By Katie Johnson
The iconic, heritage-listed Melbourne Athenaeum Theater on Collins St has received $ 200,000 from the state government for urgent conservation work.
The 170-year-old arts and culture center will use the money to repair the roof and skylight windows as part of the government’s $ 2.3 million living heritage program.
Melbourne Athenaeum’s commercial director Sue Westwood (pictured) said the theater was “very lucky” to receive the grant as the works were desperately needed.
“We are very grateful to Heritage Victoria for recognizing the need for repairs and the importance of the building as it is difficult to find the funds to maintain the heritage building as a non-profit organization,” Ms. Westwood said. .
“The roof and the lantern windows on the second floor are in a state of disrepair as the wood has deteriorated over time and water often seeps into it. ”
Ms Westwood said the original windows were installed around 1930 to improve the lighting of the art gallery which existed from 1910 to 1971.
“The lantern windows have barely been touched since then, other than the exterior paint, and are currently covered to provide a blackout scenario,” Ms. Westwood said.
The Athenaeum was founded in 1839 and has been owned by the community since 1842.
It contains Melbourne’s oldest library on the first floor, and the theater is accessible to the community for school productions, major events, and independent artists.
Prior to COVID, the theater hosted events for the Wheeler Center, Writers Festival, Comedy Festival, Melbourne Opera House and productions like The wedding singer.
Ms Westwood said the Athenaeum’s philosophy is to provide a heritage building accessible to the public.
“We have the library on the first floor which is operated by the non-profit organization that owns the building, the theater, the Bistrot d’Orsay restaurant and the Rutherford jewelry store, all in the Athenaeum,” Ms. Westwood said.
“We have worked very hard with our tenants to make sure they are with us when the pandemic is over and to ensure they have emotional and moral support.”
The Athenaeum Library also recently reopened its doors to members one day a week for click-and-collect services.
Ms Westwood said she hoped to expand the service to those outside the 10km radius when the restrictions were relaxed.
“Members can order books online and then pick them up every Thursday, and we also have book and screen clubs still running on Zoom,” she said.
The Athenaeum is one of 19 restoration projects that will receive funding under the sixth cycle of the Living Heritage Program.
Other sites include St Peters Eastern Hill Precinct in East Melbourne, Puffing Billy Locomotives and Rolling Stock in Belgrave and Horsham Town Hall.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the program aims to protect important sites in Victoria for future generations to enjoy and learn from.
“These are the sites that tell stories about our history and play a major role in Victoria’s rural and regional tourism industry – we are proud to protect these valuable community assets,” said Wynne. •