New sign honours one of the greatest bookshops in Melbourne

New sign honours one of the greatest bookshops in Melbourne
Brendan Rees

One of the world’s largest bookstores that once called a CBD laneway home during the gold rush era, and visited by literary legend Mark Twain, has been honoured.

The former Coles Book Arcade, which was opened by Edward William Cole in the 1800s, boasted more than one million books in the historic laneway of Howey Place, marking itself as a cultural landmark in Melbourne that shaped the city’s identity.

To honour the book arcade’s enduring legacy, members of the E.W. Cole Foundation together with the City of Melbourne unveiled a new illuminated rainbow sign that reads “Palace of Intellect”, which refers to the colloquial name of the bookstore.

The sign, unveiled on May 20, sits below the laneway’s signature glass and wrought iron canopy, which was also created by Cole.

It is the only installation in the city which pays tribute to Cole and his bookshop, which first occupied 153 Bourke St in 1875 before moving to Howey Place in 1883.

Ron Male, the foundation’s trustee alongside Tony Balfe, said Cole “sold books on every imaginable topic” and the “stock he carried would have been enormous even by today’s standards”.

Mr Male said it was an honour and privilege to pay tribute to one of Melbourne’s most progressive thinkers.


“We really believe that the sign will be a wonderful colourful addition to the City of Melbourne. And it so appropriate that the sign is being erected in Howey Place (the site of Cole’s Arcade) with funding provided to the E.W. Cole Foundation by Cole’s grandson, the late Bill Rudd,” Mr Male said.


Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the council was proud to install the sign, which would “shine brightly and pay homage to the Melbourne institution that played such an important part in our history”.

“Howey Place was once home to the famous Cole’s Book Arcade – one of the world’s largest bookshops at the turn of the 20th century,” Cr Capp said. “It was a landmark ahead of its time – a place of solace while the city was gripped with gold rush fever.” 

Today, Howey Place is a popular fashion shopping precinct, home to 12 stores including Melko Boutique (since 2004), Mr Cuff, Union Kiosk, and The Alley Edition.

In 2022, the City of Melbourne introduced the shopfront activation program which breathed new life into empty shopfronts including at Howey Place.

The program allowed nine businesses to activate six shopfronts in Howey Place.  

The activation of Garmet makers Mr Cuff was so successful they have now transferred to a long-term lease.

Vegan toasted sandwich and bakery Union Kiosk now operate out of two shopfronts in in the laneway.


Caption: E.W. Cole Foundation trustee Tony Balfe celebrates the unveiling of the new sign “Palace of Intellect” in Howey Place. Photo: Hanna Komissarova.

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