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Unpacking St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street: A History
Corner of Fitzroy and Grey Streets, St. Kilda Circa c.1876
In the second of our series of C&G Unpacking History blogs, (find out about Elwood by reading last week’s here) we look at the colourful history of iconic Fitzroy Street in St Kilda. A street so popular it has its own website, Fitzroy Street has been a hub of activity for St Kilda’s various citizenry for literally thousands of years. Has Fitzroy Street played a role in your life?
When we think about Fitzroy Street, natural features don’t immediately come to mind. Yet an ancient signpost of Fitzroy Street remains: a giant River Red Gum Tree – known as the Corroboree Tree - which is reputed to be the site of indigenous corroborees by our first peoples. Thought to be over 300 years old, this tree is located next to Junction Oval on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Queens Road. Surrounded by a native grassland area which is peaceful (despite its urban surrounds), pop this historic site on your ‘to-see’ list this weekend.
Once colonised, St Kilda as we now know it was called Green Knoll and The Village of Fareham (how very Midsomers!). Charles La Trobe is rumoured to have dubbed the area St Kilda at a picnic in 1841, calling it after a schooner called Lady of St Kilda. Back then St Kilda Road was merely a sandy track frequented by ne’er do well bushrangers. Fitzroy Street itself was named for Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy – aristocrat and military man – and was predominantly a residential area, dotted with the mansions of politicians, doctors and land-boomers. The interwar years diminished some of Fitzroy Street’s grandeur, with increasingly decrepit buildings being torn down in the 1960’s and 1970’s – changing appearance and nature of the street towards commerce rather than housing.
The Prince of Wales Hotel of Fitzroy Street – the original (above) and after its 1936 rebuild (below).
Notable venues along Fitzroy Street include ‘The George’ by Donlevy Fitzpatrick, derelict until renovated in the mid 1970’s during St Kilda’s renaissance as a cultural hub of the South. The now-very-fancy-but-not-always-so Prince of Wales Hotel opened as a guesthouse in 1862, and didn’t begin its ascent as a ‘must-visit’ venue until the 1930’s when it was rebuilt by famous architects Hansen and Yucken.
Today Fitzroy Street beckons many to its entertainments – from backpackers to day-trippers and Melbournians who come to enjoy the street’s cafes, Sunday market and proximity to Albert Park and the St Kilda foreshore. Next time you revel in the hospitality of Fitzroy Street – take a moment to think of all the celebrating citizens who have come before!