The Provincial Hotel: Ballarat's glorious eyesore

LYDIARD Street is widely touted as one of Australia's most intact historic streetscapes.

Craig's Hotel, the Regent Cinema, Her Majesty's Theatre and the Art Gallery of Ballarat are all shining examples of magnificent buildings being brought back to life.

But there is at least one glaring eyesore, according to local National Trust of Australia president Dianne Gow.

Since it was vacated in 2007, the Provincial Hotel has lain unloved and unwanted - it's $2.2 million price tag proving too steep for any potential buyers.

The 105-year-old Edwardian art nouveau building has become a dilapidated eyesore, with reports of masonry even falling onto the footpath.

"How many people get off at the railway station and the first thing they see is that" - National Trust of Australia president Dianne Gow

"It's just so sad," Ms Gow said.

She said the hotel was ideally situated to be boutique accommodation servicing the railway precinct, similar to the QT in Sydney which was created within the historic Gowings and State theatre buildings.

"Look at what the potential could be. It could be so spectacular.

"It (the hotel) really has to be seen as part of the railway precinct. Instead, it has bits of masonry falling off it."

Ms Gow said Lydiard Street - and its buildings - were widely regarded as one of the most historic streets in the country.

"Why aren't we jumping up and down about this beautiful street? Look at Heritage Weekend, how many people get off at the railway station and the first thing they see is that."

Local arts community member Erin McCuskey said the hotel would make an ideal arts hub.

"We are already at the forefront of arts and culture in Ballarat," Ms McCuskey said.

"(The Provincial) has an extraordinary little labyrinth of rooms. The arts community would really take it to its heart.

"It's about ensuring the past is liveable now."

National Trust member Dinah McCance compared the hotel with the lovingly restored George Hotel, just down the road in Lydiard Street, which was built only seven years earlier.

An example of how restorations can work: the old Sturt Street Fire Station.

An example of how restorations can work: the old Sturt Street Fire Station.

"This (the Provincial) is a unique building. It's an extremely important streetscape element as well as a significant individual building," Ms McCance said.

The National Trust of Australia Victoria branch also identified the Provincial Hotel during its 2012 "Unloved" advocacy campaign.

It is also on the Victorian Heritage Register and is one of 26 commercial buildings and precincts on Ballarat City Council's Ballarat Treasures Register.

The council's chief executive officer Anthony Schinck said the hotel's rundown state had also been raised at a Heritage Advisory Committee meeting, and said the private owners could take advantage of a heritage grant and loan scheme aimed at helping maintain significant heritage buildings.

Ms Gow said several other historic Ballarat and district buildings had run down over the years, pointing to the Jubilee Church on Wendouree Parade, the British Hotel at Creswick, the Lydiard Street signal box, several of Lake Wendouree's small boatsheds and the railway goods sheds on Humffray Street.

The 127-year-old Jubilee Church, on the corner of Forest Street and Wendouree Parade, was repaired after a car crashed into it in 1999 but has otherwise been left untouched while the heritage-listed British Hotel has been boarded up since 2007.

Ms Gow also said some parts of Sturt Street were becoming increasingly neglected.

"The (Ballaarat) Mechanics' Institute is looking so beautiful and the Unicorn Hotel is getting there but if you look down from the mechanics, it's just terrible."

However, she also cited some other major Ballarat success stories, including the Old Learmonth Bakery and Blacksmith, the former Ballarat Club, now Mr Rede's, and the old Sturt Street fire station, now offices.

"It's great to also acknowledge what has happened."

The former Learmonth shop was empty for 22 years before new owner Laurie Brackley spent three years converting it into a family home while still retaining the original building and internal features.

After its win in this year's Ballarat Heritage Awards Adaptive Reuse of a Heritage Building category, it was described as: "an innovative transformation (that) is not only protecting the built fabric of a strong community but also the social history that means so much to the surrounding community".

Other beautiful buildings highlighted were the magnificently refurbished former mayor's residence - complete with ballroom - in Skipton Street, Mitchell Harris wines, in a converted Doveton Street warehouse, and the recently renovated Jacksons & Co.

"Jacksons & Co has been a fantastic result," Ms McCuskey said.

"It's always jam packed every time you go near it. And putting a balcony up top is a great example of thinking outside the building walls."

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