Dimmeys- Another Icon Bites the Dust

18 May

Dimmeys (under the clocktower) predates the electric tram system.

In Richmond, one of the inner suburbs of Melbourne, in the shopping section of Swan Street, is a giant bargain basement called Dimmeys. There are other locations, too, but this one is iconic, thought to be the oldest discount emporium of its kind in Australia. It has been there since 1853 years (the current building since 1907 after a fire destroyed the original) and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register. I’ve also seen it listed in Melbourne travel guides as a must-visit shopping destination, though I’ve never been in there myself (parking is a nightmare!).

Sadly, as I drove by the other day, I saw the windows of the store plastered with “closing down” signs. Being their flagship store, I wondered why they would close it.

The mural painted along the side of the Dimmeys building, detailing the store’s history.

It seems that a few years ago, they sold it for over $15 million and now there are various proposals for redevelopment, including retaining only the front facade and bell tower and building 10-story apartments at the rear. The proposal would destroy the beloved mural painted on the building. It’s likely that (yet another) supermarket will occupy the main retail space.

The Victorian Heritage Register lists its significance thusly:

Dimmeys is of architectural significance as a fine, intact and early example of the American Romanesque style in Victoria and of the work of the prominent architects H W & F B Tompkins. Its significance is increased by the tower which is a prominent and well-known Melbourne landmark. In 1997 Dimmeys was ranked first in the Age newspaper’s Melbourne Icons series.

Dimmeys is of historical significance as an example of the many large department stores which were built in the suburbs of Melbourne during the pre-WWI retail boom following the 1890s depression. Its changing status from a once-fashionable department store to a prominent bargain store reflects the changing fortunes of Melbourne’s inner suburbs during the twentieth century.

An artist’s impression of the proposed development. The ugly glass structure dominates the skyline and is completely out of place with the character of the neighbourhood.

One would think being on the Heritage Register would protect the site from such modifications and the Yarra City Council has lodged objections, but the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal has ordered the Council to issue a permit for the redevelopment.

H was telling me a few weeks ago how cities have made agreements that new developments must retain the character of the neighbourhood, but that no one seems to abide by it, as evidenced by all the unsightly development going on everywhere. The development that sparked that discussion was a hideous glass paned high rise building going up in the middle of the Camberwell shopping district, which sticks out like a sore thumb and doesn’t remotely fit in with anything else there. I’d like to say it is an exception, but it’s not. The construction of modern looking high rises in areas that have a distinct flavour is an epidemic around here and the uniqueness of all these places is gradually being eroded.

Dimmeys, as it currently stands… but not for much longer.

Driving through the shopping section of Swan Street is always a bit of a hassle, due to all the traffic and pedestrians, but I always enjoyed peering in the windows of Dimmeys as I waited for the lights to change. It’s a shame to think that soon it won’t be there any longer. It’s bad enough that property developers are throwing up one grotesque modern building after another all over the city, but do they really have to mutilate a historic building in their quest to foul up the city with ugliness?

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