Inner Melbourne has a large number of terraced houses, however with the exception of a few suburbs, intact rows have become scarce. The speculative housing “land boom” in the 1880s, fuelled by the propsperity generated by the Victorian Gold Rush ensured that a large number of terraces were built in Melbourne with ornate and elaborate details in a plethora of different styles collectively referred to as “boom” style. It is said that Melbourne has more decorative cast iron than any other city in the world and this is largely due to the ubiquity of iron lacework adorning the city’s many Victorian terraced homes.
Multi-storey terraced housing is most prevalent in the Melbourne inner suburbs of Middle Park, Albert Park, East Melbourne, South Melbourne, Carlton, Collingwood, St Kilda, Balaclava, Richmond, South Yarra, Cremorne, North Melbourne, Fitzroy, Port Melbourne, West Melbourne, Footscray, Hawthorn, Abbortsford, Burnley, Brunswick, Parkville, Flemington, Kensington and Elsternwick. Freestanding terraces and single storey terraces can be found elsewhere within 10 kilometres of the city centre.
The generic Melbourne style of terrace is distinguishable from other regional variations, often reflecting the popularity of Italianate villa architecture in the city. Many Victorian era Melbourne terraces are built on foundations of bluestone, a solid and porous local rock quarried from the volcanic plains to the north and west of the city, although it is rare to find terraces completely constructed of the material due to the difficulty to mould it. The majority of designers of Victorian terraces in Melbourne made an effort to deliberately hide roof elements with the use of a decorative parapet, often combined with the use balustrades above a subtle but clearly defined eave cornice and afrieze which was either plain or decorated with a row of brackets (and sometimes additional patterned bas-relief. Chimneys were often tall, visible above the parapet and elaborately Italianate in style. Individual terraces were designed to be appreciated standalone as much as part of a row. Symmetry was achieved through a central classical inspired pediment or similar architectural feature balanced by a pair of architectural finial or urns on either side (though these details were subsequently removed on many terraces). The party walls were almost always decorated with corbels (which sometimes depicted heads) and the large wooden entry doors were frequently decorated with stained or etched glass surrounds. Many Melbourne terraces also featured a unique style of polychrome brickwork influenced heavily by the early work of local architect Joseph Reed and often highly detailed (though in many terraces this distinctive feature has been later painted or rendered over, although some have since been sandblasted or stripped back). The Melbourne style incorporated decorative cast iron balconies (of the ”filigree” style). The demand for imported cast iron eventually led to local foundries. Melbourne style terraces were often set back from the street rathern than built to the property line, providing a small front yard. Decorative cast iron fencing regularly dispersed with rendered brick piers was typically used and the party wall of the end terraces would sometimes, but not always extend to the property line to join the fence.
The earliest surviving terrace house in Melbourne is ”Glass Terrace”, 72-74 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (1853-54). ”Royal Terrace” at 50-68 Nicholson Street Fitzroy, completed three years later is only slightly younger and is the oldest surviving complete row.
Terrace housing fell out of favour with Melbourne councils and some actually sought between 1918 and 1920 to ban them completely. The increase of slums in areas of terrace housing saw the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects in 1910 identify the problem being small inner city allotment sizes. The ”Housing and Slum Reclamation Act of 1920” shifted the responsibility for slum reclamation to local councils. The consequence was a shift toward larger block sizes and inevitably – urban sprawl. During the 1920s, many of the remaining terrace houses in Victoria were converted into flats.
Although Melbourne retains a large number of heritage registered terraces, many rows were substantially affected by widescale slum reclamation programs in favour of the Housing Commission of Victoria’s high-rise public housing plans during the 1950s and 60s. Later private development of walk-up flats and in-fill development has further reduced the number of complete rows. As a result, streets and suburbs which contain large intact rows of terrace housing are now fairly rare. However the 1960s saw a new trend of restoration as part of the gentrification of Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Suburbs such as Albert Park, Fitzroy, Carlton, Parkville and East Melbourne are now subject to strict heritage overlays to preserve what is left of these streetscapes.