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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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