Century-old building saved following community campaign

Brendan Rees

A historic building within the Hardware Lane precinct has been saved from the wrecking ball after an application proposing to redevelop it sparked a community fight.

The six-level Melbourne House at 360 Little Bourke St was built in 1923, and while the City of Melbourne considered it of “some architectural and historical merit,” it was not heritage protected.

But when the council approved a $68 million plan in 2018 to demolish the building to make way for Singapore-based developer Roxy Pacific to build a 23-level hotel, restaurant, and shop at the site, it alarmed the local community.

Following a campaign fight and 35 objections to the proposal to save the historic building, Roxy Pacific shelved its plans to instead refurbish it for commercial use and add eight storeys on top – which the council has approved.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the council was “very pleased” with the amended application.

“This is a win for people power and the inner-city locals who have campaigned for the retention of this building for many years,” he said.

“Melbourne House is a century-old building in the heart of the Hardware Lane district in the CBD and it was heartbreaking that it was scheduled to be demolished due to lack of protections.” 

Mr Reece said the proposal would retain much of the interwar building with its Manhattan-style façade “which is a great contributor to the character and identity to the CBD”.

“Little Bourke St is one of the most desirable development streets in our city and it’s important any new construction displays high-quality architectural design and respects the area’s heritage.”

“This new office development will make a great contribution to the activation of the CBD as a place to do business as we recover from COVID-19.”

National Trust’s Victorian CEO Simon Ambrose said it commended the developers of the site for “finding a way to incorporate Melbourne House in the design”.

“We encourage developers to incorporate historic buildings within their plans wherever possible, and to prioritise retrofitting and re-use, regardless of whether places are formally protected,” he said. “This can have both cultural and environmental benefits for the city and the community.”

Melbourne Heritage Action president Tristan Davies said his group congratulated the community for its win “which fills a gap left by the previous heritage study of the precinct, with this new design being a clearly better option”.

He said the new design was “a clearly better option balancing needed new development with respect and restoration of a heritage landmark of the area”.

“We only wish Chart House just a few doors down was being given the same treatment by its owner/developers,” Mr Davies said. 

Chart House is a cherished interwar era building at 372 – 378 Little Bourke St, which is likely to be redeveloped into a 17-storey commercial tower. A planning panel appointed by the state government decided against upgrading heritage protection at the site in 2019 •

The century-old Melbourne House at 360 Little Bourke St has been saved from demolition.

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