Eight of the coolest things to see at Open House Melbourne

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 22 July 2019

Open House Melbourne unlocks some of the city’s best-kept building secrets.     

Step into secret Melbourne on the weekend of 27 and 28 July when normally off-limits venues open their doors as part of Open House Melbourne 2019. The program provides the key to more than 200 houses, projects, offices and public buildings, including 73 new sites, such as an historic boatyard and the recently restored Capitol Theatre. It has proved so popular that events including a tour of the West Gate Tunnel Project and a peep into the private home of one of Australia’s most influential architects, the late Robin Boyd, have sold out.

Here’s a selection of venues that don’t require tickets or bookings for entry, although some venues require tours to be booked online.

Intricate roof details of architect-designed building

Step inside RMIT’s stunning Capitol Theatre.  

Eight free Open House events to check out this weekend

Blunts Boat Builders

Open entry, self-guided. 

The Blunt family have been building and launching wooden boats into Port Phillip Bay for more than 160 years. Their vessels have carried missionaries to the New Hebrides and won premier yacht races. Blunts’ premises are a rare example of small-scale boat building and an important link to Victoria’s maritime past, right on the water, and sixth-generation boat builder Greg Hunt is on site for a chat.
27 July, 10am to 4pm. 150 Nelson Place, Williamstown.

Willows Homestead

Open entry, self-guided.

The Willows homestead is a rare example of a mid-1850s homestead dating back to Melton’s farming origins. The heritage-listed bluestone and mud home sits in parkland on the banks of Toolern Creek. Its rendered rubble external walls are an unusual example of 1800s construction. Neglected for years, Melton Council bought the near-derelict building in 1972 and gradually restored it. It is now the centrepiece of the Willows Historical Park and headquarters of the Melton Historical Society.
27 and 28 July, noon to 4pm. 3a Reserve Road, Melton


Open entry, self-guided.

Once home to Melbourne’s elite, this magnificent 1962 mansion features opulent architectural features from the Victorian era. It was redeveloped in the French second empire style in the 1880s into a 35-room mansion featuring gilt embossed wallpapers, ornate stained glass and a rare trompe l’oeil ceiling. In 1920 it was divided into flats and its residents included Australia’s first Hollywood silent film star, Louise Lovely, and other bohemian characters. It is a lavish and restored survivor of the nineteenth century.
28 July, 10am to 4pm. 2 Manor Grove, Caulfield North

Staircase with timber balustrades and ceiling to floor paisley wallpaper

Labassa’s 19th-century staircase stylings.

Octagonal room arranged with rooms of desks surrounded by bookshelves

The renovated Reading Room at the State Library.

The Capitol 

Open entry, self-guided or tours hourly from 10am to 3pm.

Considered the greatest interior design work by celebrated architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, The Capitol has recently undergone a major restoration. It’s an astonishing cinema in ornate Chicago-gothic style which opened in 1924 and has dramatic coloured lighting illuminating its geometric ceiling. RMIT and Six Degrees Architects have refurbished it as a contemporary destination for culture, education and innovation. It’s a hidden gem, so expect queues.
27 July, 10am to 4pm. 113 Swanston Street, Melbourne

Abbotsford Convent

Open entry, self-guided or $5 tours (online bookings only)

Founded by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1863, the convent consists of 11 historic buildings in large gardens. For more than 100 years it provided shelter, food and work for thousands of women and girls escaping poverty, many of whom lived on site and worked in the Magdalen Laundry. Visitors can explore the recently restored laundry, Sacred Heart Buildings and rotunda or its numerous galleries and cafes. Book online for a tour of artist studios or for a conservator or architecture-led talk.
28 July, 11am to 3.30pm. 1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford

Lowther Hall  

Open entry, guided and self-guided 

A wealthy brewer, Collier McCracken, built the Corinthian classic revival mansion with colonnades and classical detail in1890. It was later the home of eccentric Edward William Cole, the founder of Cole’s Book Arcade. It is notable for the high quality of its materials and finishes and its elaborate interior spaces. It is now the home of Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School. Visitors must be over eight years old.
27 and 28 July, 10am to 2pm. 17 Leslie Road, Essendon  

Spotswood Pumping Station 

Open entry, self-guided or free guided tours at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 2.30pm. 

This imposing historic red-brick building had a job to do when it was built back in the 1890s. At the time Melbourne was nicknamed Smellbourne because of the stench of its untreated sewage. This facility pumped Melbourne’s sewage to the treatment works in Werribee, solving the city’s sanitation problems until it exceeded its capacity in the 1960s. The grand facade and imposing towers of the main building look more like a French castle than a major industrial site, and although it is no longer in operation, a quarter of Melbourne’s sewage still passes through the site on its way to Werribee. 
27 and 28 July, 10am to 4.30pm. Enter through Scienceworks, 2 Booker Street, Spotswood  

State Library  

Tours: Hourly from 11am to 4pm (except 1pm). Online bookings required 

This is Australia’s oldest library and also one of the first free public libraries in the world. It opened in 1856 with a collection of 3846 volumes and has since collected more than five million items including books, manuscripts, serials, photographs, artworks, maps and more. Tours explore the relationship between the design of furniture used to store collections and the collections themselves. Visitors can look behind the scenes at storage of hundreds of thousands of architectural drawings, maps and paintings. 
27 and 28 July, 10am to 6pm. 328 Swanston Street, Melbourne  

Open House Melbourne Weekend 2019 is on 27 and 28 July throughout Melbourne. openhousemelbourne.org