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The Australian Building (APA Building)

Peter Maltezos's picture

The Australian Building (APA Building)

49 Elizabeth Street, northwest corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Lane

Architect: Henry Kemp



Completed in 1889 and demolished in 1980

Queen Anne style

12 levels (was meant to be 15)

Height to roof was 47 metres

Height to pinnacle was 53 metres

Tallest building in Melbourne from 1889 - 1929


Extract from Melbourne – The city’s history and development by Miles Lewis


The Australian Building had been planned to be fifteen storeys, and though it was ultimately reduced to twelve, it was still 53 metres high – taller than any European office building, and comparable with the new American skyscrapers. It remained for very long time Australia’s tallest building. Here one twelth of the total cost was spent to obtain what were said to be the safest lifts known to modern engineering. They were therefore of the type which made no use of cables, but rested directly on top of a steel ram rising out of the hydraulic cylinder. This meant that the cylinder had to be sunk into the ground by the same distance the lift had to rise, a depth of 39 metres. In reality it was by no means safe as it seemed, for many years later one of the cylinders burst and a lift fell all the way from the top floor. Lucky it was empty at the time.



This historic massive structure was rumoured to have have been the third tallest building in the world in 1889 when it was completed!


The Australian Building had presence! smiley


Great Queen Anne styled roofline with gables, walkway and impressive pediments.


Edwardian postcard.


I remember this building when it was still standing and used to think, surely someone will restore this once great landmark, and then one day in 1980, I saw scaffolding going up all around it, got excited, thought they were finally going to restore it, but I was wrong, they demolished it instead! sad


Its legendary status in Melbourne’s built history has only ever been matched by few others and its replacement is at the opposite end of the spectrum, short and unremarkable!  no


The way it looked just before it was demolished.

Pediments and all ornamentation on its roof were removed in the 1950s.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

Extract from A New City

Photographs of Melbourne’s Land Boom by Ian Morrison


…..The ground floor was occupied by shops, and the upper floors by 220 offices, each with a speaking tube connected to the entrance hall, and an electric indicator showing whether the occupant was in or out. There were two hydraulic lifts, and the building’s granite walls were more than three feet thick at the base.


View from a Flinders Street office window looking north down Elizabeth Street.

I collect, therefore I am.

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Glennwilson's picture

What replaced it, absolutely nothing of significance, not even a high rise?

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Melbourne_Fragments's picture

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MelbourneGuy's picture

Imagine that view down Elizabeth street without the awnings, almost New York like imo.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

I prefer Chicago ;)

but yes, it's easy to forget we were doing the same kind of thing as the big eastern and mid-western cities in the US over a century ago.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

Another shot of it making an appearance in an Edwardian postcard ~1900s.


I collect, therefore I am.

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Peter Maltezos's picture

Measurements and diagram by R. Braddish to the roof: 153ft /47m (rear 150ft/45.6m) turret=167ft/51m, + 18ft finial= 185ft 56m.

Australian (APA) Building, Melbourne and Australia Hotel, Sydney.

I collect, therefore I am.

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Development & Planning

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:00
The swirl of development activity in Footscray has found another gear as new projects are submitted for approval, or are on the verge of beginning construction. Two separate planning applications have been advertised by Maribyrnong City Council; their subsequent addition to the Urban Melbourne Project Database has seen the overall number of apartment developments within Footscray in development swell to 40.

Policy, Culture & Opinion

Monday, November 20, 2017 - 12:00
The marriage of old and new can be a difficult process, particularly when the existing structure has intrinsic heritage value. In previous times Fitzroy's 237 Napier Street served as the home of furniture manufacturer C.F. Rojo and Sons. Taking root during 1887, Christobel Rojo oversaw operations though over time the site would become home to furniture manufacturer Thonet.


Visual Melbourne

Friday, August 25, 2017 - 07:00
The former site of John Batman's home, Batman's Hill is entering the final stages of its redevelopment. Collins Square's final tower has begun its skyward ascent, as has Lendlease's Melbourne Quarter Commercial and Residential precinct already. Melbourne Quarter's first stage is at construction and involves a new 12-storey home for consultancy firm Arup along with a skypark.

Transport & Design

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 11:00
Infrastructure Victoria unveiled a new round of research into its larger programme of work dealing with managing transport demand. The authority contracted Arup and KPMG to produce the Melbourne Activity Based Model (MABM) and while it is new, it is considered fit for purpose in the strategic context.

Sustainability & Environment

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 12:00
Cbus Property's office development for Medibank at 720 Bourke Street in Docklands recently became the first Australian existing property to receive a WELL Certification, Gold Shell and Core rating. The WELL rating goes beyond sustainable building features with a greater focus on the health and well-being of a building's occupants.