Paris on Collins / by Mario Mirabile

Collins Street has long been regarded as the premier street in central Melbourne. Before being extended into the new Docklands precinct, it stretched exactly one mile along the east-west axis of the central Melbourne grid laid out by Robert Hoddle in the 1830's. Following the gold rushes of the 1850's and the subsequent land booms, Melbourne grew into one of the richest cities in the world.

This was reflected in the Paris end of Collins Street - the two blocks perched on the hill at the eastern end. It was site of some of the finest residences in the city, the most prestigious gentleman's clubs (in the traditional sense, please) and the swankiest retailers. While many classic buildings fell to the wreckers’ ball during the re-development craze of the 60's and 70's, many fine architectural examples managed to survive. 

Take the short stroll from Spring to Russell Street and you'll find plenty of reminders of the wealth that was channeled through Melbourne. The north side has many fine examples of Victorian architecture, however few, if any, still serve their original purpose. Portland House - a wedding present from a doting father to his daughter - has gone from townhouse to the office of a financial services company. Others residences have become retail outlets, cafes or boutique hotels. Georges department store - where the staff was not above hinting that perhaps you should be shopping elsewhere if you didn't look cashed up - went broke years ago and has been carved up into smaller retail spaces. The south side of the street has a stronger art-deco flavour, with many of the buildings housing flagship stores for prestigious retail brands.

It can be easy to miss some of these gems amid the modern retail signage and clutter of modern buildings. It's well worth the effort to take a slow walk from Spring Street to Russell Street and back just to observe the beautifully preserved detail of a bygone era.