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Summerland Mansions (Extant) 17-27 Fitzroy Street

Summerland Mansions Ariel Image Summerland Mansions Ariel Image Pratt, Charles Daniel, 1892-1968, photographer.

  • Date Built: In 1920 stage 1 facing Fitzroy Street and was completed in 1921 with a further 4 more flats, even larger at 200m² each,built in the two-storied block along Acland Street, in the next year..But in 1988, the apartments were carefully renovated by architects Peter Johnson and Tony Walliss. The sleep-outs were made permanent and rebuilt to a unified design. Summerland remains prime St Kilda real estate.
  • Demolished: Extant
  • First European Land Owner:

     1857 Crown Allotments St Kilda Planning Scheme (part) M27(333) https://stkildahistory.org.au/our-collection/resources/m27 This site is part of the first block sold in the first Crown Land sale in St Kilda, as early as December 1842:The buyer, Lieutenant James Ross Lawrence, RN was captain of the schooner Lady of St Kilda, from which the suburb took its name. Captain Lawrence named Acland Street after Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, the ship’s owner.

     1873 Vardy Maps West Ward https://stkildahistory.org.au/our-collection/resources/vardy-plans



  • Owners and occupiers:

     The original building was a two storey residential mansion  also named Summerland. (See separate entry for details) https://stkildahistory.org.au/our-collection/houses/fitzroy-street/item/122-tandragee

    In 1890, the house was inherited by Georgina Wilson Fraser (née Watt)

    1910 - 1954  it was inherited by Elsie Rowe Crespin. The name of her husband, C.H.C. Crespin does not appear on the title. In 1920 Summerland house was demolished and replaces with the extant Summerland Mansions. See belwo for details.


  • Architects:

    Summerland’s architectural design presents a strong presence to both Fitzroy and Acland Streets in a sophisticated blend of Stripped Classical, Mediterranean and English Arts and Crafts influences: a distinct departure from its architect, Christopher A. Cowper’s previous well-known Federation style particularly in the Grace Park Estate, Hawthorn, such as at 40 Crystobel Crescent and 62 Riversdale Road, built during 1903-12.

    Cowper (1868-1954) was an architect and developer.  He was born in Capetown and arrived in Melbourne in 1883.  As a teenager he was articled to Evander McIvor, architect of Gothic Revival churches.  During the 1895-1906 Depression he left architecture for farming, insurance sales and travel overseas, but development of the important Grace Park Estate, where 33 of his houses have been identified revived his architectural career. There his Queen Anne style houses are distinctive for their Tuscan columns and tall, plate-top chimneys. He was prolific over 1883-1954 in three different practices, including of some cinemas.  His offices were in Collins Street.

  • Description:

    Summerland Mansions (boldly embossed on the second floor balustrade), could not be anywhere in Victoria, but St Kilda.  It is a type of building that gives St Kilda its unique character: mansion-flats, built in 1920 and 1921 right on the street frontage, with shops at ground level and initially with shared, serviced facilities and sweeping views.  It is a type of urbanity, there generally higher rise, which is common in European cities such as London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna or Milan and in Sydney, but rare in Melbourne.  St Kilda has long been the place in Melbourne most associated with high density apartment living, particularly in the period after World War I, but these spacious mansion-flats were built for a wealthy clientele.  They have mixed use, including street-level shops with welcoming plate-glass windows for the use of residents, locals and tourists.

    For the first residents at Summerland its large rooms must have offered a sense of secure privacy, with views across the bay and the gardens.  Each flat had a screened porch, fully glazed sleep-out and balcony.  Communal spaces such as a large accessible roof-top over the Acland Street section, for recreational, and clothes- drying use and the restaurant/dining room for residents’ use over Fitzroy Street.  Flats had maid’s and service rooms accessed by their own tradesmen’s entrance and stair at the rear.

    The accessible roof may have even been influenced by Le Corbusier’s Dom-ino system with its accessible roof of 1913-15, which was well-publicised, but it is particularly early example for Australia, even if it resulted from the Council’s requirement for 50% open space on a fully built-up site.  The restaurant/dining room was directly accessible to all residents from two internal stairs.  Diners overlooked Fitzroy Street through large plate-glass windows.  This meant the apartments needed only a small kitchenette.  Again this anticipated today’s expectations, when so many apartments offer small kitchens, in assuming frequent dining-out.

    Many Summerland flats still have original design features: airing cupboards in the hall, built-in dressers dividing kitchen and dining room, hatches for milk and bread deliveries, kitchen servery hatches, tiled fireplaces, letterboxes and inset door-mats proclaiming ‘Summerland Mansions’.  Stair-halls have small-paned glazed screen walls to flats and matching timber panelling and are lit by lantern skylights in the ceilings: distinctly Japanese influences. A feature was large flyscreened balconies for sleep-outs, at the rear of each block. Gradually and haphazardly these were enclosed to create additional bedrooms.

    The market for Summerland apartments seems to have been for tenants who would have expected a butler and maid in their own house and continued to expect this level of service in a more urban context.

  • History:

    The Crespins commissioned Cowper’s design.  It was built in two stages, both with façades symmetrical about a central entry.  The first block facing Fitzroy Street was completed in 1920.  This comprised six shops and the dining room, facing the street.  Each flat was 175m², double the size of many houses at that time.  The cantilevered canopy extending across the Fitzroy Street front, suspended from long tie-rods at 45 degrees, back to second-floor level, is an early surviving example.

    Four more flats, even larger at 200m² each, were built in the two-storied block along Acland Street, in the next year.


  • Sources:

    Information from Chapter 15 Summerland Mansions A place of Sensuous Resort  by Richard Peterson Ed 2. 2009  http://www.skhs.org.au/SKHSbuildings/15.htm

    References :

    Bick, David. Discover St Kilda’s Heritage. City of St Kilda. St Kilda1985. p25, illus.

    Borough of St Kilda Rate Rolls: 1857 (Property No. 310) and 1890-1891.

    Certificate of Title: Vol 2293 Fol 45848. Cannon, Michael Ed. Victoria’s Representative Men at Home. Melbourne Punch and Heritage Press. Melbourne 1978. pp 50 & 51.

    Goad, Philip. Melbourne Architecture. The Watermark Press. Sydney 1999. p 40.

    Howells, Trevor & Nicholson, Michael. Towards the Dawn. Federation Architecture in Australia 1890-1915. Hale & Ironmonger. Sydney 1939. pp 63, 64, 70, 81-83 & 103.

    Lewis, Miles (Architects’ Index) Architectural Survey. Final Report. 1997. pp 26,104 & 105. File No: 6990.

    Pike, Douglas, Nairn, Bede, Serle, Geoffrey and Ritchie, John. Eds. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press. Carlton 1966-. pp 595-598.

    The Argus. 14 August 1852. p 2. Tender Notices.

    The Times Atlas of the World,. Comprehensive Edition. Times Books with Bartholomew. London 1990. Plate 58.

    Victorian Heritage Register. No: PROV. H1808.

    Woo, Catherine. St Kilda. A General History. City of St Kilda, Melbourne 1993.

  • Compiled by: To come

Impressive block of retail shops with flats above located on corner of Acland and Fitzroy Streets