Deco Treasures Await Melbourne Visitors
Art Deco News.com interviewed Robin Grow, President of the Art Deco Society, Inc., based in Melbourne, Australia, about the society’s plans for the 9th World Congress on Art Deco and what visitors to Melbourne can expect in April, 2007.
Q. How would you rate Melbourne as a destination location for Art Deco enthusiasts?
A. Melbourne compares favorably with many cities around the world. The city centre has numerous examples, all easy to reach on foot. The residential areas in the suburbs are easily accessible by tram and train, and the details are set out in a series of Walk Books produced by the Art Deco Society. There are a number of wonderful properties in nearby hills (the Dandenong Ranges) which need motor transport, but one of our planned events is a bus tour.
Q. Describe the style and characteristics of Melbourne’s Art Deco structures and the similarities and differences between those in Melbourne and the rest of the world.
A. We like to say that Melbourne has the A-to-Z of Deco buildings, starting with Apartment blocks and finishing with the gates at Melbourne Zoo. Melbourne began to emerge from the Depression in 1934, the centenary of the city, so the majority of its best buildings were developed in the mid to late ‘30s. Stylistically, all of the interwar styles are represented, including many shops and houses in Spanish Mission style in suburban areas. Melbourne was a conservative city for a long time, with height limits mandated until the 1960s. While this means that there are no skyscrapers, the benefit is that rooflines and tops of city buildings are easily visible from the street. Buildings are generally well maintained and clean.
Q. What is the status of Art Deco preservation/restoration movement in Melbourne and the state of Victoria?
A. There always seems to be someone wanting to demolish or inappropriately modify interwar buildings! But there is a strong legislative framework for listing and preservation of buildings. The problem we have, and we are not alone, is to gain acceptance for 20th Century buildings as “historic” and worthy of according heritage status. We work with a range of other preservation and community groups to preserve threatened buildings and we are also pro-active in nominating buildings for heritage protection.
Q. What’s the rate of public access versus private Art Deco structures? How would you rate accessibility to these structures to visitors?
A. Melbourne has become increasingly security conscious in recent years, but access to public buildings is generally easy and photographs can usually be taken. All buildings are required by law to provide wheelchair access, and footpaths have cutouts. Tram stops have recently been raised in the city area to facilitate wheelchair access. City streets are busy but not overcrowded, so moving around in groups is relatively easy, and most of the terrain in the city is flat. Walking around suburban areas presents no problems – there are no gated or guarded areas.
Q. What can visitors to Melbourne expect in April? What can visitors expect to pay for accommodation, meals and transportation? Is Melbourne safe for visitors?
A. April is still Autumn (Fall) and the weather in recent years has been lovely, with plenty of sunshine and days averaging 20-22°C (70-76° F). But it is a coastal city and weather can be changeable. Melbourne has a range of accommodation available at reasonable prices. The 9th World Congress on Art Deco will be based at the 4-star Sofitel Hotel on historic Collins St. It has just been fully renovated, and each room has a view over the city. Melbourne is regarded as one of the world’s top culinary destinations, and is the home of Australia’s top restaurants. Most cuisines are represented and the city and nearby suburbs provide numerous places to relax and enjoy good food and excellent Australian wine at reasonable prices. All eating places are smoke-free by law. It’s a relatively trouble-free city, well-patrolled and very friendly to visitors, and walking at night is generally safe.
Q. What are the top Art Deco sites to see?
A. The major shopping street in central Melbourne is Bourke St. It features a number of interwar department stores and shops. While all stylistically different, collectively they present a wonderful grouping. Nearby Collins St. includes many commercial buildings in Art Deco style, including the wonderful McPhersons Building, a warehouse recently converted to apartments and a food hall.
Nearby suburbs include the elegant East Melbourne, home to a number of interwar hospitals and a delightful garden court full of apartment blocks. The seaside suburb of St. Kilda contains Melbourne’s biggest concentration of Art Deco buildings, found in apartments, theaters, gardens and shopping streets.
Melbourne’s best civic building is the Ivanhoe Centre, to the northwest of the city, and adjacent to the Beauview estate, planned and built in the mid-1930s and still relatively intact. Another wonderful estate is the Golf Links Estate in the eastern suburb of Camberwell. Among the variety of styles are a number of the houses designed and constructed by the father of megastar Barry Humphries, including the moderne house where Barry grew up.
The western side of the city contains numerous factories and commercial buildings, including a restored Beach Pavilion in the suburb of Williamstown.
But Art Deco buildings are to be found throughout the city and suburbs of Melbourne – hotels, including one converted to a McDonalds, warehouses, football grandstands, factories, police stations and courthouses, school buildings, churches, hospitals, shops and houses. Our society looks forward to sharing these structures with our friends and colleagues.
The Art Deco Society, Inc., is based in Melbourne, in the State of Victoria, and was established in 1992. The society publishes a quarterly journal called the Spirit of Progress, named after Victoria’s first streamlined train (1937), and other publications such as a Guide to Renovating Art Deco and a number of walking tour booklets. The society is active in preservation of interwar buildings and conducts a number of activities including walks, presentations, lectures, and bus tours for members and guests. For further details, go to the society’s official web site www.artdeco.org.au Office-bearers of the society are Robin Grow, President; Julie Lord, Vice-President; Robyn Saalfield, Secretary; and Carolyn Mead, Treasurer. The Sprit of Progress journal is edited by Brian Scott.