Suburb Secrets
Many people living in Brighton have spent their entire lives there.

This writer was raised in Brighton and my mother, who still lives there, has a saying, that “If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Church Street (the village-style shopping centre)” chances are, you won’t find it anywhere else!” When your mother is 90, it’s best to agree.

However, Brighton has broader appeal than locals who have called the bayside suburb home for generations. The colourful bathing boxes lined up on Dendy Beach also attract those visiting from interstate and abroad, many after seeing the vibrant boxes initially featured on calendars. The suburb’s popularity as a holiday destination in Victorian times is also expressed in the many fine Victorian homes dotted throughout the wide tree-lined streets.

While the grand Victorian homes, with their ornate wrought iron balconies, are still highly prized today, some of the less obvious buildings can be easily missed. A modest Victorian terrace at 299 New Street is one such address. Home to legendary composer Percy Grainger, this terrace has now been renovated and forms part of a larger multi-residential unit development (a museum dedicated to Grainger is located at the University of Melbourne). Another Victorian house, a few doors away, at 285 New Street, diagonally opposite Brighton Grammar, was the set location for the award-winning 1983 Australian film Man of Flowers by the late Paul Cox. Featuring an eccentric, reclusive middle-aged man who enjoys the beauty of art, flowers and music, the house, with its fortified fence and front gates, exudes the same sense of privacy enjoyed by the main character in Cox’s film.

Although the beach and the diversity of food offerings make Brighton popular, it also has a rich history of architect-designed buildings from the 20th century. Most would simply drive past the maisonettes at 33-39 Campbell Street Brighton. Designed by James Henry Esmond Dorney in 1936, these four two-storey maisonettes were inspired by the eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, in particular his ‘Prairie School’ style of the early 20th century.

The inspiration isn’t surprising given Dorney worked in Walter Burley Griffin’s office. McGlashan & Everist, one of Melbourne’s most significant architectural practices, also made its mark in Brighton. Responsible for arts patrons John and Sunday Reid’s Heidi II, and numerous other modernist buildings, this house, known as The Mylius House, at 9 Wolseley Grove, was built the same year as Heidi II (1967), the latter awarded the prestigious ‘Enduring Architecture’ award in 2016 from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter).

Brighton isn’t like other suburbs. You just have to look at the locals to see that they feel part holiday-goers, part permanent residents.

Architect Graeme Gunn also worked in Brighton. Nearby, at 16-22 Yuille Street, are his townhouses, also designed in 1967. Gunn worked closely with landscape guru Ellis Stones to create these brick townhouses. They feature raked roofs and are arranged around laneway-style driveways. Brown bricks and raked-style roofs became a hallmark of the 1970s, thanks largely to Gunn and his collaboration with Merchant Builders.

The 1970s was also a time when the Guilford Bell house at 32 North Road was built. Known as the Seccull House, after its owner, builder Bill Seccull, the palatial 500-square-metre house is framed by 2,000 square metres of manicured garden. As mentioned in Philip Goad’s book Melbourne Architecture (The Watermark Press), Bell’s design has a ‘rigorous control of the ritual entry and receiving. The house is entered along a wide pergola-covered loggia and beside white walls. This flat-roof house, with an F-shaped plan, is Bell’s tour-de-force of white stucco, black steel and travertine’.

The former Brighton Municipal Offices, designed by FK Knight in 1959, is also an important landmark. Now the Brighton Civic Centre comparisons have been made to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York (1946-59). Like an inverted wedding cake, the tiered red brick building dominates the surrounding streets.

Those who enjoy dining by the bay will gravitate to the Royal Brighton Yacht Club and the Middle Brighton Sea Baths. Established in 1881, its home to the Brighton Sea Baths Icebergs, a diverse group of people who regularly brave the chilly water throughout winter. What better way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon than visiting the Baths Restaurant or café and bar. This 1930s cream brick modernist building allows for some of the finest views of Port Phillip Bay with yachts bobbing at the water’s edge. And of course, there are the bicycle and running tracks nearby leading to either St Kilda or Port Melbourne.

While mothers aren’t always right, mine is certainly correct about her feelings towards Church Street. The Royale Brothers in St Andrews Street is literally a ‘hole in the wall’. The award-winning take-away joint adds a new dimension to the humble burger. Lickings, directly next door to The Royale Brothers, is also a drawcard for locals, making ice cream and sorbets on the premises. Those coming home from work at the end of the day will be tempted by La Fayette Fine Foods at 355 New Street. This intimate café and food store includes preserves, relishes and delicacies, all beautifully displayed on the shelves lined with Florence Broadhurst foil wallpaper and illuminated by Philippe Starck pendant lights.

Those looking for a place for their weekly, as well as daily ‘splurges’ will also gravitate to Leaf, a food market at 112 Were Street Brighton. Once a supermarket, it now combines organic and conventional food brands under the one roof. Open range eggs are as popular as Leaf’s free-range chickens. Local and imported wines are also extensive.

Brighton isn’t like other suburbs. You just have to look at the locals to see that they feel part holiday-goers, part permanent residents. Those who appreciate the outdoors and the salt air can be found wandering the beaches in their gym gear. And not surprisingly, those who have lived there all their lives are happy to call Brighton home.

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