Standing on the balcony of the Grand Hotel’s sixth floor apartment looking out across Spencer Street and the Melbourne skyline I let my mind wander - to imagine what the view would have looked like when the building was completed in 1891 and how the outlook must have changed over the past 123 years. I glance at the impressive stone work of the Victorian structure and dream of bygone eras.
According to the property’s Assistant Manager Diego Rios, it’s the building itself that sets this hotel apart.
“It’s a beautiful place to work. The building makes it so special. And we’re a small team as well. We offer a personalised service. I like to work with people and to help them. The building has a lot of history and we talk about the history with all our guests,” said Diego.
“We are currently going through a renovation process so that our guests can fully appreciate the glorious architecture and have a memorable stay. We’ve recently refurbished 35 rooms and we are about to commence the second round. This is a heritage listed building so we are limited with what we can do to the building, which is part of its charm however we can make the accommodation suites even more memorable.”
Guests are given a guided tour around the building by a staff member if they ask at reception. Diego offers to show me the impressive grand stair case. How could I refuse such an invitation? I’m told that this is the main entrance to the building but today is only used by residents. There are 120 private apartments and around 100 rooms managed by the hotel as a joint operation between the Erdi Group and Accor. Diego swipes his access card and I’m presented with an entrance that is monumental in its design.
Diego tells me that the building was originally constructed by the railway commissioners who needed bigger premises from the wooden offices they were using in the late 19th century. The site, which they already owned, was perfect because of its proximity to Spencer Street and Flinders Street Station. Even today the location is perfect for visitors to Melbourne because of this very reason – close to transportation, Southbank, Docklands and the CBD.
Engineer William Henry Greene wrote in 1886, “The building is to be brick faced with stucco. The style of architecture is to be Italian and, as our engraving shows, the structure and imposing appearance. The building will be constructed in the form of the letter E with three entrances. It will have a frontage to Spencer Street of some 420 feet.”
Two more floors were added to the original building – one in 1912 and another in 1958.
After using the structure for almost a century, the Ministry of Transport relocated to a modern office block in Collins Street. Diego, who has been with the hotel for the past five years after starting as a porter, tells me that this paved the way for developers to convert this grand dame into luxury apartments in 1997. Loft style mezzanine floors were added to the offices and the impressive staircase was restored to its former glory. The stencil style paintwork along the corridor harks back to the building’s origins and the concave corrugated iron ceilings on Level 5 were preserved.
Each apartment has ample natural light that spills from the generous windows that boast two sets of glass to ensure that the ambient street noise is limited inside the building. There’s a choice of studio, one and two bedroom rooms on offer - each feature a fully-equipped kitchen and a complimentary self serve laundry facility. On site there’s an indoor pool, sauna, spa, a beautiful courtyard with a barbeque and a delightful reading room with a generous selection of books. Maybe a Charles Dickens novel is appropriate reading?
“We have a lot of corporate clients during the week and on the weekend we welcome more leisure guests. In summer we have a lot of leisure and with Etihad Stadium just down the road, as soon as the footy season starts we are in high demand,” said Diego.
“We currently come under Accor’s MGallery label, which is perfect for us as a boutique heritage accommodation option. MGallery hotels transport the guest into an atmosphere informed by the property’s unique history.”
And what a transportation it is. I thank Diego for his informative tour around the Grand Hotel and head over to the restaurant to peruse the menu for tonight’s dinner – which is sure to transport my taste buds into a state of culinary bliss.