Ormond Hall – A survivor

Back in the ‘70s Ormond Hall was a popular venue for Rock and Roll. Bands such as Skyhooks, Chain, Sherbert and even John Farnham appeared there. But its real history is somewhat more interesting.

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Located on a huge block bounded by St Kilda Rd and Moubray St, the land originally housed ‘The Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind’ established as it was in 1866. The facility was made up of a ‘home’ and school designed to house 120 children and adults. It was built in 1868. The ‘Protestant principles’ were stated as ensuring Blind People became useful members of society.

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The original building was constructed in Gothic Revival style from the favoured building material for the Victorian Colony’s early public buildings – Bluestone. Architects Crouch and Wilson who designed the original building continued with a number of extensions, the first in 1872, the McPherson Wing as well as a number of Training Workshops. The new wing was used as a showroom for the Institute’s output of baskets, nets, brushes and matting.

The Institute’s buildings set back from St Kilda Rd provided an imposing vista from that famous boulevard. The long curved driveway flanked by large distinguished Elm trees provided a further impressive vision.

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Ormond Hall for the Blind, named after benefactor Francis Ormond, was built with its entrance on Moubray St in 1891. The building was designed by Architects Nathaniel Billing and Son. It provided a major teaching and further entertainment venue. Two further brick factories were built east of the Hall between 1922 and 1926 but were demolished in the 1990s.

An earlier single storey stone building was ‘widened’ in 1926 and a further two additional brick stories were also added in 1933. The building was situated on the property’s northern boundary. This building was expanded and developed by the Public Works Department under the direction of Mr J.D. McLean.

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The main RVIB building is architecturally important as a landmark institutional example of the work of notable architects Crouch and Wilson, and is comparable with the nearby Royal Victorian Institute for Deaf Children (also designed by Crouch and Wilson) of 1866. Crouch and Wilson were one of Melbourne’s most prolific nineteenth century architectural practices, and designed many Wesleyan churches and other important institutional buildings.

Ormond Hall is historically important for its role as a major teaching and entertainment venue for the blind, and for its long use as a fundraising centre and venue for social gatherings for pupils, employees and the wider community. It is important for its association with Francis Ormond (1829-1889), grazier and philanthropist, and is a fitting memorial to his abiding interest in education and music.

The three storey brick former factory is historically important as the sole surviving element of the extensive red brick factory buildings constructed behind the main building in the 1920s and 1930s.

This structure incorporates part of an early stone building constructed by the Institute. Traditional blind trades such as mat, basket and brush making were taught and carried on in the factory workshops, and the RVIB factory workshops became synonymous with the production of coir matting in Victoria.

A prefabricated Myer house placed on the grounds between 1947 and 1953 is historically and architecturally important as the only known example of one of the many prefabricated houses constructed by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and marketed by the Myer Emporium during the world-wide shortage of housing following the Second World War.

[Note: The Myer Prefabricated House (B3) was demolished in 2010 under Permit No.P12221]

Source: Heritage Victoria

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Go there now and it’s surrounded by encroaching buildings from both the Alfred Hospital complex and the St Kilda Rd office blocks on the east side of the road heading back towards Commercial Rd. Battles were fought and lost to stop ‘inappropriate’ development, particularly the Glass tower abutting the property to the north.

Ormond Hall is now basically a hospitality venue. It famously hosted the Belgian Beer Bar for several decades until the 2017 refurbishment completed by Hutchinson Builders. Lovel Chen were the Architects. Here are some of the internal vistas.

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Hutchinson’s work on the hall included minor demolition, conservation works under approval from Heritage Victoria, repair and rectification to the tower, fire services upgrade including the fault in the bar and supper room, electrical upgrade communications and alarm, painting throughout, sand / replish Chapel floor, replace carpet, roof works, removal and disposal of asbestos.

From our perspective this is a wonderful little complex, a real throwback to the 19th Century. Being opposite Wesley College, it still maintains its perspective and independent vista. But with the crowding of larger, taller office blocks and medical facilities, it is a little lost.

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Take the time to walk down Mooubray St, stroll through the little park. Shut your eyes and imagine – you’re blind, and this is where you will prepare for life. A wonderful, unforgettable place in Melbourne’s Heritage – Ormond Hall. Saved.

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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.