From its earliest settlement, St Kilda has been Melbourne’s place of sensuous
resort - a place to escape to, for pleasure, or for pleasant dormitory
lifestyle, whilst commuting, but sufficiently distant from, the noisy, dusty,
polluted city. St Kilda’s recreational beaches and elevated ground, with sea
views, romantic sunsets and bracing sea breezes, lay above the low unhealthy
marshland of the southern Yarra bank and Albert Park.
Always a place of hospitality, for holidays, family days out to the seaside, or
racy nocturnal entertainment, in St Kilda the arts flourished: music, movies,
theatre and art galleries and it was the home of the Melbourne Hunt. The
waterfront funfairs, dancehalls, piers and pleasure gardens have for over a
century been Melbourne’s pleasure resort.
Beyond the city and Newtown (Fitzroy), from earliest settlement, there was
denser development in St Kilda than in any other suburb: the earliest terraced
houses, earliest and numerous self-contained flats, residential hotels, mansions
converted into rooming houses, the earliest motor hotel and most recently, town
houses. A sequence of uses, an array of urban lifestyles from seedy to
sophisticated, sometimes evolving over the life of a single building. Mansions
become guesthouses or apartments, or private hotels, then art galleries or
cafés. Rough boozers become smart, then rough again, then even smarter. Its
architectural styles remain a cornucopia, particularly of the twentieth century:
the earliest Modernism, the most outrageous Post-modernism and the fruits of
hard-fought local heritage warfare.
There has been, in St Kilda, acceptance and openness to sensuous bohemian
behaviour from homosexuals, prostitutes, artists, the armed forces, rock ‘n’
rollers, Aborigines and other minorities, and from refugees, from which its
street culture remains enriched.
The 48 buildings and their occupants discussed in this book were selected as
interesting and significant in themselves, but the brief suggested that they be
also representative of aspects of these themes, as pegs on which to hang
physical evidence of whole ranges of related building types and their stories,
which would otherwise go unmentioned.
For instance, the chapter on Edgewater Towers included as representative of
1950s apartment blocks, three eastern European émigré architects, as well as the
Johnson family of architects, three entirely different topics that reveal
surprising links. Indeed, analysis has continued to reveal a multiplicity of
surprising cross-referencing, connections and links.
There has, I confess, been a particular interest in the key works of significant
architects. A list of these is attached. Some subjects of recently published
detailed research, such as the George Hotel and the National Theatre, have been
The area trawled here has been the former City of St Kilda, embracing St Kilda
West, St Kilda and St Kilda East (partly), Balaclava (partly) and Elwood. A map
has been compiled to assist in driving and walking routes, which includes all
Surviving evidence of the earliest settlement is represented here with Wattle
House (1850, 23), and post-Gold Rush: Berkley Hall (1854, 26), Elwood House
(1854-55, 40), Fenagh (1855, 25) and Oberwyl (1856, 27). Much grander houses
from the later nineteenth century follow: Figsby and Fareham (1867, 9), Linden
(1871, 8), Eildon (1871, 24), the Brooklawn group (1880, 18), Cloyne (1887,
and Ulimaroa (1889, 48).
The twentieth century before World War II produced lower scale houses in St
Kilda, but not less interesting for that: 71 Barkly Street (1910, 45), Tintara
(1923, 38) and the Los Angeles Court group (1926-38, 35). For fifty years,
virtually no single houses were built in St Kilda until the last fifteen years
at most, represented here by 21 Victoria Street (1988-89, 13) and the Sam Newman
house (2000, 22).
These were the base of such inimitable identities as those listed in the
attached Appendix 2.
Multi-unit development came as early to St Kilda as anywhere in Melbourne. The
first terrace is Elwood House in 1854-55, (40). A later fine example is Figsby
and Fareham (1867, 9). Rooming houses gradually became self-contained flats: The
Canterbury is the first complete example (1914, 21), followed by: Wimmera (1917,
12), Summerland (1920-21, 15) and Ardoch (1924-, 31), each representing entirely
different configurations in the Arts-and-Crafts style. Belvedere, now
confusingly named the Esplanade, (1929, 10), here represents the Californian
glamour of the Spanish Mission style and Surrey Court (1933, 41), the highly
romantic Old English manner and Woy Woy (1935-36, 42), the first breath of
Modernism. Edgewater Towers (1959-60, 43) depicts the coming generation of
waterfront high-rise apartment living and the John Batman Motor Inn (1961-62,
46), the intrusion of the motel with its accommodation of the motor car into the
hotel and serviced flats market. St Leonards Apartments (1995-96, 11), stands
here for the most recent phase of multi-unit development, of such high
architectural innovation and quality.
Such populous accommodation was serviced by many schools, by shops, municipal
buildings, public transport and public utilities. Four Denominational, National
and Common schools were funded by the government in St Kilda prior to the
establishment of the Education Department in 1873. Other early small private
schools thrived, at Wattle House (1858-80, 23), Hofwyl House (1862-c20,
44), Oberwyl (1867-1931, 27), and the Priory (c1890, 28). Three government schools
are included, each significant in the story of St Kilda: Brighton Road (1875,
34), St Kilda Park (1879, 20) and Ardoch (1977-92, 31).
Public transport opened St Kilda to a much wider commuting and day-tripping
public, initially through St Kilda Railway Station (1856-57, 19) and to suburban
villa subdivision exemplified at Ripponlea (1911-13, 37). Laying down
reticulated utilities is evidenced by the rare surviving Gas Valve House (1877,
47). The fine surviving Brinsmead’s Pharmacy (1918, 36), evokes retail St Kilda,
eighty-five years ago. The Town Hall represents a gamut of municipal attitudes
and initiatives (1887-1994, 33).
For most of us, St Kilda means good times, pleasure taken at the seaside, in
music, dancing, cafés and street life, at the theatre, movies and in art seen
and experienced. Earlier, it also meant the tally ho of hunting to hounds. Here,
the range of St Kilda’s boundless hospitality is expressed in the diverse
stories of the Elsternwick (1854-55, 39), the Espy (1877-78, 14), the Prince
(1937, 16), Sheherazade (1958, 5), the John Batman (1961-62, 46), Tolarno (1965,
17), and at the threshold of its current phase in Caffé Maximus (1988, 7). The
tang and frolic of seaside leisure is tangible in the stories of the Sea Baths
(1860, 2), the pier and kiosk (1905, 1) and St Kilda’s iconic Luna Park
Cinema and theatre in St Kilda are initially represented by the Soldiers’ and
Sailors’ Memorial Hall (the former Memorial Cinema (1923, 6), and gloriously in
the Palais (1926, 3) and the Astor (1935-36, 30). St Kilda’s rich connection
with art begins with education in the art taught and hung at Oberwyl (possibly
from 1867, but at least from 1885-92), continues as a subject for artists (Luna
Park from as early as 1919, but particularly from 1940), as a site for studios
exemplified here by Tucker and Hester’s studio at Figsby (1944-46, 9), Mirka
Mora’s at Tolarno (17) and elsewhere, (1965-78 and from 1981-90s). Galleries are
represented here again by Tolarno (1965- ) and Linden (1984-, 8), and by the
municipal art collection (St Kilda Town Hall, 33).
For at least seventy-five years, St Kilda has been accepting of minorities: not
only the vagaries of artists, but of homosexuals, (at the Prince of Wales, at
least from 1937, 16) but of Eastern European Jewish immigrants and refugees,
here shown at Linden (1870, 8), Sheherazade (1958, 5) and at Tolarno (1965,
For at least 150 years, St Kilda has been the place Melburnians get away to
escape the pressure and pollution of the city, for pleasure, leisure and stylish
lifestyle. A sensuous, bohemian, risqué resort, where blind eyes were turned and
difference tolerated, if not celebrated. Where music, film, theatre and art were
joyously made and shown and where a gamut of marvellous Melbourne identities
flourished. Almost incidentally, a gazetteer of architectural style and styles,
particularly of the twentieth century, is revealed to the strolling flaneur.