Melbourne’s Lost Architectural Treasures

Melbourne’s early architecture was most definitely influenced by what was perhaps the strongest formative event in the young colony of Victoria’s history – the Gold Rush of the 1850s. With thousands of miners arriving at the Melbourne Port and making their ways to the diggings in Ballarat, Bendigo and other goldfields, the capital poured into the city. Profits from gold were enormous, and the new population needed provisioning, housing and all relevant services. Often when money made from mining was spent, the results were seriously ostentatious.

Many beautiful buildings were constructed. Some have survived such as those we looked at last week. Many did not and were torn down in the name of progress or modernising.

The Melbourne Fish Markets

The Melbourne Fish Markets – what an extraordinarily beautiful building for a seemingly everyday purpose. the building was constructed in 1890 and for over 50 years was used as a market for fish and other produce. It was demolished prior to the 1956 Olympic Games in the government’s quest for modernity. From 1959 until recently it remained a carpark! The land is now occupied partially by a nondescript office block.

The Fink Building

The Fink Building – stood on the corner of Elizabeth St and Flinders St. It was built in 1888 and was Australia’s tallest building for many years, standing 13 storeys high. Its tower featured a Mannerist facade crowned by several eyecatching features on the skyline including a monsard roof. Ravaged by one of Melbourne’s biggest fires in 1897 it was rebuilt several years later and finally demolished in the 1960s.

555 Collins St

555 Collins St was constructed in 1888 to coincide with the Centennial Exhibition marking 100 years of Australian Colonisation. Known eventually as ‘The Coffee Palace’ it was a most ornate building and originally was one of the largest and most opulent Hotels in the world. it was a ‘Coffee palace’ in that it payed homage to the Temperance movement of the times and served no alcoholic beverages. This beautiful building was demolished in 1973 despite pleas to have it saved as a heritage building.

The Menzies Hotel

The Menzies Hotel was built in 1867 primarily to accommodate the Duke of Edinburgh and his visit. Some other very famous guests were also accommodated over the years – Sarah Bernhardt, Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain, Herbert Hoover and General Douglas Macarthur. It was demolished in 1969 and the BHP Plaza buildings replaced it.

The Oriental Bank

The Oriental Bank was an extraordinarily beautiful building constructed in 1856. It was themed after a Greek Temple and was the result of a competition held by the bank amongst Melbourne Architects to develop a design. The Bank went bust in 1884 and the building was demolished shortly afterwards. It stood on the corner of Queens St and Flinders Lane.

The Colonial Mutual Life Building

The Colonial Mutual Life Building was located at 316 Collins St. The company known as the ‘Equitable Company’ set itself the task of building the grandest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Costing £500,000 and taking 5 years to complete, it may well have been the case at that time. Building commenced in 1860.
It featured a Central Oriel, meticulous detail, iron cresting and monsard roof, a central clock tower and an unusual and eclectic use of venetian gothic tracery with round arched windows. The building was demolished in 1960 to make way for a ‘modern’ building.

The Australia Building

The Australia Building stood at 43-45 Elizabeth St. At the time of its construction in 1889, this was in fact the worlds third tallest building. Visible from anywhere within the city, the building was the first to use hydraulic lifts using water pumped at high pressure from the Yarra River. It was demolished in 1980.

The Tivoli

And finally Melbourne’s Grand Old Theatre, The Tivoli. Originally known as the ‘Harry Rickards’ New Opera House, named after its original owner – Harry Rickards. Rickards sold the theatre in 1912 and it was renamed the Tivoli shortly after. It continued to present live entertainment right through until the 1960s. Converted to a movie theatre in that decade, it was destroyed by fire in 1967.

Next week we will complete our series on Melbourne’s architectural past with a closing reminiscence on other graceful and delightful visions of the past. Balance Architecture and Interior Design recognise the incredible richness of the city of Melbourne and endeavour to explore and maintain that beauty in their renovations and refurbishments.

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