A major heritage gift

By Tristan Davies – Melbourne Heritage Action

If you’ve been following heritage news in the CBD for a while now, you may remember a brief moment in 2014 when the Bourke St Target Centre made the news, inspired by our calls to remove its cheap cladding to reveal one of Melbourne’s longest hidden heritage gems.

Since 1977, the facades of the Hoyts Deluxe Cinema and Mantons Department Store have been hidden behind cheap cladding and corporate signage, only revealed briefly in 1994 and again more recently in 2014. A simple removal of the cladding and some facade restoration could give Bourke St back a significant heritage streetscape in place of a drab cheap looking wall – a win for both Melbourne’s citizens and presumably any brands that call the Target Centre home.

The Hoyts Deluxe has tremendous importance to Melbourne’s history as the first truly luxurious “picture palace” in Melbourne. It was also one of the last buildings designed by one of Melbourne’s most renowned Boom era architects, William Pitt, opening its doors to theatregoers in 1915.

Next door is the art deco Coles Store, built in two stages. It was designed by the well-known architect Harry Norris (who also designed the iconic Nicholas Building) and was opened in 1937 as Mantons. It was extended in 1955, in a matching style, and became a Coles Store. In 1977 the cinema interior was sadly destroyed for shops and offices and both facades were covered over, where they remain until this day.

This opportunity for a major heritage gift back to the people of Melbourne has resurfaced in 2021, with a planning application currently under assessment to “construct and display internally illuminated and non-illuminated business identification signage”. In other words, parts of the cladding with briefly be removed in order to be replaced with more large-scale signage in a similar style. A better option is possible though.

The cladding could come off, and in its place again could appear some long-hidden heritage, with some sensitive signage as an addition rather than a detraction.

While the Hoyts Deluxe facade may need significant restoration and possibly reconstruction of some cornices, this should be small change compared to the yearly rental yield and value of a large Bourke St shopping complex, home to Target and a campus of Monash University,  and  the PR alone of such a positive reveal would be as good as any large-scale signage on cheap cladding can provide.

Chanel was able to generate great publicity for its Russell St store in 2013 due to the wonderful restoration of the dilapidated but grand 1920s bank building, chosen for its quality despite being located well off the traditional Collins St boutique strip. Heritage restoration is also a solid business choice.

Although we never received a response from Westfarmers the last time change was mooted, we are once again urging them to consult with their landlord and allow these long forgotten heritage buildings to take centre stage once again.

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