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A quick history lesson

For the first 20,000 years, the Bunurong tribe lived along the Eastern coast of Port Philip Bay. By the 1850’s their numbers had dwindled to just over 50 when the first white settler, James Bickford Moysey built his cottage in what he called ‘the Beaumaris run’.

In the 1880’s, the Beaumaris Hotel was built along with the first shop and civic hall. An electric Tram from Sandringham Station to Black Rock was then horse drawn to Beaumaris and then Cheltenham Station. This early ‘public transport’ encouraged land developers. But although parts of Beaumaris were developed, the great depression put and end to the tram and any further development.

In 1939, The Dunlop Rubber Company purchased a large area of Beaumaris with the intention of building a ‘garden city’. However, the war and economic shortages put their plans on hold and so by the early 1950’s Beaumaris was largely undeveloped. A large fire in 1944 destroyed many of the earlier homes built in Beaumaris.

This large tract of bushy land by the water was ripe for post war development. Architects and creative people of all fields, including writers, artists, actors, fashion designers, graphic designers, fabric designers, ceramicists and lighting designers were attracted to the natural landscape of the area. All looking for something different to the usual sub divisions.

Time to name drop

One of the earliest architects to purchase land in Beaumaris, Eric Lyon, commented that there were over 50 architects living in Beaumaris in the 1950’s. A 1956 publication from the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects quoted Beaumaris as having “the greatest concentration of interesting houses in the metropolitan area”.

Some of Australia’s best known architects designed their earliest homes in Beaumaris: Grounds Romberg & Boyd, Peter McIntyre, Neil Clerehan, Chancellor and Patrick, Yunken Freeman, John Baird, Mockridge Stahle Mitchell, McGlashan Everist, Anatol Kagan, David Godsell and Peter Carmichael to name but a few.

Similarly, some of our country’s most well regarded designers and artists either grew up or lived in Beaumaris. Fashion designers Sally Brown, Linda Jackson, Pru Acton. Artists Leonard French, Clarice Beckett and Arthur Boyd. Fabric artist Michael O’Connor. Architect and historian Mary Turner Shaw. Graphic designers Frank Eidlitz and Brian Sadgrove. And musician Colin Hay.

Interestingly, the designers of Becco light fittings which graced most mid-century houses (particularly Boyd houses) in the 1950’s and 60’s were designed by Brown Evans who lived in Beaumaris, as did the designer of the famousPlanet lamp, Bill Iggulden.

Sadly, 30 years ago, while the rest of Melbourne was busily writing heritage reports to preserve Victorian and Federation style houses and streetscapes in South Melbourne, Middle Park, Albert Park, The Gascoigne Estate, North Carlton and Fitzroy, mid-century modern architecture was not considered.  Due to the fact that many of the mid-century houses being built in Beaumaris were ‘one offs’ – they were often experimental. So once demolished, there wasn’t a similar house next door as is often the case with Victorian and Federation architecture.

In Beaumaris, architects were using new materials including the Boyd-designed Stegbar Window Wall, to let in light and garden views. Carports were placed at the front of the house to allow for the garden views, houses were placed on the block to gather northern light, and roofs were often flat or skillion, with large eaves. Inside, houses were open plan, full of colour and modern patterns and often featured Becco light fittings and Featherston furniture. But remarkably, none of this was seen as significant enough to consider these homes for heritage listing.

The good news

Although many of these original mid-century houses have been demolished or irretrievably altered, we are still fortunate to have a pretty interesting collection surviving here in Beaumaris. Of course, not all mid-century houses can be saved, as they were often cheaply built after the Second World War when material shortages and restrictions impacted upon the house size and design. But we are taking heart and inspiration by looking to places overseas like Palm Springs, where original mid-century houses are visited by large groups of tourists year round. And locally, where the price of good examples of mid-century architecture are now worth more than land for a dual occupancy. As more people discover the beauty of mid-century architecture, a ground swell of saving these homes can occur.

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Rickets Point
Beaumaris Hotel
Garden City Plan
Beaumaris Hotel
The Cliffs, Beaumaris
Beaumaris Hotel
Beaumaris Hotel

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Mid century architecture comes in all forms, here the "El Greco" moderne sits proudly in Richmond.
With such an amazing facade, I could hardly imagine the mid century internal design...wow is all I would say..
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