Festival Hall could be saved as Heritage Victoria recommends protection for Melbourne venue
Fri 18 May 2018, 6:34pm
Melbourne’s Festival Hall could be saved from demolition, after Heritage Victoria recommended the 100-year-old venue be registered, meaning any development of the site would first need special approval.
In January, the owners of Festival Hall revealed they were planning to sell the site to developers because they could no longer compete with larger, newer music venues.
They lodged a planning application with the City of Melbourne to build two 16-storey apartment buildings and demolish most of the original building.
The venue has played host to some of the biggest names in music, including The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Fleetwood Mac, and more recently the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ed Sheeran and Lorde.
First known as West Melbourne Stadium when it opened as a purpose-built boxing and wrestling arena in 1915, it was renamed Festival Hall after being reconstructed in 1955.
Boxing and gymnastic events were held there during the 1956 Olympics, and later world-class bouts featuring the likes of Lionel Rose. The popular ‘TV Ringside’ wrestling events were held there in the 1960s and 70s.
The executive director of Heritage Victoria has recommended the site be added to the register, but that still needs to be approved.
The Heritage Victoria report said while the building was unlikely to meet the architectural criteria needed for protection, it was socially significant to the live music industry, as well as the boxing and wrestling community.
Victoria’s Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, said a heritage listing would mean any development of the site would require approval to ensure the building’s character and history were preserved.
He said the venue was an important part of Melbourne’s social and cultural life.
“Melburnians are really passionate about their heritage, whether it’s the Queen Victoria Market or Festival Hall or many of our great historic buildings,” he said.
"To have Festival Hall listed is incredibly important.
“For so many of us we’ve been to Festival Hall for all sorts of different occasions. Its a really important part of our history.”
Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan said he was encouraged that cultural heritage was being factored into the decision.
“It’s the blood, sweat and tears of joy that are intrinsically connected to the magic and memories of musical experiences,” he said.
Development could still go ahead: owner
Owner Christopher Wren said the process still had a long way to go and the development had not yet been shelved.
“We can make submissions about whether it’s got heritage significance … what should or shouldn’t be retained, and what may be capable of being removed but still maintaining the memories of events that happened there in years past,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
He said the development plan put forward earlier this year aimed to incorporate the history of the venue.
“We’ve gone and spoken to people we regard as having expertise in this area and got their recommendations and sought to incorporate that because we recognise that the building for some people has great memories,” he said.
When the development was announced in January, Mr Wren said the venue was becoming unprofitable.
“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”.