When The Musics Over - FESTIVAL HALL to be no more (maybe)

Festival Hall development: Owners say venue is being ‘pummelled’ by larger, newer arenas
By Dan Harrison

The owners of Festival Hall say they need to sell the iconic Melbourne venue because it can no longer compete with larger and newer venues such as Margaret Court Arena.

The venue’s owner, Stadiums Limited, plans to sell the site and has lodged a planning application with the City of Melbourne to demolish most of the building and build two 16-storey buildings on the site.

The proposed development would include 179 apartments, 1400 square metres of commercial space and 230 car parking spaces.

Stadiums Limited does not intend to build the development, but hopes to find an interested buyer to see through the plan.

Since opening in 1915, the West Melbourne venue has played host to some of the biggest names in music, including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran and Lorde.

Music guru Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum said he was saddened by the development proposal, and shed a tear when he heard the news.

“In this day and age, we need more places to play live music,” he said.

“Quite a few of the artists now, from here and overseas — I’ll use Ed Sheeran as a good example of that — love going into these smaller places and doing a more intimate thing with the audience, which is hard with the big stadiums.”

Meldrum said the first concert he saw at Festival Hall was The Beatles in 1964, but he was thrown out by bouncers for yelling “I love you” to Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

“I was kicking at the door, scratching it, [saying] ‘Let me back in’, so if they’re pulling down I want that door because I reckon my fingernails are still in the wood,” he said.

It has also been the venue for numerous wrestling and boxing bouts featuring the likes of Lionel Rose, Johnny Fammachon and Anthony Mundine, and an indoor tennis exhibition featuring John McEnroe.

The venue was destroyed by fire in 1955 but was rebuilt in time to host the gymnastics and wrestling at the Olympic Games the next year.

Announcing the sale and development proposal at a media conference in Melbourne today, Stadiums Limited director Chris Wren said the company had decided to sell the venue because the time was approaching when it would no longer be profitable to operate.

“I draw the analogy [that] an old boxer facing up to a younger, bigger, stronger opponent is going to get well and truly pummelled and with the opening of Margaret Court Arena, and Hisense [Arena] to a lesser extent, we’re being pummelled,” Mr Wren said.

Mr Wren said the development proposal sought to recognise the historical and cultural significance of Festival Hall by incorporating its stage and boxing ring into the design.

The venue’s Dudley Street facade has also been incorporated.

Another director of the company, John Wren, who has been involved in running the stadium for half a century and whose grandfather built the venue in 1915, said it was a “very, very sad day”.

"It is hard but it’s a fact that we’ve got to move on, and we’ve made our decision."

If there’s one thing inner Melbourne desperately needs, it’s more apartments.


I went there a number of times in the sixties, when it was pretty much the only venue for non-classical music. (The classics were at the Melbourne Town Hall. The Arts Centre didn’t exist.)

The ones I remember were Bob Dylan in 1966 (half Dylan solo with guitar, half with the Band), Peter Paul and Mary (3 times, great concerts) and Procol Harum (they were big back then).

A friend saw the Beach Boys and still says they were the best band he’s seen.


Definitely saw RHCP there.
May or may not have seen Satch there. It was a long time ago.
LMW saw PATD there, though.

the last two gigs i saw there were really good

the roots

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Does netball at the “Australia games” in about 1986.

Saw a bunch of acts there over the years. PJ Harvey, Garbage, etc

Was never a massive fan of the place, but always sad to see a music venue (and in this case a genuine part of history) go.

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Particularly remember seeing The Strokes and Gomez there.
It has a piece of my heart but ah… it was definitely festy.

It did have that ‘this place may fall around our ears at any moment’ sort of feel.
Even three decades ago.

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My mum saw the Beatles there.
She saw all the battle of the bands including all of Bon Scotts bands, Skyhooks pretty much everything.

I’ve seen:
Chilli Peppers 93
Soundgarden 94
Tool 95 or 96
Oasis, Pixies, Gomez, Moby so so many.

I actually think they should turn it into a music museum with holograms on stage and all that stuff.

It’s shame. Disaster actually.

Saw Faith No More there about 4 times. Alice in Chains, Beastie Boys, Helmet, Living Colour, Suicidal Tendencies, the Cult… that I can remember at the moment.

It’s interesting though, coz it was never really designed as a music venue, and IMHO wasn’t great. Soundwise it could be terrible, depending on where you were positioned. Anyway, I’d rather it stay than become more apartments, at least it has some character and history.


Them Crooked Vultures
Jurassic 5
RATM’s first comeback gig
There’s more but fkd if i can remember them :thinking:
Such a great sh** venue.

Built in 1915, how is this not heritage listed.

I know it’s had a fire gut it, but still.

Sad to hear. Saw a lot of good music there. Remember Bob Marley in 79. Still smile at the sight of all the cars parked out the front with a small reddish glow appearing every minute or so. It was like street lamps! Drove to Mildura afterwards - got to work 15 minutes late. Students were sitting in the room waiting! Wouldn’t happen now lol


Wouldn’t be surprised if it had a fire gut it again soon.

Such things tend to happen to venues when the owner wants to demolish and redevelop but looks like being prevented by public outcry…


Saw all those gigs there as well but…

Alice in Chains played there? I thought AIC player the Palias? or Palace maybe?
Well that’s where I saw them and they only toured once.

Never struck me as ‘intimate’ at all. It was one the larger venues up until the 80s wasn’t it? Saw Stevie Nicks, Albert Collins and a couple of others there. Sound wasn’t very good.

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might be talking about the comeback tour post Layne.

they are still pretty damn good. either way the bands been out a couple of times.

Sat in the front row and Stevie Nicks smiled at me all night, some 45 yearsago, and before that used to go to TV Ringside most Monday nights and watch some of the best fights ever. Kanu Mahunga vs Tony Mundine, that was a fight ! Lionel Rose, Fammo and many more.

A lot of history, my Dad was an Usher there in the 1950’s and even before that my Mums first job was as an office girl for John Wren, or rather Mr Wren as both Mum and Dad called him. Still have the large glass bowl that he apparently bought them as a wedding present.

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Wasn’t a big fan of the place as a music venue, but you have to respect it’s history.

I was more gutted when the StKilda Palace was gutted.

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Do you mean the Palais ? If you do, it has be renovated to a certain degree.