+ St Kilda Town Hall - Fire Reinstatement

The St Kilda town hall was commissioned to replace an earlier 1859 building on the corner of Grey and Barkly Streets. This site was reserved in 1883, selected in 1887, and an elaborate towered design by architect William Pitt in an ornate Second Empire style won a limited competition in 1888. The building opened in 1890, but in incomplete form, with only the hall, the front wing and Carlisle Street wings built, the brick walls left unrendered and undecorated, and the portico and tower not built. [1] In 1892, instead of completing the building, a large pipe organ by noted firm George Fincham was installed in the hall. The 1890s depression which started that same year prevented any further work for many years.

In 1925 the large classical portico, similar to but not the same as Pitt’s design, was built, along with the current elaborate internal stair-hall. Though generally known as the Town Hall, the portico proclaims the building as a City Hall. The building’s other brick walls stayed bare until 1957 when they were finally stuccoed over and painted white, in a simplified classical form without any elaboration, not even the column capitals. In 1939 a new Art Deco style Council Chamber was included as part of an addition on the Brighton Road side, while in 1971 a modernist addition was made to the Carlisle Street side.

In the early hours of Sunday 7 April 1991, fire gutted the hall itself, and resulting in loss of the internal decoration, the organ, and destruction or severe damage to the many works of art that lined the halls. Arson was suspected.

After returning from London in 1991 working on the ‘victorian’ refurbishment of ‘The Landmark (formerly The Windsor Hotel’) for a period of 11 months, Ross MacKinnon was employed as part of an architectural forensics team of four with Jack Braunstein architects. Assigned to investigate, research, and document what existed pre-fire so that a value could be placed on the loss of the Great Hall building.

The office portion of the building was soon repaired, and firm of ARM Architecture tasked with the restoration of the hall and building a new entry on the Carlisle Street side, and offices to the rear, completed in 1994. The hall was not fully restored, but instead a new ceiling was created, the hall divided in two, some of the plasterwork restored, and some left in its damaged state. This work won two Royal Australian Institute of Architects awards in 1995.[5] A further expansion took place in the 2000s on the Carlisle Street side completed in February 2008, incorporating the dividing glass wall removed from the hall, opening it up again.

The Town Hall sits in an unusually spacious setting, with sweeping lawns and a circular driveway leading to the grand front staircase and portico.