michelides tobacco /peter's ice cream factory / TONY BARLOW MENSWEAR (1922-2014)
Tobacconist Peter Michelides was born in Kastellorizo, Greece, and moved to Perth from Port Said, Egypt, in 1904, aged 26. He soon set up his first cigarette shop and sent for his younger brother, Michael (12) to join him.
"Mr Peter Michelides… has been rapidly earning a good name for himself amongst lovers of good cigarettes by supplying the very finest qualities of Turkish, Egyptian and Virginian tobaccos at prices which bring his products within the reach of all. He imports small quantities at a time, just enough for a week or two, and these shipments following one another with the utmost regularity, the leaf has no time to get musty or to lose its delicate aroma, no machinery is used, the tobacco is all cut by hand, and the cigarettes are made by hand from real straight-cut tobacco, as may be seen by the passer-by any day in the window, where a workman is busily employed making them… This is the only cigarette factory in WA and a customer can have his cigarettes made while he waits, if desired.”
The Sunday Times, 16 February 1908
Tobacco laws of the day prevented tobacco manufacturers from selling their produce in their own shop, but the brothers bypassed this by having the factory in Peter’s name, and the shop in Michael’s.
Over time, the brothers bought several adjoining properties on both the east and west sides of Lake Street, Perth, and in 1912 opened the tobacco and cigarette factory on the west side, at 1 Lake Street, with offices next door.
These were modernised and extended a decade later and on 5 October 1922 then Premier, Sir James Mitchell, deemed it a privilege to open the new Michelides Ltd factory. On that occasion he started a machine capable of making 400 cigarettes a minute or 24,000 an hour; two years later they had machines that turned out 36,000 an hour.
Newspaper advertisements of the day sought both male and female workers, but the latter was preferred, as their fingers were more able to delicately strip the tobacco leaves for ‘Westralia’s favourite smoke’, the perfect ‘Golden West’ cigarette.
“THE TALK OF THE ‘WEST: Literally speaking, ‘Golden West’ cigarettes are in everybody's mouth. This is undoubtedly due to their freshness, unique flavor, and excellent smoking qualities. ...huge hogsheads of tobacco (any one of which contains enough tobacco to make half a million cigarettes)... are being carted to Michelides' modern tobacco factory in Lake Street, Perth. In due course the finished product of local industry will appear in its pure, white, rice paper coat stamped with the ‘Golden West' brand, the sign of a good smoke.”
Sunday Times, 22 July 1923
The business rapidly expanded into the new brands ‘Mena’, ‘Golden Blend’ and ‘Golden Wattle’ and ‘Bona Rosa’ cigars, and the enterprise was praised for keeping its profits in Western Australia. Until Michelides started planting his own tobacco in the early 1930s, the leaf was imported but processed locally, and the tins, papers and packing were all locally produced. Having started with a staff of just four in 1904, by 1932 the South West Advertiser reported the factory had 175 employees and £20,000 worth of machinery in operation.
In 1933 architects Oldham, Boas & Ednie-Brown designed a new, two-storey extension to the factory for the manufacture of RizLa cigarette papers at 1 Lake Street and, with the £5,296 tender from builders Sandwell & Sons accepted, the foundation stone was laid on 5 January 1934. The company now employed 200 in the factory and offices, with a further 100 in the Pemberton and Manjimup fields, harvesting Michelides-grown, West Australian tobacco.
The new premises, in the art deco style and with an impressive, new art deco frontage on the corner of Roe and Lake Streets, doubled the size of the factory. Coupled with the introduction of mechanisation, Michelides Ltd increased their market share, peaking in production through the 1930s and 1940s.
“Fire Brigades had a Busy Christmas: ...Headquarters brigade went to Michelides' tobacco factory, Roe-street, and prevented a fire in the yard from spreading to the buildings and from tobacco going up in smoke in the wrong way.”
The Daily News, 28 December 1936
In 1953 Michael Michelides, then the Greek Consul for Western Australia, died as the result of a stroke, aged 61. By this time, due to the post-WWII popularity of imported, filter-tipped cigarettes, the local tobacco industry had begun a slow decline. The harvesting of tobacco ceased in late 1959; cigarette production, early in 1960. Later that year the factory and machinery was sold to Peters, which expanded their adjacent ice cream factory into the old tobacco factory. Peters remained there for most of the next three decades after which, in the late 1980s, it was leased to Tony Barlow Menswear.
In 2013, with an unexecuted 2009 demolition order still threatening the factory, it was classified by the National Trust of Western Australia. At the time, Chief Executive Tom Perrigo said it was a significant heritage icon.
The State Heritage Office advised the building had historic, social and aesthetic values - only one of which is required for a building to be considered for inclusion on the State Register of Heritage Places - but Heritage Minister Albert Jacob decided against it.
“The former Michelides Tobacco Factory ...is the only factory building in WA remodelled in the inter-war Art Deco style. ...Northbridge businessman Graham Hardie wants to demolish the building and use the land as a construction site and parking lot while the adjoining Varga Lounge nightclub [now abandoned] is renovated…”
Yolanda Zaw, The West Australian, 24 January 2014
Under the misapprehension the art deco facade dated from the 1980s, all but one member of the Perth City Council approved the demolition, citing that lack of heritage listing as a key reason. The decision contravened the City’s own planning policy which requires an approved redevelopment application be in place before demolition of the building on site.
The decision dismayed heritage lobbyists including the Art Deco Society of WA, to which Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi suggested if they loved old buildings so much, they should buy them.
With the owner reassuring Council a development application was imminent, demolition went ahead in 2014.
Three years later, the block still lies bare.