The white hotel – The Greyhound hotel, Nepean Hwy, St Kilda, is set to be replaced by apartments
The Greyhound hotel (The White Hotel?), Nepean Hwy, St Kilda, is set to be replaced by apartments

The Age reported last week that yet another old Melbourne pub, the Greyhound hotel in St Kilda, will likely make way for apartments and shops in the near future (Greyhound Hotel; fears apartment developments are killing St Kilda’s character):

A St Kilda pub that hosts drag queen bingo nights is set to be demolished to make way for an eight-storey apartment block, sparking fears the suburb’s vibrant character is being killed off by bland developments…More than 1500 people signing an online petition urging the developers not to “pull down another great icon of Melbourne for more bloody apartments”.

An online petition set up by local resident and business owner, Caro Thurling, attracted 2,426 signatures as of 9:00 this morning. It says:

The Greyhound Hotel at 1 Brighton Rd, St Kilda is the latest target. Its heritage, architecture and colourful history is in grave danger of being replaced by an 8 storey apartment and commercial development. The plans and designs for proposed development are at best hideous…Losing her, will mean losing an icon and much loved character in our community.

The proponents want to replace the Greyhound with 43 apartments and five ground-level retail spaces. Council has consented to demolition; the proposed new building is currently under advertisement and won’t be condidered by Council until the end of February.

Most of the opposition is about the destruction of heritage and the loss of a venue – the managers describe the pub as “Melbourne’s biggest gay club with huge drag shows” – that contributes to the bohemian character of St Kilda. However, a statement by the City of Port Phillip published on the same day as The Age’s report provides a very different perspective.

Council says up to last week it only received 5 objections to the proposed development. More importantly, it says the heritage case for protection is very weak:

A preliminary assessment of the Hotel’s eligibility for heritage protection…found the Hotel does not have a strong case for heritage protection on any of the eligible grounds. The preliminary assessment found the building was not of individual heritage significance on architecture grounds. It also questioned the building’s capacity to qualify for heritage significance on social, cultural or spiritual grounds.

There’s also some relevant information towards the end of The Age’s report. Readers who persisted to the eighteenth para would’ve discovered the manager of the hotel, Karina Harcourt, telling the reporter, “the hotel had not been making money for quite some time”. Professional drag performer Amanda Monroe is quoted saying that while the Greyhound was “the drag capital of Melbourne” in its heyday, it’s struggled in recent years:

They have tried a whole range of activities to try to inspire interest, but the newer generation is looking for something that isn’t a giant venue with big productions.

So, it seems unlikely the existing building qualifies for protection on heritage grounds. Moreover, it appears it isn’t commercially viable as a pub. I don’t have space to comment on the merits of the proposed new building but there’s not much of a planning defence against redevelopment either; increasing housing supply in accessible locations like this – it’s on the intersection of two tramlines, it’s at one end of the Carlisle St strip, and it’s 700 metres from Acland St – is a key objective of state planning policy. This looks like yet another example of opponents of redevelopment seeking to use the heritage and planning systems to do things they’re not designed for.

I agree it’s unfortunate the activities that go on within the Greyhound Hotel will lose their home. This, I think, is the real issue here. But even if the building were somehow protected, there’s no guarantee – or liklihood – it would continue to host those activities. The current manager is having problems making a go of it; it seems there’s no shortage of people prepared to sign an online petition but not enough who’ll pay what’s required to make the activity viable. Hopefully the producers will find another venue; or perhaps there’s a deeper issue – has the “sex as sin” appeal of places like St Kilda and Kings Cross faded with the general drift toward more liberal attitudes?

The irony is many of those who oppose redevelopment are themselves indirectly responsible for the hotels impending demise. The process of gentrification in St Kilda started decades ago and inevitably led to different tastes and higher property prices; that continues to force out many of the activities and people that gave it its colourful character. It’s debatable if terms like bohemian accurately describe the suburb anymore (see Can artists do good work from the suburbs? and Why is Acland St becoming “Chadstone by the Bay”?).

Retaining the structure without the goings-on that gave it life would in any event be an empty gesture; it might well end up being used for something completely different, perhaps even a Maccas like this former hotel. The building would convey very little about what went on inside over the years. Assembling an online multi-media history would be a better way of preserving some idea of the activities associated with the bricks and mortar.

Proposed 43 unit development on site of Greyhound Hotel
Proposed 43 unit development with five shops on current site of Greyhound Hotel