The major stages of development in the High Street Precinct can be seen today in the architecture of the buildings, from the boom years of the 1880s through to the inter-War and post-War years. The importance placed by the early residents and traders in this commercial area is reflected in many of the ornate buildings erected prior to 1900. This trend continued into the Federation era with many buildings featuring elaborate details. In some cases earlier buildings have been replaced, but much of High Street remains substantially intact.
This area once formed part of the territory of the Wurundjeri people. The Aborigines were nomadic and, prior to European settlement, used the water from the spring on the site of the present Malvern Gardens.
Land in this area was first sold in 1854, when the roads now known as Glenferrie Road and High Street were surveyed. From the first settlement in the 1850s, market gardens, nurseries and a few houses on large allotments lined the rough bush roads. Around this time, the Armadale Hotel in High Street started life as a four roomed ‘beer house’.
Prior to the introduction of public transport, commercial development was slow. However this rural atmosphere changed in 1879, when the first trains ran through Armadale. This new method of transport to the previously isolated district stimulated land subdivision and the development of both commercial and residential areas. Land values rose and High Street developed into a thriving shopping centre.
With the land boom of the 1880s, the area prospered and the completion in 1886 of the Malvern Shire Hall was an indication of the district’s prosperity. Opposite the Shire Hall, at the southwest corner of High Street, the Town Hall Estate was sold by auctioneers Donald Munro and William Baillieu in 1888. The same year, the E.S. & A. Bank was erected on the southeast corner. (This early bank building was replaced with the present building in 1959).
From around 1890, High Street was lined with a variety of traders and storekeepers, including boot makers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tailors, dressmakers, milliners, upholsterers, ironmongers, saddlers, tobacconists, butchers, grocers, produce merchants, greengrocers and fuel merchants. A bank had been established on the corner of Kooyong Road, not far from Emma Baker’s Mission Hall in High Street.
Following the arrival of Malvern’s first tram in 1910 and the subsequent increase in population, Malvern was proclaimed a City in 1911. High Street, with its variety of traders, manufacturers and retailers in the 1920s – including the Malvern Buick Taxi Service, a Masonic Hall, Miss Williamson’s School of Domestic Economy, a Christian Science Library and in 1938 a Sustenance Office – changed in the 1940s when a few antique dealers began to appear.
The Malvern Boys’ College was established on this site in 1891. From 1900 The Tradesman’s Club, renamed the Malvern Club in 1918, occupied the building from 1900-until 1922. Two years later, eleven shops, designed by prominent architect Walter Burley Griffin, were built with frontages to High Street. By 1971, Council had acquired most of the site and the Malvern City Square was opened in 1989.
Today High Street continues the tradition of serving local communities and visitors with its sophistication and elegance. Renowned as one of Melbourne’s distinctive business precincts, it boasts a huge range of designer clothing and homeware stores, bridal boutiques, cafes and restaurants – together with the largest number of galleries and antique shops concentrated in any one place anywhere in Australia.
Text and photos courtesy Stonnington History Centre