Art in Place #4

Eastern Hill Fire Station

Throughout much of the 19th century numerous volunteer fire brigades were formed in Melbourne, often named after the insurance companies or local municipalities they represented. In 1890, following a series of serious fires resulting in the loss of six firefighters, the Fire Brigades Act was passed in order to officially unite these disparate organisations and provide a more efficient, centralised service. Construction of a headquarters for the newly formed Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) began in 1891 on the corner of Victoria Parade and Gisborne Street. Opening on 3 November 1893, the new building was sited on one of the highest points in the city and remains to this day Melbourne’s central station, designated Fire Station 1.

Two local architectural firms, Tayler & Fitts and Smith & Johnston, collaborated on the project having both submitted winning designs to the competition. Exhibiting contemporary Queen Anne revival and Italianate styles, the Victoria Parade façade comprises a central gabled pavilion flanked by two- storey arcades. The entire building is raised on a blue stone plinth and is finished in yellow painted cement contrasted with red brick elements. The campanile-like tower, rising to 150 feet and topped by a cast iron and glass lookout, was accessed via an electric lift and was originally manned 24 hours a day.

In 1972 construction of a new station was begun, adjoining the original structure. Designed by Melbourne firm Bates Smart & McCutcheon, the new building exhibited a functional, late Brutalist style with its rough, board formed concrete finish and asymmetrical block forms. Of particular interest is the large mosaic mural located on the Albert St façade. Designed by artist Harold Freedman, the colourful piece (titled ‘The Legend of Fire) depicts various scenes of mythology and human technology related to the element of fire. Born in 1915, Freedman was attached to the Royal Australian Air Force as a war artist during the Second World War and later became renowned for his numerous public murals including the History of Military Aviation murals (Australian War Memorial), and ‘History of Flight’ (Melbourne airport, 1971).

Whilst most of the operational activities shifted to the new MFB building, the original structure was refurbished and continues to be used for offices and also houses the Fire Services Museum of Victoria.

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