The Block Arcade

The Block Arcade, 1892  Blueprint, Collins Street Elevation The Block Arcade, 1892 Fourth Floor Plan, Collins Street wing Minutes of Ordinary Meeting of Directors, 27 January 1892

The arcade’s name refers to the fashionable late 19th century habit of perambulating ‘the block’ formed by Collins, Elizabeth, Swanston and Little Collins Streets. The site of the Collins Street wing of the Block Arcade, ‘Melbourne’s grandest and most fashionable shopping arcade’ was originally the site of something more humble, Briscoe’s Bulk Grain Store.  When Briscoe’s moved in 1883, the George brothers opened a drapery store that was destroyed by fire in 1889.  The business relocated further east on Collins Street where it became known simply as ‘Georges’.

Shortly after the fire, David C Askew of the firm Twentyman and Askew was commissioned by the City Property Company Pty Ltd to design an L shaped shopping arcade connecting Collins Street and Elizabeth Street.  The featured plan clearly shows the kink in the building that is due to the underlying configuration of land subdivisions.

In 1892 the city of Melbourne was flourishing, and city buildings mirrored the style of those in Europe. The design for The Block is similar to the Galleria Vittorio in Milan, where shoppers had leisure to browse protected from weather and the dust of the streets. The high-quality finishes and attention to detail of the facades and the shopping arcade were carried through to the office levels above.  At the time of its opening, the arcade boasted 15 milliners, three lace shops and a photographic studio as well as the first Kodak shop in Melbourne, and the Hopetoun Tea Rooms which is still trading today.

The minutes of the City Property Company, 27 January 1892, record that the directors discussed ‘the desirability of making an effort to secure the completion of “The Block” and to arrange the finances of the company upon a satisfactory basis’.  By 1923 the company was in liquidation. The cost of maintenance and incorporation of current safety features is a constant challenge to owners of properties like The Block.  Many other arcades established in the late 19th century have not survived or have been altered considerably.  In contrast, the Block Arcade has retained most of its original features and has been extensively refurbished so that it maintains its reputation as one of the places where it is fashionable to be seen and to shop.

The Block Arcade, 1892
Blueprint, Collins Street Elevation
Print made by Peterson & Co, 421 Collins Street
Bates Smart McCutcheon, 1968.0013 (Job 174)

The Block Arcade, 1892
Fourth Floor Plan, Collins Street wing
Architect, David C. Askew
Ink & watercolour on glazed linen, pencil annotations
Bates Smart McCutcheon, 1968.0013 (Job 174)

Minutes of Ordinary Meeting of Directors, 27 January 1892
City Property Company Pty Ltd 1974.0025