UPDATE 20 October 2017
The Mazda Cat sign is safe, for now. The new painted sign is to go on the large blank south facade on the opposite side of the building. Painted signs are exempt from planning permit appeals, so no-one can officially ‘object’, though Council have said they will take our comments into consideration.
An application has been made for a “high wall painted major promotion sign” on the building that sports the famous “Mazda Cat” painted sign. While we don’t yet know exactly where the new sign is planned to be, we are concerned about any repainting of that might affect or detract from this freindly feline. The image is a remnant of a much larger painted advertisement for Mazda Lamps, created about 1956, and is so well known, rare (and delightful) that it should be protected at all costs. Melbourne Heritage Action has written to Council to clarify the fate, and the status, of the sign. While the building it’s on, the 1935 Art Deco Beehive Building, is B graded within a heritage precinct, there is no statement of significance, and so the sign isn’t officially listed in any way. We think it’s so important (like some others in the CBD) that potentially it should have its own heritage overlay.
The Mazda Cat, visible from much of Elizabeth Street, and parts of Bourke Street, is an important remnant painted sign, in a block that also includes the equally significant NEWMANS HAVE REMOVED painted sign, as well as painted building names, like Allans Music, Alexanders, Brashs Stores, Capitol Theatre, and Display Block. While we don’t have an exact date for the Mazda Cat, the sign does not appear in an image from 1955, but does appear in the 1959 Hollywood film ‘On The Beach’, starring Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck, set and filmed in Melbourne. Although it has since lost the context of advertising Mazda lamps, it’s one of the most important surviving painted signs, and a rare advertising sign, from any era in the City of Melbourne.
It’s important that this unique Melbourne icon continues to look out over the city, and we wish to ensure that it is considered in any decisions regarding repainting of this building, and indeed wish to clarify that the City of Melbourne will be including it as part of the scope of ‘public art and objects’ in the upcoming comprehensive CBD heritage review.
Furthermore if the painted sign is to be on the much larger blank southern facade, we would still have concerns over the impact of a large modern advertisement in a sensitive heritage block, and urge the City of Melbourne to ensure any sign does not act as a visual detriment to this section of Elizabeth Street.
The Mazda Lamps sign in 1959, in a still from ‘On The Beach’.
Close up View from Block Arcade upper floor.