Given the proximity of South Melbourne, at a stone’s throw from the Central Business District (CBD), it’s surprising to encounter a strong village atmosphere. Although high-rise developments, such as the housing commission flats, appeared in the early 1960s, the regeneration of the suburb, with strong heritage controls, has enabled South Melbourne to retain its period charm. “The neighbourhood still has a village feel, with a strong sense of community. We continue to service many of the same clients who first walked into our store 19 years ago,” says Kevin Mowles, owner of homewares store Nest, located at 289 Coventry Street. “It’s even more remarkable, given the extraordinary growth of apartments in the CBD,” he adds.
Some things have changed, particularly the amount of traffic along Kings Way at the edge of South Melbourne. However, one housing development that remains virtually intact is ‘City Edge’, located on the southwest corner of Kings Way and Park Street. Designed by architects Daryl Jackson and Evan Walker and built in stages between 1971 and 1974, the low-rise earthy brick pile was the first inner-city medium housing project that showed an alternative to inner-city living. Complete with in situ concrete balustrades and angled stained brown timber awnings for sun screening and privacy, this development is now highly desirable by architects and creatives who appreciate 1970s architecture and design. One can almost see where this new wave of resident lives within City Edge, having stained their awnings what else but black! A couple with a young child would certainly appreciate having a kindergarten next door (the Lilian Cannam) and the Eastern Reserve playground nearby.
While City Edge isn’t difficult to spot, clearly visible for those driving along Kings Way, an entirely black-steel-clad contemporary house at 7 Law Street (a one-way street off Park Street and behind Kings Way) is easily missed. Designed by architects Bruno Mendes and Amy Muir, the modest home, resembling the ‘shadow’ of the Victorian terrace that once stood on the site, conceals a two-storey wing. Elevated on a concrete plinth above the narrow street, even the only front window is shielded by an angled steel screen. The only thing that isn’t black is the silver lock for the front door, enabling the owners not to have to fumble to gain access through their front door in the evening!
South Melbourne, unlike many other suburbs that have a number of large parks and reserves, has many pocket-sized parks. A wrought iron fence, reminiscent of the ‘key’ parks in London, encloses eastern North Reserve in Park Street. However, here, anyone can enjoy the green patch, even with his or her dog (as long as it’s on a leash). Another group of modest yet delightful reserves can be found at the end of James Service Place, off Cecil Street. Surrounded by Victorian terraces, it’s only frequented by locals and those in the know.
Some streets, such as Dow Street, a narrow thoroughfare accessed from Clarendon Street, are also worth a visit. Here, you will find Victorian workers’ cottages sitting alongside more recent developments, such as Neometro’s low-rise apartments. Originally a potato factory, these apartments at 53-59 Dow Street, still retain their warehouse feel, many of which have exposed concrete ceilings. Orientated to the north and almost completely covered by ivy, the Dow Street apartments provide an oasis in the urban environment on the edge of town. Nestled between is everything from postage-sized cottages, immaculately preserved with their picket fences to less authentic dwellings built in the 1980s to resemble Victorian terraces (think exposed brick parapets and heavy steel balustrades). These ‘faux’-style homes would have been the model planners used in an attempt to preserve the Victorian charm of South Melbourne.
One of South Melbourne’s most intact and also desirable streetscapes can be found at Howe Crescent. There are two adjacent churches from the 1860s, both with gothic-style windows and tessellated brickwork. One at number 34 is a lavish home designed by architect Simon Swaney, complete with voluminous cathedral-style ceilings the other at number 36, is ‘The Church’. Around the bend (at Howe Crescent) you will also find an interesting of array of period homes, from Edwardian to quite rare three-storey Victorian terraces.
Although a number of the local pubs can still be found in South Melbourne, many, such as Lamaros Hotel (on the corner of Cecil and Thompson streets) nearby, appeals to the more genteel clientele who have long moved into the area. Sticky vinyl pub floors and vinyl-covered bar stools have been replaced by swish Thonet dining chairs and starched white linen tablecloths. As you are in the vicinity, take the time to stroll down James Service Place, a quiet cul-de-sac with period homes and a delightful reserve at the end. One of the standout homes on this street, at number 1, is an award-winning house by architect Kerstin Thompson. Partially concealed behind a high fence and a heritage-listed outbuilding, this home still beckons for attention.
Victorian architecture abounds in South Melbourne, not just in the many terrace homes, but also in the shops, such as those fronting Park Street. At 262-266 Park Street, one of these Victorian piles is home to the Australian Tapestry Workshop and its gallery. The office of Nexus Designs, can also be found here, complete with its Gothic-style sandstone tower. And while everything from food to flowers can be found along South Melbourne’s main shopping strip, Clarendon Street, it’s Coventry Street that beckons many locals and those travelling from further afield.
Where else would one find ‘The Pet Grocer’, a place that could easily be called ‘Pet Heaven’? Pampered dogs and cats are drawn to the dehydrated or air-dried ‘treats’, such as ‘Salmon Jerky’, or ‘Dry Sardines’. There’s also the in-house herbal range and of course the range of pet toiletries, whether it be a shampoo or a roll-on. Many of the products, such as the beds, leashes, collars and bowls come from Berlin. “The main focus is our raw feeding products, feeding animals what they biologically need,” says Karlyn Atkinson, who looks after the loyal customers. “Many people come in twice a week to ensure their ‘pet pantry’ is well-stocked,” she adds. Also on Coventry Street, at number 259, is Paperpoint, a destination point for those looking for every possible hue in paper, gift cards, photo albums and even ribbon for gifts. ‘Vincent’ Design Supply, a few doors down, also appeals to those who appreciate fine design, with everything from raincoats, backpacks and homewares, including ‘Design House’ Stockholm, sold under the one roof. If you craned your neck down the nearby laneway, you’ll see an early office building by Biltmoderne from 1983 (two of the founding partners are architects Roger Wood and Randal Marsh of Wood Marsh Architects, and architect Dale Jones-Evans, now based in Sydney). Featuring unusual concrete walls embossed with decorative scones, it’s a reminder of some of the extravagant decoration popular in the early 1980s. Now an office for Splitrock (beverage), this boutique-style office still draws design buffs, some who can’t recall the period, while others, such as Michael Valmorbida who owns Splitrock, certainly do. “I still vividly remember the ‘nouvelle cuisine’ served on large dinner plates. The portions were miniscule and looked even smaller on such large crockery. The garnish took up most of the plate!” he adds.
Thankfully, restaurants and cafes have changed their modus operandi. You only need to walk into Bibelot, an artisan chocolate and desert boutique, to see both the artistry and calories on each plate!