Enter the Argus: a home for new journalism

The Argus building in downtown Melbourne was once the home of an important Melbourne newspaper. It’s now on the list of Melbourne history walks. I have a scary hare-brained idea that we might be able to restore, renovate an re-occupy this space as a new hub for new public interest and citizen journalism.

Notable features

This Argus building is a fantastic combination of many of the Interwar styles, a Stripped Classical composition with Beaux-Arts, Chicagoesque and Moderne influences. A stuningly regal classical cooling tower is a prominent feature of the Argus building.

The Argus building cnr La Trobe and Elizabeth sts

History

The Argus Building the former headquarters of Melbourne’s Argus newspaper, one of the city’s most popular until the 1960s.

The Argus newspaper took over Melbourne’s first daily newspaper, the Daily News, in 1852 and took a conservative line until 1949 when it was acquired by the London Daily Mirror group. The Argus closed in 1957.

In the 1980s a cement render was applied to the facade of the building, changing the texture of the stone facade.

In 2004, La Trobe University purchased the building with the view of restoring it and use it as a CBD campus.  The  plans included completing the clock tower of the original design.  However the costs of renovating the building and removing asbestos proved too high and the university sold the building late in 2008.

Architect: Godfrey & Spowers

My attention was drawn to this by Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. Doyle took listener’s calls today on Jon Faine’s ABC704 program.

He got a question about the Argus building, on the corner of La Trobe and Elizabeth streets, which has been empty and for the most part derelict for some time.

The building has a chequered commercial history following closure of the Argus in 1957.

It has been in a parlous state of repair for a decade or more. Some enterprising explorers have managed to get inside the building at different times and some good pics are around of the cool, but bashed around interior.

No finger prints: the interior of the broken Argus

Argus building expected to fetch $12 million
By Peter Semple
June 5 2002

The building that formerly housed one of Melbourne’s most famous newspapers, The Argus, is on the market again and expected to fetch up to $12 million for owners Ryssal-Three.

The La Trobe Street building seems likely to become an apartment building with the current surfeit of office space either planned or under construction across town.

The Melbourne City Council has approved several applications for residential conversion and the addition of two to four more floors. The latest approval has been for office space and an additional three levels. However, apartments or serviced apartments, or even a boutique hotel now seems more likely.

Owned by the Stamoulis family through its company Ryssal-Three, the property has been on the market twice in recent years without success. In July 2000, it had an asking price of $9.95 million and in September that year the asking price had dropped to $9 million.

The seven-level building on a 2000-square-metre corner site opposite Melbourne Central was completed in 1926, renovated in 1990, and upgraded in 1996. It has a net lettable office area of 10,000 square metres and a frontage of 65 metres to Elizabeth Street and 30 metres to La Trobe Street.

The building is now vacant with the exception of two retail stores – the Argus Cafe and the Genius camera store – on the ground floor.

According to conjunctional agents CB Richard Ellis and Colliers International, the building has been extensively demolished inside, including the removal of asbestos, and is ready for redevelopment.

Ryssal-Three was also the owner and developer of the adjoining building, the Argus Centre. The 34-storey office building (23 office and 10 car parking) was completed in 1991 and sold to Property Income Investment Trust (now Macquarie Office Trust) for $95 million in October 1998.

[Walking Melbourne Argus building forum]

La Trobe University took legal action against the vendor of the property over the 2004 sale. The uni claimed the developer had misled it over the state of the building.

The central issue was the cost of removing asbestos from the old building.

The matter settled out of court.

11 May 2013 update:

I have removed several identifying words and phrases from this piece at the request of one of the business people involved in the 2004 sale of this building and subsequent legal action at the persistent request of the person involved. It shits me to do this and it’s a hassle that completely fucks with the historical record.

I haven’t done it because I’m intimidated, or because I believe in the concept of ‘f0rgetting’ on the internet. I’ve done it because I cannot be fucked with the hassle from the person concerned who badgered me to take it down. I am not going to take it down, and if you want to know any more about the company or individuals involved, you can google the story for yourself

MELBOURNE property developer XXXXXX [redacted] stands accused of misleading and deceptive behaviour over the sale of the historic Argus building on the corner of

The rendered exterior of the Argus bldg

Elizabeth and La Trobe streets that left its new owner, La Trobe University, with an asbestos and lead paint clean-up bill of nearly $16 million.

An environmental report on the building, which once housed the The Argus newspaper, also revealed it was contaminated with pigeon excrement.

The lawsuit takes aim at XXXXXX director XXXXXXX XXXXXXX [redacted], whom La Trobe claims “aided, abetted, counselled, procured and was knowingly concerned” in contravention of the Trade Practices Act when the Argus building was sold in 2004 to the university for $8 million.

Mr XXXXX told BusinessDay he “vigorously denied the allegations” and would “strongly defend the case”.

UPDATE: Federal Court proceedings in this matter were dismissed and there was no order as to costs. La Trobe University is no longer pursuing this matter, and the University and XXXXX have no further comment to make.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/business/la-trobe-fights-XXXX-over-16m-cleanup-20090331-9idc.html#ixzz1lk6msE2L

Further update: XXXX XXXXX of XXXXXX has made contact with Ethical Martini over this piece. He is at pains to remind us that no action was taken and that all actions against him and against XXXXX for this matter are settled.

Mr XXXXX writes: “an update posted by the Age [shows] the case was dropped by La Trobe University years ago. It was an accusation that was unfounded and was withdrawn, this was unfortunately not picked up by The Age in another article which leaves the accusations open ended on the internet, the best they could do was paste an update across the article when you open it, unfortunately the clarity doesn’t come up in the opening lines only the accusation (as with your posting…see below). The legacy is that the article remains as does your post. It shows up every time you google XXXXXX or XXXX XXXXX I had hoped the article would over the years eventually become “fish & chip paper” (no disrespect intended) however the internet serves as a different platform and it continues to be the feature article when you do a search.”

I am happy to put Mr XXXXXX’ side of the story and wish him no harm, but I am not going to butcher my own blog for the sake of some business guy’s reputation.

The asbestos issue is interesting. The 2002 news report quoted above suggests the asbestos was removed some time ago, but the La Trobe case suggests that the university had to pay double the purchase price ($8 million) for the asbestos removal.

The building still attracts interest from people who think it would be great to live there. But Robert Doyle inspired me to imagine a different future for this building.

What if we could somehow reclaim it and turn it into a new home for journalism in Melbourne. Perhaps it could be a hub for new start-ups. Maybe Crikey could move into one floor and the various Melbourne journalism schools each have space there for student publications and broadcasts.
It would make a great centre for citizen journalism and indymedia-style operations in the heart of the city. It’s a shame that La Trobe abandoned the building in 2008, it would have made a great city campus. It sill could, but the investment would be in the tens of millions of dollars.
However, perhaps all is not lost. In March 2010 it was reported that an ‘education entrepreneur’ had bought the building and it was to become a campus after all.

LA Trobe University has offloaded its asbestos-riddelled Argus newspaper building for $15 million, after spending $34 million trying to get a project off the ground.Education entrepreneur Shesh Gale, owner of the Melbourne Institute of Technology operation which targets international and domestic students, plans to redevelop the 84-year old building into a teaching facility.The Australian reports Mr Ghale will spend about $50 million on the renovation, which should be completed by the end of 2011.It’s expected Mr Ghale will sell a Lonsdale Street office which currently houses MIT students. The education focused property developer is also building an $80 million facility in William Street which also includes student accommodation, The Australian reports.

The building was the scene of a dispute between vendor La Trobe University, and the private developer the school bought the building off, after it was discovered “larger-than-expected” amounts of asbestos.

[Realestatesource.com]

The facade of the building is protected under a 2011 heritage order. But unfortunately the trail goes cold at this point.
I can’t help but wonder what is going to happen now. It would be good to save this old icon, but it would be even better to turn it into an independent news outfit that could rise, Phoenix like, from the dust of the derelict.

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