Housing Melbourne offices and residential buildings, It’s Melbourne’s best known Street, Collins Street, and it boasts much of the city’s most interesting commercial architecture. It was named after Lieutenant-Governor David Collins who had led the unsuccessful 1803 Sorrento settlement.
Building began before 1837, but the first blocks were not sold until June 1837. The government kept the block between Market and William streets for the Western Market, and the Melbourne Town Hall block on the Swanston Street corner. Most activity in the 1830s was to the west of Elizabeth Street where many of Melbourne’s merchants had their offices. Some of the first shops established in Collins Street were draperies, haberdasheries and ironmongers.
Activity in Collins Street became much more intense after the discovery of gold. In 1855 the Hall of Commerce, a precursor of the Melbourne Stock Exchange, was built between Elizabeth and Queen streets, by this time firmly established as the city’s financial centre. The banks, insurance companies, auction and merchants’ rooms congregated in this area. Melbourne’s first bank, an agency of the Derwent Banking Co., was established on the corner of Collins and Queen streets in 1838′. The Union Bank on the south-east corner of Collins and Queen streets was the first purpose-built building. Many other spectacular architect designed bank and insurance buildings followed over the next 50 years.
At the eastern end of the street a different culture developed. The Melbourne Club and the Mechanics Institute, now the Melbourne Athenaeum, were established. Several of Melbourne’s most splendid churches are located here. Melbourne’s first Anglican church, St James, was built in William Street between Collins and Bourke streets. The street’s best-known churches are Scots’ Church and St Michael’s, located at the north-east and north-west corners of Collins and Russell streets respectively.
Collins Street was also the location for three other Melbourne institutions of great importance, the Melbourne Town Hall, the Assembly Hall and the Auditorium, which hosted much of Melbourne’s musical life.
The 1880s and 90s saw the street peak to its greatest potential, filled with incredible buildings, beautiful shops, latest fashions, artists and musicians creating a cultural life unseen elsewhere, and plenty of money being made in the banks and the stock exchange.
The east end of the street came to be known as the Paris End after the Oriental Hotel at number 17 opened Melbourne’s first sidewalk café in the 1950s.
Collins Street remains the centre of Melbourne’s business and financial hub. Continued redevelopment has seen many buildings refurbished as apartments, restoring the street’s residential-commercial mix, with the street still regarded as home to Melbourne offices like no other on offer.