Three centuries and three lives

When residents moved into The Gill on A’Beckett Street in the early 2000s, they knew the heritage-listed building had an interesting history.

Christoph Hewett said when he bought his apartment, he was told it was built in 1929 by the Salvation Army. The Gill is well known for its long service as a hostel for men.

But soon after moving in he learned its history stretched back to the previous century. 

“I did a bit of research and everything said that the building was built in 1889,” he said.

“At that point I thought, now that I own in this building I need to capture as much of that story as I can and try and find out more about it – what happened in those lost years?” 

The process of uncovering that history has helped form a tight-knitted community in the building. In October the residents threw a 130th birthday party for the building they initially believed to be only 90 years old.

“Gradually over the eight years I’ve lived here I would find out new things like who the architect was, or why the Salvation Army bought the building in 1929, and just kind of collected things over eight years,” he said.

“Eventually, last year, I found an article about the building’s opening dated October 27, 1889 and realised it meant it was having its 130th birthday in 2019.”

“I told the other owners and we all thought we should do something, so that’s when I started putting all the little bits together into this great story.”

They took the story to the National Trust of Australia, which was impressed enough to award the building a plaque.

There’s a sense of pride in the fact that their red brick warehouse home has a story spanning three different centuries and three “lives”.

The building was built in 1889 as a tobacco warehouse for Melbourne-based importer Moss, White and Co. Around 1915 it was turned into a box factory.

It was designed by Nahum Barnet, who was renowned for warehouse and mercantile buildings around Melbourne. He designed the Workmen’s College Building (now RMIT) and the Alexandra Theatre (now Her Majesty’s Theatre).

Then, a bequest from pastoralist Joseph Gill allowed the Salvation Army to purchase the building. In 1929 it was transformed into a hostel for homeless men.

For 70 years the building accommodated and fed 300 men each night and provided a day centre, chapel, counselling services and dentist from the building.

In 2001 Brady Group completed development works and it reopened as a residential apartment building.

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