Because of its position, Princes Bridge was always an important part of Melbourne, used for large, public events. For example a triumphal arch was erected on the bridge, over the river, when the royal couple arrived in 1901 to celebrate the Federation festivities. On the other side of the bridge, the visitor can easily reach the Melb Arts Complex, a post-WW2 cluster of buildings that celebrate music, stage, dance and art.
Everyone in Melbourne has seen the bridge high above the river, but not everyone has seen The Princes Walk Vaults down at water level. The design was very clever. As Victorian Heritage have shown, construction associated with the vaults included the rail connection of the Princes Bridge and Flinders St Railway stations, and the realignment of Yarra Bank Road. The twenty barrel vaulted cells with openings facing the river were constructed of brick and were faced in rough blue stone. The ten supporting piers were capped with granite and the cast iron street lights were designed in a similar fashion to those of Princes Bridge. Even the stairway design had come from Grainger's original design for Princes Bridge.
Princes Bridge decorated with royal arch to celebrate the opening of Federal Parliament, Melbourne, May 1901.
So just a couple of years after the current Princes Bridge was completed in 1888, Mr A W McKenzie designed vaults that were 5 metres deep, and opened onto the part of the river that had been used by pleasure cruise and ferry operators. As far back as the 1890s, McKenzie expected his vaults would be rented by owners of refreshment rooms, boat-builders and cruise companies. The location was perfect – next to and integrated with Melbourne’s most important bridge, at the entrance to the City and right on the water’s edge.
Although I have lived in Melbourne for 90% of my life, and am greatly interested in architectural history, I had never seen The Princes Walk Vaults before. Perhaps they were too sleazy for a nice girl to visit, in the 1960s. That all changed in 2003. Because fewer than half of the vaults were tenanted, they were transferred to the State Government’s Federation Square Management and renovated. Now the visitor can find bars and café, architectural offices, a kitchen, boatsheds and bike racks. The bars flow out towards the Yarra River with tables and sun shades.
One of the vaults, now used as a design office
The vaults in 2012, with inside and outside dining at Riverland Bar