Arts & Entertainment

Naked City: Where are all the warehouses?


Check out the picture above – three warehouses for sale at $2,900 each or grab all three for only $7,900. That’s a total of 9,000 square feet at less than a dollar a square foot. Sadly you would have to move to Detroit in the US if you want to take advantage of this bargain basement real estate.

The demise of Detroit as an industrial powerhouse and its subsequent glut of saleable and leasable real estate have been well documented in recent years. There are currently thousands of similar properties for sale or rent in ‘Motor City’ at prices that would make Sydneysiders cringe with envy. Many have been snapped up by community groups and co-ops intent on revitalising the city from the grass roots and upwards.

Here in the Emerald City we can only gasp in awe and remember a once flourishing warehouse culture that existed in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Long before the rush to build loft apartments and similar real estate conversions, there were vacant warehouses all over the CBD and inner city, and they were dirt cheap to rent.

Regardless of whether they were zoned as purely commercial, many young people made them their homes, happy to live with makeshift kitchens and bathrooms in return for hundreds of square metres of creative space. A thriving underground culture grew around these industrial spaces with artists, musicians and filmmakers all making use of their generous areas and cheap accommodation.

Unable to lease them as commercial premises the owners were generally happy to have a group of students or artists paying the rent, albeit at a greatly reduced rate. If you were renting a warehouse and got a few weeks behind with your payments, it was a simple matter to organise a party with a couple of bands and wack a few dollars on the door. The warehouse scene soon spawned regular performance spaces such as Lanfranchi’s Memorial Discotheque and the Frequency Lab, and also played host to the exploding rave culture of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Together with a number of infamous Sydney squats there was a whole sub-culture of people living cheap and contributing to a vibrant cultural scene in the process.

Fast forward to 2014, where Sydney real estate is at a premium, and many of the previous warehouse spaces have been either demolished or converted into groovy apartments. Those that remain are not only expensive to rent but subject to all matter of council restrictions should you want to live there or utilise it as some kind of performance space.

Unlike cities such as Detroit, Sydney was hardly touched by the Global Financial Crisis and our real estate is currently among the most expensive in the world. It’s unlikely we will soon suffer an industrial meltdown like Detroit did with its auto industry or collapse similar to the bursting of the US sub-prime mortgage bubble. In the meantime we can only romanticise about the legendary warehouse parties of the ‘80s and ‘90s – either that or buy an air ticket to Detroit!

THE HIT LIST: You might remember a few years ago we ran a column devoted to the late great Filipino kung fu superstar Weng Weng and the renewed interest in his amazing career all around the world. Now, as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival comes a special screening of Andrew Leavold’s remarkable award-winning documentary The Search For Weng Weng – all about the incredible two-foot-nine action movie man. Check out the results of a seven-year search for the truth behind this now legendary movie star at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville, screening this Sunday September 7 at 5.00pm.

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