Suburb Secrets
South Yarra, unlike some suburbs that undergo gentrification, has always been a highly desirable part of Melbourne.

In close proximity to the city, and with the Royal Botanic Gardens in its midst, South Yarra continues to attract those looking for a more cosmopolitan way of life. I moved into the area six years ago and have no intention of moving out any time soon!

Those fortunate to call South Yarra home will wax lyrically about the Prahran Market (technically located in South Yarra). However, if you take the time to venture from the main thoroughfares, you’ll discover some of the suburb’s best-kept secrets, from architecture and design, through to fashion.

The Domain Park apartments, designed by eminent architects Frederick Romberg and Robin Boyd in the early 1960s, are hardly ‘shrinking violets’. The brown brick high-rise tower in Domain Road, on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens, still causes a reaction more than 50 years after it was built. Domain Park has not only become a landmark, but a highly coveted address.

An engineer by training, Howard Lawson visited the west coast of America during the great depression of 1931 and returned with glowing reports of the Hollywood Spanish style of architecture he discovered there. The Beverley Hills apartments he designed and built in Darling Street, are testimony to his vision. It was also one of the first examples where there was a convenience store on site (now an apartment) together with a communal swimming pool. The Lawson Grove Café is a popular breakfast destination for locals. 

Residents living on the edge of the Royal Botanic Gardens will appreciate the return of William Guilfoyle’s ‘Volcano’, then curator of the gardens. Originally conceived in 1873, the volcano was used to store water but fell into disrepair when the gardens were connected to main waters. Local residents, keen to have the volcano reincarnated, have seen this precinct transformed in a contemporary manner by landscape architect Andrew Laidlaw.

Operating for more than 25 years, France-Soir at 11 Toorak Road, is hardly a secret! However, those who haven’t been there will certainly appreciate the traditional French fare in an atmosphere that’s equally as French. Offering an authentic Parisian dining experience, it’s not surprising that bookings are required and the place is completely full, bustling, and almost raucous, particularly at night.

South Yarra is fortunate to have the best of the past with the best of the present.

Toorak Road South Yarra was also once home to Masons. Founded by fashion guru Piero Gesualdi, the Masons boutique on the northwest corner of Murphy Street (now Tolley Saville Row) was the epicentre of high fashion in Melbourne. Masons’ window displays included the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Romeo Gigli and even Crafti knitwear! (Yes this writer was a fashion designer in a former life). Well-known comedian Barry Humphries may even have been a regular at these stores, having lived nearby at 18 Powell Street for a number of years.

South Yarra is also fortunate to be endowed with notable architecture from the 20th century. As well as the obvious architectural landmarks, such as architect Robin Boyd’s Domain Park apartments, there are architectural ‘jewels’ of a considerably smaller scale. Architects such as Neil Clerehan, is well represented with his fine bespoke homes. You’ll find some of these homes at 18 Fawkner Street and also at 228 Domain Road, South Yarra.

The Domain Road house, built in grey concrete Besser blocks, was designed in 1964. Appearing relatively discrete to the street, the interior is organised around a series of Japanese-style courtyards. Clerehan’s own house at 90 Walsh Street is still a modernist gem almost 50 years later.

Other architects, such as the lesser known but equally respected architect Bernard Joyce, can also be found in South Yarra. Joyce’s townhouses on the corner of Domain Road and Anderson Street (opposite the Royal Botanic Gardens) were designed in 1966 and are highly coveted, not only for their position, but also for their architectural provenance. Nearby at 237 Domain Road you will also find Amesbury House, designed in 1921 by Walter Butler, with the porte cochere added in 1925 by the eminent Harold Desbrowe-Annear, considered to be Australia’s first modernist architect.

South Yarra is fortunate to have the best of the past with the best of the present, and, not surprisingly, some of Melbourne’s leading architects’ shingles can be seen, such as Carr Design, Fender Katsalidis, b.e. Architecture and Stephen Jolson Architects. While sitting behind a wheel allows some of these treasures to be seen, my advice is to set out on foot, even take a wrong turn. You won’t be disappointed!

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