In the 1880s, the Royal Exhibition Building’s Dome Promenade was the place to be. Socialites would cluster on the 360-degree observation deck and admire Melbourne from the high vantage point. The promenade has been closed for more than a century, but will reopen at the end of 2017 following a $20 million refurbishment. The aim is to make it one of Melbourne’s top tourist attractions.

1880 Dome Promenade view. Source: Museum Victoria

“We think now is the time to revive it,” says Dr Patrick Greene, CEO of Museum Victoria.

“Visitors will be able to see as far as The Dandenongs in one direction, the Great Dividing Range, and the You Yangs in the other.

“You can see everything that visitors could see back in 1888, apart from Port Phillip Bay because of the city’s high-rises,” he says.

For three pence, visitors could climb the 80 steep steps 30 metres up to the Promenade. According to Museum Victoria’s records, one visitor at the time described the experience:

“The sight was grand enough to be subduing ... and as we filed down the apparently endless stairs, it was to the tune of silence.”

Heritage consultant and architectural firm Lovell Chen has been appointed to head the building’s refurbishment. The Melbourne-based office has also been involved in conserving the GPO and State Library of Victoria.

“The building’s structure is showing a passage of time, the wall renders are weak and it doesn’t comply with today’s height legislation,” Greene says.

“It’s like a cathedral, there’s always something that needs to be done.”

Construction will commence in May 2016. The refurbishment is scheduled for completion at the end of 2017. The building will continue hosting events during that time.