Many, possibly most of Balmain’s old buildings have been altered – to make them larger (additional wings, storeys, attic conversions), better lit (larger windows, skylights) or more modern (ceramic tiled roofs instead of slate, new doors, aluminium-framed windows, modern balustrading and fencing, indoor lavatories instead of outhouses at the bottom of the garden). Some of the additions/alterations are designed to blend in with the existing building, by using the same materials and shapes as in the original (for example, The Watch House): others are designed to contrast completely with the original. Sometimes these contrasting additions are discreetly tucked away at the rear of the house, but sometimes they strike a jarring note in the streetscape because of their size or incongruity. In fact Balmain has long been characterized by a diversity of size, quality and style of housing, unlike (for example) Paddington and Glebe where there are more uniform streetscapes of terraced houses.
There has been a long-standing tension between demolitionists and conservationists: sometimes the conservationists win (as in Ewenton and the Balmain Watch House) and sometimes the demolitionists succeed (Balmain’s first house, Birchgrove House, built in 1810, was demolished in 1967 to make way for a block of flats at 67 Louisa Road).
The cost of maintaining old buildings and the incentive to profit by redeveloping historic sites mean that without government intervention, Sydney’s early buildings will gradually disappear. For information on Leichhardt Council’s conservation policy, see the Leichhardt Council Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2000. Most, if not all the buildings on this walk are listed in the LEP’s Schedule 2 of Heritage Buildings.