On the corner of King St and Latrobe St (South East corner) is situated one of Melbourne’s oldest buildings. A shop and dwelling, it is owned by George Dixon and his wife Lola Russell. It was built in 1850, but the building today faces serious structural problems. The Latrobe St Wall has now been braced. M/s Russell has lived there since the 1920s. Both George and Lola are aged in their nineties. Lola was one month old when she arrived at the King St address.
Lola Russell’s grandfather purchased the building in 1899, setting up a News Agency and a General Store. Today it is known as ‘Russell’s Old Corner Shop’. Both M/s Russell and Mr Dixon still serve tea, coffee and snacks for the occasional customers. The shop is a living time warp – full of interesting curiosities. Both Lola and George are professional actors who will occasionally put on a performance for some lucky visitors.
The problems faced in rectifying the structural issues of the property are substantial but not insurmountable. Consider that in 1850 building methods were so very different to today. Foundations were often bluestone lintels laid directly on earth with a very low grade mortar holding them in place. This was built as a residential home and shopfront, not a public building. As such it was never intended to be standing 167 years later, at least not in its original conformation. This is one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections. And this old house and shop have done extremely well to be still standing. Look around it – nearly all modern buildings, bitumen and concrete roads, gas and electricity services – it is indeed a small miracle that this tiny building has survived.
The Melbourne City Council has indicated it will ‘assist’ the couple with their required rectification works. It has not however specified how.
TV personality Shaynna Blaze (The Block, Selling Houses Australia, etc) has set up a crowd funding campaign to save the couple’s home aiming at collecting the $30,000 price tag on repairing the home currently quoted by contractors. The City of Melbourne has taken emergency action to prop up the leaning Latrobe St Wall on the Heritage listed building in the last few weeks and is monitoring the site.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle told Mr Dixon, who was attending a Council meeting to put he and his wife’s case for assistance, that “Council was very aware of this property. We are very proud that it has been maintained by you and yours for the longest period of time – it is an absolute landmark”.
There are very few buildings of this vintage still standing in Melbourne. St Francis Church in Lonsdale St was built in 1841 and has stood the test of time. There are 5 other buildings of this vintage still standing in the Melbourne CBD. These are:
- 1845 – The Baptist Church – Collins St Melbourne
- 1848 – 300 Queen St Melbourne
- 1848-49 – 58-60 Bourke St Melbourne (Jobs Warehouse)
- 1849 – Oddfellows (former Hotel) 33 Lonsdale St Melbourne
- 1849 – Black Eagle (former Hotel) 44 Lonsdale St Melbourne
At Balance, it is our opinion that it matters little who lives at such a property such as that currently owned by Lola Russell and George Dixon. This is an amazing vignette of Melbourne’s colonial history and provides a staggering contrast to the extraordinary development agenda of the last 100 years in our CBD.
Basic human dignity and social responsibility says that the City of Melbourne should provide some duty of care for the elderly couple living in the dwelling. And it should not be lost on Council to accept that the property at this time would be worth a staggering amount of money, so any costs can surely be recovered in the future.
One hopes the building can be preserved for posterity, that George Dixon and Lola Russell get to live their days out in their home of – in Lola’s case – over 97 years.
And it would appear that common sense will prevail. Let’s hope we can pop in for a cuppa, a piece of cake and a little bit of showmanship for a few more years yet. Good luck to Lola and George, and on with the show!