identity as a community arts centre was adopted. It wasn’t long though, before this attempt proved little use to the public, and the building was once again looking for redevelopment.

In 1977 the building was declared a national trust, and in 1993 was listed on the register of national relief, meaning that any future development required taking into consideration the historical and social significance the building has in the area; a decision potentially to blame for the controversial topics discussed today.

A theme of an arts and cultural facility within the Bondi Pavilion has remained consistent throughout the years. This was certainly the case when a $2.3 million grant was awarded in 1996, and remains true of meeting agendas with today’s committee.

historic Bondi pavilion 1940

Irrespective of the strong history of the single most iconic building in one of the world’s best tourist beaches, you need only to wander through the Pavilion to notice large, empty spaces, unwelcoming rooms, and derelict changing facilities. 1928 was a time when ocean swimming was only beginning as a leisure activity, and international travel was far from as we know it today.

With the Internet readily available in our pocket, so too comes inherently different desires which we choose to purchase, than those of amusement parks, cabaret, and even perhaps arts and cultural facilities.

Currently the building includes a recording studio, art rooms, outdoor amphitheatre, child care facilities, children’s playground, street level retail, and hospitality vendors. An active committee is working towards upgrades to the building, but public intervention naturally plays a part in delayed progress. The debate of functionality over history, is common.

Bondi Pavilion cannot be changed in such a way as to alter the current landscape, and changes must take into consideration the rich history. We know that the layout of the building has proven since the 50’s not to be one which functions with current needs. We know too from experience, that the building has been of little value to the community for almost 60 years, even in times of reinvention as a cultural and arts facility.

Conversations with locals mimic one another with desires for safe and hygienic areas for young children to play, learn, and flourish. Bondi’s inflated international community express superficial concern over the potential removal of their “iconic” Bucket List; little more than fierce reactions of what not to develop, rather than what to develop takes precedence over useful progress.

So as it stands in February of 2018- nearing one year after the newly appointed Bondi Pavilion Committee was formed – redevelopment plans are either covered in secrecy, or simply non existent. Some 90 years since its inception, and near 60 since being put to good use. What will become of Bondi’s most controversial building?

Nowadays Bondi Beach has no shortage of great places to visit – dining & entertainment. We’ve got you covered with Bondi.