331-339 Bourke Street
1869-1870 Charles Webb (original north-south Bourke to Lt Collins Street arcade)
1902-1923 Hyndman and Bates (east-west Elizabeth Street addition)
2002-2004 Allom Lovell & Associates (restoration)
The Royal Arcade was the second shopping arcade built in Melbourne with the first being the Queen’s Arcade, which was built in 1853. The Queen’s Arcade did not last long and was demolished long ago, leaving The Royal Arcade to claim the honour of being both Melbourne’s and Australia’s oldest surviving shopping arcade.
In 1868, Charles Webb won a design competition for The Royal Arcade with a renaissance revival design. Construction started a year later in June of 1869 and was completed in May 1870. The design of the arcade was probably inspired by arcades typical of that time found in Paris and London, which were long, straight, and had high glass roofs, with arched windowed storerooms above each shop. The Bourke Street façade also features a coat of arms at the centre of a balustraded roofline.
Erected in 1892 and found in the southern end of the original structure is probably the most enticing feature of the arcade, the mechanized statues of Gog and Magog. These statues of mythical giants were copied from those in the Guildhall in London. Gog and Magog flank a large clock designed by a former local watchmaker Gaunt and the two statues have struck chimes every hour, on the hour, ever since their introduction over one hundred and twenty years ago!
In 1890 at least two of the original shop fronts to the arcade were replaced with new bay windows, splayed entrances and mirrored pilasters between each shop entrance. The remaining shop fronts were replaced in 1894 under the guidance of architect Nahum Barnett.
In 1902, a decision was made to begin to build an annex from the centre of the arcade through to Elizabeth Street, allowing for the opening of further businesses and construction of a new Elizabeth Street façade for the arcade. An arched verandah was added to the Bourke Street façade around the same time.
In 1934, the original Castlemaine flag floor was replaced with black and white square concrete floor tiles, which in turn were later replaced by better quality black and white terrazzo tiles. In the 1950s a cantilevered verandah was added to the Little Collins Street façade and in 2002 work began to refurbish and restore the arcade back to its original glory by Allom Lovell & Associates.
The original arcade consisted of 29 shops of various distinctive trades offering mainly luxury goods. At the southern end of the arcade facing Little Collins Street were two or three shops of larger dimensions, including Turkish Baths. There are now 32 shops and the entire arcade is currently owned by The Royal Arcade Pty Ltd, a company with 32 separate shareholders, each owning a head lease over their respective shops, which are either owner-occupied or tenanted out.
The Royal Arcade remains one of Melbourne’s favourite ‘must visit’ destinations, offering extravagant boutique wares and refined delights through its many elegant and distinctive shops.