Melbourne’s Wonderful Lost Buildings

Melbourne was founded in 1835. Like most modern cities it has been rebuilt, and re-designed, and reconfigured, in an endless cycle, ever since.

Forgotten Places FORGOTTEN PLACES

 THE LOCAL FILES

And while this process helps refresh the city, it also means that we lose some wonderful architectural artefacts along the way. The following is a selection of these, the lost buildings of Melbourne...

 

MELBOURNE FISH MARKETS

Flinders Street, block between King and Spencer

Of all Melbourne's vanished buildings, this 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. It ran the block next to Flinders Street Station, and had been designed with the station in mind, the two buildings complementing each other

Same site, present day.

In the lead up to the Summer Olympics in 1956 it was decided to demolish a number of Melbourne's older buildings, in order to 'modernise' the look of the city.

Sadly, this was one of the buildings to go, although the demolition was not completed until 1959. It was replaced initially with a carpark, the block now shared by a nondescript office building.

 

COLONIAL MUTUAL LIFE BUILDING

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 time, and £500 000 price tag, this building may well have been.

Taken over by insurance company Colonial Mutual in 1923, it would serve as their offices for thirty years. Constructed with granite and marble, and featuring hard timber fixtures and elaborate decoration, the CML Building, as it came to be known, was probably the city's most lavish.

The Equitable Statue, Melbourne Uni
Granite columns and decoration, outside the Melbourne Museum

But high maintenance costs and outdated fixtures made the company want rid of it by the 1950's.

CML vacated the property in 1957, and it was demolished in 1960. The building was not considered worthy of heritage protection; at the time it was viewed as staid, and uninspiring.

Some of the facade and statuary were saved; the 'Equitable Statue' from above the front entrance went to Melbourne University, where it stands in the grounds today (near the Bailleu Library), and some of the decorative granite is dotted across the lawn, outside the Melbourne Museum.

Same site, present day.

A bland office block stands in its place today; the logo 'CML' has been emblazoned across its street level pillars, to remind people of what once was.

 

THE FEDERAL HOTEL

555 Collins Street

Built in 1888, to coincide with the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, 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 luxuriously appointed guest rooms. It was where Melbourne's elite, and upper echelon visitors, chose to drink and dine and stay.

Lobby interior

The lobby was so impressive that the building became a tourist attraction in its own right.

The hotel was sold in the early 70's, and demolished in 1973, to make way for modern redevelopment. As with many buildings from the 19th century, upkeep on the property was high, and there were constant issues with keeping the building compliant with contemporary safety standards.

Same site, present day

Pleas to have it saved as a heritage building were ignored by the Government of the time. The hotel was still such a popular local landmark that thousands of people turned out to watch it being demolished. 

 

THE AUSTRALIA BUILDING

43 - 45 Elizabeth Street

When it was built in 1889, this 12 storey office building was the third tallest in the world. It was also the first, anywhere, to employ mechanical elevators; the innovative design utilised hydraulics, powered by water pumped underground from the Yarra River. 

The Australia Building's handsome red and cream facade could be seen right across the city, and was a well-known local landmark for decades.

But this was another aging building that struggled to adapt to the requirements of the modern era. In particular, the Australia Building's design had created a labyrinth of small, interconnected offices, that was seen as a fire hazard.

The same site, present day

It was demolished in 1980, the site standing vacant for several years until a new, considerably less striking, building took its place.

 

TIVOLI THEATRE

235 Bourke Street

Harry Rickards was a local stage performer with lofty ambitions. In 1895 he borrowed money and built the 'New Opera House' on Bourke Street, hoping to establish it as the city's foremost live venue.

It was an opulently appointed, 2 000 seat venue, that immediately found its place in local history; Harry Houdini appeared there, and it was also the site of Australia's first movie screening (read more about this, here).

Sold by Rickards in 1912, the venue was re-named the 'Tivoli Theatre'. It would continue to be one of the city's most prominent live venues, right through until the 1960s.

Same site, present day

But Melbourne was a city with a surplus of live theatres, and after World War II many of these were re-purposed, or demolished.

The Tivoli was converted into a cinema at first, but then the venue was destroyed by a fire in 1967. The site was then sold and redeveloped. A mixed use building stands on the spot today; at street level is a small retail arcade, named in the former theatre's honour.

 

QUEEN VICTORIA BUILDINGS

Corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets

Built opposite Town Hall in 1888, the Queen Victoria Buildings were a mix of shops and offices that filled a city block.

A rare local example of French Second Empire architecture, the elaborate facade and roof of the building was augmented by a number of statues, including a sizable one of the monarch it was named after. 

The stylish shops of Queens Walk

But the building's most striking feature was 'Queen's Walk'; a light filled, glass roofed retail arcade populated with up market shops. It was considered one of the city's most attractive spaces, and became an iconic location for both  locals and tourists.

City Square, circa 1970.

In the 1960's, Melbourne City Council decided to construct a large public square in the city centre.

Across a decade or more, it gradually acquired parts of the Queen Victoria Buildings for this purpose. Demolition commenced in the late 1960's and took several years (The Regent Theatre 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'. 

But the windswept, concrete rectangle was never popular. Considered uninviting, it was largely ignored by the public, and was never heavily utilised.

The same site, present day

While the Council had pledged to preserve City Square as open space, its unpopularity made them reconsider. In the early 1990's, half of the square was sold for redevelopment, and the Westin Hotel was built on this portion.

 

THE SOUTHERN CROSS HOTEL

Exhibition Street, between Bourke and Little Collins
The Eastern Markets

Before the Southern Cross Hotel, there was the Eastern Markets. Built in 1847 as a flower market, for thirty years this was Melbourne's premier fresh produce trading centre, before it was superseded by the Queen Victoria Markets in the 1870's.

Nevertheless, the Eastern Markets would last right through until the 1960's, adding retail shops and becoming something of a tourist attraction.

The Southern Cross Hotel

The markets were demolished in 1962 and replaced by The Southern Cross Hotel, Melbourne's attempt to get with the swinging sixties.

Built by Pan Am airlines, the 14 storey property adopted the most modern of looks, with a very contemporary design and style. It stood out, dramatically, against its surroundings, and was very divisive, attracting as much vitriol as praise.

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.

Same site, present day

The Southern Cross lasted right through to 1999.

Then, with its once modern appearance now looking very dated, it was sold and demolished. The site sat vacant for several years, before it was replaced by a large-scale office block, home to the Commonwealth Bank, among other tenants. 

 

LONSDALE HOUSE

259 Lonsdale Street

 

Lonsdale House started life a series of warehouses, built in the 1890s.

In 1935, the property was sold and completely re-designed; it was refashioned as a medium scale office building, and its exterior remodelled in the Art Deco style, then at the height of its popularity.

While many Art Deco buildings, most of them, have disappeared from Melbourne, Lonsdale House was able to survive, right through to 2010.

Same site, present day

But Lonsdale House would eventually be undone by its location. Standing adjacent to the Myer Department Store, it fell victim to Myer's expansion plans.

In 2010 it was demolished to make way for the 'Emporium', a Myer funded shopping arcade focussing on fashion. While there were numerous calls for the building to receive heritage protection, then planning minister Justin Madden immediately approved Myer's plans, without consulting the community.

When it was demolished, Lonsdale House was one of only 20 Art Deco buildings left in Melbourne.

 

CAFE AUSTRALIA

264 - 270 Collins Street

American Architect Walter Burley Griffin is most famous for designing Australia's Capital City, Canberra.

But he left a wider legacy across Australia, having designed a number of everyday buildings. In Melbourne, one of these was 'Cafe Australia', which opened in 1916.

Cafe Australia, elaborate interior

Featuring an elaborate facade and entryway, and an open plan interior, lit with skylights during the day, the cafe instantly became one of Melbourne's most popular eateries.

Sadly, it did not last long. The owners struggled to turn a profit, and sold the business in 1927.

Hotel Australia

It was replaced by 'Hotel Australia'.

Part of the redevelopment included the construction of a retail mall, filling the bottom three levels of the property. The hotel's rooms were above this, and the hotel's bars and restaurants below. At the height of its popularity, the mall attracted 25 000 customers a day.

Same site, present day

The Hotel was sold and demolished in 1988. In its place is now 'Australia on Collins', a mixed use building with a reduced number of retail outlets, and an increased number of offices.

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