Saturday, November 10, 2012

Melbourne's Wonderful Demolished Buildings

Founded in 1835, Melbourne is a young city. Despite this, a great deal of Melbourne's heritage has already been lost. Consider Melbourne's buildings, and the fact that there are now only three in the CBD that pre-date 1850.

1850 is a significant year for Melbourne.

This was the last full year before the gold rush took hold. In 1851, gold was discovered in Clunes, north of Ballarat, and the state was never the same.

A flood of people and money poured into Victoria, into Melbourne, the high tide of which was enough to wash most of the original city away. Melbourne would be rebuilt in grand style with high hopes and deep pockets. And some of the new buildings were among the biggest, and grandest, in the world at the time.

Sadly, many of these remarkable old buildings have been lost to us. Some due to shifts in taste, some due to financial considerations, and some for no obvious reason at all.

What follows is a brief tribute to Melbourne's lost buildings...


276 Flinders Street

When built in 1880, this office block was Melbourne's tallest at ten stories. In 1897 it, and most of the block of Finders Street that it stood on, was destroyed in a fire, one of the worst the city has seen. Only the facade was left, although the building was considered such an icon that it was rebuilt. In 1967 it was finally demolished outright. Present day, this stands in its spot:


Flinders St, between King and Spencer Streets

Of all of Melbourne's vanished buildings, this one is probably the most spectacular. Built in 1890, for more than 50 years this was used as a commercial market for fish and other fresh produce. In the lead up to the Olympic games in 1956 it was decided to demolish a number of Melbourne's older buildings in order to 'modernise' the look of the city. Sadly, incredibly, this was one of the buildings to go, although the demolition was not completed until 1959. It was replaced - sadly! incredibly! - with a carpark... the block now also shared by a nondescript office building:


555 Collins Street

Built in 1888 to coincide with the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition (marking 100 years of Australian settlement), this was once one of the largest and most opulent hotels in the world. The first two floors housed impressive dining, reading, smoking and billiard rooms, with the remaining 5 stories given over to luxurious guest rooms. The interior was so impressive that the building became a tourist attraction in its own right:

As an added historical footnote, the hotel was also conceived as a 'Coffee Palace' as part of the 19th century temperance movement. No alcoholic beverages were served at the hotel when it was built, which was something of a fad at the time, as public drunkenness was perceived as a serious problem. This wonderful piece of architecture and history was demolished in 1973, the site sold for redevelopment. Pleas to have it saved as a heritage building were ignored by the Government of the time (there was no heritage protection legislation as we know it today). It was such a popular local landmark that thousands of people turned out to watch it go. This dreary brown box was built in its place:


140 William Street

Built in 1867 to accommodate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Menzies was another of Melbourne's most impressive luxury hotels. Among the famous guests who stayed there; Sarah Bernhardt, Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain (who helped stoke the hotel boilers as part of his fitness regime), Herbert Hoover and General Douglas Macarthur. In 1969 it was demolished to make way for, the admittedly pretty stylish,  BHP Plaza:


111 Williams Street

Built in 1891 for the John Sanderson company, this block length building showed exactly how important the agricultural industry was in fledgling Australia. Demolished in 1969 to make way for the AMP Building, which is itself currently under redevelopment:


444 Collins Street

Built in 1860, and substantially remodeled between 1910 and 1914, Scott's hotel enjoyed a reputation for supplying some of Melbourne's finest food and wine. Dame Nellie Melba and English cricket legend W.G.Grace were two among many notable people who stayed at the Scott, which was also a favourite haunt for local racing identities. Sold to the Royal Insurance Co in 1961, when it was Melbourne's oldest continuously operating hotel, the building was demolished to make way for another in a series of drab office blocks (to the right of this picture):


Corner Queen Street and Flinders Lane

Built in 1856 when the twenty year old city was still finding its feet (note the muddy track that is Queen St in the above photo), this Greek temple themed design was the product of a competition held by the bank among Melbourne's architects. Unfortunately, the bank itself would go out of business in 1884, and this building was demolished shortly afterwards. The same spot today:


Corner of Collins Street and Queen Street

A great example of Melbourne's art deco heritage, the tower was added to this already existent building in 1929, making it the city's tallest for 30 years. Taken over by the firm 'Legal and General' in the 1950s, it was demolished in 1969 when they wanted a more up to date, and considerably less stylish, headquarters:


316 Collins Street

The 'Equitable Company' set themselves the ambition of constructing 'the grandest building in the southern hemisphere' for their Melbourne headquarters. Which, with a five year construction and £500 000 price tag, this wonderful building may well have been. Taken over by Colonial Mutual in 1923, it would serve as their grand offices for thirty years. But high maintenance costs and outdated fixtures made the company want rid of it by the 50's. A bland office block stands in its place today, with the logo 'CML' emblazoned across its street level pillars, to remind people of what once was:


43-45 Elizabeth Street

The world's third tallest building, at 12 storeys, when it was constructed in 1889, this building dominated Melbourne's skyline for decades. At one time visible from anywhere in the city, the Australia Building was also the first tall building to employ mechanical lifts (powered hydraulically by high pressure water pumped from the Yarra). In 1980 its distinctive red facade and ornate roof was demolished to make way for this:


Exhibition Street between Bourke and Little Collins Streets

Established in 1847, the Eastern Market was embryonic Melbourne's principal fresh produce market for thirty years, before being superseded by the Queen Victoria Markets in the 1870's. The Eastern market survived for nearly another 100 years, however, operating as a flower market and tourist attraction. The markets were demolished in 1962 to make way for the uniquely stylised 'Southern Cross Hotel':

The 'Southern Cross' was undoubtedly one of Melbourne's most striking buildings, although it attracted as much vitriol as admiration. Famous guests of the hotel included; The Beatles,  Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland. Frank Sinatra stayed there during his infamous 1974 tour of Australia, when he created a storm by referring to local female journalists as 'hookers.' And both the Brownlow Medal and the Logies were hosted in its function rooms. In 1999 it was sold off and slowly demolished, with the site sitting vacant for several years. The location is now occupied by this, considerably less flamboyant, mixed use building:


235 Bourke Street

Very few pictures or drawings remain of the Tivoli Theatre. When it opened in 1901 (from a design by William Pitt) it was originally named 'Harry Rickards' New Opera House', after it's first owner. The theatre presented a variety of live entertainments, including  music, comedy and vaudeville. Harry Houdini,W.C. Fields and Chico Marx are among the famous names who performed there. 

Coming to the Tivoli... Houdini!
Sold by Rickards in 1912, it was renamed the Tivoli shortly after and continued to present live entertainment right through until the 1960s. Converted in that decade to a cinema, the fate of many of Melbourne's old theatres, the building was destroyed by fire in 1967. The 'Tivoli Arcade' stands on the site today:


Swanston Street, Between Bourke and Collins Streets

Built in 1888, the Queen Victoria Buildings ran the length of the block on Swanston Street, opposite the town hall. A rare local example of French Second Empire architecture, the elaborate facade and roof of the building was further ornamented by a number of statues, including a sizable one of the monarch it was named after. The building was used for high end retail shops and featured a glass topped arcade, The Queens Walk, that ran between Bourke and Collins:

Queens Walk in 1957.

In the 1960's, the Melbourne City Council began to consider the construction of a large public park in the city centre. Across a decade or more, it gradually acquired parts of the Queen Victoria - and other adjacent - buildings for this purpose. Demolition commenced in the late 1960's and took several years (The Regent Hotel was also acquired and scheduled to be knocked down as part of the same project, but was saved by a union ban). The new open space was dubbed 'City Square':

Windswept and largely ignored, part of it was sold for development in the 1990s and the Westin Hotel was built on this section. The remainder of the park was redesigned and remains for public use:


172 - 254 Lonsdale Street

Built in 1911 of bluestone, with stylish towers and iron railings, the Melbourne was almost too elegant to be a hospital. It's graceful facade was further complemented by a lush garden (visible above) that ran around two sides of the grounds. Initially home to the principal hospital for the city, in 1946 it was reconstituted as a specialised institution for women and children (and was solely staffed by women for a time), and renamed the Queen Victoria. The hospital closed in 1987 and the site was then used for a variety of unlikely purposes, including a mini golf course and a craft market. In 1992 the site was purchased by a development group and three of the four hospital buildings demolished. The bulk of the property was then turned into a mixed commerical premises, the QV Building:

The site today
The one remaining hospital building was refurbished and returned to its previous use, once again offering care to women and children, in 1994.


Present day.


264 - 270 Collins Street

One of Australia's most famous architects, Walter Burley Griffin, designed the sumptuous Cafe Australia, a remodeling of an existing cafe on Collins Street. Opening in 1916, the cafe bore all of Griffin's trademarks; an elaborate facade and entryway, delicate concrete ornamentation and highly stylised interiors.

Cafe Australia was only shortlived, however. It closed and demolished in 1938 and was replaced by the similarly named Hotel Australia, which borrowed much from Griffin's design, but lacked the overall panache of the previous establishment.

This building was then reworked into the current occupant of the site, 'Australia on Collins', an up market retail space.


  1. Now we get to wait for the Palace Theatre to be replaced by apartments :(

  2. Fascinating and ver sad. What an absolute shame. I've been sitting here looking at these pics just shaking my head!
    A correction to the last one about the Queen Victoria Buildings and Queens walk, I think it should be between Collins St and Flinders Lane, not Collins and Bourke and it's the Regent Theatre, not hotel.
    But a truly fantastic site. There are a few more examples around too, of lovely old buildings replaced by crap. They knocked down a gorgeous old art deco building in Lonsdale St and have built some monstrosity on the site as pasr of the new Melbourne Emporium. You think they'd learn!!!!

    1. Thanks for the double pickup there, on the info about the Queen Victoria building. And I agree, that new Melbourne Emporium building is an absolute horror (Lonsdale House was the elegant building that got dumped).

    2. It's criminal. Once architecture was an art form, not now.
      Missing in today's structures are the biogeometry signatures, nature codes that were within those magnificent buildings. Harmonising with the ether.
      They were burying the history. Some of those buildings look a lot older than the settlement of Australia dates - the history, earliest photo dates and the population counts don't tie in . A topic worth a little research.

  3. It is a real shame that a country as young as ours has systematically removed many of the landmarks of our short history.

    Yes I am aware that many of the buildings might not have made a great use of the space available to them, primarily due to the technology available at the time of their construction - but surely something better could have been put in their places than drab, rectangular boxes.

    I hope that we don't see too many more go, but I fear that history is a subjective thing.

    What is history and important to us, might not be important to the next generation, who see the rectangular drabness as part of their history that needs to be preserved.

    Great post.

    Thanks for going to all the trouble.

    ATH Webber

  4. Thanks for the great article. Very interesting but also incredibly sad that this history is lost forever.
    The Oriental Bank seems to have been designed by Robertson and Hale if that's worth including.

  5. Umm ... can we actually call Walter Burley Griffin an Australian architect?? Given he wasn't Australian? I've never heard him characterised as such before this.

  6. In Shepparton Victoria, we also have lost many important heritage buildings in the 1960s & 70s. Our biggest loss was out 1882 Post Office when it was demolished in 1973. We are currently investigating the possibility of rebuilding it on the site of our heritage centre which would be an incredible feat. I was wondering if such a rebuild of a lost heritage building has been done before in Victoria/Australia.

  7. Hillier's Soda Fountain was lost when they demolished The Queen Victoria Building, it was always a treat to have a drink there on a hot day..Very sad indeed..

  8. Criminal really. I think the 60s has a lot to answer for!

  9. This is a good copy of The Tivoli

  10. Why can't somebody rebuild the Federal Coffee Palace?

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  12. The Queen Victoria Building didn't occupy a whole block of Swanston. It only occupied the Collins Street corner site, and that block is of course between Collins & Flinders, not Bourke, per the caption of that image.

    1. yeah, you’re right. The now demolished Cathedral Hotel was in the corner of Swanston and Flinders Lane. Shame about Queen Vic Building. Never had the privilege of visiting it. Queens Walk must have been a treat. A larger version of Royal Arcade I guess or like like The Block Arcade

  13. Hello
    Iam looking for any information on the action of goods that were sold at the Menzies action in 1968 I have a set of gate brought by K McDonald they may have been made in Scotland I have not had any luck serching yet
    Regards Leshia

  14. Thank you for compiling this list.

    One that I wonder about is the Oriental Hotel that was replaced by the Wentworth in the east end of Collins St.

  15. In the 1800's Melbourne was a beautiful city. Unlike in Europe the corrupt politicians here were not interested in preserving the heritage.

    1. Hamer in the 70s....

      Whelan the Wrecker was here too.

  16. When did the Dorchester reception centre get demolished?? What year??