Monday, October 5, 2009

The Gods of Restoration have paid a visit to the George Hotel

My heart skipped a beat last week when a friend who lives in Elwood told me he drove down Fitzroy Street in St Kilda and saw scaffolding surrounding the George Hotel.

Here it is.

Here is a view of the George across Fitzroy Street with peeling facade.

The George was built in the 1860s. It fulfills all my requirements for any building - circular tower, which is very rare (tick), located in the most vibrant and bohemian suburb in Melbourne (tick), high ceilings (tick), plaster white walls (tick) and an excellent restaurant on the ground floor (Melbourne Wine Room, where Karen Martini is the chef and owner).

This is one of Melbourne's oldest hotels. It was originally named the Terminus Hotel to reflect its location opposite the original 1957 St Kilda railway station (now a light rail route). In the early part of the 19th century St Kilda was a popular holiday destination (which seems strange now as it is such an inner Melbourne suburb). It was a place to 'take the waters' as opposed to the current beach activity which can include 'avoiding the syringes'.

Various parts have been demolished over the years (including a three storey original building which was demolished in 1975 to make way for a drive through bottle shop). Various additions were made in 1873, 1889 and 1924. At one point the hotel had more than 250 rooms.

Those people who were young and out and about in the 1980s will recall a nightclub called the Seaview Ballroom which operated in the back of the building. Yes I was there (without my parent's permission) with all the punks and New Romantics listening to Duran Duran.

In the 1990s visionary St Kilda developer Donlevy Fitzpatrick redeveloped the George into residences, ranging from little studios to quite large apartments.

Why do I care about all this? Because we lived there for 3 years, in a little penthouse carved out of the roof space. Our bathroom was accessed through a hidden door and its walls and floor were completely covered with pale acqua mosaic tiles. An artist used the tower for his painting. We were kept awake by the thump of music for the weddings and barmitzvahs held in the old Seaview Ballroom behind the building. An art gallery in the ground floor held champagne openings and charity auctions. We could see the sea, and smell the Ferraris each March when the Grand Prix was run. We could watch the Gay Pride parade down Fitzroy Street each February. We would see the backpackers hostel behind us and hear Swedish tourists playing guitar on hot nights. We had to walk quickly up Grey Street because if you lingered you could be (a) picked up by a stranger looking for company (b) robbed or (c) bumped into by a local who had just obtained their methodone dose from the Amcal chemist on the corner. We could pop down to the Melbourne Wine Room for a glass of wine and some olives whenever we wanted.

And, sadly, there was no agreement amongst the body corporate members on how to fix the facade. The options were all expensive. Some people had money to put to the cause. Others didn't. So ultimately nothing happened.

It was a sad day when we left our home here. As anyone who has lived in St Kilda will tell you, it is addictive and hard to get out of your system. I am so pleased that something is being done to repair this dowager by the sea.

Here is my pastel drawing of our view from the back balcony. Yes, yes, this is my Fauvist period. Well spotted!

Images: (1) Dean Melbourne at Flickr (2) (4) Walking Melbourne (3) Lonely Planet (5) Jane
Other sources: Walking


Julie@beingRUBY said...

Hi Jane
Too many wonderful things here to comment on..
#1.. Love the old buildings and so glad they are restoring it and the round tower.. fabulous
#2.. How FAB you lived here.. attic apartment... sounds very bohemian.. and artists loft..
#3.. St Kilda... my favourite part of Melbourne
#4.. Did you do this painting?? How clever you are! Show us more!
#5 .. I'm sure there's more to comment on.. but hogging the comments enough already! Going back for another read.

Thanks for you comment.. loved it.. am going to hold off on publishing them.. but your's was great.. and creepy.. had to look it up! hahaha.. Take care x Julie

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

I really loved reading this post,Jane.
It's so refreshing to see a building being repaired and not lowered to the ground to make way for flats (apartments) or another supermarket.
Loved your descriptive text regarding Grey Street. It's so nice to know that it happens everywhere..... and the fact that you lived there must make it all the sweeter to see it being renovated.
Thanks, Jane, for a really interesting read. XXXX

Mise said...

What a wonderful place to have lived - perfect for a young couple with no children, a lighthearted disposition, and a fondness for an occasional glass of wine. I love these grand old buildings that need a boost. And just look at how it brought out the artist in you!

Lee said...

Jane, I can't believe you lived at The George! How lucky are/were you! You're right about St Kilda being addictive - a former business partner lived right in the heart of St Kilda and I would always jump at the chance to visit her at home just to explore a little bit of the area each time.

I'd also love to know if you created that gorgeous little picture? If so, you're a very creative, talented soul. Anyway, absolutely loved this post and can't wait to see what The George looks like once it's exterior has been all gussied up. Lee :)

Unknown said...

Your painting is just lovely - if you have more, please share. Keep us posted on the George - what a beautiful building. How lucky that you lived there. You must have the best memories of those times. Microwave free then too I bet!

Laura said...

What an evocative post! It sounds like an exceedingly special building, and that is quite exciting that it is being redeveloped. I wonder if they'll let you in to see your old place once it's done?

Pinecone Camp said...

I love that building Jane! We've been to the wine room several times. Hiccup. You were so fortunate to have actually lived in it!

Haven and Home said...

Oh I love to see things being restored!

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