Block Arcade in Melbourne Australia by Karin Burgess

Fancy a trip down memory lane? The Block Arcade in Melbourne, Australia, has lost none of the WOW factor, it had on its completion in 1893. When it was first built, the Arcade added not only glamour, but also prestige to this upstart city, which other cities on the continent could only dream of and try to emulate. It became an instantaneous success, and visiting it or “doing the block” as it had became known, became a national pastime in Melbourne. Fashionable ladies used the Block in the same way as a catwalk is used today and used the opportunity to show off their new dresses, outfits, and finery. But to the
general public it was a place to see and also a place to be seen.
Even now a hundred and twenty years later the Arcade’s magic
still draws in the crowds. They can often be seen soaking up and savoring the 1890’s atmosphere as they stroll around the Arcade with camera’s in hand, taking pictures of the beautiful interior and architecture It’s a symbol of the late Victorian age, a standard bearer and beacon to the city’s success both economically and culturally. It was this Southern city’s answer to Bond Street in London and the Boulevards in Paris. Fashionable Melbourne had finally come of age!

Built in two parts, the first section from Collins Street was finished in
1892. The second and final part of the building was completed in 1893. There are entrances from both Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets. The end result was a building with a richly decorated interior, an exquisite mosaic tiled flooring, glass canopy and wrought iron.

Despite splendor and magnificence of the structure, architect David C Askew never lost sight of its need to be user friendly for the future. After all this was a practical commercial proposition that would increase landlords’ holdings. By offering ladies and gents a refuge from the dust, heat and noise of the street he could introduce them to a large shopping area where they could view and possibly buy goods from a wide variety of shop fronts. The Arcade was also one of the first to utilize state of the art technology then, such as electricity for lighting as well as having 2 lifts (elevators) to take people to the first floor.
Visitors today can still enjoy a cup of tea in the iconic Hopetoun Tea Rooms, the only business to grace the Block original from those early days. Created by the Victorian Ladies Work Association and named after the Association’s founder, Lady Hopetoun Wife of Victoria’¦s 8th Governo. He went on to become Australia’s first Governor General from 1901 to 1903. Now in a different location in the Arcade a poignant reminder of the business’ beginnings can be seen on the back wall of the tea rooms, where an etched mirror from the original Tea rooms hangs. Patrons of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms could dwell on the George Orwell quote “All true Tea Lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes,”¨ as they sit and gaze around them … especially after capturing their vision in the spectacular etched mirror.
What would David C Askew make of his creation today? A creation that that is still giving as much enjoyment and interest today as it did one hundred and twenty years ago. Whatever else he did, the Block Arcade stands as a fitting testament to this individual who turned his own personal vision into reality and was able to leave behind a building that has and will
stand the test of time.