HIDDEN HERITAGE: SOUTH ROUTE
by Rohan Storey
START: Mitre Tavern, Bank Place
FINISH: Fitzroy Gardens
FIELD NOTES: From the CBD to St Kilda and back through South Yarra, this route will reveal Melbourne’s heritage at sites you may otherwise never encounter.
Mitre tavern (Bank Place, Melbourne)
A little piece of olde⎯England in the heart of the city, this pub lies hidden down a lane off Collins Street. First licensed as a pub in 1868, it was cobbled together from a clutch of earlier houses, and given its ‘Tudorbethan’ look in the 1900s. Now dwarfed by the taller surrounding developments, a drink in the Bank Place beer garden on weekdays still has its charm.
The original Rialto (495 Collins Street, Melbourne)
Long before the iconic towers of commerce were erected in the mid⎯eighties, this Rialto Building was the pride of Collins Street. Designed by prolific Melbourne architect William Pitt, the intricate Venetian gothic façade is a visual delight and one end of a marvellous row of equally ornate offices, representing the full gamut of the Victorian styles, which were booming at that time. Amazingly, this whole row narrowly escaped demolition in the ’70s, after a long and passionate fight.
Turn left at Spencer Street, follow past the casino and onto Clarendon Street. Turn right at Coventry Street and follow signs to the Portable Iron Houses (399 Coventry Street, South Melbourne). In gold rush⎯era Melbourne, demand for housing was so great that dozens of pre⎯fabricated houses, made entirely of iron were imported. Erected in 1853 and 1854, the house at 399 Coventry Street is the last remaining of a row of six. Purchased by the National Trust in 1970, the house was saved from demolition and opened as a museum in 1983. The site is open from 1 pm to 4 pm on the first Sunday of each month, or by appointment.
Former Albert Park Coffee Palace (152 Bridport Street, Albert Park)
The imposing grandeur of the four ⎯storey Biltmore residence was erected in 1887. Then the Albert Park Coffee Palace, it was built during the 1880s as an alcohol⎯free alternative to the public house⎯one of a number of coffee palaces opened across Melbourne during the heyday of the temperance movement. Many of these establishments later took up an alcohol licence to compete with other pubs, while others moved into the boarding house business. The grandest of all, the 500⎯room Federal Coffee Palace in Collins Street, met the wrecking ball in 1972.
St Vincent Place, Albert Park
Laid out in the mid 1850s and developed with grand terraces and villas in the late nineteenth century, St Vincent Place and its gardens are considered the best example of a London⎯style residential square in Australia. The beautiful central gardens have retained their basic layout, where one can enjoy a stroll, or a game of lawn bowls or tennis under a canopy of mature trees.
Hidden St Kilda mansions
In the nineteenth century, St Kilda was one of the wealthier suburbs in Melbourne, characterised by great houses and grand terraces. The growing popularity of sea bathing and the new electric tram network brought mass tourism in the 1910s, and Fitzroy Street and Acland Street became shopping strips⎯often by simply building shops in the front gardens of houses. A fine example of this includes the so⎯called ‘French Embassy’ (91⎯97 Fitzroy Street) revealed in the 1990s after the demolition of the central shop. Turn left at the Prince of Wales Hotel, and take in the fine residential end of Acland Street, a stark contrast to the famous, gaudy shopping end. By 1910, St Kilda Road was a remarkable boulevard of mansions and villas, but after a century of intense development the streetscape today is strikingly high⎯rise and modern. Ulimaroa at 630 St Kilda Road and Warwillah at 572 St Kilda Road are two of a mere handful of the grand houses remaining.
Riding through Fawkner Park into South Yarra, Park Street is also home to some impressive terraces and a few of Melbourne’s earliest blocks of flats. Wrap⎯up your ride at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden in the Queen Victoria Gardens, tucked into the side of the hill on Alexandra Avenue. As an initiative to recognise the role of pioneer women in Victoria, this garden was created in 1934 to mark the centenary of European settlement in Victoria. Hard⎯to⎯find and highly manicured, the gardens make a fine spot for a picnic.
Rohan Storey is Architectural Historian of the National Trust. www.nattrust.com.au