Tucked away in the city end of the residential Red Zone sits the Bangor Street Pump House.
The hound and I go strolling around there most weekends. Cos the roads are closed we can both go do our own things and roam free: I meander, very slowly, picking flowers, examining plants, exploring. The hound sprints and gallops around like some kind of wild animal, hyped up on sweets and cake at his own birthday party, diving in and out of the river, eating and rolling in heaven knows what (I choose not to look).
But my favourite part, is always the Bangor Street Pump House. It’s a strangely ornate building for such a small, utilitarian purpose. It looks Victorian. Which makes sense. The Victorians bloody loved their excessive decor. We don’t have much of that round here anymore.
The Pump House sits where the forces of the land left it, almost 8 years ago. A funny thing happened to anything that was connected to water – buildings, services, stormwater covers – they all got shunted up out of the ground. Forced up by nature. What you got left with were these structures and things that are KINDA where they were before. KINDA straight. KINDA the same. But just two feet higher off the ground and a bit wonky. Like when you get a box of groceries and land it on the kitchen bench with a thump. Everything lands and shunts up and over.
The Pump House remains there, wonky, but strong. It is the only structure left in the entire area. All of the houses were cleared years ago, leaving only the ghostly outlines of gardens and the odd driveway. It’s the lone building in my strange, bittersweet, garden of paradise.
There’s a two foot gap all around the foundations, the ornate brickwork has split on a diagonal, as all bricks did, it’s splattered with mud and water, faded and tired. But it remains. And I adore every last bit of it. I see what it could be. The potential.
A sign went up outside it, about a year ago from the Council, like all other unfixed, in-limbo, heritage buildings owned by them – they are out of energy and budget and to be honest probably just can’t be bothered dealing with them – so they put out a call asking for submissions for uses for these buildings. Some buildings are huge, epic, beasts. And I’m sure they will go on to be fixed up and developed into interesting things, or not so interesting – offices, apartments, bars, gyms, nothing too revolutionary. The deadline for submissions closed some 11 months ago. But did anyone pitch for my Pump House? I don’t know. Today that sign still sits there. Forgotten.
It needs a lot of work. I mean, I can’t even imagine how much it’d cost to fix (and I have to face the fact, probably move, for what good is a building in the middle of a derelict, abandoned area, with no roads and no services?) and even if you did restore it and relocate it, what would you do with it? It’s so tiny you could barely fit anything of any commercial worth. I mean, it really it teeny. My kitchen is bigger than the Pump House. So what would be the value in a developer getting a hold of it?
If the wealthy-sorts of Cracked City paid any attention to this part of town, I’m sure one of them might have snapped it up as a cute and hilarious little feature for their vast Fendalton, stream bordered, garden. You know the sort. I’m sure that some old-money wife would turn it into an excellent potting shed for the Orchids. Or a nice dog house. But they don’t pay attention to this side of town. We didn’t exist back then and we certainly don’t exist now, and for that I’m grateful. For it to be taken away for some rich bastards private folly would break my heart.
I have big dreams for my Pump House though. Dreams so bright and sparkly and vivid. I spend most of my walks in the area colouring in my imaginings about that pump house. Staring. Scheming. Imagining. Swooning. Embellishing.
So here’s my pitch for the Bangor Street Pump House:
It all begins with New Orleans. Specifically, the house and tree opposite it, on the other side of the river (not red zoned). The house that sits there, proud, is a magnificent turreted, two storey, wooden house, painted in hues of dusky pink, red and white. The house is framed perfectly by the willow trees with the long, drooping, arms.
The house is like those that I would ride past every day in New Orleans, when I visited last year. The other city that swiped in and stole my heart. The house is like something from the Garden District. Really quite an anomaly for this place. I can’t ever meet the people who own it, cos they would never live up to my idea of who those people should be (i.e. me!).
Then the willows, with their low hanging branches, look like New Orleans’ iconic Spanish Moss draped Oak.
I call this spot my my little postcard of New Orleans. And my Pump House overlooks it all.
With it’s shutters and ornate brickwork I think the pump house could be restored to be a further little slice of the Crescent City. Paint up those shutters into a nice bright hue. Take the brickwork to a contrasting shade. Red. Blue. Orange. Yellow. Nothing is off limits. Just BRIGHT!
My Pump House will be like my own version of the retreat cottage that King Louis gifted Marie Antoinette on the grounds of Versailles. A lil hideaway of frivolity and folly, open to all, but open only to fun.
There will be 1,000 fairy lights inside and 1,000 festoon lights outside. Like you’re in some kind of camp-dive-glow-worm-cave. The walls will be lined with curiosities from far and away. Artefacts and art. Antiques and junk. Taxidermy trophies from 100 years ago. Alongside mexican folk art imported last week.
On one side, a wall of vintage petticoats, fur coats and sequinned tuxedo jackets. A bourgeois bohemian dress up box that would make Baz Luhrmann weep. Feeling under dressed here is never possible. There’s always something for you to put on and prance or lounge in. On the other side rests a cluster of high backed, velvet armchairs, once plush, now moth eaten from time, but still opulent and rich with the stories and sin they carry in their fabric.
Then there’s the gin. Oh the gin! We might be a Pump House, but they all nickname us the Gin Den. The gin is always cold, generous, and never in short supply. Outside on the river bank we plant our own juniper bushes, herbs and citrus trees so that in time we can start distilling our own Bangor Pump House gin, for which Cracked City will become famous. But for now we will be content with an endless supply of lemons and rosemary to ensure we are never caught short.
The spirit of New Orleans lives on in the music, here. Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Bette Harris and all the Rebirth Brass band play day and night, interspersed with live bands. The music never ends. We simply change the tempo and mood for the time of day. At 5am, as we lie on the riverbank, watching the sun rise, we always play Billie Holiday. Thankfully there’s no residents around to annoy, or get noice control called, and the nearest house, my Garden District castle, well they are hardly going to object to the Jazz Life.
My Pump House is dark and cosy. Frivolous but family. Exclusive but inclusive. It’s our own little Narnia. An escape route, away from the real world, via fur coats and Turkish delight.
All are welcome. But you have to be open to having glitter being put on your face, your tarot read and participating, without hesitation, any time you are asked to dance. Of course it goes without saying that you need to be a gin drinker.
At night, in the pitch black emptiness of the red zone – which is littered with the ghosts of houses, and lives that were led in them then abandoned, a graveyard of memories and hopes and dreams, all destroyed in seconds – the Pump House glows warm and bright. The last heartbeat. Drums and trumpets float from the brightly painted shutters playing both the most happy, but sad, music you ever heard. You’d swear that every song was written just for you and how your heart is feeling that day.
In New Orleans they cannot bury their deceased. The high water table would only push the bodies up to the surface. Like how everything connected to the water here was pushed up high. Instead they build beautiful, ornate, tombs, that are about the same size of my little Pump House. And that is where their loved ones rest.
And then. Then they have a jazz funeral. With a second line. A time for music and dance, a parade in fabulous dresses and suits, hats and parasols. A time to mourn, to drink, to remember and celebrate their love.
My Bangor Street Pump House would be like our own New Orleans tomb. Cracked City’s very own, nightly, jazz funeral. We mourn for the houses, the dreams and memories that this area lost when they decreed it a Red Zone. But like New Orleans, when we mourn we dance. We drink gin. We celebrate. We live on.
And that, my friends, and dear Council, is my proposal for the Bangor St Pump House.
So. Who wants to chuck me a cool million, for the best little Jazz and Gin den this land has ever seen?!?
– Bonjela x
BANGOR STREET PUMP HOUSE
CNR OXFORD TERRACE AND BANGOR ST
RESIDENTIAL RED ZONE
BETWEEN BARBADOES AND KILMORE ST