A-framePosted: July 18, 2013
The Pacific Highway is a ribbon of road that curves through the northern suburbs of Sydney. Between Gordon and Pymble the highway follows the slope of the land downwards, reaching its depths at the Mona Vale Road interchange, where multiple lanes of traffic roar towards each of the compass points.
The centres of Pymble and Gordon are peaceful north shore suburban kinds of places, with shops in old brick buildings, gyms retrofit into 70s offices, and the barbers, newsagencies and chicken shops that have existed for decades in various forms. The zone in between them, with the interchange at its centre, is a wilder place with roof rack shops and rug emporiums, car dealerships and the sombre headquarters of Gregory and Carr Funeral Directors. Among all of this one building stands out – the A-frame.
I’ve passed the A-frame thousands of times and observed its various incarnations: as a sandwich shop, then a caryard office and now empty as the site awaits redevelopment. As a child the A-frame was to me one of the most magical buildings in Sydney, a scrap of whimsy among the serious, functional highway buildings. It seemed right that it was a sandwich shop for so many years, as it was rather like a sandwich quarter itself.
Despite my many years of admiring the A-frame I have never stopped to visit it, never stopped to buy one of its sandwiches. Recently I decided I’d break my Pacific Highway journey and view the A-frame at close range. This part of the highway has a desolate feeling about it and is one of those zones that feels alien to pedestrians. I walk past the empty lots that were once caryards. Across the road from the A-frame is a car wash cafe. Outside it someone in a bear suit waves a sign for the $15 Car Wash Happy Hour at the passing traffic.
The A-frame is marooned in the centre of an expanse of cracked, weed-ruptured concrete. Although it has been empty for some time it has a curiously tidy appearance for an abandoned building. When I get up close to it I can see the patches where graffiti has been painted over, and the ghost of the sign for the car dealership, the Korean company Ssang Yong, over the entrance. The windows facing the street have been boarded up to prevent them being smashed but I can peer in the windows at the side. Here, abandoned on the steps, there is a laundry basket full of household goods – floral print plates, a wok, white ceramic mugs – all filled with water from the recent rain.
I look through the side windows at the abandoned office equipment inside – desks, a chair, a water cooler – which are haphazardly arranged and have a visible layer of dust over them. Nearest the door is a white laminate desk with a faded Daily Telegraph in the centre of it. The headline, “Island of Lost Souls” accompanies an image of people among a landscape of debris from the 2011 earthquake in Japan. To one side of the newspaper is an unopened letter, on the other, a green work glove. The room has a number of these tableaus of once useful objects, now lying forsaken. An unmarked CD. A brochure. Sheets of blank A4 paper. In the centre of the room a spiral staircase leads to the upper level and there is a glimpse of more deserted office furniture up there.
The traffic rushes by on the highway but the atmosphere of the A-frame and the cracked concrete lots that surround it is one of stopped time. As I explore I occasionally look around to see if anyone is watching me, but there is no-one nearby besides the bear across the street, busy shaking its sign at the traffic. The cars rush past and I feel invisible.
Sydney has few A-frame buildings and the majority of them are larger constructions, often churches, no doubt built in this style as they point in the direction of heaven.
A-frame construction was popular in the USA during the 1950s and 60s for vacation homes, and Australian versions can be found here and there in seaside towns, or as ski lodges in the snowfields, or in other holiday house locations such as the Blue Mountains.
Yet metropolitan A-frames are a rarity, and every time I travel along the Pacific Highway I expect the Gordon A-frame to have been demolished. But it remains, at least for now, a moment of eccentricity on the highway north.