Open House Melbourne is a city-wide event that allows access into buildings not regularly accessible for a weekend. This year was the tenth anniversary of the event.
We hadn’t really heard of it until soon before the weekend, but some people plan their weekend way in advance. It was a great chance for us to enter some buildings we had seen the outside of countless times!!
First up was the Melbourne City Baths. This building is magnificent from the outside, but since it operates as a regular gym now, you normally can’t get in without a membership.
The main pool room features an Olympic-length pool with a track running around the top of the room for spectators. There are tons of historical documents relating to the pool hanging on display around the balcony. The baths were opened in 1860 for hygienic purposes, but soon turned recreational. Mixed bathing was first allowed in 1947 and bikinis in 1955 (scandalous!).
17 Casselden Place was an address I’d never heard of before until browsing the open houses. It is the only remaining house from a terrace of six brick two-roomed cottages on a laneway off of Little Londsdale Street.
“Little Lon,” as the area was known, was famous for being the underbelly of the city in the days of Marvellous Melbourne. This cottage was home to some of the ladies working for nearby Madame Brussels Brothel.
Nowadays it is surrounded by modern glass and metal skyscrapers and is situated next to Madame Brussels Cafe.
Next up: Gordon Place. This lodging house provided public housing accommodation for struggling families until 1904. Then, it became YMCA-type housing for single men.
The weathering on the original floors here is amazing. You can just imagine clotheslines strung back and forth across the courtyard…
Today, Gordon Place is a Quest Hotel, a great use of the layout of this historical building.
The Athenaeum Theatre was added to the already existing Athenaeum Library building in 1872.
Performers such as Dame Nellie Melba, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Barry Humphries have graced the Athenaeum stage as well as lecturers like Mark Twain and Sir Redmond Barry.
And, then, in the movie era, the very first feature film, The History of the Kelly Gang, was premiered here. In addition, the first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer was played early on here.
Along Collins Street we popped into two churches that happened to be open.
The first was the Scots’ Church. It had a beautiful aqua and purple stained glass window and a famous stained glass interpretation of the Last Supper. My favourite thing about this Open House was the ongoing concert given by the organ player there!
The second church along Collins St. was St. Michael’s Church. It was completed in 1867 starting its life out as a Congregationalist church. Today, it is part of the Uniting Church in Australia.
This church is interesting in the circular interior designed based on theatrical architecture. It also has some modern stained glass panels installed in 1988 which celebrate the 150th anniversary of the church.
South Melbourne Town Hall was built in 1880 on top of Emerald Hill. The building is a true representation of the wealth in the area at the time. The main hall is amazing–lined with windows, with tall, airy ceilings, and lots of wall sconces and moulding. The council chamber seen here was done in 1930. All the famous architecture/design features of Melbourne are rolled into one building here.
Today it houses the Australian National Academy of Music and mainly serves as a performance space.
The Portable Iron Houses along Coventry St. in South Melbourne are some of the only ones left in the world. Patterson House (facing the road) is the only one in its original location. There are two more (Abercrombie House and Bell House) in the lot behind it that were moved from the inner city so that they could all be displayed together.
During the Gold Rush, lots of housing was needed quickly for all the migrants. These houses were prefabricated in Britain and then shipped in pieces to Australia, where you could buy one and assemble it quite easily. The lining/insulation of the house came from the crates the pieces were shipped in.
We were surprised at how spacious the houses actually were. Patterson House had four good-sized rooms on the ground floor and two smaller, loft-like rooms on the first floor. One of the other houses on the lot even had a verandah!
The High Court of Australia is the top level for any judiciary matter and serves as the interpreter of the Australian Constitution. This building housed the High Court from 1928 and 1982. The main feature in the building is the Art Deco stylings.
This building is now used for settling commercial disputes at the Supreme Court level (one level below the High Court).
The Mission to Seamen building is one we’ve seen often when traversing the city. They have been up and running in Victoria since 1857. Inside there is a gorgeous little chapel with maritime-themed stained glass on one half and a clubhouse/entertainment area on the other half.
Finally, our curiosity could be stemmed about what was inside some of these iconic Melbourne buildings, thanks to Open House Melbourne!