The Dilemma – What can be done with previously abandoned Heritage locations like Mintaro Mansion?

There is a widespread recognition amongst savvy property investors that Heritage listed properties can offer excellent returns – given the right circumstances. At one stage investors would simply allow a property to further deteriorate then call the demolition team when the building became unsalvageable. The current Victorian Government introduced laws to prevent this practice. These days Heritage Victoria will serve a works order on the owner. If the works are not carried out within a certain time, then a further order for works will be contracted by Heritage Victoria and the owner must cover the cost.

It is a somewhat tricky proposition purchasing a run-down and dilapidated mansion. The asking price will be substantial. Let’s take a look at Mintaro, an Italianate mansion with intact outbuildings – stables, workshops, butchery, etc, but definitely a faded beauty. The asking price in 2012 was set at $3 million. Bids at Auction reached $2.85 million. It was soon sold privately for an undisclosed sum, and then… nothing. The new owners did nothing to repair or restore the mansion and its accompanying outbuildings. It was back on the market by 2015.

This is no ordinary building. It is a living rendition of the pastoral elegance of the times. As part of John Pascoe Faulkner’s original ‘run’, the land was subdivided and sold in 1860 to a Captain Robert Gardiner, who made his fortune through shipping, whaling, gold mining and grazing. Gardiner commissioned well-known Melbourne Architect James Gall to design a new residence fit for a man of his status.

In 1881 the grand mansion Mintaro was completed. The superb interiors were designed by a German artist MR W Brettschneider. Gardiner died in 1890 and the building was sold to the Methodist Church, but more about that later.

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From the Victorian Heritage Register…

Mintaro

Description Summary

The Mintaro homestead is a two storey rendered brick Italianate building with a two-storey loggia running across the front and a part way along two sides. The entrance porch on the north side has free-standing Doric columns and is surmounted by an impressive three storey tower with a belvedere. The two storey service wing to the west is lower and simpler in form. The elaborate and remarkably intact interiors are notable for their variety of surviving original finishes, including hand painted and printed wall and ceiling papers, painted stencilling and wood graining. Elaborate plaster mouldings and ceiling roses are present in many rooms as are marble fireplaces, light fittings, venetians, curtain rails and door and window furniture. All the plasterwork and joinery is marbled, wood-grained, gilded, stencilled or hand-painted and these are integral elements of the overall decorative schemes. All the different elements have been very creatively combined into interior schemes, with each room presenting a unified, richly decorative whole. The spectacular entrance hall features fluted Scagliola columns and Minton encaustic tiles. Opening off the entrance hall are the former drawing room, dining room, morning room and library, all with marble fireplaces and elaborate and largely intact decorative schemes. Three of the four large bedrooms upstairs retain their original wallpapers, with beautifully matched schemes with botanical and classical themes. Other notable intact areas are an original bathroom and a butler’s pantry. Outbuildings comprise a small brick detached toilet, a brick stable and coachhouse, a woolshed and another shed which was once a working horse stable. The mansion is enclosed by a designed landscape providing a dense screen and windbreak on three sides. The original decorative gardens around the house have been largely lost, but the property retains a number of outstanding or rare species, including a very rare Ulmus ‘Viminalis’, Hesperocyparis benthamii, Hesparocyparis macnabiana, Pinus roxburghii, and six Juniperus virginiana, all only known in a few other locations.

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This site is part of the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people.

How is it significant?

Mintaro satisfies the following criterion for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register:

  • Criterion A Importance to the course, or pattern, of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion B Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion D Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects
  • Criterion E Importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics

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Why is it significant?

Mintaro is significant at the State level for the following reasons:

Mintaro is an outstanding and largely intact example of the mansions constructed in Victoria in the 1880s during the colony’s Boom period. It reflects the prosperity of the colony at the time, and the money that wealthy individuals were prepared to spend to demonstrate their success. (Criterion A)

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Mintaro is a rare and relatively intact surviving example of a Boom period mansion with an intact interior decorative scheme. Interiors at this time were extremely elaborate, but intact surviving examples are rare. Mintaro is one of the few houses where the original or early fabric of the decorative schemes for entire rooms survives and is still visible. Notable features include the variety of painted finishes such as stencilling, marbling and wood graining, intact wall and ceiling papers, original gas light fittings, door furniture, tiles and window dressings. The presence of intact cabinetry and decorative schemes for functional and servants’ areas such as the bathroom and butler’s panty is also rare. (Criterion B)

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The Mintaro planting features several trees rarely cultivated in Victoria. The Ulmus ‘Viminalis’ which is unusually grafted at about 2m, is one of only four known examples in Victoria, the other three all being in the Benalla Botanical Gardens. The perimeter windbreak around the property includes the rarely grown Hesperocyparis benthamii, Hesparocyparis macnabiana, Pinus roxburghii, and six Juniperus virginiana, all only known in a few other locations. The large number of Juniperus is unknown in any other planting in Victoria. The variety, size and maturity of species of Quercus, Ulmus, Photinia, Morus, Crataegus, Laurus, Pinus, Cupressus and Hesperocyparis, Cedrus, Araucaria and Sequoiadendron are significant. (Criterion B)

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Mintaro is an outstanding and intact example of a Boom period country mansion, and demonstrates the principal features of such houses, which were designed to demonstrate the status of their owners. They were typically were two-storeyed, in a Classical style, most often with a tower, had a picturesque form with asymmetric massing and planning, and elaborately decorated interiors. (Criterion D)

The intact decorative schemes are rare surviving and outstanding examples of the highest level of interior decoration available in Victoria in the 1880s. The designs, colour schemes and textures of the original materials and artwork provide a rare opportunity to experience the elaborate aesthetics of 1880s interiors. (Criterion E)

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The Mintaro homestead complex sits within an outstanding designed landscape created from 1881 to the 1920s. The serpentine avenue of Monterey Pine along the driveway is entered through decorative gates and sweeps through an extensive parkland and dense perimeter planting. The perimeter planting is laid out to create an internal scalloped edge and includes a large variety of conifers and a few broadleaf and deciduous trees of contrasting foliage and colour. (Criterion E)

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Mintaro is also significant for the following reasons, but not at the State level:

Mintaro is of local significance for its association with one of the prominent early landowners in the area, Captain Robert Gardiner, who owned Mintaro from 1860 until 1885 and with the architect James Gall. (Criterion H)

Source: vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au

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You can view the interior as it was photographed recently here…

The second purchase in 2015 has seen some progress. The new owners restored and replaced the majority of the sash windows, provided maintenance, painted internally to protect the building and its finish from further deterioration.

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The old mansion has been used as a visual backdrop for TV series such as Dr Blake, The Broken Shore and Glitch.

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Still unrestored, the old building was described in June 2019 as beautiful but derelict.

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“A rendered brick Italianate building with a 2 storey loggia running across its front and partway along two sides. The entrance porch on the north side has free standing Doric columns and is surmounted by an impressive 3 storey tower with a belvedere. It still retains its landscaped grounds which are considered outstanding, with very rare trees still in place.”

Mintaro ‘hit the skids’ from 1903 when purchased by the Methodist Church as a Reformatory Home for Girls. It operated as such from 1903 until 1912. Very little was remodelled or changed by the Church. It was again purchased by a Dr Crivelli as a family home. Sold again to the Rea Family in 1934, it remained in their hands until 2012.

And there it sits, waiting for a new suitor. 2012 until now, very little has been done.

In England, the key Heritage organisation runs a lottery. It uses the profits to purchase and restore Heritage buildings such as Mintaro. This historic building is in dire need of attention. Let’s just hope it soon receives it. In our view, buildings like Mintaro require significant investment upon purchase. Perhaps as a pre-requirement to purchase, buyers should be required to provide a strategic restoration plan.

What do you think? Should the State Government invest in preserving Heritage properties like Mintaro? We’d like to think so – til next week.

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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.

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