THE FORMER Lismore RSL Club site once was graced by a lovely old building, the Dongrayald private hospital, built by sawmiller Alfred Knowles around 1900.
Geoff Foley, now the collections coordinator with the Richmond River Historical Society, was born in that hospital. As recently as 15 years ago, a nurse who had worked there was able to show him where the obstetric wing of the hospital once had been.
"The building has been re-roofed but basically it's still there," Geoff told The Echo.
"You can still see a bit of the original roof at the front. But the old hospital has been so surrounded by other wings that have been built on, that you can hardly see it."
The hospital closed in 1947 and was sold to the Lismore RSL Club, who used it as their club building and added to it over the years.
Geoff said the first major extension was the Northcote auditorium, which was later turned into a dining room.
"Then the new auditorium was opened in the 70s," Geoff said. "The Workers Club and the RSL both built new auditoriums around the same time.
"The difference was the Workers Club could afford it, but the RSL couldn't."
For years the auditorium was the heart of the RSL Club, and some would say the best big venue for live music and dancing in the town.
With a stage large enough for a big dance band, parquetry timber flooring, industrial kitchens with a massive cool room, a bar and even a cloakroom, the old auditorium had it all. Former patrons remember dinner dances, deb balls, Christmas parties, rock concerts and other shows being held there.
But the RSL Club never made up the financial ground it lost in its extravagant redevelopment of the club, and the time came when the problems became so severe that the RSL Club had to sell the building.
It was bought by the Lismore Revival Fellowship Christian group in 2005, which operated it as their centre, using the auditorium for their weekly meetings and other Fellowship activities, for four years. When the Revival congregation moved up to their purpose-built centre at Goonellabah, the heart of the old RSL building stopped beating.
The building is now owned by the 1770 Group, a Brisbane-based property group once associated with the Revival Fellowship. The group still operates a child care centre on the ground floor of the old building.
Other parts of the ground floor are also still in active use. Interrelate has a suite of offices there, and ACE Northern Rivers uses some of the rooms for teaching groups - including the space that once housed the indoor swimming pool, now filled in and floored over.
So here in the heart of Lismore, where there is no big-capacity entertainment centre, there's a 600 seat auditorium waiting for someone to develop it.
Mitch Murphy is a project manager with 1770 Group and he told The Echo it would need to be someone with vision and determination.
"Certainly someone with a really good idea about how they would make it work, and the ability to create a business plan showing how they'd get it up and running.
"They'd have to go through the normal hoops to get a licence to serve alcohol, but I can't see any problems with that."
Mitch said the owners would love to hear from anyone with an idea about what to do with this building that has seen births, blessing and boogies.
"If somebody comes up with a genuine proposal as a result of your story, we would be absolutely delighted to discuss it with them," said Mitch Murphy.
Phone the 1770 Group on (07) 3886 1539.
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