St Kilda Road – was it really lined with Mansions?

Having just read Judith Buckridge’s history of St Kilda Road ‘Grand Boulevard’, I wanted to see if I could work out what it actually looked like in its hey day, since there’s no postcards or film that show it lined with mansions. So it was surprising to learn that they weren’t all 1880s boom mansions – in fact by 1896 there were only 59 houses (including queens road), with far more (75 lots) not built on, and some of the houses were on triple or double lots – so the street would have felt mostly open or gardens, with scattered mansions, some set so far back maybe only glimpsed, while others were more like big houses. Theres not actually photos of many of them – they’re mainly from the 1950s-70s, so only photos the ones that were left by then, and only the grand ones – many were not that imposing, and many had been replaced by flats from 20s-50s. The last one (in colour!) was in Queens Road and I seem to remember it being dem in the early 90s (!). The others all gone by the mid 70s. There’s 12 left, with 4 of those built between 1896-1925. The colour plan at the end is my sketch based on the 1896 MMBW maps, plus a sample of one of the maps. Yes it’s a great shame they’re all gone, but there was no such thing as heritage listing before 1974 – but then that should have saved the very first house, Armadale (pic 1), but didn’t, and it was dem 1976.

St Kilda Road in the 1920s – the book shows that just as many houses were built after the 1890s as before, so they weren’t all Victorian towered things, many were 1920s bungalow or classic styles – I’ve only found a few images though. The first is from the book, ‘Aloha’, built c1920 at no 481, and what’s now the Indonesian Consulate on Queens Road, built 1925, one of only 2 post 1900 houses left (out of about 60). These later houses filled up almost all of the vacant lots, and some were built on some of the triple lots that some of Victorian houses occupied (which were carefully built on the central lots, so clearly thought they might sell the sides off !)

St Kilda Road went through so many phases, one melding into the next, such as many flats in the 30s replacing houses sometimes not even 20 years old. But the 20s must have been ‘peak’ when the trees were grown, and it was indeed lined with mansions, and big houses. But also some houses had already become guest houses or flats, and some purpose built flats too, eg Coronado Guest House, just before the Commercial Rd corner, built 1927. First aerial pics is c1925, looking south from Toorak Road, you can see lots of gardens, and the second early 1930s, showing big houses, only dome Victorian. My sketch is last.

So I’ve sketched out maps of the road in 1896 and 1922, showing how sparse it was in the first, then fully built out 28 years later. The red blocks are houses and buildings that survive.

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