Heritage highlights: Hoddle Grid review recommends swathe of new protections

By Meg Hill

One hundred and thirty-seven individual buildings in the City of Melbourne have been put forward for heritage protection with the completion of the massive Hoddle Grid Heritage review.

The proposal was considered by the council at a Future Melbourne Meeting (FMC) on August 4. Although the meeting lost quorum due to a staggering eight councillors (Pinder, Reilly, Wood, Oke, Lepppert, Louey, Reece and Watts) declaring direct or indirect conflicts of interests, management recommended the heritage proposals to the Minister for Planning.

The council’s heritage portfolio chair Cr Rohan Leppert said the independent review of more than 1000 buildings took a holistic view of heritage by considering Aboriginal, colonial, contemporary, community, tangible and intangible values.

“Melburnians may be surprised that these buildings haven’t been granted heritage protection already. The review gives us an opportunity to protect these cultural legacies,” Cr Leppert said.

“It’s not about age. It’s about recognising the places that have importance to us as a community.”

Fifty-five of the sites recommended for protection are post-war buildings constructed between 1945 and 1975.

“Melbourne was Australia’s fastest growing city in the post-war period and became a leading centre of modernist innovation in art, architecture and design,” Cr Leppert said. 

“Our recovery from the Second World War was led by a construction boom based on modernist optimism and innovation. We now have a chance to protect our modernist architectural legacy.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the review was the most comprehensive heritage building study in the Hoddle Grid since the 1990s.

“It’s also the largest study of post-war heritage we’ve ever completed,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Fifty-five of the sites are post-war buildings, including two hotels, a post-office, a cinema, a women’s club, two -telephone exchanges and retail and commercial buildings.”

“This is about protecting our city’s heritage while providing certainty and clarity to landowners about how they can develop their properties while respecting the places that are significant and warrant protection.”

“Pre and post-war buildings can be easily adapted for new purposes while ensuring their heritage character is retained.”

CBD News has selected a number of buildings from the review to highlight to our readers. 

295-305 King St – former Koorie Heritage Trust building 

Although the former home of the Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT) has been demolished, the heritage review recommends the site’s significance should now be formally recognised.

In 1985 Uncle Jim Berg, Ron Castan and Ron Merkel sued the University of Melbourne and the Museum of Victoria for the return of Indigenous cultural material.

The push for both greater understanding and appreciation of indigenous culture and the immediate need for Indigenous control and management led to the creation of the KHT. 

The KHT took residence at the King St site in 2003 and moved to Federation Square in 2015. The KHT website describes the former site:

“A central replica scar tree that rose from the ground floor reaching almost to the second floor, provided a metaphorical anchor to the building. Cast from a latex mould of the original tree located on Ebenezer Mission Station, the replica tree was created c.1988 for ‘Koorie’, the Trust’s first major exhibition at Museum Victoria.” 

The review outlines the social significance of the site to indigenous people and organisations in South-Eastern Australia as the first “permanent” home for the KHT – remembered as a formative place that enabled the creation of an Aboriginal–directed central city focus for Aboriginal culture, stories, history and art.

There was concern last year with a controversial proposal for an Apple store to take the place of the current KHT building in Federation Square, which has since been rejected.

20 Meyers Place – the Waiters Club

This small but well-known Melbourne restaurant has a rich and erratic history, from its cultural significance to by-chance links to Melbourne’s underworld. 

The Italian Waiters Club opened in 1947 as a place for mostly Italian, Spanish and Greek waiters to socialise after finishing work. At the time it was illegal in Melbourne to sell alcohol after 6pm, but the club became a place for the hospitality workers to have post-work drinks clandestinely. Due to its discreet location and nature, the club later became a favourite for Melbourne politicians, police, journalists and gangsters.

The club became the site of an infamous siege in 1978, following Chopper Read’s attempt to hold a Melbourne judge hostage and get his friend released from prison. Read failed and was sent back to Pentridge, and one of his acquaintances, Amos Atkinson, staged a siege in the Waiter’s Club – taking hostages and demanding Read be freed. The hostages were held until Atkinson’s mother persuaded him to give up in the early hours of the morning.

The restaurant and bar is still operating and is well-recognised as a Melbourne institution.

256 – 260 King St – former Paramount Films headquarters

The former Paramount House is a two-storey interwar commercial building built in 1929 that incorporates art deco influences and classical motifs. It was occupied by Paramount Films as one of many “exchange centres” set up around the country to facilitate the American industry’s access to a widening Australian film market. The building held offices, film vaults, storage accommodation and a small private theatre. By the 1970s it was occupied by Cinema International Corporate – a combined distributing venture for film studios including Paramount, Universal and Walt Disney. 

11 Highlander Lane – former Zanders’ No 2 Warehouse

The current façade of 11 Highlander Lane was built in 1854 opposite Queens Wharf – an area between Queen St and William St where, in the first years of settlement, boats and ships moored on the Yarra River. 

Bluestone warehouses were erected close by for storage of goods to be exported, as well as Customs House in 1841 and Market Square in 1847. The three-storey bluestone warehouse at 11 Highlander Lane was owned by JC Zander, who setup a warehousing business in 1852 which by the end of the century has expanded to occupy most of the block between Highlander Lane and King St. 

The review outlines historical significance of the site’s relations to warehousing in the City of Melbourne and is a rare surviving example of an early bluestone warehouse. 

124 – 130 Russell St – the Australian Theosophical Society

The review recommended heritage protection for the headquarters of the Australian Theosophical Society, a 1920s building that currently has an application for demolition and redevelopment as a hotel. 

The society purchased the site in the early ‘70s and moved into the refurbished building in 1975. It is still home to the society as well as other tenants. The review states:

“The Melbourne Theosophical Society has a continuing, long-standing and direct association with this building which was refurbished in 1975 for the Society to enable it to undertake activities for its members. Many of its activities and events are also open to the public. The spaces used by the Society are of primary importance in relation to criterion.”

“124-130 Russell St is of social significance for its long-standing associations with the Melbourne Theosophical Society as its headquarters and the location of its library, bookshop and meeting spaces. 124-130 Russell St is of social significance as a long- standing meeting place where those interested in theosophy meet, learn and exchange ideas.”

Elizbaeth St – former Hosies Hotel 

The Hosies Hotel was built in the early 1950s specifically to cater for visitors to the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. There had previously been a hotel, built in the 1860s, on the same site. 

The wall of the building features a mural by artist Robert Beck – Melbourne’s first example of abstract art on a large scale.

194-200 Bourke St – Hoyts Mid-City Cinemas

Although this building is an early and rare example of brutalist buildings in Melbourne, pushes for heritage protection in the past have been controversial. The review recognises that protection is still unlikely.

The distinct magenta-ish coloured piano shaped frontage has been worn down over time and developers attacked an attempt to win protection in 2011.

The building was bought by Chinatown Investments in 2015 and there was concern that the site would be developed.

Ultimately, the previous attempt to gain protection for the building was rejected by then-Minister for Planning Matthew Guy.

2-18 Ridgway Place – the Lyceum Club

The Lyceum Club is an exclusive private women’s club established in Melbourne in 1912. Its premises on Ridgeway Place was built in 1959 and the review highlights “the distinct association between the organisation, membership and the building that has endured for nearly 60 years”.

The building is an example of post-war modernist style – a reaction against the Federation era and a return to 19th century classicism.

The review recognises the building’s social significance: “The building reflects the aspirations and needs of the organisation in providing and sustaining a place of social congregation and intellectual exchange amongst professional women.”

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