Nineteenth-century shopping arcades are woven into Melbourne’s urban fabric. Images of the Block and Royal Arcades adorn social media and other websites and during the day, they are thronged by both locals and tourists. On the ground level, boutique stores and eateries display their goods, while on the upper floors, a variety of businesses occupy sought-after office space. Since the twentieth century, few extant built spaces have exemplified the opportunity and optimism of the Victorian era like shopping arcades. Competing against motor-centric suburban shopping centres, these spaces reflected a quainter, older and urbaner vision for leisure, which many postwar Melburnians and tourists appreciated. During the postwar period, however, when much of Melbourne’s Victorian-era fabric was destined for the wrecking ball, the arcades were equally threatened. Their seemingly faded grandeur and ostensible functional obsolescence meant their destruction seemed imminent, and many were demolished. But, the rejuvenation of the Melbourne CBD over the past three decades has led their owners to maximise and capitalise on the potential of these architectural, social and economic assets. Concomitantly, the growing consciousness of the historic environment intersected with these privately-owned spaces of consumption and recreation. Examining periodicals, ephemera, and conservation archives from the 1950s onwards that speak to broader debates around heritage and regeneration, this paper argues that the re-making of Melbourne’s arcades exemplifies the extent to which developers, policymakers, residents and tourists rediscovered this city and its nineteenth-century shopping heritage, with present-day implications for heritage management.
The authors 2018
Proceedings of the 14th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2018