The History Of Melbourne's GPO Building In 1 Minute

Photo of Monique La Terra
21 June 2016

Once upon a time, Melbourne’s General Post Office was the centre of the city’s postal service where thousands of letters were received and sorted. Located on the intersection between Bourke and Elizabeth Street, the GPO building was conveniently positioned in the city’s central business district and its location continues to be used as a point of reference to measure distance from the centre of Melbourne. From the mid-19th Century right up until 1992, Melbournians visited the GPO to post letters, buy stationary, check their PO boxes and pay bills, but these days the building is home to retailers and restaurants.


In 1859, a design competition was held in Melbourne in search of a new building, but instead of moving forward with the winning entry, the design that won second place was chosen. Designed by A.E. Johnson, the neo-renaissance building blended classical design with French Second Empire influences. The foundation stone was laid in 1859 and the building was constructed and remodeled over 48 years between 1859 and 1907. The first level features Doric columns, the second level features Ionic columns and the third level which was built in 1887 features Corinthian columns and it was during this final stage that the iconic clock tower was added. A.E. Johnson went on to design the Supreme Court.

Melbourne Old Post Office (Shopping Mall Interior) | © Donaldytong/Wikipedia

20th Century

In 1919, American architect Walter Burley Griffin designed the remodeling of the sorting hall into a public hall, this design was then altered by John Smith Murdoch. In 1992, Australia Post announced that the GPO building would no longer serve as a postal center and by the following year, plans to transform the space into for a shopping mall were granted; however, the permit expired before work ever commenced. In 1997, more plans were put forward – this time to develop a five star hotel including a ten level extension, but these plans were seen through.

Melbourne GPO | © Chris Phutully/Wikicommons

21st Century

By September 2001, the GPO building was still looking for a modern day purpose when a fire damaged its interior. It took three years to restore the building to its former glory and the ceiling was repainted a lighter shade in accordance to the original design. In October 2004, it reopened as a retail centre and featured Venetian style dining on the colonnade. Today, retailers include Absolutely Altered & Tailored, Larsen Jewellery and in April 2014, retail giant H&M opened Australia’s flagship store which occupies three levels and almost 5,000 square meters of the GPO building. GPO is also home to Alto Events Space which can be booked for weddings, corporate functions and parties. There are also four premium restaurants including Ca de Vin, Federal Coffe Palace, Gekkazan and Mama’s Bưởi.

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