Friday, 17 November 2017

Vanished Melbourne (Part 2)

In my Melbourne Historical app (sadly no more), I had a category called "Vanished". This listed several memorable Melbourne buildings which tragically had been demolished. Last post I shared three of them with you; here are three more...

St Patrick's Hall at right. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

4. St Patrick's Hall

Lost birthplace of the Victorian Parliament

Opened in 1849, St Patrick's Hall served a number of handy purposes in its early years: as a meeting place for the Irish society which had built it, as a school, and as the venue for an exhibition of industry and agriculture long before the Royal Exhibition Building was built.

In 1851, however, it took on a much more prestigious role as the first home of the Victorian Parliament. Or more precisely, the home of the Legislative Council, the partly-elected chamber which later became the upper house of a more democratic legislature.

After hosting a grand ball to mark the formal separation of Victoria from the territory of New South Wales, the building was extensively renovated for its new purpose. In November 1851, the politicians moved in.

They wouldn't be there for long. In 1856 a new Parliament House was built on Spring Street to serve the two houses which had just been returned at Victoria's first fully democratic election. The Legislative Council moved out to join the new Legislative Assembly in its new home.

With a handy sum of rent money jingling in their pockets, the St Patrick's Society modernised the hall by adding a new three-storey facade which brought it up to the line of the street.

Over the next century the hall slowly fell into disuse, as other venues arose to serve the citizens' needs. St Patrick's Hall was demolished in 1957.

There are two reminders of the hall still present today. One is St Patrick's Alley off Little Bourke Street, which ran alongside the building. The other is the former Speaker's Chair, which now stands within Queen's Hall in Parliament House.

Nowadays the site of St Patrick's Hall is occupied by the offices of the Law Institute of Victoria, a fitting tribute to the vanished building which once held Victoria's first lawmakers.

Visit the site: 470 Bourke St, Melbourne.

Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

5. Stewart Dawson's Corner

Once a popular meeting place, now forgotten

From the late 19th century to 1928, the northwest corner of the intersection of Collins and Swanston Streets was known as Stewart Dawson's Corner.

Dawson was a successful British jeweller and watchmaker who emigrated to Australia in 1886. He soon built up successful branches of his business in Australia and New Zealand, with Stewart Dawson's Building housing his Melbourne emporium.

The footpath in front of the building became a prime place for people to meet (perhaps because of the proximity of the Melbourne Town Hall clock across the street), second only to "under the clocks" at Flinders Street Station. As many young men loitered here, this spot was also teasingly known as Puppy Dog Corner.

For decades, everyone in Melbourne knew where Stewart Dawson's corner was. Then in 1932 Stewart Dawson's Building was demolished to make way for the impressive Depression-busting Manchester Unity Building.

Stewart Dawson's Corner is long forgotten in Melbourne. However, if you'd like to stand on a live and kicking Stewart Dawson's Corner, you can do so at the intersection of Lambton Quay and Willis Street in Wellington, New Zealand. Sadly, the 116-year-old branch of Stewart Dawson's at that location moved out of its long-term home in late 2016.

Visit the site: Corner of Collins & Swanston Sts, Melbourne.

Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.
6. Theatre Royal

A demolished theatre, once a byword for scandal

Melbourne's Theatre Royal opened in 1855 with Richard Sheridan's comic play The School for Scandal.

This may have been an omen - before long the theatre gained an unsavoury reputation for vice, especially prostitution, and respectable folk avoided it like the plague.

The most famous act to appear here in its early years was Lola Montez, the infamous courtesan who'd once been the mistress of the King of Bavaria.

Lola arrived in Melbourne in 1855 to find the city still humming from the discovery of gold a few years before.

Taking to the Theatre Royal stage, she performed her notorious 'Spider Dance'. This faux Spanish folk dance involved her energetically searching her skirts for an invisible spider, then stamping it to death.

The response of local newspaper critics ranged from hostile to lukewarm. The Argus described it as “utterly subversive of all ideas of public morality”; while The Age was initially impressed, until a second reviewer decided the dance was “simply ridiculous”.

After the theatre burned down in 1872, it was swiftly rebuilt. Leaving its dubious reputation behind, the Theatre Royal became a popular venue for plays and musicals over the next 60 years.

The Theatre Royal was demolished in 1933, to be replaced by a department store. Its address is now the site of the Target Centre shopping arcade.

Although Melbourne's Theatre Royal is no more, you can still visit a 19th century Theatre Royal in Hobart, and another in Castlemaine in country Victoria.

Visit the site: 232 Bourke St, Melbourne.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Vanished Melbourne (Part 1)

In my Melbourne Historical app (now sadly no more), I had a category called "Vanished". This listed several memorable Melbourne buildings which had tragically been demolished. I'd like to share them with you; here are the first three...

Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

1. Cole's Book Arcade

A famous book emporium whose story is now concluded

One of Melbourne's best-remembered vanished buildings, Cole's Book Arcade was a prominent part of the city's life from 1883 to 1929.

Strong-willed proprietor Edward Cole, a firm believer in the educational and transformative powers of books, built a vast book emporium which eventually stretched between Bourke and Collins Streets. As part of this expansion, Cole paved and roofed Howey Place, a previously dingy alley off Little Collins Street.

Cole's sprawling shop beneath its skylit glass roof sold more than books, trading in confectionery and a vast array of household ornaments. It also contained diversions such as stuffed animals, funny mirrors and a changing parade of exhibitions.

Sadly, this unique emporium closed in 1929, and the building was demolished soon after.

Nowadays the Bourke Street Mall site is the home to upmarket department store David Jones, while Howey Place is lined by fashion boutiques. However, you can still see EW Cole's ornamental roof over Howey Place today.

Visit the site: 299 Bourke St, Melbourne.

Photo courtesy of the
State Library of Victoria.
2. Federal Coffee Palace

A teetotal hotel which eventually turned to drink

Like the extant Hotel Windsor in its early years, the Federal Coffee Palace was an alcohol-free hotel whose owners believed in the temperance cause.

It opened in 1888, neatly timed for the influx of visitors attending the great Centennial Exhibition of that year at the Royal Exhibition Building.

Unfortunately, its owners' high-minded ideals were unable to compete with the proximity of various pubs, and in 1897 the hotel gained a liquor licence and became the Federal Palace Hotel, then later the Federal Hotel.

The Federal Coffee Palace was decorated in a flamboyant jumble of styles which outdid even the usual Victorian-era excesses. An arcaded foyer with a glass roof soared four storeys in height, and the grand staircase was decorated in red and white marble. Outside, its lofty domed tower was a prominent landmark in those low-rise days.

Unfortunately, the Federal didn't survive the advent of sophisticated modern hotels serving the jetsetters of the post-World War II era. It was demolished in 1973.

The beautiful hotel was succeeded by a bland concrete office tower, which is now giving way to a new 47-storey apartment building.

If you want to drink an espresso in memory of the grand edifice of temperance which once stood here, head a few blocks east to the cafe beneath the Elizabeth Street colonnade of the GPO Building. Its name? Federal Coffee Palace.

Visit the site: 555 Collins St, Melbourne.

Photo courtesy of the State Library of Victoria.

3. Fish Market

A monumental market that met its maker

Whenever Melburnians bemoan the destruction of the city's grand buildings of the past, an example that always gets a mention is the Fish Market. This 200 metre long building stretched along Flinders Street, its rear curving along the railway viaduct behind the site.

Opened in 1892 upon the closure of the previous fish market next to Flinders Street Station, the market stored and sold fish, poultry, rabbits and other game. Despite this mundane function, it was an elaborate expression of civic pride, with a central clock tower, an impressive arched entry, and conical towers dotted along its length.

In the late 1950s, the market's functions were relocated to a large new site on Footscray Road, West Melbourne. The Fish Market building was demolished in 1959.

Nowadays the site is occupied by the Northbank Place commercial and residential development, completed in 2009. There's something piscine in its curving walls and steel ribs, a tribute perhaps to its memorable predecessor.

Visit the site: 545 Flinders St, Melbourne.

Next post: three more demolished Melbourne gems, including a scandalous theatre and the Victorian Parliament's forgotten first home...

Friday, 3 November 2017

Łódź, Poland: From Industrial Revolution to Movies

I visited Poland courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

Last year I revisited one of Poland's most overlooked cities, Łódź (pronounced 'woodge').

In the centre of the country, Poland's third-largest city was the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution in what was then a province of the Russian Empire. As a result, it has a lot of interesting industrial architecture, from repurposed factory complexes to tycoons' luxurious former homes.

It's more noted nowadays as the hub of the Polish film industry. Because Warsaw was in ruins at the end of the Second World War, movie-makers regrouped here after the conflict.

Cinematic highlights for visitors include the Cinematography Museum housed within a former mansion; the National Film School where Roman Polański once studied; and the animation museum of Se-ma-for Studios.

Here's a quick tour...

1. Start your visit with the Cinematography Museum. There are two attractions here: the extensive collection of movie memorabilia, from early stereoscopic film viewers to sets and props from recent productions; and the beautiful mansion it's housed in, once the home of a Łódź textile king.





2. From the museum it's a short walk to the National Film School, spread across a number of buildings. It doesn't hold regular tours, but it's possible to pre-book one in English. This is the place where greats such as Polański, Kieślowski and Wajda got their start, and there are plaques to these ex-students on a set of stairs where they sat between classes.


3. Next stop is Se-ma-for Studios, one of Poland's top animation creators. Its Animation Museum has a great range of puppets which have been used over the decades in Polish animated movies, including recent international co-productions. It's fun to look through the changing designs, even if you're not familiar with the productions.




4. A great place to end is Lodz's main street, ul Piotrowska. Here in the footpath is the Walk of Fame, embedded Hollywood-style stars with the names of famous Polish film-makers in them. Because Piotrowska is full of good restaurants and bars, it's a good spot to finish your visit over an excellent Polish beer.




It's worth staying over, but it's also possible to visit Łódź as a day trip by train from Warsaw (though it'd be a long and busy day). You can find out more about the city and its attractions at the official Łódź tourism website.