July 15, 2024

Foy’s Rooftop Funpark

The corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets used to be dominated by a giant Santa, and a fondly remembered department store. This is Foy's Rooftop Funpark.

Department store founder Mark Foy
Mark Foy with his family

Born in Ireland in 1835, Mark Foy, like so many of his countrymen, was lured to Melbourne by the gold rush. He arrived in the city in 1858, and decamped to the goldfields near Ballarat, with his young family.

But when he failed to strike it rich, he turned instead to shop keeping, opening a butcher's shop in Campbell's Creek. Energetic and resourceful, he was soon able to move to the larger city of Castlemaine, and expand into wholesale produce.

Looking down Smith Street, Collingwood, 1880
Smith St, Collingwood, circa 1880.

By 1870, Foy was successful enough to move back to Melbourne.

He now opened a drapery on Smith St, in Collingwood, which quickly proved lucrative. By the end of the decade he had expanded his business to a chain of six shops, and had become a wealthy and respected member of the local community.

Foy's heath was not robust though, and in 1882 he took early retirement.

Control of his businesses then passed to his eldest son Frances, and Foy installed a family friend, William Gibson, as a business partner. Mark Foy moved abroad, living in England and America, before passing away in 1884.

Frances Foy would prove just as ambitious as his father.

The original Foy and Gibson store.
A 'Foy & Gibson' store, circa 1900. Photo: trove.com.au

The younger Foy decided to expand again.

He now opened a series of 'General Stores', a kind of proto-department store, selling a wide range of goods. Originally badged 'Foy & Gibson', the first store opened in 1883, and was immediately successful.

After Gibson allowed Foy to buy out his share of the company in 1884, the business reverted to  the name 'Foy's'.

Foy's grand Sydney store
Foy's lavish Sydney shop

The chain soon expanded interstate.

The Sydney outlet was particularly elaborate. On a huge site near Hyde Park, the decorative façade was topped with towers, and the interior lit by crystal chandeliers; at the time, it was the largest shop in Sydney. Other shops followed, in Adelaide and Perth.

As the stores became larger, the range of goods sold more modern and sophisticated.

Foy's iconic Melbourne store
Foy's main Melbourne branch

Foy's main Melbourne branch was a stylish building opposite the eastern end of the Bourke St pedestrian mall.

The store was hugely successful, and an iconic part of the city in the first half of the 20th century, occupying a similar niche to the Myer Department store, Foy's great rival.

Frances Foy passed away in 1918 at only 53 years of age, which ended the family's active role in the business. His heirs sold their stake in the company, although the business and storefronts would retain the family name.

Foy's giant Santa, overlooking the mall.

The Giant Santa, and Rooftop Fun Park, were a Christmas gimmick that began in the early 1960s.

The Melbourne store was already known for it's elaborate Christmas decorations, and the new additions were meant to reinforce the idea of Foy's as Christmas central.

The three storey high Santa was promoted as the largest in the world, and its index finger was mechanised, so it would beckon to shoppers passing by.

Foy's Christmas catalogue cover

Foy's giant Christmas Santa

Looking down Bourke Street, Christmas 1969

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

Pony rides on Foy's Rooftop Funpark

Ferris wheel at Foy's Rooftop Funpark

Carousel at Foy's Rooftop Funpark

The rooftop funpark only lasted to the end of the decade.

The Foy's chain was then taken over by David Jones and the iconic Melbourne building sold to Woolworth's, relegating the Rooftop Park and the giant Santa to history.

The same site is a modern office building, present day:

Corner of Swanston and Bourke Streets, present day


3 thoughts on “Foy’s Rooftop Funpark

  1. Worked in that store 68-70, after the Collingwood store closed. The best of workmates at both stores. Go Laurie!

    1. Anne, my Grandfather Joe Sheppard, worked operating the lifts and at Christmas time was Santa at the rooftop carnival

  2. The rooftop fun park was not opened until 1964 – I worked there and my Father was MD at the time (John Watt)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *