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.