Six old Melbourne photos we love

Take a step back in time with some of our favourite photographs of Melbourne. From the instantly recognisable Flinders Street Station and Pellegrini’s cafe to Princes Bridge and Centre Place, see what popular city attractions used to look like decades, or even a century ago.

Outside Flinders Street Station

Glancing at this photo of Flinders Street Station’s timeless main entrance you could easily mistake it for an arty black-and-white shot taken yesterday. Look closer though, and you’ll notice those fashions are a century out of date – this pic is from around 1908-14. There’s also a wild mix of transportation: early automobiles, horse-drawn carts, bicycles and cable trams. A mass of people outnumber all the vehicles, and there’s no apparent system to organise any of these road users.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot of continuity in what you can’t see in the photo. Like City Hatters, which has occupied a little sub-street-level shop next to the station’s entrance since 1910. On the other side of Flinders Street, meals and drinks are still being served at Young & Jackson hotel, which opened in 1861.

A black and white photo of an old train station with people milling around outside it

Outside Flinders Street Station ca. 1908 – 1914. Photo thanks to State Library Victoria.

Princes Bridge Station

The corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, where Federation Square now stands, has changed a lot over the years. In this photo dated 1956-64, you can see the old Princes Bridge Station, right next to Finders Street Station. It was demolished in 1964 to make way for the Gas and Fuel building, which was replaced by Fed Square in 2001. Ironically, one of the Metro Tunnel’s Town Hall station entrances is currently being built here.

Progress can be a very good thing. Look closely at this photo: there’s no alfresco Arbory Bar and Eatery or summer’s Arbory Afloat to the left of Princes Bridge or Riverland Bar and Pilgrim Bar to the right. As for all of Fed Square’s geometric architecture, institutions like NGV Australia and places of refreshment including Icebar Melbourne and Taxi Kitchen? Well, all that was less likely than a man walking on the moon when this photo was taken.

A colourised photo from the 1950s showing an aerial shot of a city

Princes Bridge Station ca. 1956-64. Photo: City Collection.


Opened in 1954 by Italian migrants Leo and Vildo Pellegrini, this cafe has become a Melbourne icon. Over the decades, countless people have popped in for a coffee, or settled in for a simple plate of pasta. In that time the menu has barely altered and, as this photo from 1963 reveals, the look hasn’t either. Then as now, Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar recalls mid-20th century Italy’s originals, from well-worn wood to red-vinyl bar stools.

With few exceptions, like The Paperback Bookshop and legendary Italian restaurant Grossi Florentino, Pellegrini’s neighbours have changed completely. Which is not a bad thing, because you’ve now got plenty of compelling options alongside that coffee or pasta. Like cocktails at Romeo Lane, Gallery Funaki’s contemporary jewellery, and Madam Virtue & Co’s vintage fashion – maybe even from when Pellegrini’s introduced espresso to Melbourne.

A colour photo of a cafe in the 1960s

Pellegrinis in 1963. Photo: City Collection.

Manchester Unity Building rooftop cafe

As this photo from the 1960s shows, rooftop eating and drinking is not some 21st-century innovation. Built in Art Deco Gothic style in 1932, the Manchester Unity Building once boasted a rooftop garden cafe. History tells us that it had ‘graceful palms, Japanese maples, beautiful flower beds, a fountain and pond’. There are even rumours of flamingos and a string quartet.

Want to find out more about the Manchester Unity Building’s fascinating history? Book a guided tour with 1932 Cafe & Restaurant in the brass-and-marble street-level shopping arcade. They’re available one Sunday per month, with your choice of breakfast, lunch or late-afternoon wine and cheese included. Or just pop into 1932 any time for a nostalgic bite, or grab a coffee from the famously tiny Switch Board Cafe.

A black and white photo of a cafe on a rooftop

The rooftop café in the Manchester Unity Building (estimated date 1960-1969). Photo: Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Centre Place

It’s easy to think that Melbourne’s CBD laneways were empty until their late-20th-century revival. As this photo from the 1950s or early 1960s shows, at least one of them was as busy way back when as it is today. Just a few metres wide, Centre Place is made for catching the eyes of passersby; shop windows then, eateries and street art now. It’s now much more colourful, with hole-in-the-wall lunch spots including Shandong Mama Mini and hidden bars like Hell’s Kitchen. Find out more about what’s happening now with our guide to Centre Place.

A black and white photo of a city street

Centre Place ca. 1956 – 1965. Photo: City Collection.

Foys department store rooftop carnival

One of several department stores thriving in Melbourne from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries, Foys was on the corner of Swanston and Bourke streets. The store was famous for its Christmas decorations, including a beckoning Santa three storeys high on the facade. After World War II, what was described as a ‘gay open-air carnival’ on the rooftop was added to the festivities. It included a petting zoo, pony rides, a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and what advertisements described as Water Boats and Wild West Scenes.

This photo is dated between 1960 and 1967, not long before it all came to an end when Foys was sold to David Jones. It shows how much has changed, from the simplicity of the carnival attractions to the skyline’s lack of tall buildings. Strangest of all to modern eyes is the Union Jack, which was often flown instead of the Australian flag. The significantly altered Art Deco Foys building is now Midtown shopping centre, which includes a very different kind of department store: Daiso. All sorts of cute, curious and practical products from Japan are available here for $2.80.

A black and white photo of a carnival on the rooftop of a building

The rooftop funpark which used to exist on the top of Foy and Gibson department store (estimated date 1960-167) Photo: State Library of Victoria.

Thanks to the City of Melbourne’s Art and Heritage Collection and the State Library of Victoria for these amazing archival photos.