Behind the bland facade of the Target store in Bourke Street lies what remains one of the city’s least-known, yet most spectacular early picture palaces, and an Art Deco department store. Melbourne Heritage Action believe that the removal of the aluminium cladding and restoration of the facades behind would be one of the most outstanding contributions to restoring Melbourne’s CBD heritage that anyone could make.
The Hoyts De Luxe has tremendous importance to Melbourne’s history as the the first truly luxurious “picture palace” in Melbourne. It is also notable for being one of the last buildings designed by one of Melbourne’s most renowned architects, William Pitt. The De Luxe took around a year to build and first opened its doors in 1915. The cinema’s name was changed to The Esquire after 1946, and it catered for clientele of the Regent Theatre, which had been closed after a fire. Next door is another hidden heritage facade, the Art Deco Coles Store, built in two stages. It was designed by the well known architect Harry Norris (who also designed the well-loved Nicholas Building) and opened in 1937 as Mantons. It was extended in 1955, in a matching style, and became a Coles Store. The plainer rear facade on Little Bourke Street of both buildings are perfectly intact, that of the department store featuring ‘mantons’ in lettering in the footpath glass blocks that light the basement.
In 1977 the floors of the Coles buildings were extended into the Esquire, and the interior of the cinema was destroyed. At the same time both facades were covered by dull modern cladding. When the Target sign was replaced in 1994, some of the original ornate theatre facade was briefly revealed behind the sheeting. The facade was then listed by the National Trust, for its very early date and relative intactness.
Once the cladding is removed, it would require extensive restoration, since every element that protruded more than 500mm was chipped off. The two cornices, and the vertical leadlight sign element will need to be reinstated (which can be done in modern lightweight precast materials), but everything else is in place, even some of the timber framed windows. The Coles facade is likely to be completely intact.
Some city retailers have made use of the restoration of heritage buildings to improve their branding. Chanel was able to generate great publicity for their Russell Street store in 2013 due to the wonderful restoration of the dilapidated but grand 1920s bank building, chosen for its quality despite being located well off the traditional Collins Street boutique strip. Though Target do not own the building they occupy anymore, they have a similar opportunity to generate good will and more custom. We wrote to Wesfarmers, the parent company of Target, in 2013, but never received a response.
The building was sold in 2011 to Singapore based property investor Phillip Lim, who fortunately appears to be more an investor than a developer. We wrote to the company named on the title for the building in 2013, but again did not get a response.
Target urged to remove CBD signage to show historic facade of cinema, John Masanauskas, Herald Sun, May 5 2014.
‘It wants to be free’: heritage group targets Bourke Street facade, Aisha Dow, The Age, May 5 2014
Cinema Treasures entry for Hoyts DeLuxe
National Trust listing for the facade: Former Hoyts De Luxe Cinema