Open House Melbourne: Exploring the City’s Historical Buildings
There are various cities around the world who for two days of the year, fling open the doors of buildings that normally deny access to the public. They’re known as Open House [insert whichever city is in question here] (such as London, Bendigo, etc) and it’s quite simply, a marvellous event.
Melbourne is one such city and if you’re around for this annual event (whether you’re a resident, or just passing through) I strongly recommend checking it out for yourself.
Living in Melbourne, as one of my friends once put it, turns you into an architecture snob. This city is home to gorgeous, ornate buildings and fortunately, many seem intent on preserving these heritage structures and in doing so, Melbourne’s history.
Read more: Melbourne Itinerary: 7 Days in the City
I only had one day to check out Open House Melbourne and typically, the places I was most interested in were all over the city. If I’d had my car at that point, I would have also headed to Spotswood Pumping Station and Brunswick West’s Ethiopian House. Navigating to these by public transport would have been a nightmare, so I decided to save them for another time.
The hottest ticket in town was a spot on the tour through Eureka Tower’s 85th floor – it’s the last empty floor in the city’s tallest building. There were I think, four tours, with 16 people each allowed on them. I got as far as entering my card details online, only to find out the ticket agent didn’t hold selected tickets at any point – it was first come, first serve.
I tried to argue the point that if you’ve got as far as putting personal data in on a webpage then you’re probably entitled to the tickets, but I was told that their way of doing things is allegedly “fair”. Hmph.
So no Eureka Tower for me. But, I did get an intimate tour of two buildings that have come to mean something to me during my time in the city, for different reasons.
The Sun Theatre in Yarraville
Yarraville is hands down my favourite suburb in Melbourne. It’s small, has some fantastic restaurants, a beautiful bookshop and best of all, the Sun Theatre.
The Sun was first opened in 1938 as a single screen cinema that could seat just over 1000 people – 300 more than the cinema can house these days.
It sold out seats every Saturday for years, until television came onto the scene and crowds thinned. The theatre was eventually closed by the health department due to its “unsanitary carpets”.
The building fell into disarray, until it was purchased by its current owners in 1995. It was a fixer-upperer and then some – but with the help of Melbourne film societies, the new owners lovingly restored the building.
The Sun is now home to 8 cinemas, all with their own art deco features, as well as an adjoining (and fantastic) bookstore, which once operated as the candy bar! There’s nothing like browsing through shelves of books while the smell of freshly popped popcorn permeates the air.
New releases are regularly showcased, along with arthouse films, documentaries and flicks from the past. 2001: A Space Odyssey was recently screened, with paraphernalia such as the above poster being loaned by a local film enthusiast who keeps all sorts of memorabilia out in his garage (I would love to see that garage in the flesh some day).
Former Prahran Police Station and Court House
After having breakfast in Yarraville (that neighbourhood is seriously good for food, I tell you what), we meandered over to the southeastern suburb of Prahran to check out the building that once was the local police station and court house and now caters for the local council of Stonnington.
We were given a tour by the Mayor of Stonnington himself, Cr Steve Stefanopoulos, who enthusiastically led us around the building, telling us the uses of various rooms in the past (mostly as cells for criminals and court rooms) and the plans the council had for the building’s future.
He did mention they were planning on moving the library out of the beautiful ornate room it was housed in (I have no pictures of it, but take my word – it was gorgeous) and turning it into a function hall. I did not like this plan, as books deserve all the grandeur they can get these days and it seemed pretty typical of a member of council to think this was an okay idea.
That aside, they had done a great job with the restoration of the building, which was first erected in 1886. It is made in the style of Gothic Revival, which is always very nice and ornate. I was quite appreciative of the mammoth amount of stained glassed windows populating the building as well.
And here’s a fun fact – I’d recently posed naked out the front of the police station one chilly winter morning, for a Spencer Tunick installation. That’s a different story altogether.
Tips for Open Melbourne
- Get in early. A lot of the buildings which fling open their doors are free to access, but others have limited spots. In Melbourne, a ballot opens up where you can book tickets to your place of choice, for $5AUD each. So, if there’s a particular building you wish to check out, try to book your ticket the second they are released, or risk despair.
- Plan accordingly if using public transport. Melbourne’s public transport is great for getting into the city, but not so much around it, at least in a timely fashion. Look at how long it’ll take to get to your next destination and chuck at least a half hour on top of that.
- Bring a tripod. You’re in buildings and if you have typical Melbourne winter weather, the light won’t be great. I particularly regretted this in the cinema, where the light was very low and made photo-taking conditions difficult.
- Don’t be obnoxious with your camera. Still, remember that there will be other people wanting to take pictures of the buildings too and be fair. Don’t be like the two ladies who were in my group for the cinema who marched straight with their gear, right into the areas that people would be most likely to photograph and stayed there for prolonged periods of time. Well. I’m sure their photos turned out just great.
The event is a lot of fun – an opportunity to learn a little something about a city’s history (or in some cases, plans for the future). I highly recommend looking the event up in any cities you may be visiting in the future and possibly putting Open House Melbourne on your own itinerary!
I know the nearby regional city of Bendigo is having an Open House event at the end of October this year – something that will definitely be worth looking into as it has some truly lovely Goldrush era heritage structures.
Other posts on Melbourne
Looking for some other things to do during your time in Melbourne? Here are a few posts for extra perusal.
Where to Stay in Melbourne – a breakdown of seven popular suburbs of the city, each with their pros and cons, recommended accommodation and things to do.
Looking for somewhere quirky to stay? Try the NOTEL – a collection of airstream trailers on a carpark roof in the CBD.
You can easily travel out to one of the state’s most popular sights the Twelve Apostles in a day.
Thinking of moving to Melbourne? Here’s what to expect.
Did you know you can have High Tea in a Castle, in Melbourne of all places?
See the rest of my Australian archives here.
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