This photograph is taken in the early to mid-1970s, at the west end of Collins St, near King St.
The older buildings, on the south side of the street, are from left to right – The Olderfleet, Records Chambers and New Zealand Chambers buildings. In the background is the multi storey National Mutual commercial building, recently demolished, that featured a large landscaped and paved forecourt to Collins St.
The Olderfleet building, designed in the Venetian Gothic style, was constructed in 1889-90 for the notable businessman, PK McCaughan. The building, by renowned architect William Pitt, symbolised the commercial and financial power of Melbourne in the late 1880s.
It is one of three Pitt buildings located at this end of Collins St, the others being the nearby Rialto building and the former Stock Exchange building.
The Olderfleet originally contained extensive offices and storage rooms and two basements running from Collins St through to Flinders Lane. There were over 30 offices on each floor. The redevelopment of the building around 1980 retained the original building to a depth of 12 metres.
In October 1890 the Melbourne Age newspaper said of The Olderfleet: “Each office is handsomely and completely fitted out and will be connected with the telephone exchange. Ample lavatory accommodation is also provided and staircases and lifts are situated at the end of each corridor. The offices and shops facing Collins St are extremely well lighted.”
The photograph clearly shows the ornamental facade with clusters of red and grey granite columns. The facade is surmounted by a clock tower which was said to reach a height of 118 feet and richly decorated as an integral part of the facade.
The Olderfleet building was historically associated with the wool industry and the then powerful Melbourne Woolbrokers’ Association.
The Record Chambers building, constructed in 1887, was designed by JAB Koch for the publishing and printing firm of McCarron Bird & Co, publishers of the Australasian Insurance and Banking Record. Adjacent to it, and constructed a year later, is the New Zealand Chambers building, designed by architects Oakden, Addison and Kemp.
The New Zealand Chambers building, like the Olderfleet, is an expression of the Venetian Gothic style that characterised the west end of Collins St.
The photograph shows three distinctive buildings from the boom time period of the 1880s, sitting together in 1970s Collins St, now with an internal facelift but still in good working order. In contrast the more modern National Mutual building in the background is now gone to make way for a 21st century building.
The Royal Historical Society of Victoria welcomes visitors. It is open Monday to Friday 10.00 – 4.00 and is located at 239 A’Beckett St, Melbourne. Further information can be found at: www.historyvictoria.org.au