Saving Clarendon Terrace

Save Clarendon Terrace': demonstrating outside the building in 1977Save Clarendon Terrace':
demonstrating outside the
building in 1977
'My God, they want to demolish Clarendon Terrace'. No Way, Man! ... That familiar 70's cry rang around the Melbourne University Architecture School.

Clarendon Terrace, 120 years old and down at heel, but among the best and most gracious examples of the neo-classical terrace of town houses in Melbourne, was mooted for demolition. We were incensed and, imbued with the heritage values taught by David Saunders, George Tibbits, Miles Lewis, et al, Melbourne's key architectural historians, we 'Archies' both young staff and students, decided to put our stamp of disapproval on yet another act of urban vandalism.

The students painted placards and banners, we decided on slogans and proceeded first thing through South Carlton, picking up a few Arts fellow travellers from their early morning tutorial at the 'Prince Albert' and colleagues from RMIT in Swanston Street, all winding up in East Melbourne outside Clarendon Terrace. Along the way, of course, we regaled the general population with our intention to save the Terrace. Here we joined a band of urban activists, concerned locals, the more sedate but vital National Trust folk and some press - all aghast that this great Terrace, albeit not in great shape, but eminently restorable, was facing destruction.

By way of context remember that Melbourne's CBD Victorian heritage by this time had been decimated. Modernist towers, often poor derivatives of American exemplars had submerged much of Melbourne's commercial Victorian heritage. Whole sections of inner Melbourne heritage residential suburbs had been razed to make way for Housing Commission tower blocks - and European derivatives that were disastrous architecturally and social experiments of the worst kind.

The National Trust, Carlton Association and other urban associations, the union movement et al had used whatever leverage they could to preserve what remained of inner Melbourne's heritage. We academics and students formed the sharp edge of protest aimed at blunting the momentum of desecration, pricking the conscience of the community and giving politicians and bureaucrats something to think about.

In many ways Clarendon Terrace was a turning point in the heritage movement. This was a travesty. The building had been on the Historic Buildings Register for nearly twenty years, but the owners had successfully obtained a demolition permit from none other than the Historic Buildings Preservation Council!! Presumably they bought the argument that the Terrace was beyond repair. We saw it from a different angle.

Osgood Pritchard's design featured Clarendon's fine Corinthian portico of giant proportion and unique in Melbourne. The Terrace's generous and elegant proportions and its contribution to the highly urbane streetscape of East Melbourne were of particular significance. Clarendon Terrace became a beacon - it had to be saved. Signs were affixed to the wrought iron fence - "EA Watts Master Blunder", "Who Wants Watts", "Developer Destroyer" and other homilies were among many messages to remain there for some time. Placards were paraded, slogans chanted, speakers cheered and press presence applauded.

A roster for a vigil was roughly arranged and then we called it a day. A counter lunch at the Baden Powell Hotel in Victoria Street beckoned and I seem to recall that those doyens of the green union movement - Messrs Gallagher and Halfpenny shouted lunch.

In the event, we were right - Clarendon Terrace was saved and our efforts may have helped a bit.

What a pleasure it is now to see this fine building, well restored and still the pride of Clarendon Street. Its equally gracious present occupant, the Menzies Foundation, deserves great credit, along with the National Trust, for finding a heritage development model that has worked superbly well.

Daryl Le Grew

About Clarendon Terrace