Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Then and now: Fashion Street

So much for that saying, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ 
Looking at the photos below, I’d say that while things have changed a lot, very little (besides the location) has stayed the same.

Check out 262-270 Collins Street as it looked in 1969, when Angus O’Callaghan took this photo and called it ‘Fashion Street’.
'Fashion Street'. Photo by Angus O'Callaghan.
I love how his photos are often cropped square. He'd be a hit on Instagram.

Now check out how it looked the other week when I took a photo during my lunch break and called it ‘Non-descript city scene’… Not a groovy old car or chic pill-box hat in sight.
'Non-descript city scene'. Photo by Yours Truly. 

The glory days

A 12-story modernist gem, the Hotel Australia opened in 1939. Beneath nine floors of lavishly appointed bedrooms, there were three levels of public space, including the Venetian Court Ballroom, the Main Dining Room, several bars, restaurants and even two basement cinemas.
Hotel Australia dining room. Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969. Courtesy NLA (nla.pic-vn3309841)
The hotel was a hit with Melbourne society from the get-go. The Packer family kept a suite there for 25 years; Robert Menzies dined there so often they named an omelette after him; and Harold and Zara Holt held their wedding reception there (as did my colleague Norm, who’s featured in this blog before).

Attached to the hotel was a shopping arcade which led through to Little Collins Street. Thousands of pedestrians passed through on a daily basis; many of them commuters who’d stop at one of the hotel’s bars for an after-work bevvy on their way home.
One of the hotel bars. Photo: Wolfgang Sievers, 1969. Courtesy NLA (nla.pic-vn3309872)
Yet rather like another well-known Melbourne grand-dame, Dame Edna Everage, the Hotel Australia’s glitz’n’glam was shot through with a distinctly risqué vibe. Almost from the day it opened, the hotel was popular with the city’s gay population, and during World War II, it was the hang-out for frisky servicemen on the prowl. The cocktail bar and one of the basement theatrettes were acknowledged pick-up joints. 

According to one website I came across, the hotel was even offering a call-girl service by the 1960s. Camp romance and girls for hire: that’s what I call covering all bases! 
Centreway Arcade on the other side of the street: Photo by Wolfgang Sievers, 1967
Courtesy NLA (nla.pic-vn3314126)
Sadly, when the famous Southern Cross Hotel opened in 1962, it stole much of Hotel Australia’s thunder, soon becoming the new in-crowd favourite. Neither hotel survived into this century. The Hotel Australia was demolished in 1989 (ten years before the Southern Cross) to make way for the shiny new Australia on Collins shopping arcade. 

Now Australia on Collins has been demolished to make way for ‘luxury shopping precinct’ St Collins Lane. The more things change, the more they stay the same? Hmmm. Maybe there is something in that after all...

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