Demolition of St Kilda’s iconic Greyhound Hotel began today. The 164-year-old venue has played a vital role in Melbourne’s LGBTIQ history, hosting drag shows for more than 20 years.
City of Port Phillip Mayor Bernadene Voss (whose offices overlook the Greyhound) tells Broadsheet bulldozers spent the day demolishing the roof and the back of the building, although the façade still remains.
However, she says no plans have been submitted to VCAT to retain the facade. The hotel’s current owners obtained a permit in June 2016 by a private surveyor allowing for complete demolition of the building.
Mayor Voss says a policy gap exists at state government level for the protection of buildings like the Greyhound that had community value but not specific heritage significance.
“As a lot of old buildings become scarcer due to redevelopment, the feeling in the community is a real desire to keep these old buildings,” she says. “These buildings are typically not covered by existing heritage overlays or protections … they are not architecturally significant. What we’re looking at here is a building that is potentially culturally or socially significant as it has a lot of historic feeling or meaning for the local community.
“[The state government] can approve heritage protection for state significance in cases of social or cultural significance, but not local.”
The Greyhound was built in 1853 and underwent extensive renovations in 1936, making it ineligible to receive a heritage listing based on the value of the structure alone. The council instead sought to protect the hotel based on its cultural value.
After the pub closed in January, the Port Phillip City Council rejected an application for an eight-storey apartment to be built on the site.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne refused to grant the building heritage protection. This was the last option to halt the demolition of the building despite a report by Context heritage consultants that found the hotel held significant cultural value.
The Context report stated: “The local and broader Melbourne LGBTIQ community specifically has strong associations with the Greyhound Hotel, valuing it as a home, a venue for entertainment and a place that represents this community’s identity, in particular its openness, inclusiveness and creativity.”
"The owner of the former Greyhound Hotel had attempted to work with the Port Phillip Council on innovative ways that would keep the pub open, but got nowhere," said a spokesperson for the Minister for Planning. "The Council knew the former pub was headed for demolition last June, when the demolition permit was issued. It sat on its hands for months until finally asking the Minister to intervene in February after coming under public pressure."
The Greyhound joins the ever-growing list of historic Melbourne pubs destined for rubble.
A change.org petition had gathered the signatures of more than 2700 supporters hoping to save the pub.
Mayor Voss suggests anyone concerned about buildings important to their communities to be pro active and alert their local councils before developers move in.
“We’ve done a lot of work but have been rejected twice. The state government really needs to act urgently and work with councils to overcome this policy gap. We want to work with them to ensure no further buildings have to die in vain,” she says.
This story was updated on May 15.