In its current incarnation as the Rendezvous Grand, the hotel on Melbourne’s Flinders Street was once in fact, the Commercial Travellers Association Building.
The Commercial Travellers Association Building was designed by architect Harry Tompkins in 1912 and completed in 1913. It is one of the finest and most distinct expressions of the Edwardian Baroque style in Melbourne. This grand classical non-domestic style, featuring a combination of Beaux Arts Classicism with a revival of English Baroque sources, was adopted as the style of choice for department stores, emporiums and other large commercial establishments in Melbourne in the first two decades of the 20th Century. It was thus an eminently suitable style for the headquarters of the roving disciples of commerce, the Commercial Travellers Association. The building was the winning entry in a competition organised by the Association and judged by the well-respected Percy Oakden, an indication of the high regard in which the building was held by Harry Tompkins’ architect peers.
The Commercial Travellers Association Building is of architectural significance for a number of innovations, such as the use of welded wire reinforcing mesh, perhaps the first use of such material in Victoria, and "Mack" slab cement partitions, the only known use of this technology in Victoria. It was also one of Australias earliest steel framed buildings. It comprises a basement and nine storeys. The ground floor is faced with granite. The facade above is partially rendered and partially faced with (formerly) cream glazed bricks. An unusual feature, the choice of such bricks was used to combat discolouration caused by pollution from the busy city thoroughfare and the nearby railway yards opposite. The rendered areas are treated in an ornate fashion, with exaggerated classical detailing including foliated swags, medallions and cartouches. It features a colonnade of the second floor (also known as a piano nobile), which is supported on massive, oversized consoles. Consoles also support the cornice surmounting the facade. Oriel windows rise through the second and third floors and are topped with balconettes. There are also balconettes on the eighth floor.
Leadlight is featured in some of the windows, mainly at the lower levels. The building is an early example of steel-framed construction, with reinforced concrete floors and a combination of terra cotta lumber and cement slab for non-structural internal walls. The building also boasted equipment such as a built-in vacuum cleaning plant, electrically heated service lifts, potato peeling machines, telephones in each room (the height of opulent luxury), a dish washing machine and large electric toaster. The building was also the tallest in Melbourne until the construction of the Manchester Unity Building, completed in 1932, and the first to be constrained to the new city height limit of one hundred and thirty two feet. The Commercial Travellers Association Building is of architectural significance as one of the most impressive buildings created by Harry Tompkins.
The building ceased functioning as the Commercial Travellers Association club in 1976 and fell into disrepair before being partially restored as the Duxton Hotel in the late 1990s. When commercial viability saw the Duxton close its doors, the Rendezvous Hospitality Group took on the project of meticulously restoring the hotel, retaining the elegant style of the early 1900s while providing guests with all the convenience of the 21st Century; what today is known as the Rendezvous Grand Hotel.
Harry Tompkins was one of Melbourne’s best commercial architects during the first three decades of the 20th Century. He had a long relationship with the Commercial Travellers Association and also with Sydney Myer, for whom he designed the first Myer Emporium building. Harry Tompkins served two terms as President of the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects between 1914 and 1916, a reflection of his esteemed position in the architectural profession. Other well-known buildings for which he was responsible include Dimmeys Model Stores on Swan Street in Richmond, the London Stores on Bourke Street and the Centreway Arcade in Collins Street.
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