The facade is light brown stone with chiaroscuro in the monumental sunken windows at the top, which peek out above the trees of Swanston St like an alien intelligence.
Five galleries are hidden within the bunker as are other altruistic groups dedicated to romancing culture.
This month demolition began on the annex of this besieged building for the metro tunnel.
“The foundations shook,” said one tenant, who has stayed rather than flee the crumbling urban landscape that now holds the Nicholas Building in its embrace.
The days of tenants’ groups and threats of resistance have passed as the building holds onto its unique culture of start-up companies and creative collaborations.
Such is the kudos of the Nick that one gallery Caves is funded by a sponsor, the creative director of a local architectural firm.
Instead of pandering to capitalists, the gallery can experiment with art styles and is currently indulging in the wicked line of Tim McGonagle.
Caves is manned by volunteers. Other galleries in the building are funded by the City of Melbourne, enabling them to survive rather than submit to the ruling financial imperative of the city.
While agents and outsiders might talk of dollar values, it’s who you know that counts at the Nicholas. When a desk comes up, a piercing intelligence radiates out from the edifice and you’re in.
A sense of belonging is worth more than a dollar. Down the street at the café Journal the writers are on their laptops, creating beautiful mysteries for the people of Melbourne.
There’s a difference between culture and business. One aims to hook a buyer, the other evolves regardless. You can’t really suppress it.
The Nicholas Building was built before the advent of internal dividers. That makes 20 solid little display cases on each floor for showing off goods.
Vertical retailing has been slow to take off in Melbourne.
The pundits predict future growth. There was a 30 per cent increase between 2014 and 2016 in above-ground retail spaces. Low vacancy rates and increasing rents are putting pressure on ground floor opportunities.
Pioneers such as Kimono House, Harold & Maude and L’Uccello are doing well on the second floor, relying on regular customers and tourists keen to discover hidden corners of the city.
The dynamic marketplace demands fresh products. World Food Books on the third floor is open just two days a week and a constant stream of visitors comes looking for the shop even when it is closed. What is unavailable or hard to find can be just as cool or even more so than products with branding.
You can catch up on the latest art books from Europe here and discover a penchant for fantasy that has not yet penetrated the Australian market.
Space for imaginative play is hard to find in an over-thought, ironic market such as ours where every little whim is immediately given a dollar value.
Take a hike through the Nicholas Building one Friday and fill in the details for yourself. Visitors are encouraged here. If the foundations shake don’t let them go to your head.