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Melbourne Town Hall history

Find out about the building’s history and features including the auditorium, council chambers and grand organ, and the recent renovation of the ground floor space.

A large auditorium with an ornate ceiling and an organ

Located on the traditional lands of the Eastern Kulin nation, the Melbourne Town Hall is a magnificent heritage building in the heart of the city. 

The building is the place where many of the decisions that have helped to shape Melbourne have been made. Today it is also a hub of Melbourne's cultural and civic activity, playing host to live music performances, weddings, receptions and exhibitions.

Building the town hall

Prior to the construction of a town hall building, the Mechanics' Institute in Collins Street (now the Athenaeum) was rented as temporary quarters where the council carried out its business and affairs.

The first town hall building was completed in 1854 and demolished in the mid 1860s. A new building was completed in 1870.

In the 1840s the question of a site for a town hall was referred to the council s Works Committee. The committee recommended that 4.047 hectares (10 acres) of land situated on Eastern Hill should be granted to the corporation as a reserve on which to erect a town hall and that a foundation stone be laid on the site (where Parliament House now stands).

Superintendent La Trobe agreed to the committee s proposal. However, influential council member Dr A F A Greeves opposed it, instead suggesting the site at the corner of Collins and Swanston streets because of its central position and convenience. Although the committee s recommendations had already been adopted, the resolution was later amended in favour of the site suggested by Dr Greeves, which is where Melbourne Town Hall stands today.

Construction of the first town hall, a modest brick building, began in 1850, but a labour shortage brought about by gold discoveries in 1851 delayed completion until 1854. This building was demolished in the mid-1860s.

On 29 November 1867 the Duke of Edinburgh laid the foundation stone for a new town hall which was completed in 1870. The new building was officially opened by the Governor of Victoria on 9 August 1870.

The tower was named Prince Alfred s Tower after the Duke of Edinburgh who, on his second visit to Melbourne in 1869, laid a capital on one of the columns of the town hall clock tower. The Duke was the first official guest in the soon-to-be-completed town hall.

The portico on the Swanston Street frontage of the building was added in 1887.


On 1 February 1925 a fire in the town hall building's main hall caused extensive damage and led to the auditorium being remodelled and enlarged, using an area of land owned by the council and adjoining the town hall. The new auditorium was completed in December 1927.

The main hall s dimensions are 28.96 metres (95 feet) long, 32.9 metres (106 feet) wide and 21.34 metres (70 feet) high. The foyer covers an area of 13.9 metres (43 feet) by 9.14 metres (30 feet).

The hall is mechanically heated and ventilated and an elaborate system of lighting is installed.

The seating capacity on the main floor is 1196, and 794 in the balcony.

When redecorating the auditorium after the fire, one of the major concerns was to ensure satisfactory acoustics. The solution was to treat the walls with Celotex panels.

The absorptive nature of this material meant the panels could not be sized or painted because such treatment would have interfered with their acoustic qualities. As such, the conventional line decoration was adopted, resulting in nearly all the panels remaining uncoloured.

The decorative figures used in the design are approximately four times life size, in keeping with the scale of the town hall. The subjects of the panels are not allegorical, mythological or descriptive. This is because decoration was the first consideration and the lines were designed according to the proportion of the panels.

Proposals to depict subjects such as the founding of Melbourne and its early development were not favoured because the designs were not suitable to the limitations of the Celotex.

The work was carried out by Napier Waller, in conjunction with J Oliver and Sons, under a contract granted to Massey and Sons Pty. Ltd. for the town hall s interior decoration.

​Grand Organ

There have been two permanent organs installed in the town hall since 1872. The original organ was extensively rebuilt in 1905, and the second organ was installed in 1929 following the town hall fire of 1925.

The organ was refurbished and relaunche​​​d​ in 2001 and can now be seen in action in regular performances and concerts, as well as behind-the-scenes tours. For more information see Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ.

​Administration buildings and council chambers

The administrative block adjoining the town hall occupies the site of the old City Court. The building contains the council chamber on the second floor, and committee rooms. It once accommodated many council departments. ​

The site of the administrative block was purchased by the council from the Victorian Government in 1890.

Competitive designs for the administration buildings were submitted and the successful architects were Grainger, Kennedy and Yulle.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Sir Henry Weedon, laid the foundation stone on 27 August 1908. The work was carried out under the direction of the then City Architect (H E Morton) by an outside contractor, R Stockdale.

The council chamber was officially opened on 9 August 1910 and was attended by the premier and governor of Victoria, along with mayors of municipalities throughout Melbourne.

The decorative design is in the Italian and English Renaissance style of the period 1500 to 1800, overladen with Federation-era carvings and mouldings of Australian flora.

All dadoes, doors, architraves and the gallery are constructed of solid Tasmanian blackwood, embellished with fiddleback panels and elaborate carving. The semi-circular tiered seating and chairs also are made of Australian blackwood.

Solid blocks of Borenore marble from New South Wales have been used for the pillars, with the windows made from King Edward marble, also from New South Wales. All caps and bases are made of bronze.

The council s former coat of arms, with the motto Vires Acquirit Eundo (we gather strength as we go), is carved on each balcony and also forms the decorative feature of the leaded glass, dome and windows. This coat of arms is slightly different from the latest version.

The lord mayor s chair, kidney-shaped tables, long tables and stools are of crafted from moulded and carved cedar. The walls are made of plaster and the coffered ceiling is made of elaborate perforated fibrous plaster.

The mallet displayed in a glass case at the rear of the lord mayor s chair was used by the Duke of Edinburgh to lay the town hall s foundation stone at a ceremony on 29 November 1867.

The Melbourne Town Hall and its administrative offices were renovated extensively during the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in the front desk reception area contrasting with the rather austere and formal outward appearance of the building.

Further redevelopment has seen the town hall updated to meet public needs into the 21st century, without compromising the building s historic integrity and character.

Stonework on the exterior of the building has been restored, facilities have been upgraded and several new rooms have been opened up for community and commercial use.

Reimagining Town Hall’s ground floor

Immerse yourself in the history of the Eastern Kulin and have your say on the future of our city at Melbourne Town Hall’s new democratic meeting place. Our ground-floor space now features:

  • an updated customer service centre
  • interactive digital displays
  • a refreshed City Gallery
  • contemporary Aboriginal artwork
  • historic photographs.

The new design also creates a more accessible meeting space for our Future Melbourne Committee, advisory groups and other public decision-making forums.


Plaques and Memorials Policy

This Policy covers all plaques and memorials being placed in any public space.

Heritage Strategy

The City of Melbourne’s Heritage Strategy sets out a plan to protect the city’s heritage buildings, places and objects. It has been developed to ensure the city's rich combination of traditions, memories, places and objects are identified and protected.

our acknowledgement

  • Torres Strait Islander Flag
  • Aboriginal People Flag

The City of Melbourne respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land we govern, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and Bunurong / Boon Wurrung peoples of the Kulin and pays respect to their Elders past and present. 


We acknowledge and honour the unbroken spiritual, cultural and political connection they have maintained to this unique place for more than 2000 generations.

We accept the invitation in the Uluru Statement from the Heart and are committed to walking together to build a better future.