The Hotel Windsor is a luxurious hotel located in Melbourne, Australia which first opened up its doors in 1884.
The Hotel Windsor is notable for being Melbourne’s only surviving purpose built “grand” Victorian era hotel.
The Windsor is located on Bourke Hill in the Parliament Precinct on Spring Street. It is a Melbourne landmark of high Victorian architecture. The hotel was named the Duchess of Spring Street for most of the 20th century and it was known for being one of the most favoured and luxurious hotels in Melbourne. Many notable guests stayed in the hotel throughout the years.
History of the Windsor Hotel
The first hotel was built by George Nipper and designed by Charles Webb in a Renaissance Revival style. The building was completed in 1884, and it was named “The Grand”. However, the building was soon sold, to a company led by James Munro and James Balfour. James Munro was a politician and the leader of the temperance movement in Victoria.
Grand Coffee Palace
The movement is a social movement promoting temperance or complete abstinence from consumption of alcohol. They were famously knowns for burning the hotel’s liquor licence in public and operating the hotel as a coffee palace. The hotel was renamed “Grand Coffee Palace” during this time. In 1888, the building was doubled in size, an extra central section and north wing were added, which matched with the original building. The extensions were again designed by Charles Webb. Some notable features of the expanded hotel were the ballroom, the distinctive twin mansard roofed towers, the main staircase and the stone sculpture In honour of John Simpson Mackennal.
Grand Hotel – again
In February 1893, Munro was declared bankrupt, and a new owner took over the hotel. The hotel was merged together with the neighbouring Old White Hart Hotel, re-licenced, and its name was changed back to Grand Hotel. The federal council held its third session in Parliament House across the street, in January 1898.
The Windsor Hotel
The hotel changed owners again in 1920. It was refurbished and renamed “Windsor Hotel”, in honour of the British Royal Family.
The Windsor declined in popularity, due to the construction of modern international hotels, starting with the Southern Cross in 1962. The hotel expanded in order to regain its popularity. Therefore, the White Hart Hotel on Bourke Street corner was bought. It was demolished and a new extension was added that became the Windsor’s north wing designed by the office of Harry A. Norris.
In the 1970s, the Windsor was run-down and one of the last major historic 19th century hotels in Australia that was still operating. Other major hotels such as, the Menzies, the Australia, Metropole and the Federal, had all been demolished.
Several proposals regarding the destruction of The Windsor were put forward. A green ban was then placed by the Victorian Builders Labourer’s Federation to help ensure the hotel’s survival. It was then purchased by the Rupert Hamer-led state government in 1976, to ensure its preservation and it was leased to The Oberoi Group in 1980.
Restoration of the Windsor Hotel
In 1983, Oberoi undertook a major restoration of the hotel which ended up costing US$6.6 million. He reinstated the decorative 19th century colour schemes to the lobby, Grand Dining Room and Stair Hall. The Grand Dining Hall had huge brass chandeliers reproduced from old photographs. This was one of the first big private historic restorations in Melbourne. The restoration even won a Victorian Architect’s Institute award.
The reputation of the hotel was then firmly re-established. During this time, the afternoon tea in the grand dining room, the cricketer’s bar and the top-hatted doorman all resumed their status as Melbourne institutions. The state government then sold the hotel to the Oberoi group, giving them freehold possession in 1990. The Oberoi group ended up selling the hotel in 2005, to the Halim family who is based in Indonesia.
A proposal was made for redevelopment of the hotel, in 2008, by the Halim group. This was shortly after acquiring the remaining shares from the Oriental Pacific Group and rebranding as “Hotel Windsor”. The $45 million redevelopment plan proposed to modernise many of the interiors.
However, the Halim group did not want to disclose whether they were making profits or not. The plan was eventually approved by heritage Victoria and the government after significant negotiations with the owners. These negotiations included reducing the heritage impacts of the proposal. However, the development did not happen, due to the Financial crisis of 2007-2010.
The Halim group proposed a new $260 million refurbishment project in July 2009. This refurbishment would add 152 rooms to the hotel. The would involve the demolition of the hotel’s 1960s-era north wing, and replace it with a contemporary building with facilities expected by guests that stay in a 5-star hotel. A thin curtain wall tower designed by Denton Corker Marshall was supposed to be built to replace the 1880s rear wing, on Windsor Place.
However, The National Trust of Australia, opposed the development. They were concerned that the proposed tower would dominate the front heritage wing of the hotel and that it would breach the established height controls for Bourke Hill precinct.
Refurbishment plans stalled
A news leak occurred in the beginning of 2010. This erupted into a government scandal surrounding the redevelopment of the Windsor Hotel. It talked about plans by the Victorian Government to run a sham community consultation process in a bid to reject the plans.
The hotel refurbishment was approved in March 2010, by then Planning Minister, Justin Madden. A permit from Heritage Victoria was also issued. However, the National Trust appealed the planning Permit to VCAT, which determined that they had no jurisdiction over a place on the Heritage Register. They eventually took this decision to court, but lost in September 2010.
Further permits were not resolved until January 2012, this delay meant that the 2010 planning permit would lapse. The new Minister for planning, refused an extension, but an appeal to VCAT was successful in August 2012, with work to commence by the 10th of January, in 2015.
Future development of the Windsor Hotel
More works to the interior of the building were proposed, in 2013. The plan was to replace much of the interior except the grand stair, dining room and the ‘heritage suites’ in the front wing, which was approved by Heritage Victoria in September 2013.
The owner asked for another extension after this, which was refused again and upheld by the VCAT in August 2014, meaning that work must commence by the 10th of January in 2015. The Halim group applied for multiple other extensions, which were all refused. No further work occurred in August 2019, another application for an extension was sought and yet refused again. The Halim group announced that they would work with Heritage Victoria on an “alternate solution”.
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Written by: Jessica Senden – Marketing Intern @gowest.com.au