Open Buildings This Weekend in Melbourne

Open House Melbourne is on this weekend and I nearly missed out. Fortunately I am in Melbourne at the moment and I sat down at lunchtime today (Saturday) to read my emails. I opened the ‘Weekend Reads’ email from Readings bookshop which opened with information about the program for Open House Melbourne which is for sale at Readings bookshops. After a hasty look at the list of open buildings, I rushed to the train to at least visit something.

As I was on the train I realised that I was trying to squash way too much into the less than three hours available to me. So I missed visiting the Melbourne City Baths (the building that looks like a layered cake with cream in between and built in 1860) and the Albanian mosque (built in 1969). In fact I only saw one building on my original list in the end.

Street facade of the building

Victorian Artists’ Society in East Melbourne.

I started at the Victorian Artists’ Society in Albert Street, East Melbourne. The first building on this site was a bluestone building set back from the street and built in 1873. It is still there and used for classes and workshops. We were allowed to see a class in action but I don’t really like staring at people trying to work so I just ducked in and out quickly.

The Victorian Artists’ Society has a rich history. Members included Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin. The brochure given to visitors states:

The building and the Society are historically significant because they have been associated with the early career of almost every eminent Australian artist of this and the last century.

The small bluestone building has been subsumed by the main building which was completed in 1892. Open House Melbourne describes the building as “American Romanesque”. What is that? Apparently it is a style of architecture popular during the Federation period. To find out more, you can read an article by John W East which I found in the UQ Repository.

Inside the building there are several galleries. The two upstairs are quite large. These have been renovated. Now the Victorian Artists’ Society needs the money to renovate the downstairs area. In the week that saw the (hopefully) temporary closure of the Castlemaine Art Museum, it was disappointing to hear of the struggles the Victorian Artists’ Society is having in order to raise the necessary finance to renovate the downstairs area. Sadly, people who care don’t have sufficient money for renovations and those with sufficient money are more interested in donating to a few number of high profile institutions. The Victorian Artists’ Society will gratefully accept any donations for the renovations of their building.

By this stage I decided to abandon my program as I knew I could not fit in much in the couple of hours left. I caught a tram to the top of Collins Street and walked down the church-side of the street ducking into any building showing the Open House Melbourne banner.

Seating for the congregation

Inside the old Congregational Church (now Uniting Church) on the corner of Collins and Russell Streets

The first I came to was the Uniting Church on the corner of Collins and Russell streets. It was originally a Congregational Church. The brochure visitors are given says that it is on the site of the “first permanent church in the Port Phillip Settlement”. The current building was opened for services in 1867. The church has had many alterations over the years, but from what I could see, these alterations have been complemented the original, notably the stained glass windows installed in 1988 for the bicentenary of British settlement in Australia. More details about the history of the church (pdf) are available through the church’s website.


The beautiful interior of the old Congregational Church (now Uniting Church) at the corner of Collins and Russell streets.

Concerts are held regularly in this church as well as services. There are free organ recitals every Thursday at 1pm and it is also used for other musical performances. Check the church’s calendar of events for more details.

I have attended services at the Scots Church which is opposite the Uniting Church in the past so decided to spend my rapidly diminishing time a few steps further down Collins Street at the Baptist Church.

Stepps leading up to four very tall white columns

The grand entrance to the Collins Street Baptist Church.

The entrance is very grand and rather unusually for a church, visitors climb up the stairs and are greeted by a coffee cart. Inside I found the squareness and brightness of the interior quite a contrast to the Congregational Church.

Read the description

Interior of the Collins Street Baptist Church.

I was now amassing quite a collection of brochures from all the places I visited. Thanks to the advances in printers and software, organisations can easily produce informative three-fold brochures that are pleasing to the eye without spending a lot of money.

But I digress…

The Baptist Church on Collins Street was built in 1862. Visitors are informed through the brochure that Joseph Reed (the architect of the Melbourne Town Hall) designed the Baptist Church. The original chapel built in 1845 was demolished. The brochure describes the design:

The classical temple facade with its four Corinthian columns places the building in the neo-Greek architectural tradition rather than a gothic style used for many of Melbourne’s churches. It reflects the Baptist understanding of the church as a community of believers rather than a sacred building.

I appreciated the very brief note about how the architecture reflected the beliefs of the members of the church.

To my surprise I had managed to do all this before 4pm – the time when most of the buildings would close for the day. I had enough time to walk next door to the Athenaeum Theatre and Athenaeum Library. Theatres are designed to be used and the Athenaeum Theatre is certainly a well-used venue. However, I should remember that I find empty theatres rather sad and skip visiting them in the future.

Wooden framed door to the lift

This lift in the Athenaeum Library has been in use since the 1930.

The Athenaeum Library was more bright and lively. They are offering discount memberships to visitors this weekend. People were sitting and reading so I didn’t take any photos of it. However, I took a photo of the old lift. I remember being in Brisbane one time and discussing old lifts in Australia with someone I randomly met. I think we were discussing when the first lift in Australia was installed. We didn’t discover when that was, but for the sake of remembering that conversation, I took a photo of the Athenaeum Library lift. I have since found from the Melbourne Athenaeum website that this lift was first operational in 1930. (And while you are at it check out the Melbourne Athenaeum website which documents the history of the organistion and is quite detailed with photos and digitised documents)

I don’t enjoy cramming a lot of buildings or exhibitions in one day as it doesn’t allow proper reflection of what I am seeing. However, I was determined to at least see something of Open House Melbourne this year. It would have been so much better if I had been able to book tours in advance and started the day early in the morning rather than in the middle of the day. I would have liked to visit some new buildings as well, particularly those where the architects considered environmental issues.

I wrote this to pay the favour forward – to let anyone in Melbourne this weekend know about Open House Melbourne this weekend just as Readings had alerted me to it. Please share any interesting buildings you saw. If you live in another state, perhaps you can share some interesting buildings that you have seen on similar weekends where you live.

10 thoughts on “Open Buildings This Weekend in Melbourne

      • *chuckle* I’ve done that too, pressed the wrong button by mistake…
        This is a fabulous post. if I’d known you were in Melbourne today I would have made an effort and come in to join you. Next year!


      • Phew, I’ve finished including the editing on the fly. Frankly, the mad rush to write this post while knowing that it was available online in a partially-written state, was a comically appropriate way to write up a hasty jaunt through four open buildings in nearly three hours.

        Thanks for your comments. Yes, next year. I must put it in my calendar well in advance.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t worry, that’s the charm of the blog. It’s not a newspaper with a horde of people whose job it is to check everything. It’s a solo op, and everyone understands that things go wrong sometimes.
        And now, with your photos, it’s a terrific post!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Coincidentally I was in East Melbourne this weekend, in a conference hotel, having no idea of Open House Weekend. The Victorian Artists’ Society had a crowd gathering so I popped in to see what the fuss was about. GREAT day, if I wasn’t blown off my feet.


    • And you mean that you were literally blown off your feet. It certainly was blowy!

      I was sorry that I could not spend time looking at the artwork exhibited at the Victorian Artists’ Society as well as the building.


  2. I was a member of the Atheneum library when I was a student and lived for a year in a house at the rear of the Windsor Hotel. It had a marvellous collection of Gollancz SF.


    • I am not into science fiction but a quick search informed me that those books are good. I wonder if that house is still at the back of the Windsor Hotel? I bet it has gone now.

      What did you feel you got from the Athenaeum library which you could not get from a public library?


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