Paragon in Peril: Petition to save Greek-Australian café presented to Heritage Minister

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By Mary Sinanidis.

The fight to rescue The Paragon, a cherished establishment steeped in history, is rapidly gaining momentum. Spearheaded by the ‘Friends of the Paragon’, the petition has garnered more than 3,700 signatures and hundreds of comments that were presented to local representative Trish Doyle MP on August 16 – coinciding with the birthday of the Paragon’s Kytherian founder Zac Simos in 1897. Ms Doyle will make a formal presentation to Heritage Minister Penny Sharpe’s office and considerations are underway as the future of the Paragon hangs in the air.   

Ms Doyle told the Greek Herald that the Friends of the Paragon group representatives told her that the Paragon was “unloved and neglected”. “It may be neglected, but it is not unloved,” she stated, pointing to the passion of people fighting to protect it from decay. “I moved to the Blue Mountains 20 years ago; and my first memory was taking my sons, aged four and six years, to get a hot chocolate at the Paragon,” she said, adding that she had toured the establishment before the previous tenant Robyn Parker had vacated in 2018.

Ms Parker, the third owner of the Paragon, played an important role in having the place listed in the State Heritage Register. For the last five years, however, the place has been ravaged by time and neglect.

Friends of Paragon with Trish Doyle MP. 

Rod Stowe, the Chair of the Blue Mountains Branch of the National Trust, met with Ms Doyle and emphasised the significant powers that the Government and its agencies possess to safeguard such landmarks. He told the Greek Herald that during his meeting to present the petition to Ms Doyle, he pointed out the recent findings from the Auditor General’s report highlighting shortcomings in Heritage NSW’s efforts to maintain state-listed heritage properties.

“It is tragic that the future of this mountain’s icon is now at serious risk. Accordingly, the National Trust strongly supports the sentiment expressed in the petition being presented by the Friends of the Paragon seeking the intervention of the Minister for Heritage to ensure that essential maintenance and conservation work is undertaken at the property as soon as possible,” he said, imploring Minister Sharpe to exercise her authority and ensure the owner, lawyer John Landerer, fulfils his obligations under the Heritage Act.

Ms Doyle said that Minister Sharpe, who has also been a patron of the establishment in the past, is already closely monitoring the situation. “Petitions and legislatures are different, however the comments accompanying the online petition can have impact when delivered to the right person at the right time,” she said. “We haven’t spoken yet, but we will look at the comments and see what we can do to ensure that the owner complies with local heritage laws. We have already made requests in the past and we will now look to see what we can do.”

The Heritage Council of NSW had issued General Terms of Approval for conservation and repair works to the Paragon in May 2020, with approval granted in November of the same year. However, concerns have arisen about stalled conservation efforts, potentially causing further water damage to the plaster work and cabinetry.

Heritage NSW had inspected the property on 9 June this year to ascertain the status of its condition. At the time, they were told works would commence in August, however when the Greek Herald called Mr Landerer’s office there was no comment given on the hotel’s future.

A café of historical significance

Once famous for its custom-made chocolates and pastries, as well as art deco interiors created by renowned architects, designers and artists, the Paragon was a must-visit destination for visitors to the Blue Mountains.

Historian Leonard Janiszewski and photographer Effy Alexakis, who have dedicated close to four decades documenting Greek-Australian culture, emphasise the importance of the Paragon’s conservation. “The enterprise’s development during the twentieth century evidences the full evolution of the Greek café in Australia with its influences from America. As such, its preservation is paramount,” Mr Janiszewski told the Greek Herald.

Paragon Cafe – Photo by Effy Alexakis, from the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians’ National Project Archives.

“Like the recently restored Niagara Café in Gundagai, NSW, the Paragon must have a sustainable business plan for future operation. Once restored, it cannot operate on nostalgia alone. It can be brought sensitively into the 21st century through catering to current food tastes and a variety of unique events – celebrity chefs, chocolate making workshops, public lectures, musical entertainment, etc.”

Executive Officer of Friends of the Paragon, lawyer Hal Ginges, said, “We are encouraged by the support of a great many locals and visitors to the Mountains and the interest that continues to be shown in preserving The Paragon and seeing it returned to a place of pre-eminence in the tourism and dining opportunities in the Upper Mountains.”

Jan Koperberg, a passionate advocate for the restoration, said The Paragon “has been part of Katoomba life for over a century and many people remember The Paragon from visits to Katoomba as children” underscoring the emotional connection that generations have shared with the café.

“The Paragon is also a reminder of the important input that our early immigrants made to our young nation.” another supporter, Edina Hunter, said.

The accompanying words of those who sign the petition echo the sentiments of a community that values The Paragon’s historical and cultural significance. The anniversary of founder Zac Simos’ birth serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring legacy that The Paragon represents.

Paragon Café chocolate and biscuit boxes 1930s–1974. Photo by Effy Alexakis, boxes from the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek Australians’ National Project Archives.

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