OPEN HOUSE MELBOURNE is held on the last weekend in July and offers archilovers and history buffs an opportunity to indulge their curiosity and visit buildings they have admired from afar.
For as long as I can remember, the Hawthorn Tram Depot with its red brick and white rendered façade that hugs the curve of Wallen Road opposite Power Street in Hawthorn, has held my fascination. It’s a proud building with an orderly row of arched windows formed by a bricklaying team of master tradesmen a century ago. The American Romanesque design by architect Leonard Flannagan represents the high regard for transport as an important public service at that time and is vastly different from the monolithic, faceless, inner-city and suburban factories devoid of decorative detail where equally valuable work took place.
As a child of outer suburbia, relative to the time, the location also represents a border where a well-heeled middle suburbia ends and the inner-city begins with just a shortish tram ride or drive to the CBD.
What lies beyond the arched windows are now private residential apartments that were completed in 2002. But even limited access to this heritage building is better than none at all. The Melbourne Tram Museum is located in what remains of the depot at the base of the building and in the remaining tram shed behind.
As a Melburnian, trams have formed part of the natural landscape of my life. I’ve noticed the difference in colour, shape and design over the years, and marveled at the balance of tram conductors while admiring their good humour, snappy leather coin bags and ticket dispensers. The politics of ticket design and tram design was and still is a constant white noise, in the same way that the sound of rattling trams on metal tracks and dinging bells herald the daily repetition of a well-used transport system.
While the newer E-class trams have a far greater passenger capacity and are designed for accessibility, they lack a sense of occasion and authenticity that can still be felt when riding the heritage W class City Circle Tram.
The museum is open to the public on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Take a figurative ride down memory lane, marvel at the details, ring a bell or two, and learn about the political tapestry woven through Melbourne’s historical trams.