Since the late nineteenth century the site on which the Victorian Arts Centre now stands has been associated with entertainment and the performing arts.
The first commercial use of the site was in 1877 when Cooper and Bailey's Great American International Circus pitched their big top beside the river. In 1893 Fuller's Great Circus and Menagerie erected the first building on the site and by the early 1900s FitzGeralds' Circus visited annually. Wirth's Circus took over the entire site in 1907 and built their Olympia which was the only permanent circus venue in Australia until the 1950s.
Late in 1904, the area of the site not occupied by FitzGeralds' Circus was developed as Princes Court - "an up-to-date, fashionable recreation rendezvous". It featured a water chute, a toboggan ride, an open-air theatre, a Japanese teahouse, a rifle range and a miniature railway.
In 1912 another cinema opened in the area on a site opposite the stage door of the present Melbourne Concert Hall. The Snowden cinema was renamed The Playhouse in 1916 and was the home of Gregan McMahon's Melbourne Repertory Society, and later The Garrick Theatre.
The Green Mill
In 1926 Wirth's Circus leased the original Olympia building to Tom Carlyon and Fred Matear who converted it into The Green Mill dance hall. The Mill opened on 7 September 1926 and soon became one of the city's most popular dance venues. By 1933 it was re-named The Forty Club and began to attract a younger set of patrons. A few years later the name was changed again, to The Trocadero. It became a popular meeting place for servicemen during the war and survived until the mid 1950s.
In 1907 a large ice skating rink - The Glaciarium - was built on vacant land on the north side of City Road. Here patrons could race, play ice hockey or curling, watch films during the summer months or waltz to the music of the Glaciarium's own orchestra.
Wirth's Park Roller Skating Rink
In 1908 the Wirth Brothers added an open-air roller skating rink and cycle track known as the Saucer Track to the Nolan Street frontage of Wirth's Park. After the original roller skating rink was demolished the Wirths built another building on the corner of Sloss and Nolan Streets (now Southbank Boulevard). This rink was undercover, however, there was a small open-air area, where many novices practised, affectionately called "Mugs' Alley".
Objects, documents and ephemera relating to former uses of the site where the Victorian Arts Centre Buildings now stand. Circus / Dance / Theatre / Outdoor Entertainment 1970s. View selected catalogue records currently published online, more can be accessed via our Research Centre.
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