The Ming On Building

Marrickville’s most striking building is painted a breath-mint green. Two pointed fins rise up from the roof like the tips of sails. The fins slope down into a protruding, triangular block at the centre of the facade, forming an angular nose. Attached to the windows of the nose are advertisements for washing powder that have, over years, faded from red to grey.

In the last week new signs have gone up, signs for the impending auction of the two warehouses that make up the green building: “Invest, Occupy or Redevelop”. It’s the last option that has Marrickvillians nervous. The building is a landmark, a moment of novelty among the otherwise functional architecture that surrounds it.

For decades the building has been occupied by Ming On Trading, a retailer and wholesaler of sewing accessories: buttons, zippers, threads, labels. An arrangement of boxes inside the entrance displays some of the miscellaneous goods that Ming On trades in. Tubs of washing powder are stacked up, there are plastic baskets of socks and sticky tape, bird cages hang from the ceiling. Further inside, almost the whole lower floor of the showroom is dedicated to sewing thread. The metal shelving makes narrow aisles, lined with a rainbow of reels of thread. Unspool it all and it would reach to the moon.

The Ming On building is the kind of place that people stop to notice, photograph, and wonder about. What could be inside this bright, strange building? It’s vernacular value is high, but in other systems of worth – architectural, historical – it has left few traces. I find a newspaper article about a fire on the site in 1970, which destroyed the two existing factory buildings: the current building must have risen from these ashes. In the early 1980s, ads for Pacific Furniture exalt the new, unique dynamic collections of lounge furniture available at their showroom there. Then, later, come references Ming On Trading Co. Pty Ltd.

The style of the building – like a rectangle has swallowed a triangle – is less 1970s-functional, more a kind of industrial Googie, the post-war, space-age American architectural style that was given to Californian diners and petrol stations. There’s no functional reason for its preposterous outfit, the fins on its roof and bright green coat. But the building is a reminder of the importance of eccentric spaces, in a city where, increasingly, the oddities are being ironed out.

Inside Ming On Trading, business continues as usual among the millions of buttons and racks of lace trims. Once the building is sold, Ming On will move south west, to Villawood, but apart from the real estate signs out the front, there’s little indication of the change. Heading up to the top floor, I start up the central stairs, pausing at the landing in the middle. I’m inside the triangle that forms the building’s nose, looking out towards Addison Road through the angled windows. Across the road, I notice a woman has stopped walking to reach into her bag. She looks over towards the Ming On building, with its fins and bright green paint, holds up her phone and takes a photo of it, a bittersweet expression on her face.

10 Comments on “The Ming On Building”

  1. Ross Turnbull says:

    I recall that building housing the SES in the 80’s. Ming On moved in in the 90’s (I think).

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Ross – that’s great, I’d heard the building housed police rescue but couldn’t find solid evidence!

      • Kate Hawes says:

        I don’t have any solid evidence, but I believe the old Police Rescue building is on the corner of Addison Rd and Agar St. It’s been modified over the years, so it’s hard to imagine, but the building originally had a ‘warehouse’ like interior.

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        Thanks Kate, that’s great – I’ll see if I can find out exactly: there’s a book on the history of Police Rescue in NSW I’m going to try and track down…

      • Kate Hawes says:

        I happened to speak to a retired Police Rescue Officer today who worked at the Marrickville Base back in the day. I showed him the picture of the Ming On building and he immediately recognised it as being the building he worked in back in the early 80’s approx. So what you heard was right Vanessa! Another officer (non-rescue) told me years ago about the Agar St building, but they were most likely mistaken. Ross, it quite possibly became an SES base when Police rescue moved on.

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        Thanks Kate – that info makes my day! I didn’t have any reason not to think it was the Police Rescue building, apart from the fact it seems architecturally unlikely, but that makes it even better that it’s true. Thanks again for asking around 🙂

  2. Ash. says:

    When I was young Cheso boy Marrickville was a constant source of wonder. Whereas nearby Villawood was a place I couldn’t wait to get away from.

    Now with gentrification ironing out all the quirks of the Inner West, I can’t help but feel more drawn to the places in the Bankstown orbit of my youth. Funny how life turns around.

    • Julie says:

      My family owns the business and I used to work there as a child. Lots of memories and really sad to see it go but hey, this is Sydney and if it isn’t up…then it’s out. Can’t reca if it were that building or another in marrickville but there was the old style lift with the double concertina folding doors too..Surprised to find a blog about it.

      • Vanessa Berry says:

        Thanks for your comment Julie – it’s an iconic building and really brightens the streetscape with its unusual design, you’re lucky to have a personal connection to it, how wonderful!

  3. […] Vanessa Berry from the Mirror Sydney website said: “The style of the building – like a rectangle has swallowed a triangle – is […]

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