History of the ArtDECL Building

short bobThe Northcote Police Station was built in 1891.

In 1890, the Borough of Northcote was officially proclaimed a Town. A civic precinct was constructed in the years following this proclamation, including the Town Hall, Court House, and Post and Telegraph Office. The Police Station was a significant part of this cluster. In the early years of the 20th century, St Joseph’s Church, the Free and Public Library, and a second court house were also built, entirely replacing the mansions that had once filled the area with grand public buildings.

The police station is associated with a period of Northcote’s suburban growth, and is an illustration of the development of policing in Victoria. The precinct is now of historic, aesthetic and social significance.

Historically, the building was a centre of police services from 1891-2003, signifying the importance of public services during the late nineteenth century and the manner in which buildings traditionally imbued identity into an area. The precinct also gains importance from its topographically advantageous position on Rucker’s Hill, symbolic of its dominance over the other High Street buildings.

Aesthetically, the old police station is one in a collection of fine buildings. Designed by prominent architects George R. Johnson, Henry Barstow, Twentyman and Askew, and E. Evan Smith, the building displays characteristics of various sophisticated architectural styles of the time. The styles are shared by the Municipal offices and the Northcote library, and together with the Presbyterian Church across the street, they enhance the character of the local streetscape.

The building is a local landmark and forms part of a historic precinct with other red brick buildings of the 1890s.

Social value is bestowed by the community, particularly on account of its status as a meeting place and centre of Local Government services and as a centre of Catholic worship and education.

Structure, Design and Use

Much of this information is taken directly from the Heritage Assessment – Northcote Police Station, prepared for Darebin City Council by Context (2007).

The original police station is a two-storey red brick structure, with its principal elevation facing south towards Melbourne city.

Its slate-clad peaked roof featured terracotta capping and decorative finials, and is marked by five heavily corbelled chimneys, with moulded brick caps. The building features some detailing appropriate to the Queen Anne style of the 1870s and 1880s, and two gables, facing east and west. Two single-storey, skillion roofed additions, originally containing the pantry and shed in one, and a second pantry and bath in the other, extended from the northern elevation of the property.

External features included decorative timber bargeboards and fretwork in the roof-ends. All windows were double-hung, timber framed sash windows with sixteen-paned top sashes with coloured glazing, and decorative brick voussoirs above each window opening. Multi-pane rectangular fanlights were set above all external doors. A dominant stair tower on the eastern elevation led to a viewing platform at third floor level.

Internally, all non-structural walls were all of lathe and plaster. Rooms featured plaster ceilings with ornate cornices and decorative roses. Fireplaces, of either carved timber or marble, were in all main rooms. Large, highly decorative timber skirting continued throughout first and second floors, and curved to match the stair risers.

Timber flooring was used internally, while verandahs were decoratively tiled.
The property was constructed as a residence and barracks, with holding cells for detainees. The building’s original internal configuration, on both ground and first floors, comprised two principal sections oriented north-south along a central corridor. The western (Sergeant’s) section, was accessed from the south under a two storey covered balcony, supported by coupled turned timber posts on brick piers. The eastern (officers’) section, was accessed from the east through a centrally placed porch under a basket arch. Public access to the building was presumably also via this side entrance, which led to the office.

Although connected internally, both sections were independent of the other, with individual stairs, kitchens and services. The ground floor of the Sergeant’s section contained, on the ground floor, a bedroom, a parlour (albeit on the eastern side of the separation), a kitchen, pantry, and private rear verandah. Three bed rooms and a bathroom were on the first floor.

The officers’ section comprised an office, mess room, kitchen, pantry and shed, with three bedrooms and a small shared bathroom above. A lock-up, comprising two cells, was also located on the site.

In all, the building accommodated one Sergeant, three Senior Constables (ostensibly those who lodged in the building), two plain-clothed constables, and ten foot constables (two on bicycles); for a total of sixteen active staff. Once complete, the building operated as a functioning police station, residence and lock-up until its closure in 2003.

Plans to close the station were announced in 2000, with a view to its replacement in 2003, as existing conditions within the station were considered inadequate to the requirements of contemporary policing. The decision raised a great deal of public comment, which continues today. Concern has primarily focused on the retention of the building’s fabric; that its ownership remain within community control; and that its function remain related to community/public use.