RMIT Building 24 (Forresters' Hall)
168 La Trobe Street, Melbourne
LaTrobe Street facade of Foresters' Hall, 1998. Photo by MLRuwoldt.
Completed in 1888 for the Ancient Order of Foresters (AOF), this building at 168 La Trobe Street is on the Register of the National Estate and the government buildings register of the Heritage Council. It is classified by the National Trust and designated a 'notable building' in the Melbourne City Council planning scheme.
Date of building
Melbourne City Council building permit dated 13 December 1887. Architect: George Ravenscroft and Freeman. Builder: H Lockington of Drummond Street, Carlton.
The facade is an exuberant example of late Victorian architecture, lacking restraint and described by Glanville Wilson as exemplifying "debased facadism restlessly overplayed". Originally the facade was exposed brickwork with cement cornice and ornamentation. Today the whole facade is concrete-rendered and painted.
Bowen Lane facade
To the left of the building, Bowen Lane runs parallel with Swanston Street. The Bowen Lane facade of Foresters' Hall is an excellent example of Flemish bond fair face brickwork.
Stairs from ground floor to upper level
RMIT University will restore this building as part of its long-term heritage/assets management plan. Meanwhile the original balustrades with iron "AOF" motifs, and a trace of cornice overhead, give an idea of the original style of the building.
Foresters' Hall is one of the few remaining examples of the work of architects Ravenscroft and Freeman (another is the Oddfellows Hall on the corner of Victoria and Russell streets). Foresters Hall is a notable example of boom-style classicism and illustrates the status and influence of men's lodges in the nineteenth century.
The building's origin is evident in the decorations above the La Trobe Street entrance. Below the AOF coat of arms is the Foresters' motto in bold lettering (unitas benevolentia concordia) and the title 'A-O-F District Chambers U-M-D' (now almost obliterated). The architects, Ravenscroft and Freeman, also had their offices here.
The building continued as the meeting hall and offices of the AOF until RMIT took over the building in 1969. Substantial internal alterations were carried out when the building was converted into the offices and main facilities building of the RMIT Student Union (with the exception of the cafeteria, which was in another building).
Following the completion of Union House (RMIT Building 8 at 360 Swanston Street) in the early 1980s, the interior of Foresters' Hall underwent another internal conversion and was occupied by the university's media and communication studies departments. The university plans eventually to restore Foresters' Hall in sympathy with its original condition.