Saturday, November 30, 2013

Foy's Rooftop Fun Park

The corner of Swanston and Bourke is one of Melbourne's busiest intersections, where the mall meets the main drag.

And while the main buildings that ring this corner haven't changed for decades, there is one wonderful feature that is missing from the present day location: Foy's Rooftop Fun Park.

Foy's was a department store, along the lines of Myer and David Jones. Started in the 1870's as a Collingwood drapery by Mark Foy, the business expanded in the 1880's; The Foy family went into partnership with William Gibson in 1883 and new stores, originally called 'Foy and Gibson's' began selling a wider variety of goods. The chain soon expanded interstate, opening shops in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.

Foy and Gibson Catalogue, 1902.

A Foy and Gibson store, around the turn of the century.

The shop was popularly referred to a 'Foy's' however and this name was officially adopted in the early twentieth century and retained, even after the Foy family sold their stake in the business.

The Rooftop Fun Park was a Christmas gimmick that began shortly after the Second World War. Foy's central Melbourne store was already known for it's elaborate Christmas decorations, including a giant beckoning Santa that featured on the facade annually, and the Fun Park expanded on the idea of Foy's as Christmas central. It was widely promoted in the local media:

The Rooftop Fun Park featured rides, a playground, a petting zoo, sideshows and even (at one time) boats. A few pictures remain of the park in operation:

Photos of a family at the park form the 1960's. You can just make out
the skyline in the background, which shows the elevation of the park.

It's difficult, if not impossible, to imagine children being allowed to ride horses on the roof of a city building in our contemporary, more regulated, age.

Sadly, the fun came to an end in the late 1960's. The Foy's chain was taken over by David Jones and the iconic Melbourne building sold to Woolworth's, relegating the Rooftop Park and the giant Santa to history. A Telstra shop occupies the street corner today.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Melbourne: A History in Posters

Victoria formally separates from New South Wales and becomes a stand alone colony; July 1, 1851.

1860's advertisment.

1878; Steam Biscuits.

1894 advertisment.

1905; electricity joins the commodity market courtesy of the Melbourne Electric Supply Co. Ltd.

1907: Poster for Wirth's Circus, a long running attraction that stood on the site now occupied by the Arts Centre.

An advertisment for land in Brighton in the first decade of the 20th century.

World War One recruitment poster that was used in Melbourne. Will YOU help us?

1918; Cattle sale in Pascoe Vale (AKA Pascoevale).

1930's era Kodak ad with a sparkling depiction of Melbourne by artist James Northfield.

1931; A Great Depression era poster for a demonstration for unemployed rights.

1930's beer advertisment for 'Foster's Lager' depicting the Abbotsford Brewery.

1934; The International Tennis Championships at Kooyong, featuring Baron G. von Cramm!

1934-35; The World's Greatest Air Race, organised to mark the centenary of Victoria's (unofficial) founding.

Circa 1935.

Movietone News poster advertising their coverage of the Melbourne Cup in 1940.

1940; Public announcement advising that as coal conservation was required for Australia's war effort, public train services would have to be curtailed.

Early 1950's; poster for protest against the Victorian Government's Housing Commission. With entertainment provided by... Bert Newton! Established in the 1930's, the Housing Commission was charged with providing cheap Government accommodation to the needy, and for breaking up the 'slums' that dotted the city's poorer areas. The Commission was given powers to 'reclaim' houses and land to aid these objectives, which inevitably lead to conflict with the properties original owners.

Poster for the 1953 Melbourne Film Festival, the first to be held in Melbourne City. The festival had been established the year before, but the initial event had been held in the rural town of Olinda.

The Olympic Games come to Melbourne.

1959; American evangelist Billy Graham brings his Christian crusade to the MCG. An estimated 130 000 people attended to hear him preach, an all comers ground record to this day.

1960's tourism poster promoting Melbourne as a holiday destination. Note the Windsor Hotel depicted on the right.

1960's poster for the Melbourne Royal Show. Nine day train ticket anyone?

WEG Poster, depicting 1964 VFL Premiers the Melbourne Demons. Drawn by artist William Ellis Green and produced by Melbourne's Herald (now Herald Sun) newspaper, the WEG poster is a traditional footy souvenir released at the end of each grand final and much sought after by fans and collectors. Green drew the posters from 1954 to 2008 (when he passed away) with the tradition now continued with new artists.

1973; Contemporary art exhibition at Toorak Galleries.

1977; Music night at the Brunswick Recreation Centre, 'C'mon, let's go to the Bug Dance!'

1979; Samuel Beckett production at the La Mama theatre, Carlton.

1980: Skyhooks play Bombay Rock, a Brunswick music venue that burnt down in 1991. $3.99 cover charge!

An early 1980's rally against nuclear power, at one time among the biggest issues in Australian politics.

1988: Rally Against Thatcher, presented by the Monash gay Collective and the Australian Aid for Ireland Foundation.

1990; Mayday rally at the Melbourne Trades Hall.

1992; American alt-rock band Nirvana play the Phoenecian Club (supported by Tumbleweed and The Meanies!). if you ask around, you'll hear that pretty much the whole city was there.

Shane Howard at The Continental Cafe, Saturday 28 September, 1996.

Shades of the arrival of electricity in 1905; the internet comes to Melbourne in 1996. Don;t be afraid, it's for everyone.

2001; Melbourne International Comedy Festival poster.

2005; The Beastie Boys play Festival Hall.

2010: Rally to protect the local live music scene. Gentrification in the inner suburbs had caused several well established live music venues to close.

2011: The Occupy Movement comes to Melbourne.

2013; Advertising posters for The Greens in the inner city electorate of Melbourne. Greens candidate Adam Bandt (pictured in the poster to the right), successfully defended the seat he had won at the 2010 election.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Before Federation Square

Location: Corner Flinders and Swanston Streets

The site currently known as 'Federation Square' has a short history, as it was built only in the late 1990s. But the space itself, right at the heart of the city alongside both the Yarra  River and Flinders Street Station, has undergone many different incarnations stretching deep into the history of Melbourne.

The corner location was the site of the first Melbourne City Morgue, established in 1871. Prior to it's construction, dead bodies in the growing city had been simply laid out in public rooms, often times in Government buildings, while they awaited burial. Growing concern over public hygiene, and Melbourne's booming population, lead to the construction of the morgue.

The Melbourne Morgue, centre left, circa 1871.
But having such a macabre building so prominently situated proved unpopular and the morgue was only in operation for 12 years before it was relocated (although the morgue building would remain, unused, until 1890 before being demolished). From 1883 the corner location was incorporated  into Melbourne's burgeoning public transport network.

Princes Bridge Railway Station was built on the corner in 1859 (and can be seen next to the morgue above), but in the 1880s it would expand considerably. After the closure of the morgue, Princes Bridge would serve as the terminus for all East bound trains, as well as housing administration offices for the railway corporation. By 1910, it was linked to the previously separate Flinders Street Station by an underground tunnel.

A train at Princes Bridge Station, 1885 (looking towards Flinders St Station)

The same station in 1918, now considerably expanded. Also note the dome
of Flinders Street Station now visible in the  background, constructed
after the first photo above was taken.

The station  would continue to serve these functions for several decades.

In the 1960's, with the growing demand for prime real estate in the CBD accelerating, the State Government would undertake a dramatic revamp of the corner location. 

Princes Bridge Station in 1964, three years before being demolished.

Wanting to modernise the look of Flinders Street the State Government demolished Princes Bridge Station and moved it underground. The revamped station would share some platforms with Flinders Street Station, while still operating as a stand alone station for some services, and be topped with a shopping arcade and public square. The land where the station had previously stood was sold for corporate development. In 1967, twin office towers were constructed on the site. Known as the Princes Gate Towers, from their opening they were tenanted by Victoria's Gas and Fuel Corporation.

The new development, shortly after completion.

And almost from the moment the redevelopment was finished, it drew criticism. The office buildings themselves were derided as ugly and accused of blocking views of the river and overshadowing St Paul's Cathedral, while the concrete square adjacent was thought to be windswept and uninviting. Neither would garner much affection from the local population.

More popular was the arcade below the public square, which provided a last minute shopping option for commuters. The arcade was also home to Central Station Records, whose shopfront was on Flinders Street, and which became a hub for Melbourne's music community (and which is fondly missed, based on the research I've done).

Central Station Records shopfront.

A crowd outside the record store queues in the rain to see an
in store appearance by heavy metal band 'Wasp.'

But overall, the office and shopping complex on Flinders Street remained unpopular.

By 1980, the gradual process of Princes Bridge Station being swallowed by the larger Flinders Street Station across the road was complete. Three platforms of the old station would be fully incorporated into Flinders Street (platforms 14, 15 and 16) and the rest would be abandoned. The 'City Circle' train which had run from Princes Bridge, servicing only the city loop stations continually, would be made defunct, and replaced by a tram service. The closure of the train station meant that the next redevelopment of the site could be undertaken in an uninhibited fashion.

But some years would pass before any plans for updating the site were put forth.

In 1996, outspoken Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett would announce a major redevelopment proposal, essentially demolishing everything on site and starting again from scratch. Calling the Gas and Fuel towers a 'dreadful eyesore' and a 'blot on the city,' Kennett promoted a mixed use option for the land; featuring a cultural centre, cutting edge office suites, shops and a public space that could be used for a variety of events. He also wanted to cover the train tracks, from the corner of Swanston Street back to Russell Street, to allow easier access between the city and the Yarra and to free up more space on the site. The ambitious proposal was budgeted at a hefty $450 million and would require cooperation between local, state and federal branches of government to realise.

The new site would be called 'Federation Square,' in honour of a hundred years of Australian federation, and it was initially hoped it would be completed in time for the centennial on January 1, 2001. But a change of Government during construction lead to changes in the plan for the site, and the resulting delays meant construction was not finished until October 2002.

The heart of the new square would be the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), a combined cinema and display space, and the Ian Potter Gallery, an offshoot of the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road. Some of ACMI's underground gallery space would utilise parts of the old Princes Bridge Station. They would be joined by the offices of SBS and numerous bars and restaurants. Labor Premier Steve Bracks oversaw the opening, his speech on that day indicating the high hopes the Government had for the finished square:

'This space will change the face of Melbourne forever, making us truly a riverside city.'

Response to the Square's design was mostly positive, although some rejected the modern stylings of the architecture. The Sunday Age captured some first impressions from people who came to the opening:

Despite these misgivings, the rumblings of which continue to this day, Premier Bracks was right, the new Federation Square certainly had changed the city indelibly. 

Federation Square site in the 1970s.

Same site, 2004

Crowd in Federation Square gathers to watch Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's
apology speech to Australia's stolen generations.

Whether or not it remains the final reinvention the corner undergoes, remains to be seen.