Historic McWhirters Apartments Battle Crumbling Infrastructure

Photo credit: Pako Valera/Google Maps

The historic McWhirters building in Fortitude Valley is facing an escalating battle to preserve its heritage features amid ageing infrastructure and alleged lack of support from authorities.

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The challenges have been mounting for years at the building, located on the corner of Wickham and Brunswick streets. 

The escalator on the ground floor was turned off several years ago after being deemed a trip hazard by workplace safety inspectors. Retailers also claimed homeless people have been squatting underneath, creating an unsightly issue.

Photo credit: Benson B/Google Maps

When workers recently moved in with angle grinders, alarmed owners demanded action from the Department of Environment and Science and Innovation (DESI) to protect the heritage-listed site. However, one owner said they felt authorities had “washed their hands” of threats to the historic property.

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The owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said that if not for persistent emails and calls to DESI from themselves and other owners over the matter, the escalator would have been removed entirely.

Photo credit: Rachid Ghariss/Google Maps

Regarding these claims, a spokesperson for DESI said the department is working with the building’s owners to make sure any renovation or restoration work complies with the requirements for obtaining necessary heritage approvals under the Queensland Heritage Act.

Despite the external issues, the upstairs apartments remain in high demand, with units selling for over $1 million and some owners investing hundreds of thousands in renovations. But significant underlying problems persist, including water leaks from pipes installed in the 1990s and damage to heritage awnings from passing buses and trucks.

The building originally served as a department store, constructed in 1912 for James McWhirter, an experienced manager and astute businessman. In 1989, the property underwent a major renovation to convert it into McWhirters Marketplace, requiring significant interior refurbishment work. 

Official heritage status was granted when it was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in October 1992. Then in 1997, further alterations were made to incorporate residential apartments on the upper floors.

Some owners even commissioned a conservation plan three years ago and have spent tens of thousands on restoration, but feel they are getting little support. 

Read: Proposed Co-Living Tower Set to Elevate Urban Living in Fortitude Valley

As a landmark heritage site, its custodians face an uphill battle to preserve its history amid the deteriorating infrastructure.

Published 28-April-2024