Heritage Victoria condemns Princess Mary Club

Residents opposed to the construction of a 33-storey commercial tower in Lonsdale St are shattered that Heritage Victoria last month issued a permit to demolish the Princess Mary Club.

Wesley Historic Precinct Action Group (WHPAG) spokesperson Maureen Capp said she experienced “terrible sadness” when she learned that the fight to save the Lonsdale St building had been lost.

It is understood that Heritage Victoria director Tim Smith condemned the building on structural and economic grounds.

WHPAG has long argued that the building was structurally sound but that the Uniting Church had deliberately allowed it to deteriorate.

The action group had hoped the heritage values of the 1926 former hostel for women would prevent the development being approved.  With the demolition permit now issued, the planning application proceeds unimpeded to Planning Minister Richard Wynne for consideration.

The City of Melbourne will also be asked by the Minister for its views on the merits of the planning application.

Ms Capp said that, while being very disappointed, WHPAG had by no means given up the fight.

She pointed out that a more modest application by the church to develop the site was rejected in 2011 because it was considered an over-development.

She said the group was exploring a number of options, including a legal challenge based on a belief that the Wesley Church was compelled to apply to the Supreme Court to change the use of the building because it was built for a specific purpose with donated funds.

Philanthropists Alfred and George Nicholas donated 26,000 pounds to build the Princess Mary Club in 1926.

Speaking to a “Save the Princess Mary Club” lunch in late October, the great granddaughter of Alfred Nicholas, Sophie Paterson explained that the Nicholas Aspro empire founders gave the money for a very specific purpose.

“Alfred was continuing to practice as a strict Methodist and was passionate about service to the poor,” Ms Paterson said.

“It was on this basis that they donated to the Wesley Church in good faith that the site, that was given to them in 1856, would be used for community purpose. The plan was to restore the church, build a reception centre and for the development of a women’s accommodation centre for young women coming to start a career or study in the city.”

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