The Staircase of Tasma Terrace - Parliament Place, East Melbourne
Tasma Terrace, at 2 to 12 Parliament Place and 30 to 34 St Andrews Place in East Melbourne, was built by the distinguished British born Australian architect, Charles Webb (1821 – 1898). Once comprising seven three storey buildings, Tasma Terrace was constructed in two stages in the 1870s and 1880s. The first three buildings, which were originally known as “Parliament Place”, were erected in 1878 by William Ireland for George Nipper, a wealthy grain merchant and shipping magnate. George Nipper and his family lived at the northernmost building in the terrace (which was demolished in 1940) before moving to the Windsor Hotel in 1885. Due to financial difficulties, Mr. Nipper had to sell the terrace in 1885 to Joseph Thompson (1838 – 1909), a flamboyant and prominent Melbourne bookmaker and racehorse owner. The remaining four buildings that made up the terrace, thus extending the building to the corner of St Andrews Place, were constructed in 1886 and 1887 by Dunton and Hearnden for Joseph Thompson.
From the time of its construction, Tasma Terrace was used mainly as rented accommodation and as some of Melbourne’s most up-market guest and boarding houses. It was customary for many women to conduct boarding houses in the period, and Tasma Terrace was no exception. Women who conducted the various guest houses included Miss Sarah Gould, Elizabeth Gow and Jean Borelli. The name “Tasma” was associated first with terrace number 14 (originally the Nipper family residence) in 1905 when Elizabeth Gow conducted it as a private hotel named the “Tasma Guest House”. Tasma Trrace’s proximity to the city made it ideal accommodation for politicians, businessmen, journalists and entertainers.
One of the most famous occupants was lawyer and future Prime Minister Harold Holt who lived at Tasma Terrace in 1934. Other uses for parts of Tasma Terrace included a trained nurses’ home in the late 1890s and medical suites in the 1940s and 1960s. For many years, number 14 was combined with an adjacent three storey building built around 1900 as the Tasma Guest House, but both were demolished for a seven-level office block in 1940. The office block became infamously known as the “Beirut Hilton” because of its dilapidated state and was in turn demolished in 1995 to provide an entry for the new Park Hyatt Hotel.
After the Second World War, in a changed world, Tasma Terrace attracted a very different clientele, of more humble means. Some tenants included those who were marginalised by society and endured a range of health and social problems, including Vietnam War veterans. From 1941 Maurice Branagan conducted the Tasma Guest House in numbers 2, 4 and 6 for thirty years, including a successful restaurant, which specialised in mushrooms home grown in the basement. By the early 1970s all six remaining buildings were the property of the Crown Lands Department, and there were plans to demolish the buildings, which were considered by that time to be very rundown. The terrace was saved by a concerted conservation campaign, led by the National Trust and various organisations and individuals. However the three-storey rear wings, which comprised many small rooms used as bedrooms for the guest houses, kitchens, staff rooms and bathrooms were all demolished. A glass conservatory was erected across the rear of the retained front portions to provide a rear link across the terrace.
The then Victorian Premier Sir Rupert Hamer, who was primarily responsible for securing the terrace for the National Trust, officially opened the completed National Trust headquarters on 24 March 1979, ten years after the battle to save Tasma Terrace began. This event is recorded in a plaque on the exterior southern end of the terrace along the St Andrew’s Place façade.
In 1979 the façade was restored to its original Nineteenth Century appearance. It is believed that the restoration work at Tasma Terrace was the first serious attempt to accurately restore the exterior paint colours of a Nineteenth Century building in Victoria by undertaking paint scrapings. The repainting in browns and greens was almost shocking in 1979, when cast-iron balconies were routinely painted white. The Portland cement render of the façade was left untreated but lower parts were cleaned with a low pressure spray of water. The fine decorative cast iron is unusual. The verandah brackets join to form graceful arches and the circular gothic ‘quatrefoil’ elements within them reflect the churches nearby. The cast iron features include the delicate, balanced leaf motif on the balconies and tassel-like spearheads on the fence railings. The oak wood grain effect of the front doors is a reproduction of the original finish. The main glazing of the doorways is not original but a reproduction of that typical of the period. The ground floor verandahs are paved with encaustic tiles. Replacement tiles were manufactured in England.
There are many surviving Victorian interior elements including heavily modelled cornices, high ceilings and sweeping arches. The National Trust undertook a elaborate restoration for the ground level of numbers 2 and 4 to illustrate how these rooms would have originally appeared. Samples of wallpaper were removed and the original wood-graining, varnishing and paintwork revealed by careful scraping. Redecoration of these areas evolved as closely as possible according to the materials and styles of the original. It should be noted that this is not a restoration of what was originally there but rather a careful recreation of a typical late 19th century decorative scheme.
Wallpapers were chosen from existing English and French ranges in preference to reproduction of original papers which would have been too expensive. Some of these wallpapers, including dadoes, borders and friezes are authentic Victorian designs while others are adapted from earlier designs. The furnishing of these areas has been largely dictated by the intended functions of the rooms and also by the objects available from the Trust’s collections. The curtains and swags were made up and draped in the Victorian manner. Most of the fireplaces are original although some were relocated from other parts of the terrace, including the basement. Some replacement pieces were obtained from wreckers’ yards. The light fittings are not original but are reproductions of both gas and early electric lights. The terrace has Baltic pine tongue and groove floors throughout, except for basement areas. The cast iron, marble topped Prince Albert hall stand (circa 1860) is a valuable piece from the Trust’s Dr E. Graeme Robertson cast iron collection.
Tasma Terrace is an important work of the distinguished architect, Charles Webb, whose other works include the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1856), Church of Christ in Swanston Street (1863), Wesley College (1864), the Royal Arcade (1869), the Alfred hospital (1869), Toorak’s “Mandeville Hall” (1876), the South Melbourne Town Hall (1879), East Melbourne’s “Mosspennoch” (1882), the Grand hotel, later the Windsor (1884) and “Charsfield” on St Kilda Road (1889).