In January it was revealed iconic Melbourne live-music and sporting venue Festival Hall was under threat of demolition to make way for two apartment towers. Melburnians were understandably upset at the prospect of losing an important cultural landmark.
But the venue has been recommended for heritage listing, which might save it.
Executive director of Heritage Victoria Steven Avery recommended on May 10 that the venue should be added to the Victorian Heritage Register. The demolition of properties on the register requires special approval from the executive director through a permit, meaning the venue’s protection could be guaranteed. Final approval for Festival Hall being be added to the heritage register is still pending.
To be heritage listed, buildings must satisfy criteria that apply to the historical, architectural and cultural significance of the structure. According to Heritage Victoria, Festival Hall’s social and cultural significance is what will determine its heritage status because the building has not been deemed architecturally significant.
Avery’s decision comes after a planning proposal was lodged with Melbourne City Council in January. The Wren family, which owns the venue, plans to replace Festival Hall with two towers – one nine levels, one 16 levels – of apartments and retail and office spaces.
This plan proposed the demolition of the main hall, although a few small reminders of its history would remain, including the boxing ring, stage and Dudley Street entrance.
The move to block the development has come as no surprise to Festival Hall's owners.
"We expected that this might happen and we will now follow due process while the matter is being considered by the Heritage Council," said the Wren family in a statement released on Friday afternoon.
“Nothing speaks to Melbourne’s arts, music and sporting culture quite like Festival Hall,” Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said in a statement to Broadsheet. “It has a proud history, and heritage protection will give it a safe and secure future, too.”
Other sports and entertainment venues protected by the heritage register include the Palais Theatre in St Kilda, the Comedy Theatre on Exhibition Street in the CBD and the Princess Theatre on Spring Street, also in the CBD.
Originally built in 1915 by gambler and entrepreneur John Wren, Festival Hall was rebuilt in its current form in 1956 after a fire. The Wren family owns the property under the name Stadiums Pty Ltd.
As reported by the ABC, Christopher Wren said in January the demolition was planned because the venue had become “unprofitable” thanks to competition with bigger venues such as Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena.
Because of the boxing and wrestling matches held at the venue it became known as the “House of Stoush”. The 5445-capacity venue hosted the Beatles in 1964. Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Bill Haley have also graced its stage.
Artists including the Wombats, Franz Ferdinand, MGMT and Courtney Barnett will play the venue in coming months.
This article was updated at 2.20pm on May 18, 2018.