New to residential, but many past lives

Many of the buildings we live in had many and varied live before being converted to residential. In this article, CBD resident Steven Myrteza tells of the joy and excitement of discovering the heritage of the building you live in.

We were in the middle of a refurbishment of the façade of our building, The Gill, on A’Beckett St when we really started becoming interested in its history.

I’ve lived in the building for 12 years and had always thought it was built in 1925 and was first occupied by the Salvation Army, but didn’t know much more than it had a heritage overlay.

It went through a major redevelopment 15 years ago to convert it into the apartment building that it is now.

Fortunately, a majority of the owners are also residents which meant there was an appreciation that we need to make sure that we continue to invest in the upkeep of the building to ensure it has life that will extend beyond us.

Once the restoration works started and some of the paint was removed we got a glimpse of the history of the building.  We could see parts of the previous sign “The Gill Memorial Home for Men”.

Some of the owners then started doing more research into the history of the building.  One took a visit to the Historical Society.

Excited by the new information, I spent a train ride one morning busily Googling the building and found that, in fact, it had a life predating the Salavation Army.  I discovered it was first built in 1890 and operated as a tobacco manufacturer by famous Melbourne architect called Nahum Barnet, who built a number of similar buildings at the time.

Today the six-storey building is dwarfed by the high rise construction in the CBD, though looking at the original picture it is the tallest building in the area.  It would have been considered “high rise” at the time!

Seeing how the building has altered and thinking about how its use has changed made us appreciate that these buildings have lives that can and should endure beyond us.

As temporary custodians, it’s important that we help to preserve them for future generations.  We’re very interested in the recently-announced initiative to evaluate the historical significance of all buildings in the city.

It’s exciting to think then what might be in store for the building in the future!

I imagine many other buildings in the city are occupied by people that are not familiar with the history of their building.  Once you start researching it becomes addictive.  We now have a document of all of our research findings and a Facebook page for residents and owners to share information.

Some tips for researching your building:

  • Start with online heritage searches like the Victorian Heritage Database and On My Doorstep;
  • Search for the name of your building and the address including the Google picture archives;
  • Search for the name of any organisations that might have occupied the building;
  • Make a visit to the historical society that has a lot of pictures and clippings; and
  • Search for the architect.

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