What's hiding above Flinders Street Station?

Above one of Australia’s busiest stations is a forgotten room from a bygone era.

Every day 100,000 commuters pass through Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station, unbeknownst to them there is a forgotten jewel hidden right above them. On the third floor of the historic building, in a room sectioned off since 1985 is a glorious ballroom, a ballroom so exclusive that few have ever been able to glimpse its magnificence and entry was only ever granted by a secret golden ticket.

The station as it exists today is a second incarnation, the first was demolished in 1900 and the existing edifice was designed by James Fawcett and H.P.C Ashworth, opening its doors in 1910. The striking beauty of the architecture elevated the building to iconic status and today it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

Image: HiVis Pictures/Development Victoria

But the hidden ballroom above the station had humbler beginnings. Its original use was as a lecture hall for the Victorian Railways Institute designed in 1899 and complete in 1901. The hall hosted night courses for rail staff, a library and fitness classes. There was also a billiards room, table tennis and a boxing ring for ‘men only.’ Barrie Klemm has fond memories of the space above Flinders Station:

Famous footballers like Jack Dyer exercised in that gym and when finished and dressed, would venture down to join in the dances. It all had to finish before midnight so that everyone could scurry down the stairs to catch the last trains home.

It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that the space was converted to a ballroom for public dances. The ballroom would shut down before midnight so that those attending the ball would be able to make the last train home. A mezzanine bandstand was built in the 1950s to accommodate the crowds, as the dances were so popular. public use of the halls was shut down in 1985 after the then Ministry of Transport planned on reconstructing the Station, a venture that never took place.

"A very popular hop it was and the dance floor was packed. Snowy Klemm (my dad) was the sax player and, with Cec Evans the piano player, recruited drummer Alec Dunlop and trumpet player Mick McKim for their small band at the VRI engagements and for engagements around the Yarraville and Footscray area." Klemm explains.

In 1926 The Station claimed to be the world's busiest station, though this title has little evidence to back it up. However, it was frequented enough that a children's nursery was installed on the second floor in 1933 to enable young mothers to go shopping for the day and return and the end of the day to collect their offspring.

Image: HiVis Pictures/Development Victoria

This year, Flinders Street Station has undergone a renovation, a restoration to its original grandeur. While plans to renovate the ballroom are being considered, Premier Daniel Andrews says the current renovation to the exterior of the station is overdue:

The aging exterior of the building is basically falling down, this is a real gem, it's a great part of our story, the heritage of our city but it's showing its age, and it desperately needed this upgrade.

Image: HiVis Pictures/Development Victoria

With any luck, the ballroom will be upgraded and reopened along with the rest of the station, but for now, it remains a hidden gem, a reminder of old world glamour, and a historic souvenir of Melbourne’s dancing past

Header: Flinders Street Station, Wikimedia Commons

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