Living History – St Vincent’s Place

Probably the most gracious and beautiful location in what was the Emerald Hills area is St Vincent’s Place and the St Vincent’s Place Gardens. Not only is it the crown in the architecture of the original estate, it represents probably the most beautiful of all preserved heritage areas in Melbourne not currently in the hands of the State. In 2014, the impeccably and faithfully restored mansion at No. 69 sold for a reputed $12 million. The home was originally built in 1873.

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St Vincent’s Place, Albert Park’s ‘Millionaire’s Row’ hugs the St Vincent’s Gardens and curves around the gardens in both directions. The estate was based on London Town Planning with rows of single and double story terraces and detached properties overlooking the original layout of the Gardens. The Bowling Club and the Tennis Clubs remain, but unfortunately do not feature the original buildings. The Albert Park Bowling Club was established in 1873.


St Vincent’s Place is bounded by Park St, Cecil St, Bridport St, Cardigan Place and Nelson Rd. It is one of the few remaining examples of a Nineteenth Century residential development, designed around a large landscaped ‘square’ – the gardens – that is still intact today. And this is very much the result of the National Trust’s very effective Heritage overlay which includes the gardens and the surrounding estate.

Perhaps a little known fact is that prior to the establishment of the estate being developed in 1854 or 55, the area was used as a race track for thoroughbred horses.

The original layout and design was presumed to have been completed by Mr Andrew Clarke the then Surveyor-General of Victoria. The final lay-out and design as we know it was the work of Mr Clement Hodgkinson, the noted surveyor, engineer and topographer. Mr Hodgkinson made allowance for the inclusion of the intersection of the new St Kilda railway.

The original design extended from Howe Cresent in the east to Nelson Rd and Cardigan St in the west. This then gives sense to the name of the new gardens being named St Vincent’s Gardens as the whole estate ran to the boundary of the St Vincent’s Orphanage, now on Cecil St where the zenith of the estate on Howe Cres met with Cecil St – at the gates os St Vincent’s Orphanage.

All of the main streets were named after British Naval Heroes. Land sales commenced in 1860. High quality row and detached houses were constructed early on with Rochester Terrace being most notable.


According to the Victorian Heritage Register:

‘St Vincent’s Place is aesthetically important for the outstanding quality of its urban landscape. the major elements that reflect this importance are the gardens with their gardenesque style layout and fine collections of mature specimen trees, and the harmonious relationship with the residential buildings facing them around St Vincent’s Place. The St Vincent’s Place Precinct is historically important as the premier ‘square’ development in Victoria based on similar models in London. It was the largest development of this type in Victoria.’

Significant buildings No 5 and No 21 St Vincent’s Place South, Rochester Terrace, 51 St Vincent’s Place South (St Vincent’s Place Medical Centre), 57 St Vincent’s Place (The Richard Wagner Society Inc), 73 St Vincent’s Place South (The Loretto Province Centre), 30 St Vincent’s Place North – Rosebank, 44 St Vincent’s Place North – Hambleton House, 94 St Vincent’s Place North, 78 St Vincent’s Place North – John Danks’ Former home – John Danks was a well known industrialist. The companies he established still operate today. He chose French Romanesque for his pair of terraces as opposed to the more common Italianate style of the times (1875). It features a superb garden, well worth a visit during the Open Garden Scheme schedule.

So pack up a Sunday picnic, drive to the gardens and go for a stroll. All the buildings are within walking distance. There are richly detailed Victorian Terraces, Terraces featuring French style Mansard roofing towers, the imposing Rochester Terrace and of course the St Vincent’s Gardens  with Parterre flower beds, rows of Algerian Oak trees and a wonderful fountain dedicated to Boer War heroes and veterans.

Look across at Rochester Terrace facing the park and think of London in the 19th Century. Imagine the street filled with grand horse-drawn carriages. Marvel as the light filters through the Oak tree canopy. It remains in pristine almost original external condition and is the epitome of the Victorian Terrace. on a good day look up – and you may see a Hot Air Balloon float on by journeying to Albert Park Lake Reserve – if you’re early enough.

Originally it was an investment property by Auctioneer, Land Speculator and Agent W.P. Buckhurst. An axially planned terrace with a dominant central block, flanking intermediate wings and strongly detailed end pavilions, it was designed in the classic revival style.

What a splendid investment it turned out to be, for you, for me and for future generations who can now re-live the past in such authenticity and beauty.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

South Melbourne – From Humble Beginnings to Celebrating 150 Years as Melbourne’s Oldest Market.

Emerald hill or ‘Old South Melbourne’ has an amazingly mixed pedigree. Originally the site of Melbourne’s first major orphanages and expansive network of workers cottages – some quite innovative as we shall see, it was also home to some grand residences and public buildings. But there is a no doubt that the original estate housed many workers for the industries located along the Yarra River – and some of these were the famous prefabricated Iron Cottages shipped from England for quick and effective assembly – one remains in the area. It is located at 399 Coventry St, South Melbourne (Two more have also been added from other locations).

Over 100 of these portable buildings were eventually constructed in the State of Victoria. These were simple constructions and almost anyone could complete the assembly. Consider that people at the time were living in so-called ‘Canvastown’, in tents and were paying five shillings per tent per week.

The Iron House was deemed permanent so it was far more desirable than living in a tent. The portable cottages were commissioned by Governor Latrobe to provide accomodation urgently needed to house the Gold Rush arrivals who were flooding into Canvastown and other transient overflow tent cities around Old Melbourne.

The Coventry St Iron Houses are located at 399 Coventry St and are maintained by the National Trust. They are tiny. One sits upon its original allotment, the other two were removed from North Melbourne and Fitzroy to this site, to save them from demolition. The rear house at Coventry St is in fact a Bellhouse, one of only two remaining from the Bellhouse Iron Foundry. The other is situated on the Queen’s Balmoral Estate in England, originally ordered by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert as a ‘royal studio’ (perhaps it was his ‘man shed’).

Another portable cottage – this time timber (and now a private residence) is located across the road in Coventry Place at number 17. These timber cottages were known as ‘Singapore’ cottages and this one is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.


Find out more about Melbourne’s Iron Houses on the National Trust website

So where did one shop in these bygone days? Where did you seek food – fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and general merchandise? In 1856 local householders petitioned the then Emerald Hill Council for a market. It took a further 11 years for the market – established on crown land in what was then the Borough of Emerald Hill – to be finally opened to the public in 1867. Situated on 10 acres it was bounded by the St Kilda Railway line, Coventry, Cecil and York Streets.

Initially it was leased under contract to private operators, but in 1904 the South Melbourne Council – as it had become – reclaimed control and the payment of Market Dues by stallholders.

It is Melbourne’s oldest continuing market celebrating 150 years of operation this year. The first sheds were erected in 1866, it featured a five and a half ton weigh-bridge purchased in 1872 and was lit up with electric lighting by 1924.

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The market was virtually destroyed by fire in 1981 when the A and B sheds on Coventry St were lost at a cost of $150K. Two bombs were exploded in the same year damaging several stalls (there was something a-going on!). Gelignite bombs were set off at a take-away food stall and dress shop. 80 sticks of Gelignite were planted along the Cecil St facade although only 2 bombs of twenty sticks each exploded. Apparently no-one was responsible. Unbelievably no-one was hurt and damage was restricted to around $30K.

In recent times the market has seen some remarkable architectural initiatives. Original elements of the Victorian style facade remain in the Coventry St entrance and the full verandahs on the surrounding Coventry, Cecil and York Streets. Until around 2013 the market was covered by a rather dreary but necessary carpark roof constructed in 1972. Concrete, it was leaky and a heat trap for the market beneath.

In 2012 a new multifaceted rooftop was added to the carpark, providing shelter to shoppers, capturing rainwater, generating electricity from solar and regulating temperatures inside the market. Designed and implemented by Paul Morgan Architects it is a melding of Architectures, both past and present, sustainability and functionality.

It is seen as a sophisticated addition to the urban landscape. Does it work? You be the judge.

Find out more about the historic South Melbourne Market here

Next week we will continue our exploration of Emerald Hill. There are still treasures to come, and more from a very rich history.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Emerald Hill – The Beginning

Emerald Hill is perhaps Melbourne’s most significant area of still surviving Heritage Architecture. With the magnificent and very grand South Melbourne Town Hall, the housing of  the original estate, and the spectacular retail shopping facades of ‘Old Clarendon St’ it represents one of the last remnants of early and historic architecture remaining in Melbourne.

Its first colonial use was for the Melbourne Protestant Orphans Asylum when the then colonial Government of Victoria set aside 10 acres on Emerald hill for this rather sad facility in 1854. With a major separation based on faith, a further 2 acres was granted to the Catholic Vicar General in 1855 and the foundation stone was laid for St Vincent De Paul’s Orphanage on the 8th of October, 1855.

The development of what was to become the Emerald Hill Estate was determined by the unusual method of sale embraced by the Melbourne ‘Protestants’ who held freehold on the land. It was developed entirely as a leasehold precinct rather than a Freehold precinct by the Board of the Melbourne Protestant Orphanage Asylum. In itself this organisation was the first such ‘committee’ to be made up of ‘ladies’. The women on occasions suffered the assistance of their ‘gentlemen’ partners as women were not permitted to hold land in their own names or act as trustees.

The women involved belonged to those religions of the protestant faith that were considered evangelical.

Originally formed in 1845, evolving from what was known as the ‘Dorcas Society’ it was the first women’s association of Melbourne. By 1875, men had effectively snatched back the management of the facility with two committees being merged into one – 18 men (five being ministers) and twelve women.

But back to Emerald Hill…

Emerald Hill is an old volcanic outcrop. It stood above surrounding swampland with a greener vegetation. It had always been a favoured gathering place for the indigenous people of the area. Located above what was the Yarra River Delta it became attractive to Melbourne’s early settlers. The earliest subdivision occurred in 1852. In 1855, it was declared a separate borough to the City of Melbourne.

Originally called Canvastown, with tents of the immigrant gold seekers, this was the name given to the first school in the area on the corner of Clarendon and Bank St. Church schools opened slightly later. Presbyterian 1854, Catholic 1854, Anglican 1856 and of course, the orphanages. The Mechanics Institute opened in 1857. The Melbourne to St Kilda railway link provided a station for Emerald Hill by 1858. The Albert Park Lagoon was excavated to form a lake for boating and sailing in 1875.

Emerald Hill was proclaimed a town in 1875. The grand and imposing Town Hall was constructed between 1879 and 1880. It reflected what was at the time a massive boom time for the fledgling colony in its grandeur. Designed by Architect Charles Webb, a rated Melbourne Architect of the time, the building featured a public hall, a mechanics institute and a library.

Built on an elevated site, it was the centrepiece of a formally planned block. Its forecourt featured a small curved park. It is built in what is described as ‘Victorian Academic Classical Style’ with French Second Empire features, dominated by its very tall, multi staged clock tower.

The building along with its park and Boer War Memorial in front is registered on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Internal fittings were modified in the 1930s with new internal features and Council Chamber furniture, designed and selected by ‘Oakley and Parkes’.

The building was fully restored in 2004 being a beneficiary of the State Government Heritage Grant. The original decorative roof and iron cresting were restored and the original ochre exterior colour was also reinstated. These items had been removed or altered in 1945.

Clarendon St over time became the central thoroughfare and the preferred retail shopping centre for those enjoying the boom times of the 1880s. The famous ‘Clarendon Terrace’ between Park St and Dorcas St was established in 1887.

Cable Car Tram Lines were opened in the 1890s which was in addition to the Steam Ferry between Clarendon St and Spencer St established in 1883. The Cable Car Drive House is still intact on City Rd.

It was crowded with food and drapery outlets, furniture retailers and well stocked grocery stores. Manufacturers like Hoadley’s Chocolates and Sennit’s Icecream were both located on or near Clarendon St.

There is a rich history in this suburb. The Chinese See Yup Temple is just one extraordinary building amongst over 139 heritage listed buildings identified as far back as 1987, on a National Register of important or historic buildings.

Over the next few weeks we will take you on a tour focussing on the heritage of old Emerald Hill but also looking at the merging of the old with the new and how we are getting better at it. We hope we’ve whet your appetite for more.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Architectural Values – Old and New

This week we take a look at a modern building I have a personal connection with – The Freeman Yuncken Building on King St West Melbourne and the grand old Scottish folly located out on the beginning of what was known as the Keilor Plains – Overnewton Castle. Home to another pastoralist, it’s easy to see that if you wanted to make money in the mid Nineteenth Century your best bet was to raise and sell sheep and harvest the golden fleece.

As a younger Architect I worked for Yuncken Freeman out of their King St Offices (Number 407). Last year I was appalled to see a proposal to construct a hotel on top of this renowned modernist style office building. Designed originally in 1955, it was inspired by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. It was described in a report commissioned by the City of Melbourne as being historically and aesthetically significant to West Melbourne and Victoria. VCAT rejected the application and the building remains. It is an example of early small scale international modern office designs and was seen as a prototype for the design and development of BHP House and the South Yarra Library. Yuncken Freeman was dissolved in the 1980s. It designed the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and created the masterplan for Latrobe University campus at Bundoora. It was also responsible for the well known Canberra Theatre Centre in the nation’s capital.

Such buildings may not be your personal taste but are in fact architecturally very significant as they demonstrate the adoption of new construction techniques allowing vistas previously unachievable. Bold and somewhat striking, at the time these constructions mapped the evolution of modern design.

Overnewton Castle


In complete juxtaposition, there is the property known as Overnewton Castle located in Keilor on the edge of Melbourne. A Scotsman named William Taylor purchased 13,000 acres of rich agricultural land suitable for grazing just to the west of the Keilor township.

Initially Mr Taylor built an uncomplicated single storey bluestone homestead of 6 rooms with shuttered windows and wide verandahs in true colonial style. The building overlooked the Keilor Valley, a rich floodplain of the Maribyrnong River which to this day supports extensive market gardens. It had excellent views as far west as Mt Macedon.

In 1859 upon returning from a visit to his native Scotland, Taylor set about creating his ultimate dream – a baronial Scottish castle in miniature. A formal two storey wing was added to the original homestead as well as a basalt (bluestone) dairy and butcher shop and a very grand and quite large Billiard room.

Built in a Victorian ‘Tudor’ style, it is inspired by 16th Century Architecture from Scotland and England. Rough hewn and featured masonry, steep pitched roofs and the overhanging battlement corner turrets are straight from the Scottish baronial influence.

Candle Snuffer roofing features demonstrate a French provincial influence.

Stone was quarried on the estate and finished in a yellow gravel stucco rendering. A Keystone featuring the Taylor crest sits above the master bedroom window, with smaller keystones carrying other motifs above other adjacent windows.

Once completed the property featured 35 rooms – 7 bedrooms, the master bedroom featuring dressing room and ensuite, a schoolroom, library, drawing room, 2 functional kitchens, servant’s quarters – and the Billiard room (which now serves as a chapel for weddings).

Original features such as Victorian Tiling, clawfoot bathtubs and large functional wood ovens and stoves still remain. Out buildings are intact and still remain (if not functional) – stables, the dairy, machine shed, a coachhouse and shearing sheds.

When William Taylor died in 1903, the estate passed quickly to his son William Henry as William Snr’s wife had died only 6 months later aged 71. William Henry died in 1939 aged 81 followed by his wife in 1948. The estate remained with the Taylors until 1959 when the Carr family purchased it and established a reception centre on the lower floors choosing to live upstairs.

It was again sold in 1975 and purchased by Dr LJ Norton. He purchased it to provide a family home. An elegant and substantial dining room was added.

Surrounded by beautiful gardens and mature trees, Overnewton still operates as a reception centre – a hidden treasure from a bygone period.



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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.